Two days after my birthday is nearly my deathday. I do not recognize it as such that morning, of course, unrolling myself from the floor, stretching awake, and then bounding off to work. I do not realize it as I go to a blues dance at Swing Zoo that night, at the time my only concern being the brief, dark walk from the dance club to Sindaebang station, and I do not realize it as I walk though my neighborhood, by chance running into a friendly group of Happy Bar dancers who then invite me to go out drinking with them. My day is normal, joyful even. Then I return to my home.
As always, my neighbors have left the main door of the building not only unlocked, but swung wide open into the street. I climb my stairs without a second thought about it. This is Korea. It is always safe here.
I can not immediately fall asleep after a night out, too wound up, mind and body still active from the long day. I turn on all the lights in my tiny apartment, grab a book, and prop myself up against the kitchen wall. About 20 minutes into reading, I hear the noise of footsteps on the rooftop. Well, I think to myself, it's not just my rooftop. Maybe the neighbors just came up to get a bit of night air. The footsteps do not leave; instead, they seem pacing in front of my apartment. Or maybe, I think to myself uneasily, they just need to hang up some washing? The clothesline is just in front of my place. Laundry at 3:00 a.m.?
Then I see it, just slightly, the handle of my locked door quivers as someone tests its give. I take my fist and pound against my side of the door. Footsteps fall back loudly in surprise.
I stay next to my door, and tensely continue to read, waiting for I don't know what. About 20 minutes later, I hear the thin metallic ping of my door as the handle is moved once more. The light outside my door flickers on and off, triggered by movement.
Perhaps it was not meant to be my deathday. Perhaps that is an exaggeration. All I know is that the lights in my apartment are bright, and there are no curtains. The only things visible through the window of my apartment are my refrigerator and a pile of dirty clothes. I don't even have any furniture, besides the fridge. The only thing of value in the apartment is . . . me.
As difficult as it feels to immerse myself completely in darkness, I turn out all of my lights. Since I had spent so much time in the windowless kitchen, it is possible the intruder has not actually seen me. I do not want him to know I am a woman. I do not want him to know I am a foreigner. I do not want him to know I am alone. With all the lights out, he should be blind to me. I creep to the window in my living room, peer from the edge. I can't see anybody, just the motion light sensor as it again flickers on and then off.
I crawl over to the last "room" of my apartment, which in essence is an open closet. It is where I've stacked my piles of clothes and books, still unsorted after my recent move. The closet room has only a thin curtain -- a starry, magenta scarf, partioning it and the rest of the room. During the previous night's thunderstorm, I had dragged the foam mattress topper and pile of blankets that serve as my bed into the closet, in order to better avoid the lightning. I crawl to it now, my body slunk into the ground in an effort to escape the intruder's attention. As I blindly crawl, I put my hands out to either side of me, feeling the ground. My phone! Where's my phone? I can't find my phone.
Then I realize. I have not paid my phone bill this month. I cannot dial out. What's more, I don't even know my own address.
I reach the closet, grab my largest umbrella and lay it beside me. It is my only possible weapon.
About the same time, at what I guess to be two or three buildings away, a woman starts screaming. These do not sound like ordinary screams, but more like a keening wail that rises and falls in grief. The woman screams and screams. She does not stop screaming.
I hunker down into my pile of blankets. Willing my body to be smaller, unreachable, I curl into a tight little ball. I say a prayer. Amazingly, within minutes, I fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Unbeknownst to me, the outside screen of my window silently slides open.
It is Friday the 13th.
This is not fiction.
This is not a dream.
This is my life.