“Weren’t you scared?” Maru asked as he closed the notebook.
“When you dropped out. Many people spend 12 years of their lives working with Seoul University as their goal. Yet you dropped out regardless. Weren’t you scared of what might happen afterwards?”
Gwak Joon started spinning his pen between his fingers.
“My father always loved to talk about law school. He said law school was heaven on earth and it would be my sole goal in life. That made me believe I’d have to go to law school when I grew up. I didn’t know why I had to go to college, like everyone else at the time. I just thought I had to go because, well, my parents wanted me to.”
The man was right. Maru was whisked into college as well since everyone else had gone at the time, he didn’t want to stray from the norm.
“The current state of society makes it so that you have to work to bring capitalists profit. To these capitalists, the greatest form of profit are laborers that don’t question their decisions. Not the smart people, mind you. So how would you go about making these laborers?”
“If you want to make submissive ones… education.”
“That’s right, education. This country’s education is completely centered on making easy to manage people. It’s a very efficient factory in that sense. Ok then, tell me this. If that factory creates an unusual part, what would the factory call that part?”
“A defective product.”
“Exactly. This country doesn’t accept diversity or uniqueness at all. They think you’re crazy to try to escape this factory they built for you. Things were the same when I dropped out of college. They told me that I was crazy for giving up a possibility for an easy life.”
Gwak Joon suddenly tightened his grip on his pen.
“Was I scared? Of course I was. Was I nervous? Incredibly so. Because I was transitioning from a machine to becoming a human. I’m not trying to mock those who stay in the factory lane. If they stay on that route and have a definitive goal for themselves, that makes them human as well. But I do wonder sometimes. How many people actually do the things they do because they want to do it?”
Maru might’ve laughed at the man in his previous life, but he could understand the man now. At some point in your life, you start getting desensitized to everything. The word ‘why’ disappears from your vocabulary. Why do I study math? Why do I go to school? Why do I study, to begin with?
You start accelerating, in the bad sense of the word.
The barricades set on the sides of the road stop looking like barriers, they start looking like the environment instead. Instead of wondering what’s on the other side of those barricades, all you care about is how fast you can go on the road. When you start seeing those who try to get out of those barricades, you end up only being able to say one thing.
When you see those who actually go over those barricades and succeed, once again you can only ask one thing.
How the hell did that guy succeed?
“If you keep following a path because that’s what you’ve done for the past twelve years of your life, then what becomes of the eighty years you still have left in front of you? I dropped out as such a thought occurred to me. I don’t want to recommend my path to anyone, but I did manage to do what I wanted in the end. Personally, I’m satisfied.”
“Wouldn’t you have regretted your decision if you weren’t even able to get a single book out?”
“If that was the case, I would’ve been sighing every time I looked at Seoul University’s logo. But even so, I’d rather regret having done something rather than be relieved that I didn’t do something. Regrets spawn from decisions. I’d rather have the freedom of choice rather than be free from regret.”
Freedom of choice.
“I suppose some of that mentality applies to the old man in the book as well.”
“The old man lived that life as well. He invested his all into his children like everyone else around him. He raised his children and expected filialty from them. But in this horrible cycle, a mere pebble in the road can break this relationship completely. The real world proves this time and again, as a matter of fact.”
“So the old man made a decision in the end. Through murder.”
“He wanted to prove himself, no matter how violent the method was.”
The old man lived an average life. In the end, he decided to throw away that mundaneness of himself. Was the old man happy as he murdered his own children?
“I personally think that the parent-child relationship should be a lot more relaxed than it’s supposed to be right now. Humans are very annoying creatures. Most animals can take care of themselves after just a year. But human children need twenty, sometimes even more, years of looking after. It’s absolutely ridiculous. That’s why you have parents who think of children as a sort of insurance. They invested through their effort into raising their child, so they expect that much back in return from their kid. I greatly dislike that mentality.”
“Parent-child relationships would certainly improve without that mindset.”
“Right. Of course, I get why parents think this way. It is a huge investment, after all. But I think that’s precisely why parents and children need to draw a line on both emotional and financial investment. The parent should allow their child to live freely after raising them. The child should live a life of their own. Rinse and repeat. Don’t pressure your child and don’t see them as insurance.”
