4.2 Fall 2022

Hexes for Exes

Do you remember Anthony? My travel school comrade, the outgoing male teacher, expert volleyball spiker, fighter of restaurant robots, English enthusiast?


Well, he’s dead to me.

To explain this saga, I need to line up some details. First, the characters:

Anthony: male homeroom teacher at my travel school

Jisoo: young female homeroom teacher at my travel school. She, her friend, and I all went out for burgers once.

David: Anthony’s friend and male teacher at a different elementary school

As of typing this, I have worked at my travel school every Wednesday for almost the past two years. I occasionally play volleyball with the other teachers and greet Jisoo and Anthony in the halls. Anthony proposed a few different events over the last year: going to a baseball game with him and the other travel school teachers; going to dinner with him and David. None of these came to pass, either by virtue of being forgotten or overlooked.

No matter, I had thought. I can be the instigator.

The other month, my American friend proposed that we eat barbecue at a local restaurant. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to get Anthony out as he had been dealing with back issues and seemingly an endless sludge of tragedy. I also proposed that Anthony invite the mysterious David along, as David had supposedly expressed great interest in meeting me, although he had bailed on previous plans.

My friend and I arrived to the restaurant at 4:50 and waited for Anthony and David who were supposed to meet us there at 5:00.

5pm rolled around and there was no one in sight. Strange, I thought, Koreans usually arrive one minute early and apologize for being late.

The minutes ticked on. I texted Anthony. No response.

It was 5:20 when I finally got a message.

“I’m running late, soooooorry” it read.

I paused at “I”; wasn’t he supposed to bring David along? Well, English isn’t his native language so maybe he made a mistake.

That was generous of me because when Anthony showed up, he was alone. He was alone and had the grimmest face I had ever seen.

Anthony is normally a chipper guy so I asked if he was okay.

“Oh, I’m hungover. I drank a lot with my friends and then had to go hiking this morning with David.” I listened in confusion. Why wasn’t David here? Did he push David off a cliff? And we had planned this dinner for a week. Could he have abstained from excessive drinking for one night?

“And then David and I went to the department store where he sprained his ankle. That’s why he can’t come today.”

So “David” sprained his ankle… not hiking, but at the perfectly level-floored department store?

My alarms were whirring; then and there I concluded that David was not and had never been a real person. If he were, then he certainly didn’t have any interest in meeting me. If I had a sprained ankle, I could still show up for a beef dinner with a good-looking foreigner. In fact, don’t even try to stop me.

The three of us, minus one imaginary member, shuffled inside the restaurant. My friend didn’t know what Anthony was normally like and didn’t think much of his sullen demeanor.

We sat down at one table and in the only bright spot of this dinner, one of my sixth grade students walked through the door.


She ran over and we flapped hands at each other excitedly. It turns out her parents run the restaurant so we got a lot of complimentary side dishes and drinks. Free beef tartare? Excellent.

Despite the delicious grilled meat, Anthony continued to be his alternate reality self. At first I thought maybe he was uncomfortable with my friend and I speaking rapid fire American English, but no matter how many times I leaned over to him to smile and draw him in, his reaction was blank.

I was so thrown off. Every other interaction I’ve ever had with this man has been playful and fun, and full of laughs. There was no laughing that night.

Okay, I’ll talk about travel school. That’ll definitely bring up territory he’s familiar with.

“The other week at volleyball, Jisoo was worried about your back,” I started, remembering how we watched him practice spikes with a grimace on his face. He had also told me that he was recovering from slipped disk surgery and I wondered if he wasn’t doing the macho “I can heal on my own, I don’t need a doctor to tell me what to do” while simultaneously further aggravating his injury.

Anthony turned his whole body to me and set down his chopsticks slowly. Without even the trace of a smile on his face, he asked grimly, “why?”

I was taken aback. Did I say something wrong? Was I not supposed to mention his injury in front of other people, despite the fact that everyone at travel school knows?

I quickly backpedaled but Anthony continued to stare at me gravely. My friend, meanwhile, munched on perilla leaves, unaware of the drama unfolding.

Before I could continue spiraling about what the hell was going on, Anthony finally explained.

“Jisoo and I dated for 8 months. We broke up 2 months ago.”

I had several feelings all at once, but the most immediate and eclipsing one was rage.

I could feel it bubble all the way up into my throat, behind my eyes, but I pasted on a big fake sympathetic expression while I processed my emotions.

I could feel my fake smile turn sharp at the corners like anger was pulling the marionette strings of my mouth. I asked him why he hadn’t told me, I can keep secrets.

“No one talks to me at school, you know that.” I added with an almost hysterical edge.

“So please keep this a secret,” he said, ten months too late.

As if I would tell anyone. As if I had anyone to tell.

I pasted on my customer service face but I’m sure if you looked at my pupils you would have seen fire. Was that smoke from the beef or from my own ears?

He lied by omission, for nearly a year, that he was dating our coworker. Now I understand that people don’t want to talk about work relationships but Anthony and I had gone out to dinner, just the two of us, where he freely asked about my dating life without returning the favor. He could have mentioned he was dating someone at literally any of the times we had been alone together.

He was so immature and unable to process his own emotions that he had ruined this evening. He was angry about Jisoo, his ex-girlfriend, worrying for his health and in turn took out his anger on me during a charmless dinner. What was supposed to be a fun time with local Korean friends had turned into this awkward drag-on.

He baited me with “David” and never followed through.

He embarrassed me in front of my friend– he was dour and charmless and made, in my eyes, a negative first impression.

He had acted excited for dinner and showed up looking as though he’d been dragged.

He had promised me friendship and offered me this flimsy excuse instead.

As we were leaving this terrible dinner behind, and mind you I paid for his meal, he said, “I don’t feel so good, I’m going to skip out on the cafe and just go home.”

Good, I wanted to say. You shouldn’t have come in the first place.

I was still silently fuming at the cafe.

For two years I had tried to make this man my friend. He was the only person at either school that went out of his way to talk to me in English and spend time with me outside of school. He had confided secrets in me and said that I was a good friend. I regularly brought him (and Jisoo and Yana) souvenirs back from vacation.

But when I thought of it again, I realized, I had been making all the effort.

I had gone to his classroom to chat.

I had texted him asking if he was okay after his car accident.

I was the one who talked to him in the breakroom.

Every other interaction had just been a matter of timely intersection.

For two years I thought Anthony was my friend and then I realized finally that I was never his.

I was still angry with him by the next week. He never texted apologizing for his behavior, as I would’ve done if I had gone to meet his friends and acted so sour. He didn’t seek me out at school, which I realized was not something he ever did, that was all me. We said goodbye briefly at the end of the day but he didn’t hang around to chat.

We haven’t had a conversation since that awful dinner, which was almost two months ago.

Anthony may not have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but he was one more slice in a long line of cuts in this increasingly difficult semester.

So thanks Anthony, I guess, for being a sign that sometimes it’s better to move on.

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