North By Northwestern: Reminiscence of Companionship at Camp Carroll
Blowing out smokes through the snow at Camp Carroll is what this year’s Christmas Eve is all about. Thinking of how far I have come, I stare at a trash can, filled with empty beer bottles and leftover food. Soldiers singing “Jingle Bells” are walking past me, and I move my left hand close to my mouth and take a thick drag of a cigarette. My only remaining friend, the Marlboro Red, has a decisive plan for years to endow me with cancer, which I gladly accept, for tonight I am all by myself.
Only 20 days ago, in a pitch-dark night just after 9 o’clock, 4th of December, I sneaked off-base with couple of my friends just for a few pints of beer. Only a pint for each could not satiate our thirst for pleasure, and we soon found ourselves distant from sobriety. Beer after beer, cigarette after cigarette, our secret council lasted for hours, and in a cab we arrived back to our barracks. However, the morning came, and our secret alcohol committee had already become highly publicized. My friends and I were sentenced to disciplinary actions to be performed under the violation of curfew (KATUSAs’ curfew to be on base is 9:00 p.m.), and alcohol consumption without reporting. None of these are lawful concern when you find yourself a civilian, but when wearing dog tags with your name and blood-type inscripted, you might as well be punished for violating those set of rules. For me, I was demoted from Corporal to Private First Class, sentenced to be moved to a different unit and be under confinement for two months.
And that is why I’m stuck here. I am being punished for what I have done. I am being punished for a disciplinary violation. Most of my companions are where I was 12 hours ago, and many of them are probably celebrating with their friends and families at this moment. I make no appearance in anyone’s mind. No messages, no emails, no calls, nothing. I finally have a chance to truly confront myself. I am the only KATUSA remaining on base for this Christmas Eve, and I’m confined to stay on base for my misbehavior. Completely surrounded by weird-looking Air Defense patches that I have never seen before and different temperature of air, I have no idea what to do. I don’t even have a roommate. On the bright side, I am allowed to have several bottles of soju, plenty of cigarettes and a handful of instant ramen packages.
What a grace. What a nice fucking Christmas. I toast to myself. I start pouring lukewarm soju down my throat. Frankly, it will be the first Christmas I’ve ever spent alone. I stare at the wall, filming my version of the movie The Purge in my head. What if I just start killing everyone? What if I start stabbing random people with a kitchen knife right in their collar bones? What if I pour hot water on people’s faces? All of this craziness swarms into my conscience.
Number of steps I can take may equal the number of steps my friends are taking tonight; however, it terms of dimensions, there is a huge difference between confinement and freedom. I can only go as far as the walls surrounding this base. Oh yeah, I’ve seen Popeyes down the road. I will just pick up some fried chicken from there. My arm reaches for my coat, and I hum a Beatles song through the smoke. After indulging on late-night fried chicken, calmness enters the stage. I guess it’s not too bad to be here. This is the only chance I have to be totally honest with myself. I don’t have to find friends to have dinner with. I can sleep whenever I want and wake up whenever I want. Nobody’s going to complain about me not showering enough. I smell like an ashtray, but no one will tell me to quit smoking.
Tada! I unlock my iPhone. (Dear reader, keep in mind that all mandatory service members, including KATUSAs, are not allowed have cell phones. Apparently, having a cell phone violates Korean military security policies, but if you have read previous episodes of my story, you are most likely to figure out that I do not give a damn.) I’m the only KATUSA remaining on base this Christmas holiday (I’ve been forced to), and there is no chance that anyone will catch me using my phone. Fortunately, I have always been careful with my cell phone during my service time.
I search for Pokemon. Pikachu’s voice keeps ringing in my ears, letting my forget about loneliness for some time. I’m going to keep watching videos. This will help me kill time. I definitely will be charged extra for using so much data, but in a way it’s a cheap method of keeping myself sane. I have a list of movies and TV shows that I’m going to finish during this four-day weekend of Christmas. Macaulay Culkin will be with me right before I go to bed tonight because it’s Christmas. I’m going to watch Home Alone like a lot of people do on the Christmas Eve. I take a hot shower and lay on my bed. It smells different, and it certainly feels different, but I will get used to it. I place my phone between my fingers, and here I come, Kevin. I have started the movie Home Alone, and I have situated myself comfortably under the covers. I know you will be left behind, Kevin. Let’s see how you defeat dumb burglars when you’re home alone. Just show me.