Home > Most Popular > Love in the Big City

Love in the Big City
Author:Sang Young Park

Love in the Big City

Sang Young Park




154 West 14th Street


New York, NY 10011

Distributed by Publishers Group West groveatlantic.com





PART ONE


Jaehee


1.


I took the elevator to the third floor of the hotel and went into the Emerald Hall. Had she said the guest list was four hundred people? It looked like a lot more than that. I sat down in my designated seat and looked around the table: my cohort of French majors, all of us aging at different speeds. How many of them were there? I guess this was the reward for Jaehee saying yes to every postgraduation bender and homecoming-day event. Moments like these made Jaehee’s social life seem to border on the grotesque. I was forced to acknowledge acquaintances I hadn’t talked to in five, even ten years. “Congratulations! I hear you’re a writer now.” “You should get in touch more often.” “Hey, there was a rumor that you’d died, but here you are!” “Where can I find your stories? I tried searching for them on the Internet.” “Wow, writing must be tough on you. Look at how much weight you’ve gained.” “Do you still drink as much as you used to?”

My book is about to come out, I don’t drink as much as I used to, you guys are just as old and fat as I am, and your questions are about to drive me to old drinking habits—these answers were all on the tip of my tongue, but I swallowed them, upholding the dignity of an educated contributor to society in his thirties and laughing off their snideness. I’d been ready to swear to anyone who read my stories that everything I wrote was made up—how silly of me to have prepared an answer for a question that would never be asked. An excess of self-awareness was a disease in itself.

—Please take your seats, the ceremony is about to begin.

The emcee was a close friend of Jaehee’s husband-in-progress. This friend had a sharp chin and greasy skin, not my type at all, and on top of his thick Gyeongsang Province accent, it was all too clear that this country boy wasn’t great at moving things along. And he was a television reporter somehow? I’d have been a much better choice. Who cared about these stupid traditions about whose-best-friend-does-what anymore? The green monster of jealousy was rearing its head.

Next to the platform was a large screen that was flashing photos of Jaehee and her groom. I took another sip of red wine as the low-resolution phone-camera photos flicked by. Cheolgu—who sat next to me and had apparently gotten a job at the Industrial Bank recently—poked me in the ribs.

—Be honest with me. You and Jaehee. Were the rumors true?

The rumors were true, but, dear Cheolgu, what you’re implying seems a little rich coming from the guy who asked Jaehee out only to be viciously snubbed.

?

The summer we turned twenty, Jaehee and I became best friends.

I had a funny drinking rule back then—I would do anything I was told by whoever bought me a drink—and so on that fateful day, there I was again with a man of an uncertain age in the Hamilton Hotel parking lot, sucking face. He had bought me about six shots of tequila at some basement club. The moon and streetlamps and neon signs of the whole world seemed to be shining their lights just for me, and I could still hear the strains of a Kylie Minogue remix in my ear. It wasn’t important who the guy was. The only thing that mattered was that I existed with someone, there in those dark streets of the city, and that was why I was wrestling tongues with a stranger. Just when I thought the heat of the whole world was about to overflow, just for me, I felt a hard slap on my back. In the midst of my complete drunkenness I thought, A hate crime! And in full drama-queen mode, I detached my lips from his and turned around, ready for a fistfight—but there stood Jaehee. As always, she was holding a lipstick-smudged Marlboro Red in one hand, and the sight of her instantly sobered me up. Jaehee could barely catch her breath as she laughed at how shocked I was to see her. Then she said, in her typically brash voice:

—Just eat him, why don’t you?

Before I knew what was happening, I’d burst out laughing at her joke, and at some point I realized the man I was kissing had disappeared, and I can’t even recall his face now. But I do remember more or less what Jaehee and I talked about in the parking lot.

—You’ll keep it a secret around campus, right?

—Of course. I’m a broke bitch, but I’m loyal.

—Weren’t you surprised? Me with a man.

—Not at all.

—Since when did you know?

—Since the moment I laid eyes on you.

The usual cliché.

Up until then I didn’t know Jaehee very well; she was just a girl who wore short-shorts and was always first to run out of class, desperate for a cigarette. Actually, she was pretty close to having the worst reputation in the department.

Even if I did end up an outsider among the French majors at our college, I hadn’t been like that from the beginning, when I was still invited to parties by our male upperclassmen sunbaes just because I happened to be a taller-than-average male. These gatherings always took the same course, all the guys going to the pool hall or PC rooms first, then to a restaurant specializing in MSG cuisine to make the soju flow, then picking one of the less messy sunbaes’ rooms to drink more and talk about girls until we collapsed, snoring. Standard-issue nineteen-and twenty-year-olds talking about what a big deal they were and what great sex they were having, how well they satisfied their women, which of the French department girls were easy. And Jaehee was someone they kept returning to. Listening to their stories that were obviously at least half fiction, and fed up with wondering why I had to put up with this shit even in college, I came to a point where I drunk-shouted, “Fucking stop it with the bullshit, you all have faces like rat dicks,” and flipped the table, after which I was never invited to hang out again.

As is the nature of any group, a member who had fled the fold was inevitably fated to remain as gossip fodder thereafter. Tired of their exhaustive critiques of the female frosh, they tossed me into the meat grinder instead, saying I seemed gay and was hanging out in Itaewon doing God knows what, spreading the kind of rumors only a bunch of innocent nineteen-year-olds would care about, half of which were true. (Truth always surpasses fiction.) Barely a semester had gone by when almost the entire department knew who I was, and I’d heard the rumors myself, making me the butt of everyone’s jokes. I guess I’ll never make friends in this department, not that they can drink to save their lives, and they’re boring as hell. As I was consoling myself with such self-justifications, Jaehee veered into my life.