on july 26th, 2012, i left south korea, the country i had been living in for the past eight years. i was fourteen. it wasn't a permanent situation; my mother had accepted an offer to teach a semester at uc berkeley, and i was collateral damage. this isn't to say i didn't want to go. i wanted to go. i wanted to go badly. all i had of america were a few blurry memories and a wonderful, beautiful language. i wanted to see everything, to do everything, to know what made me so desperately eager to leave.
august 3rd, i went to lollapalooza. it was a certain indulgent dream of mine, that i would one day go. once the trip to america was a certainty, i begged my mother to take me. she said yes, although i thought it was more in apology of her recent separation from my father, than because of the goodness of her heart. i had to take a compromise, though; she would take me to chicago, but i would have to accompany her to a buddhist peace camp in michigan first. i'll tell you more about that later. chicago was a wonderful city, and it took me completely off-guard, just like everything else had since i'd arrived in the u.s. everything was a novelty, and i hadn't even boarded the train yet. the rails creaked and squealed, and swung us gently from side to side above the streets of chicago, and when we descended, there were people. the people defied description, every type and every shape and every purpose was present on that narrow sidewalk, and the harsh sun beat down on all of them. as we followed the trail of freshly caffeinated concert-goers, the streets grew wider and the shouts grew louder. at the front gate, i took photos of everyone. the man in the rolling stones shirt with the cutoff sleeves and a greying handlebar mustache, the woman in the striped shirt, middle finger raised high. yet no one seemed to mind.
inside was like a entire universe. nothing was really different, the people and the concrete were all still there, but i was in atlantis, with tall magenta banners. the first set i needed to see was dr. dog, playing the red bull soundstage at 2:15. i arrived almost a full hour early, and so i spent the time standing in the blazing sun, and breathing the strangely cool air, tinged with unidentifiable smells. i had been to concerts before, but the volume and the passion, the sheer drive and energy human beings put into the things they love was still breathtaking. it slowly dawned on me that the odd smell in the air was in fact weed, and its source was sitting right in front of me, an elderly couple who took great joy in passing their joint to the shirtless man next to them. i didn't enjoy the smell, yet i relished it, because it was new. the music was loud and hectic and unfamiliar and absolutely perfect, and made me giddy. i then rushed to the the f.y.e autograph tent, and got their new album signed by all six members. i didn't know them very well; i enjoyed just a few of their songs, but it was still a surreal process, shaking hands that had just been busy making impossibilities. we dropped by sbtrkt, and saw that sampha really did sing that well. after a blur of colors, clothes, and credit cards, it was time to see the group i had been longing for all day. passion pit had introduced me to music, and to the possibility of having my own unique taste in whatever the hell i wanted. they had given me permission, in a way, to be myself. i got there early, but not early enough, and could barely see as michael angelakos ran onto the stage, almost unrecognizable with his new haircut. there were three men standing in front of me, all of whom were absolutely stoned. they asked me to take their picture with my fancy camera, and in return they boosted me several meters forward. there, i found a shirtless white man, with dyed spiky blond hair and blue-rimmed sunglasses. standing nearby were his friends, or his newly found acquaintances (i couldn't tell, because americans were so strangely friendly to one another), and another shirtless white man, freckled and tanned all over his body, and curly cropped hair, crouching on the ground. as i watched, the first man (whom we will call taylor) dropped to ground next to the second man (whom we will call calvin) , hugged him close, and pulled him up to full height. i could see now that calvin was shorter than taylor, and that his nipples were pierced. taylor was obviously older. he had an an thin, angular face, with high cheekbones and blond stubble. calvin had softer features, with full lips and smooth freckled skin. at first i thought it was just friendly affection, but the two had a atmosphere around them, so obvious it was nearly tangible. they pushed and leaned against one another, and taylor insisted on always keeping his arms around calvin, his face buried in the hollow of his neck. they were beautiful. i had never seen a gay couple before (which probably speaks volumes about korea) and i was fascinated. they had an easy, loose affection i had never seen in heterosexual couples. however protective and possessive taylor's actions seemed, there was nothing aggressive or uncomfortable about it. it was natural and captivating and the most desirous thing i had ever seen. not because of the physical beauty of both individuals, or because i was one of those people who find homosexuality attractive (although i am), it was the way they just fit. it was perfect in ways i had never been, and it made me more jealous than i could possibly handle. at one point, taylor turned to me and said, his breath swirling with pot smoke, "everything is going to be alright." he then turned back to calvin and said, "calvin, tell her everything is going to be alright," which calvin then did without complaint or question. when calvin had finished reassuring me, taylor once again swiveled his neck towards me and said, "look at him, he's so trusting, so trustworthy," with a look in his eyes that i couldn't quite understand. i think it was love.
they pushed me forward, all of them. taylor placed an easy hand on the small of my back and silently urged me to go forward, to move, because everything was going to be alright. the bodies were so tightly packed, i could feel everyone moving and dancing and existing. i finally stopped taking pictures and started putting myself in others. i never could raise my hands and sing, because i was too self-conscious, but here i could do it. they all sang badly and looked stupid and beautiful as they waved their hands in the new air. i knew all the words, and when i didn't, they knew them for me. they pushed me forward, all of them.
i got autographs from passion pit. i wanted to tell them my story, but they looked bored and tired, and i was too scared. i never saw taylor and calvin again, but i kept hoping. in my own way, i had fallen in love with them. they troubled me. i couldn't find joy in the black keys' performance. it somehow wasn't the same. no one pushed me forward. no one told me that it was going to be alright. i couldn't see, and i couldn't care, and i could only think about them. as i pushed my way out of the crowd, a man stopped me and complimented my camera. he was wearing the only strokes shirt i had seen all day. i liked it immediately, and i liked him immediately, as he asked if i was an "official" in a beautiful irish accent. i smiled, but i didn't say anything. i could have told him: nice shirt. what's your name? where are you from? the strokes are my favorite band! but i smiled, shook my head, and i left. at the outskirts of the concert, i felt ashamed. taylor would have talked to him. calvin would have complimented his shirt. they would have been comfortable and easy, and in love. how could i ever have that? i had realized that the only things i needed, truly needed, were music, and to be two sweaty shirtless men, holding each other at lollapalooza. i needed to be a man. as i was carried out the gate in the massive stream of tired people, all i could think of were the distant shouts of the crowd. the very heart of the mass. were they in there? could i have met them again, if i'd pushed? america now terrified me. i wanted to go home, but i didn't want to stay there. i wanted to leave, but i needed to come back. i couldn't ever leave america, not now. everything was waiting for me here. grown men on scooters were looking for me. taylor and calvin were wondering where i'd gone. 4-foot long dreadlocks were calling for me. i'd have to stay, no matter how strange it became. no matter how much i was given, i would have to take it all. i had made my choice. i would be a man. i would push, and i would move forward, because everything was going to be alright. i was no freddy mercury, but i sure as hell was a man.