“Time stops at the point of severance, and no subsequent impressions muddy the picture you have in mind. The house, the garden, the country you have lost remain forever as you remember them.”
— Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation
When I was younger, we used to live in my grandparent’s house, situated on a backroad in Seoul. And across from our house was the opening to a small alleyway, where all of my other friends lived — or at least where we all met to play. I guess I never really knew where they lived. They probably came from all over, but in my mind, our childhoods all existed in that alleyway space, and we never saw each other outside of it. I took a peek into it when I went back last year, on a spontaneous trip after quitting all my jobs and booking a one-way ticket to Korea. I didn’t have it in me to step into the space and explore it again, now almost 20 years since I had left, but I did sneak a quick look as I walked by, and it’s quite a small alleyway. I recall it feeling small even back then. It was a wider-than-normal walking path between two 빌라 / “villas” (which is what Koreans call 2-3 story apartments) that faced each other, and then at the end of the villas, there was a sharp L-shaped bend in the alley, which opened out into a bigger road that we used to use to get to our elementary school.
My mother disliked me going through the alley on my own or playing there. It was quite dark and narrow, without any streetlights, and I suppose it was a dangerous place for a kid to walk through alone. But to me, it felt like the dark warm crevice of a familiar space, and I used to run through it on my way back from piano lessons, just to see if anyone was out playing. I still remember the hopscotch board that we used to draw out for ourselves (a different one than the square ones here) and how we would jump rope together, eventually ending up tired and rolling around on the brick-paved alleyway till dusk.
I don’t remember their names or their faces, just that we spent that parts of our childhood together. Sometimes my grandmother pulls out a name and asks me if I remember running around with them when I was younger — usually after this person has gotten married or goes abroad, probably something that was brought up in the local gossip circles — and I just shake my head. They all remain a clump of warm feelings and nostalgic memories in my mind, and I think actually meeting them against the backdrop of our parents egging us on to be best friends again after nearly 20 years would be incredibly awkward. Plus, they became reshaped and remolded so frequently in my memories that they’re more figments of my own imagination than actual people. I know from experience that retouching old memories sometimes shatters them beyond repair. And so, they will always remain in that alleyway as long as the place continues to exist within my mind — skipping hopscotch in the approaching dusk.