Last summer, my friend Mehrnaz came to visit me. I met her four years ago when we were both exchange students in Seoul. It seems like only yesterday we were fooling around South Korea. Another lifetime ago.
We were out very late. The whole night was a blur. Lots of emotions, lots of tears. I didn’t know if I would ever see any of them again. Probably not. I didn’t want to think about it. I wanted to capture this moment, be able to recall every detail of this night. I wanted it to live on in my memory forever. A picture of us at this very moment, in this time and this place. Seoul. The smell of it. The feeling of it. All of it. It was our last night here. In this city that had welcomed us with open arms. A place in which we allowed ourselves to be young and free. A place we call home. A time in our lives we allowed ourselves to live and to embrace the present to the fullest. To grow and to learn from our mistakes. To be curious and try on new things. Explore. To embrace things as it is, as it comes. Seoul captured my heart. I fell in love with the city, with the lifestyle, with this version of myself I was at this time of my life.
I left in the morning. I didn’t look back. And I didn’t say goodbye. I couldn’t bring myself to wake her and go over the roller coaster of emotions from last night all over again. At the first light of dawn, I left. My heart shattered and I left a piece of it behind.
Fast forward to today. I only kept a vague memory of this period. I remember the excitement of leaving everything behind to start a new life in a new city. I left behind a comfort that felt like a prison. A daily routine that was slowly killing my soul. I never looked back. I embraced Seoul without any expectations. I needed the change. I needed to move, to be elsewhere, even if it was for a short while.
Free at last. Free of everything. Free of any expectations. Here, at this time, in this place, I was free to be whoever I wanted to be, to create the life I always wanted. It was like drawing the first breath after drowning for so long. I finally gave myself permission to live. It felt like I have been living in a universe of muted tones for so long and all of a sudden all the colors came back into my life at once. It felt like for the first time in a very long time, I was finally living and not waiting for my life to unfold like some bystander. Magic had finally come back into my world and I never felt more alive than at this moment.
And for years after this adventure ended, I chased after the magic I found in Seoul, hoping to find it again in the face of the many people I met in the many trips I took without any success. It was gone. And it was never going to be the same again. I soon realized this version of me I was chasing all those years through all those trips; I realized she was long gone too. And I missed her. And I knew she would always be a part of me. But she was never coming back. I let her go all those years ago on the very day I left. I never set foot in this country again. Part of me didn’t want to alter any of the memories I made over there. I knew all too well it wouldn’t have been the same. Nothing would ever be the same again.
Everything made so much sense when I saw her again last summer. Nothing changed on the surface. It was like we never left Korea. And for a brief moment, we reverted back to our younger selves. To the person we used to be at this time of our life just four years ago. But deep down, I knew we were no longer that person.
We did laugh and had fun like we used to. And we were catching up on the high and the lows of our lives from the last couple of years. We talked about the past and the future, especially the past where we had the most in common. In fact, it was the only thing we still have in common. Reminiscing about that magical period of our lives. And for a brief moment, I was her again. The girl I searched for all those years ago. The girl I left behind in Korea. She came back to me. For a brief moment, she came back and she reminded me how once, I used to be so carefree. How once, everything used to be so simple and fun.
I was delighted to finally have her back, even for a short while. I welcome her back like a long lost friend. And I knew she wouldn’t stay. As she was now living in my past. And this time, I didn’t chase after her, as I was at peace with where I was in life at this time and this place, no matter how messy and unstable it was at this moment. This time, I would not look back.
“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. You’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” — Azar Nafisi