I need a pensieve
Freud might have said something interesting (or insulting) about the fact that the past couple of days I've had dreams of black cats clawing at me (I am fond of cats, so this is bizarre) and during the day I get flashbacks. Is it just me, or do other people also plop down on the sofa ostensibly to read a book only to be unnerved the next second by a suddenly acute memory of something you said or did, or someone else said or did, a long time ago?
This was when I was in school in Korea, when I was nine. One day in the first weeks of the school term, I made friends with a girl in my class by smiling at her (she smiled back at me). One of the other girls in my class pulled me back as I was about to walk in her direction, and hissed into my ear, "J-A! What do you think you're doing! That's the Retard!"
"What do you mean?" I asked. "She looks fine to me."
"She's stupid. She pooed in her pants last year," the girl said.
"Eurgh," I said.
"She's gross," the girl said.
But the 'Retard', H., kept smiling at me, and it seemed just not a very nice thing to do to turn away from that smile. So I shrugged my shoulders and walked up to her. I ended up sitting next to her, sharing a desk for the day (she didn't have anyone else to share the desk with, because no one wanted to sit next to her). She didn't smell or anything, but she did speak with a tough lisp, in somewhat disjointed sentences. But she kept smiling angelically, and I thought, well, she can't be half as bad as the popular mean girls make her out to be. My memories of being horribly bullied because of my incompetent Korean the year before were still fresh. At break time, some of the boys wandered over to my side of the desk.
"Hey, J-A, do you smell of poo now too?" one of them asked.
"Not as much as you," I said (probably very unconvincingly, as I was still somewhat linguistically challenged). The boys laughed and went away. H. grinned at me, then drew me a picture, but I had no idea what it was, so I just grinned back at her.
School was over, and I walked out to the playground to go home. But H. was following me. She kept poking me in the arm, in a friendly way, and was trying to say something. Finally, I understood what she said.
"You want me to visit your home?" I asked. She smiled again. I thought about it. "OK. Let's go over to your place."
It was an incredibly neat and brightly lit house that H.'s family lived in. Her mum was neat-looking, too, and wore thin glasses over her made-up face. My mum never wore make up except for special occasions, so I just stared at her rudely. She smiled at me, and said, "Well now, I think you're the first friend H. has brought home from school for a very long time. We must celebrate."
I grinned awkwardly. H. had a little brother who was a tiny bundle of energy. He darted in and out of the room we were sitting in, staring at me with utmost curiosity. H.'s grandmother came into the room, followed by her mum, who was carrying a tray of sliced fruit and rice cake. I don't remember what we actually played with, or if we ever got to play at all because of H.'s grandmother and her mum grilling me with questions.
To be honest, I can't remember what happened after that, which is puzzling and troubling - did I stay away from her, like every other mean kid in the class, in the end? Or was it just that playing with her wasn't a terribly distinguishable event anyway? What I do know is, at some point very shortly after, H.'s parents decided to send her to a different school (possibly that of a different kind altogether). I don't remember seeing her in the graduation album that we received two years later.