Product of the Environment

The summer sun gave Patrick a burning sensation. 3M must have been lax in its quality control, because the heavy tint on Patrick’s windscreen was not helping the situation. The full blast of the A/C helped to cool his skin, somewhat, but today, even that was not enough. Moreover, business was slow. Patrick wasn’t going anywhere fast.

Patrick was a taxi driver in Seoul, a metropolis in South Korea, located just 35 miles from the infamous DMZ. Patrick was, obviously, not his birth name. His birth name was Lee Jung Tae. This was the name that adorned the license that hung behind the passenger head rest in his cab. The name he started life with, and the one he was determined to finish it with.

Patrick was a name he took on for himself when his family sent him to study abroad in the US. Patrick’s parents were always proponents of the American way of life. In fact, Patrick’s father drove around town in a GM Korea Rekord. The man, stubborn as he was, refused to update to a new model, until the damn thing broke down in the middle of the freeway. He eventually returned to American cars after GM’s launch of the Chevrolet brand in Korea (after its takeover of the failed Daewoo Motors).

Patrick left for Korea on his 20th birthday, on a plane bound for Los Angeles. It was, by far, the most accessible city for Koreans during the early 90’s, when a Korean diaspora was just beginning to take form. In fact, Koreans in LA used to call the city the Na-Seong district of Seoul due to the sheer size of the Korean population in the city. Patrick remembers his voyage as if it were yesterday. The plane touched down on LAX, marking an end to an almost 20 hour journey, including a layover in some unmemorable city. Patrick was too busy trying to get any rest he can. This was, after all, before in-flight entertainment had proliferated. He landed in the city in mid August, from what he can gather. The sun beat the tarmac like there was no tomorrow. The heat caused the air above it to gently rock, like water on the ocean surface. It was a dry heat, however, and Patrick remembered it being rather nice the shade during his free times.

Patrick stayed with his estranged uncle, who moved to the area during Park Chung Hee’s dictatorship. His uncle, who went by the name of Peter, lost his wife during a protest rally against the dictator, which prompted his move out of the country. Patrick remembered his uncle drinking himself to sleep ever since, claiming he couldn’t handle the pain. But this wasn’t the man who greeted Patrick at the airport. The disheveled, disaster of a man that Peter was in Patrick’s memory was nowhere to be found. Instead, a well kempt, clean shaven man held up a sign that read Lee Jung Tae.

Patrick later found out what had happened to his uncle during the ride home. Rather, he speculated. From Peter’s rear view mirror hung a necklace with a cross charm at the end of it. Moreover, in his center console, there was a book. The title was in Korean. It read Seong-Gyeong — it was the Bible. Patrick said nothing of it, and stared blankly out the window. Peter was the first to break the silence.

“How was the flight?” Peter asked.

Patrick took a second to reply. Perhaps a second too long. “It was… alright,” he finally replied.

“That’s good to hear,” Peter said, in a relieved tone. “Are you hungry at all?”

Patrick glanced over at the clock. The time was nearing dinner time. But, thanks to jet lag, Patrick wasn’t hungry. In fact, Patrick felt rather numb. He didn’t know what to feel. He concluded he was feeling tired. “No,” he said in a lethargic manner. “I’m just a bit jet lagged.”

“Well,” Peter reassured Patrick. “We’re almost there. You go on to your room, while I unload your bags. You can unpack your things tomorrow.”

Peter took a left turn into a small side street, and then a right turn soon after on to a driveway. This was the place Patrick was to call home for the next few years. Patrick went up to his room, and dropped dead on his bed. It felt like the weight of the world was pushing him down on the bed. But that sensation lasted only for a second. Then, Patrick passed out. The next time he opened his eyes, the clock had jumped 16 hours ahead.

He began school soon after. He was to attend UCLA, supposedly a highly prestigious university, studying business, while working night shifts at a restaurant in Koreatown, some 20 minutes away by car. Trouble was, Patrick didn’t have a car, nor a license. And public transport in Los Angeles was next to non-existent. He would soon find himself wasting hours on public transport, with no other options.

His classes weren’t too difficult, mainly due to the sheer number of hours spent at cram schools and academies during his childhood. The workload was bearable, too. Contrary to his uncle’s warnings, it was far more bearable than the workload he faced during his youth in Korea. Compared to then, this was heaven. And he would have graduated with no issues, had it not been for the financial burden placed on him. Patrick worked tirelessly from the dinner rush to closing at a Korean restaurant, a local hotspot for drunkards on weekday nights. Patrick, as the bus boy, was tasked with clearing up the drunken mess caused by the customers, many of whom were not much older than he was. Worse, he could feel the stares of pity from those around him. In fact, he heard one man whisper, rather loudly, about how he saw Patrick at school. How the sight of a UCLA student work such a low level job disgusted him. The problem was only exacerbated by his uncle on the weekends. Peter, being a devout Christian, dragged Patrick to church every Sunday morning.

Patrick thought it would get better as the days progressed. But the situation showed no signs of waning. In fact, rumors began spreading about Patrick’s employment at the Korean restaurant (which was illegal as per his visa status). This prompted an increase in heinous acts by UCLA students at the restaurant. More drunk recklessness, more raucous, more belittling laughter abound. Patrick was all but powerless. He had to endure, lest one student report him for his illegal employment. His family couldn’t afford the tuition at UCLA otherwise, and Patrick definitely couldn’t afford deportation.

But continued stress causes things to become weak. And the once monolithic mettle of Patrick gave way to cracks and chinks. Despite his tired body, he was unable to fall into deep slumber. The numbness he had felt since the day he landed in the US had exacerbated, to the point where he no longer felt the sore spots on his body after a long day of labor.

On the day it all ended, something snapped in his mind. Patrick remembers, rather well, about how it all went down. It was just the slightest aggravation by the one who made that snide remark at his restaurant. He was a regular at Patrick’s work. Patrick used this as an opportunity. He followed the man after the man had left the restaurant. Then, when no one was around, he took the man to a back alley, stabbed him with the knife that he stole from the restaurant, and threw him into the nearest dumpster. He then lit the whole thing on fire, and walked away from the site. Firefighters arrived at the scene, and put out the fire, which ended with property damage to nearby buildings.

That Sunday, Patrick prayed for the first time in his life. He began to ask for forgiveness. He dropped out of school the following Monday, and boarded a flight home the following week. There was a missing persons report all over the news that week, but Patrick never found out. He avoided all contact, and locked himself in his room, leaving only for food, and for church. His faith continued at home, where he was disowned by his parents for his decisions to drop out of college. He ended up working odd jobs until he finally attained a license, upon which, he became a cab driver.

Patrick was lost in his thoughts, reminiscing about how his life ended up the way it had. The guilt in his mind began to build up. He became paralyzed. He began to pray. He began to bawl uncontrollably. Just then, when he began to shed tears uncontrollably, a customer got into the back. He wiped the tears from his face.

He released the parking break. He pressed the gas gently.

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