My anxiety and I go to Busan because we feel like we should, but then everyone there but us has umbrellas, so we stay off the beaches and just lie in bed in the guesthouse. On the train-ride back to Seoul, we fight about whether the weekend was wasted. At home, the neighbors are too loud and my anxiety suggests noise-canceling headphones. I check online and find out that E-Mart sells them. We go, but it’s Sunday and the place is busy. We can’t find the headphones and can’t ask for help and end up buying mints and nothing else. The mints are delicious.
My anxiety reads to me and it inspires me to make something beautiful. I start playing guitar, but once I get a good progression going, my anxiety tells me it’s too loud and to stop. I stop, then start drawing. I draw some people floating in space and text my friend about it. She likes what I email her. My anxiety tries to be nice about the drawing, but I can see how they really feel. They have a look on their face that says, “Don’t quit your day-job, whatever your friend says.” It is partly a joke and partly a serious expression.
My anxiety comes with me to work, but doesn’t come into the classroom when I teach. They don’t like teenagers. Neither do I. We can bond over this fact. After class, I join my anxiety in my office and eat tangerines from Jeju Island and listen to the other teachers speaking in Korean. Sometimes the ladies speak about me. I can’t understand exactly what they mean. My anxiety bristles. They want their name spoken, as well.
We go on a date, with a woman from Canada. She is a copyeditor for a magazine targeted at expats. She seems nice. My anxiety and I try to give her the low-down on what our relationship is like. The woman seems to get it. Her name is Gladys. My anxiety and I love this old-fashioned name. On the third date, we invite Gladys over to our apartment and immediately start kissing her. We alternate with our kisses. We clumsily reach the bed, but there are too many people for sex. It’s about numbers, frankly. Gladys is so nice that she touches our faces. Her honesty about what she’s looking for is one shade of her niceness, even if my anxiety and I are not what she is looking for.
It’s Saturday evening and we are hungry, but my anxiety and I cannot choose a restaurant. They all look so full of people. We walk around until it’s too late to go to the Home Plus, even. With no options left, we buy milk and chips from the mart and snack and fall asleep.
It’s hard to sleep together. My anxiety thinks it’s because we need a bigger bed, with a firmer base. I’m not so sure. My anxiety has bad dreams and wakes up often, and this wakes me up, too. I am trying to be kind about it. We are who we are and it’s good to feel understood and accepted.
Every morning, we wake up tangled together. Our backs are crooked and hurt constantly, way more than they should at our age.
It’s Sunday now, and this means I should Skype with my parents. It’s late where they are. They know that I’m involved with my anxiety, though they don’t know all the details. My anxiety usually reads in bed while I’m on the call. I can hear them breathing, though. Occasionally, my anxiety goes out for something while I’m talking with family, and this is nice. I can talk louder. But because the bed is so uncomfortable, my anxiety sometimes wants to read next to me on the couch while I’m chatting. They kick me and moan and my parents have to ask if I’m all right and if they should call back later.
We get a dating-app called Skout and try it out. A friend in China says he had luck with it. By luck, he means he found some sexual partners. My anxiety and I are looking for more than that, but honestly, sex would be nice. My anxiety prefers handjobs. That would be ideal. I like handjobs, too.
The first person we meet is named Min-Young. She is a designer, but with the language-barrier, it’s hard to learn what kind. We meet and it’s fun, but only after drinking soju. My anxiety and I know that this is a bad sign, so we keep looking for people. We are fine with someone whose English is not so good. Our Korean is not so good. We are OK walking the streets and speaking one word at a time. Apartment. River. Sky. We just want someone who makes us feel calm, someone who listens well, someone who appreciates silence the way we do.
We meet a physical therapist named Hyun-Ji who laughs a lot and has a low voice. My anxiety and I like both of these qualities. Also, her hands are nice. She likes wrestling and on the second date, we hang out at home and watch some Korean matches. She laughs. She is cool just watching. We can fritter away a Saturday afternoon with wrestling-drama. My anxiety falls asleep. Hyun-Ji and I start kissing. We take off our clothes, which rouses my anxiety, but then Hyun-Ji shows me exactly how she likes to be touched, and my anxiety is zonked out again. They are so zonked out. Hyun-Ji laughs.
She is Christian, however, unlike me, and from a conservative family, unlike me, and eventually she tells my anxiety and me that she can’t tell her parents about us. She apologizes and asks what we want to do. My anxiety and I think it over and suggest being friends. We keep having sex, anyway. This arrangement starts to feel bad, so when Hyun-Ji gets set up with a man from her family’s church, my anxiety and I are happy to cut off all contact with her.
We are starting to despair, my anxiety and me. We get lonely. We have long talks that keep us awake. My hair thins. It is too long. We gain weight. We lose it and gain it again. My anxiety wants to join a gym, and we do, but then when we go, they just want to walk on the treadmill in the back. I want to try doing pullups, but my anxiety keeps drinking water under the pullup-bar. They watch people doing squats and for some reason yell my name, until everyone is looking at me.
I consider quitting my job and moving, either to America or somewhere else.
My anxiety and I are together forever. We know this. And we know that moving can provide us a fresh start and at least a few good days.
But there is a cycle to go through, and we know this, too.
One day, I find my anxiety talking to some stranger in the park. I walk up and ask if my anxiety is bothering this person. Before they can answer, a woman walks up with a dog. She asks me if her depression is bothering us.
“No,” I tell her. She says her name is Jung-Min.
“Were they?” I start. But I just stop. I listen. She says her dog’s name is Chingu. In Korean, this word means “friend.”
As time goes on, we watch movies and go for walks. Jung-Min likes to hear jokes. She does not like to tell them. Her English is so good because her father is an international businessman. He speaks Chinese even better than he speaks English.
Jung-Min does not have a job, but only because she was tired of being a lawyer. It did not suit her. We have lots of time to spend together. She tries to explain to me how investments work, but I can’t wrap my head around it. Neither of us worries about our inability to communicate this information. We describe the moon, badly, in English and then in Korean.
We laugh. We paint her fingernails red. My anxiety and her depression play board-games on the floor. My anxiety tells me about her depression, and this helps me to be kinder to both of them. After 100 days of meeting, we make our relationship official. I feel so loving that I draw a picture a day for Jung-Min. I keep it up for another 100 days. Some of those days, she spends hour after hour in bed. Some of those days, she doesn’t care about my pictures. Sometimes, I have to care for Chingu, because she can’t. My anxiety confronts her about this. I am left to play peacekeeper. I talk seriously with Jung-Min and her depression, and am firm when her depression jumps on her back. They listen seriously. I feel serious. I feel scared. I am always patient, as are they. I tell my anxiety that patience is the same thing as love. They squirm, but I am resolute. Eventually, the idea sticks. In fact, we all stick.
The next time we visit Busan, it’s the four of us. We buy and bring an umbrella, and we don’t use it once.