Powerless and outside of society, the reservation remains a hopeless place. Alone, you aimlessly drift in the memories of growing up in a developing country. You are a refugee lost in a foreign world beyond the scope of your comprehension. How could you be a part of something that appears to have no room for someone like you? You don’t understand this new world, yet you understand that it needs you. And despite being set up for failure from the start, you are still here. You are still trying.
Return to that child
Lost in the brush
Running out of fear
Return to that child
Sand tucked in creases
The hills your amphitheater
Grass and sage applause.
Hot heat evaporates
Soft stomach of the dog
Dunk a cup into the well water
Food from the ice box
Return to that child
Because you must.
I went to South Korea when I was 19, ready for adventure, independence, and a healthy dose of soul-searching. My first year at college had been full of questioning and experimenting with my sexuality, leaving me ripe for a long hiatus from everything I had known to truly find myself. My semester at Handong University in the small coastal city of Pohang seemed to be the perfect solution.
I had dreamt of going to South Korea all through high school. I attended a small, conservative Christian school that existed almost entirely on the tuition fees of the international student body, about half of my graduating class. Many of my closest friends at the time came from Seoul and Busan. They taught me to read and write the language and a few of the essential phrases I would need. Things like “Don’t touch me pervert!” or “Want to die?” There were, of course, the ones I had stumbled on all on my own, like the time I asked my friend for a pair of chopsticks but ended up saying, “Suck my dick.”
I was ready to learn more appropriate words and to give myself the complete immersion experience so many of my friends had gone through when they came to the tiny Appalachian hamlet of Houghton, NY. I was excited to make friends, eat food, and get a fresh start on my life. Then I met Lana.
Lana was everything I could hope for in a woman: globally minded, beautiful, intelligent, independent, ambitious, challenging, and understanding. Not long into our dating relationship I told her I identified as bisexual. She didn’t care, as long as I loved her. As the semester came to a close, we knew we had to make a decision about our future and like the young and dumb in love, we decided we would make it work. I was spending the summer in South Korea before heading to China for the fall semester and she was going on a spiritual retreat to Cheju Island. Handong had that effect on both of us. We were both falling strongly into the old Christian tradition. Our faith told us we would be fine, that I could resist my attraction to men and be her partner, that love could withstand the distance, and that God wanted us to be together. So before heading to China I decided to spend a week with her and her family in Mongolia. Together, we traversed the expansive Mongolian steppe, breathing the purest air on Earth and staying for one night in what was once the capital of the largest empire in world history. Our time in Mongolia filled my head with visions of the future: I would ask my parents to offer her a blue ribbon, a requirement for marriage, and one I finished school we would move to the states or back to South Korea. But all too soon, the fall semester approached and it was time for me to go to China.
China was the opposite of Mongolia in nearly every possible way. The air was dirty, the urban sprawl was as vast as the open grassland, and I discovered that the love of my life was to be a man. In China, I fell in love with Colby. In only two days, everything I thought I had built crumbled and my true identity to came screaming out from the deepest parts of my soul. Everything I thought I knew fell away in his arms and everything he knew fell apart in mine. When Lana came to visit me in China, I told her everything. We cried and she said she still believed it could work. In response, I silently kissed her eyelids knowing that this symbolized a Mongolian farewell used when you go off to war and you’re unsure if you will ever see the other person again.
Crying beneath my sunglasses, I watched her leave on the train back to Ulaanbaatar. It took me until nightfall to get back to the college. I ran to Colby’s room, where he had locked himself nearly the entire week Lana had come to visit. As he looked up, I told him that I chose him, that I loved him, and that I wanted to be with him forever, just like I would say to him on our wedding day.