Monday, August 18, 2008

Note to self: avoid touching romance stories

I should have been studying for the GRE this weekend, but instead, I spent it adding to Bye Traci and dwelling on the past, mostly about Traci, a little about Judy.

Why? Because of My Sassy Girl. Traci and Judy are the only girls to whom I opened my heart and they're still in there, like jagged shrapnel swimming in old wounds. My Sassy Girl's 2000-01 Korea setting, the punishing effort by Gyeon-woo to "build a bridge of chance" for his love, and the fateful nature of their meeting were more than enough to remind me of Traci. Even the scenes in front of the girl's house-gate are reminiscent of the times I walked Traci home and kept her there talking, trying to stretch our time together as long as I could before I had to let her go again.

In my heart, too, I remain a romantic idealist who wishes for his innocent love story and believes in kindred spirits, soulmates, fate, best friends in love, you complete me, and all the other fictional notions of romance that molded my concept of romance during my naive formative years. Normally, my bachelor's resignation allows me not to think about the state of romance in my life, and if I happen onto the subject, my cynicism is enough to steer me away from melancholic reverie upon a painful past I can do nothing to change. But, a touching romance story can rip through my defenses and expose the lonely hurt romantic.

I know it's useless to think about her. Doing so wastes my present with worn memories that have no value to my future. Maybe if I had made a quixotic attempt to find Traci when she first arrived in Maryland, the situation would be different today, but I've honored the closure I gave her in Korea, and I don't intend to change course. In real life, Traci is no longer that heart-grippingly beautiful 20-year-old Korean-Chinese-Hawaiian-Guam American girl whose eyes and voice transfixed me. She's a 29-year-old wife and mom now. For that matter, I'm no longer that 23-year-old, freshly ex-cadet soldier.

The last time I saw Traci, I meant to take a picture of us as a keepsake. I brought a disposable camera with me. I never took it out of my pocket. Taking the picture just didn't feel right. I felt as though I'd be stealing something from Traci and I refused to do less than dignify my love for her. I think, maybe, I also didn't take our picture for the same reason I gave my cadet uniforms back to West Point - I have a tendency to revisit my regrets, and what I don't need are artifacts to build shrines to my failures.

As for Judy, it's been twelve and a half years since we fell out and nine years since I last saw her on the West Point trip section to Philadelphia. There's residual feeling in my heart for her, but our final excisionary exchange of e-mails was closure. Unlike Traci and me, Judy and I were never compatible. I have remaining only the one nagging unfulfilled commitment that I may or may not ever get around to completing.

Traci and I don't have a time capsule buried under a mountain-top tree waiting for us in Korea. The letters I wanted Traci to read - lost to me when yahoo cleared my account - I e-mailed them to her seven and a half years ago. As many years that have passed since I left Traci in Korea, I'm disappointed that my memories of her can still hit me this hard - I suppose I can revisit them a hundred more times and write a hundred more long posts, and the old wounds will still hurt. Clearly, despite my deliberate drive to closure, giving her up when I left Korea, and the many years that have passed since, my love for her is still gripping my heart. I think because I fought so fiercely in Korea to protect my love, even from Traci, it's still fighting to stay in my heart, even against my wishes. I suppose the commitment I made to Traci wouldn't just go away overnight nor apparently after seven years.

The Traci my heart is holding onto is a memory, nothing real. I gave up on the real Traci a long time ago. Now my heart needs to let her go.

And, note to self: avoid touching romance stories. For a while at least.


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