It made sense. Every parent wanted to see their child do well. Why? Digging deeper into that question reveals some complicated and sometimes disturbing reasons. Maru tried looking back to his own past, he somewhat remembered chastising his own daughter for doing badly in a test. He recalled his ruthlessness to his daughter at the time. Did he do that for his daughter? Because he really cared for her future?
Perhaps what he really should’ve done is cheer her on, telling her she worked hard. She must’ve gotten chastised enough at school, so could he really scold her again in the name of love? All his life, Maru told himself that home should be a place to rest your body and soul. Realizing that he’s betrayed that notion to his daughter made him let out a laugh of self-mockery.
If he scolded his daughter for bad grades and praised her for good ones, then what became important to him were grades. He loved his daughter and not her grades. So why did he scold her? Perhaps he, too, was thinking of her as an investment of sorts.
“Raising your own child is a responsibility. The moment you try to use the logic of contracts into that relationship, it’s ruined.”
The child can’t choose their parents, the child gets born through the parents’ decision. So, raising a child is the parent’s responsibility. The parent needs to make sure that the life that they gave birth to by their own volition can grow up to be independent.
“Perhaps I was mistaking responsibility for love.” “What?”
“It’s nothing. Just talking to myself.”
The conversation they had today gave Maru insights in raising his child. He shouldn’t look at the minor benefits that his child would bring him, rather look at the child itself. This idea struck closer to home than just the idea of ‘familial love’.
The two of them talked more about the book for another twenty minutes after that, Maru asked several questions that came to him as he read the book. He got answers to some and they contemplated several of the other questions together.
“Interesting, isn’t it? I was the one who wrote the book, but I always discover something new when I talk about it with someone else. That probably means I’m still inexperienced.”
Just as Gwak Joon put his pen down, they heard a sound of an engine from out the window. The bright light of a car’s headlights struck their window briefly before disappearing.
Gwak Joon got up from his seat. Was it Senior Moonjoong? Maru stepped down the staircase as well.
“I was wondering why it was so quiet.”
They could see an empty soju bottle, Suyeon was sleeping on a sofa and Geunsoo was passed out right under it. It hasn’t even been an hour. Maru shook his head as he walked to the front door, the sounds of the engine stopped from out the door. Moonjoong stepped inside shortly after, wearing a big padded jacket.
“Welcome back,” Gwak Joon said.
Maru tried to greet the man as well, but Moonjoong looked a bit odd. The old man looked at the two of them with disinterest before heading straight to the second floor.
“...He looks really mad.”
“I don’t think that’s it.”
Gwak Joon seemed totally aware of what was happening.
“Help me make some tea. It’s supposed to be that woman’s job, but she’s clearly passed out right now.”
Maru put some water on boil using the coffee pot in the living room. In that time, Gwak Joon put a spoon of honey into a teacup. They put the boiling water on top of it and headed to the second floor. Gwak Joon knocked on the room on the left side of the staircase.
“Sir, this is Joon. I have some tea for you.”
There was no immediate response from inside. A few moments later, Moonjoong opened the door with a tired expression. He looked absolutely exhausted, but his eyes had some warmth back in it.
“Sorry about before. I had some scraps left inside still. Come inside.”
Maru paid particular attention to the man’s walk. He was stumbling a little bit like someone who just finished a marathon. What in the world was this person doing in his car?
“You should warm up a little,” Gwak Joon said as he handed the cup over.
Moonjoong looked a lot better with a sip of honeyed water inside him.
“You did it today as well?”
As well? Maru waited for Moonjoong’s reply. The man slowly responded after taking another sip of water.
“It was worse than yesterday. Thanks to it, I was very annoyed when I saw the two of you earlier. I wasn’t able to get all of the emotional scraps out of me.”
“Won’t you ruin your health at this rate?”
“It’s not that bad. Well, I suppose I should try to limit myself considering my age, but… This is very fun.”
Moonjoong smiled happily, the man didn’t match himself at all from when he first entered the house. What happened?
“You must be confused.”
“I wondered if I made a mistake in front of you.”
“Haha, nothing of the sort. Just...”
Moonjoong looked up into the ceiling.
“I’m in the process of becoming the ‘old man’.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter