I apologize if this title is misleading. I can’t drive anywhere, but my hometown is the only place I’ve tried. During my first few months back in Seoul, I reluctantly signed up for driving classes and failed the test—multiple times. I didn’t even get to the road trial; always fucked up somehow on the obstacle course. The story of my failure was free meat for my friends to pick on over a drink. I was generous like that.
My driving classes looked like weirdly futuristic video games. Set up in individual pods of fully automated, entirely virtual driver’s seat simulations, we pushed pedals and turned handles to navigate the streets of Gangnam—projected onto a screen in front of us. Familiar restaurants and cornerstones flashed by in pixel form. No human contact necessary.
And when I steered an actual car for the first time, I was stunned by the lethal power suddenly bestowed upon my hands and feet. The machine lurched forward at my command and I was not prepared.
I’m sure I still learned a lot from the driving simulations. In the same way that I’m sure this past year has been meaningful in some form. In the same way that eighteen months of being home during the pandemic must have amounted to something, buried in the sand somewhere.
Not much felt visible this year. Moments of clarity were few and stingy. Rarely did I feel certain about who I was, or where I would be in a few months. I was laid bare on white tablecloth as a bell jar hovered over me, ready to crash. And that unearthed parts of myself I didn’t know existed. I feel more irritable now, more judgmental. Or maybe they were parts of myself I hadn’t accepted before, labels that strayed away from the perfectly patient, infinitely forgiving ideal I wanted to plaster over my personality.
I kept moving because stillness meant death. I held jobs—a bar, a nonprofit, a social innovation company, a TV show. I tried things—Busan, acting classes, hairstyles. I waved too many friends goodbye as they left for military service. I engaged with Seoul in more complex ways than I ever have, exploring taxes, adulthood, and politics, trying to make sense of my position as a privileged 20-something Korean woman in this century.
But I could also paint a different picture of the past 18 months. I could paint myself spending more time in bed than I ever thought was possible. Desperately grasping for the next effective time-killer, the next quick way to shoot my brain dead. I could paint myself losing touch with old friends. Or forgetting what self-control feels like. Or defining myself solely through negatives. I could paint myself totally indifferent about whether tomorrow would arrive.
I know the painting isn’t done yet. On the other end of the canvas is my parents’ new home, a beautiful Hanok structure, rising from blankness in an old town where my mother’s family used to live for centuries. Evenings spent in my childhood bedroom, relaxing until I hear the lock turn, and skipping out to greet Mom, or Dad, or both. We called this period ‘stolen time’. Maybe it was time stolen from me, and the life I was supposed to have in college. But maybe it was also time snatched from the jaws of being isolated from my family. It was time for my parents to watch me grow and shrink and grow again, instead of hearing about it from a screen, a simulated likeness of me.
I can’t explain why I’m so bad at driving. I’d like to blame the weird video-game classes, and I believe the real thing will come to me someday. Physical objects will start making sense again. And by the time I grip the steering wheel, I hope I will feel completely human. I hope words will come soft and easy, and I hope a nice breeze will come through the window as I make the long drive from old family home to new.
Not much felt visible this year, but certain silhouettes have made themselves clear against the dark:
When I am here, I am always yearning to leave.
When I leave, I am yearning to return.