우리가 만났을 때 나는 외로웠다. When we met, I was lonely. It was my first year in this country and my first year in conservatory. Each night I slept in the dorm room and each morning I went to the practice room. There was a clock, a chair, and a gleaming grand piano. I sat on the bench, and my reflection emerged from beneath the black lacquer. I covered this reflection with sheet music when I began to play.
My supervisor was Professor Elizabeth Brandt, whom I called Beth. Beth had elegant, slender hands that had aged and wrinkled. She wore colored beads around her neck and scarves of brilliant colors. During our first lesson she said, "You will go so far here!" Her red lips moved with instructions I could hear but not understand. I was pale and simple. I disappeared when I sat beside her and became a cowered shadow. She was confused when I shrank "Of course," she said. "You will succeed only if you want to."
I took an ambitious course load—classes on music history and theory and performance studio. I passed exams and wrote reports and performed without mistakes, but when I sat with my classmates, I didn't know what to say. They talked about music theory and the classical music world and our world in conservatory. They talked about chair rankings and who was the best and who received favors and funding. They talked so much and so fast, and they spread a story of how the admissions panel was conflicted over my audition, of how Beth had advocated for my admittance. She was "wowed" by my technical ability and selected me along with two other undergraduates. My classmates told this story with wild-eyes and talked with me unsure if I was special or a gamble.
Our position in the program was not secure—we all would be evaluated during a final recital at the end of the year when only half of us would be selected to continue on the performance track. My classmates were competitors who would snap my fingers the night [End Page 74] before recital if they had the chance. Beth had won her argument with faith in my potential, but my thoughts scrambled and my heart seized: I was not good enough. I had to practice more diligently.
The morning I met Kyungju, I had a lesson with Beth. She listened to the piece I'd prepared, then put her hand over mine before I finished playing and said, "No," in a tone that made me want to slide straight into the cracks of the keys. "What do you do when you see this?"
"I play quiet," I said.
In my thoughts, I answered, "That is what it means." My eyes floated up to the ceiling. "Is this trick question?" I asked.
Already, Beth listened to me play with her expression blank and solid. She watched me closely, not to my hands or my posture as my other teachers had done, but rather, she searched beneath my skin for a quality that would not appear.
I was scared but did not know my feeling. In the afternoon, I went to a carnival outside campus and stood beneath a tree alone and felt I was floating. I ate popcorn and stared at the clouds that were so white against the blue sky. The sky was closer and brighter here than it appeared at home. I watched as one cloud took its time, deciding whether it would stretch itself across the light. My mother was under the same sky. She said she loved me, but that in love, we were the most alone. The cloud reached the sun and tickled it. I laughed.
"What's funny?" I heard in Korean.
There was a petting zoo beside the tree I stood beneath. Inside was a man I would know to be Kyungju. He sat on a bench with a sketchbook on his lap.
"That cloud," I said, pointing. "It's playing a game with me."
Kyungju laughed and turned to the cloud. The cloud became ordinary. I couldn't think of what to say. He laughed...