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We try to break up every night before he goes home. It sounds so high school, doesn’t it? Break up. Me and Goran broke up. Girl, you won’t believe who broke up. Then comes the R&B heartbreak anthems, one hand up in the air testifying. Then comes the girls’ night out, girl power, we don’t need no man, Ima survivah, yeah! This is exactly why Goran and I have to break up before the night’s through, to ward off all that drama. I don’t have time for that.
“Me? Is it me?” Goran asks. We’re walking from class to his dorm on the west side of University of Toronto, then I’ll walk the rest of the way to Koreatown alone. “You’re dropping the course because of me. There’s no other reason far as I can tell.”
“You got me. I plan my life around you,” I say.
“No shame in that, babe.”
Babe registers, but I ignore it. “I don’t have room for Korean.”
“But you’re Korean.”
I let that one go too. “With the store and the other summer course, I’m just maxed out.”
“And I’m dicking around in grad school.”
“Pretty much.” From what he tells me, it just sounds like he’s reading comic books. They’re graphic novels, he says in my head. Whatever. Try Applied Econometrics then talk to me.
“Was the vocab quiz that bad for you?” he asks.
I hand him the rolled-up quiz and wait for him to gloat.
“Sixteen. Ouch.” He slurps in his breath.
“All right, Einstein. Take it easy.”
“Didn’t you study, Soo? I got eighteen and I’m not even — ”
I wag my jaw. We’ve reached his dorm. Goran cups my elbow and gives me a greasy, gold-chain, chest-hair smile.
“You can’t drop, Soo-bella” he says. “How you gonna throw away our one week together as if it’s nothing to you?”
I start walking. He runs ahead and intercepts me.
“Seriously, Soo, Soo Soo Soo, sixteen isn’t bad. Just make yourself some flash cards and go through them every night.”
There’s a brief, stunned silence before I let him have it: “My cumulative gpa is 3.86, so I think I know a little bit about studying. You know, with my Korean smart-genes and all. I might not be in quote unquote grad school yet, but I can figure out how to memorize some words.”
“Take it or leave it.” His eyes are grey. He looks geometric. A sundial for a nose, the rest of his triangular face divided into planes — planes of his cheeks, planes of his jaw, planes of his eyelids. A man based on a Picasso. His hair looks like a helmet made from a spiky animal.
I smile tightly. “Ciao. It’s been good knowing you.”
This is breakup number one, where I don’t hurt Goran as much as I intend to, because, I guess, well, technically, we’re not going out.
I know what he’s thinking as I walk away. She’s such a typical Asian girl, all she cares about are her grades, and pleasing her parents, and when any little thing goes wrong in a course she’s quick to drop it. As if it’s a crime to care. And I’m not typical. You’re typical, you smug, condescending kojaengi. Try to tell me how to study. 3.86 yo. After work, I’m so dropping him. It. I mean it. Korean. Do you? I do. Do you? Please. Like he’s anything. Are you mad because he beat you on the quiz or because he doesn’t have the hots for you? I don’t have time anyway. Because you spend all your time working at the convenience store or because you’re studying for quizzes you can’t ace? Listen, I’ve got my priorities straight.
Sixteen isn’t bad. Like hell it’s not. I registered for Intermediate Korean to offset the Econometrics grade this summer. Twelve weeks, mw 5:00-7:30 p.m. On the advice of some Korean friends, I faked my level of fluency to get in. Tell Professor Yoon that your parents mostly speak English to you at home, that you speak a little Korean to your grandparents or something, but that you can’t read well or understand too much. Not much of lie. When I was a kid, my parents sent me to Korean school on Saturday mornings, then that fizzled out, which means I read like a second grader. My parents have a mix of embarrassment and pride about my ability. In Korea, it would pretty much amount to illiteracy. She’s really Canadian, they tell our long-distance relatives. She can’t even read Korean. I understand enough Korean to understand that.
As I’m walking to the store, the R&B backup singers begin in my head. Tell me how you go’n drop him, Soo? It. Will you drop it like Newton’s apple? or like a bad stock? like it’s hot?
(I’ll miss the big social experiment that is — was, it’s dead to me — Intermediate Korean. It was made up of sixteen other Korean girls of varying Koreanness, from cover-your-mouth-when-laughing girls to girls like me, born in Canada, Korean more by ethnicity than culture, like non-religious Jews. Most of the class fell in the middle — here since age ten or eleven, a hint of a Korean accent when pronouncing unfamiliar English words.)
like leaves in the fall? like rain in the spring? like a man crossin’ the Falls on a tightrope in the wind?(And I’ll miss Goran, the one white guy in the class, the lone ranger. There. I admit it. First class he sat his gangly self next to me and said, Is this Baroque Art? I said, Korean. He said, Ooh honeychile, I in the wrong place. But he’s actually a PhD student in East Asian Studies, trying to fulfill a third language requirement. He’s “researching” Japanese graphic novels although he’s Serbian — his parents — and accepts his destiny of becoming Toronto’s most overqualified burger flipper when he graduates. A side effect of the comics is that he thinks he can be anybody: Korean, Serbian, Newfie, Japanese, Jamaican, Italian, Quebecois, Ghetto. A week in his company and I’ve already adopted ciao and yo.)