13 months ago you couldn’t have paid me to stay.

There I stood, Incheon International Airport, hands on the cage just waiting for my release.

I’d been ready to leave Korea for years at that point. Those closing months were an experience whose toxicity was only surpassed by my own.

They say one cannot receive blessings with a closed fist… it would seem an extended middle finger creates much the same effect.

Over the past year in America, I’ve missed Korea more and more. I missed the deep memories first before realizing that the timeline was often interrupted by nothing more or less than my own perceptions.

Now I’m standing at the gate once again. One last time, I’m in a cafe with a few hours on my hands… hours I’ve not had since leaving Korea thirteen months ago.

However, it isn’t just that (though Korea does afford one time to explore many different avenues).

Walking down main street just now, I found myself overcome with emotions. It’s been an up and down two weeks back, so I don’t think it is this recent chapter that I’ll miss the most.

Instead, what I’m feeling is the ache of an upcoming farewell. It isn’t a farewell to the past few weeks, it’s the farewell I never said the last time I swaggered through the exit door.

Goodbye Korea. You gave me everything and I gave you some of me as well. I know I left some of me here. Superficially (there’s more, but what a list even just the surface produces) in my nine years on your shores, I reclaimed my life from a deadly habit, met and married my wife, earned my master’s, wrote two books, paid off a school loan, owned my first home, ran my first business, got two cats, learned to cook and gained a perspective I had never allowed Denver to provide me.

There is nothing that I am today that did not gain something if not everything from my time here and I left you with a curse word. These past few weeks, being back in your gruff embrace, I’ve remembered parts of myself that I either extinguished in DC or, worse yet, failed to nurture/defend.

I’m a writer. I’m a teacher. I’m a lover and I’m a student. It is with all of these that I re-board the plane to my next Chapter tomorrow morning.

I am not sure when we shall meet again, but, this time, I will allow myself to note your lack.

It is by far the least that I can do.

Love, Stephen

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