In my dream, Master Yanni, under whose unique guidance I had learned Korean energy training, quite suddenly broke the news that she was leaving the bay area after a two -year stay. She told me on a warm October day, the same day she had been summoned to lead special outdoor training in San Francisco somewhere near the Golden Gate Bridge. In my dream, she had left me this brief voicemail message the night before:
“Mareesa-Nim: tomorrow, teach 6 a.m. class in Crystal Springs. After that, close the center and join training at the Golden Gate Bridge. We’ll meet on the southeast side. I know you have a bad direction sense, so look for my special balloon.” Then a husky giggle followed by,”Ye, thank you! Kamsahamnida!” I could hear her turning to talk with someone else before she ended the call. And then a final “Click.” I wondered why she had added the formal suffix, “nim” after my name, but I was honored that she addressed me this way.
The next morning when I arrived at the bridge, I imagined Master Yanni would be leading a group of ten to fifteen students so I focused on looking for a large group of people. I moved briskly along the east walkway, hands jammed into my hoodie pockets against the strong wind, purple uniform pants flapping against my legs, forgetting about her hint to look for a special balloon.
“Where is your Mind?” a woman hollered above the wind, and then her unmistakably playful laugh. I wheeled around to find Master Yanni leaning against the rail, dressed in blue jeans and a tan polar fleece turtleneck, one knee bent with her foot resting on the grate behind her, a rainbow colored balloon tied around her left wrist, and a khaki-colored baseball cap over her bobbed black hair.
“ Oh! Ban gap sahm ni da- nice to see you, Master Yanni,” Where are all the students?” I asked, embarrassed that I had walked right by her. Something in the air was distracting my attention.
“What ‘all the students’? We’re all the students,” she smiled pointing at me, then herself.
“Cool,” I answered.
“Yes, ‘Cool’ Mareesa-nim. So show me the beautiful, famous Golden Gate /Bridjii/.”
/bridjii/, I repeated silently to myself, delighted by her inflection.
“Such a big smile. I think Mareesa-Nim is in love,” she said, handing me the balloon.
I just turned my palms upward and shrugged. “Well, see that long stretch of green grass over there to the right? It’s called Crissy Field. When I was a little kid, my cousins and I flew kites down there. It’s the perfect place because it’s usually windy like today, and there are no wires.”
“Ah! So the kites can fly freely there without getting stuck.”
“Yes, right. They climb right up into the sky, carried by the wind, free as a bird. “As we continued northward on the east side walkway, the wind was breaking up the coastal fog giving way to patches of blue sky. “Over there in the middle of the water, we have Alcatraz Island. It was a prison until 1963.”
“Wow, what a pretty view from a prison island. Even though the people were called prisoners, maybe they wanted to be there for a long stay on an island that has a full view of Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco!”
“It is said that no prisoners ever successfully escaped during its almost thirty years of operation.”
“Mareesa-nim. I have something to share with you. I am leaving the San Francisco bay area.”
I hated that my eyes filled with tears before I could even zip up my jacket against the wild ocean wind that I loved so much. I opened my eyes wider and looked westward letting the ocean gusts tuck the tears into my hair where Master Yanni wouldn’t see, allowing more tears to come that I could attribute to the sting of the air.
“No!” I watched the word writhe about silented by the wind and then evaporate out toward the ocean.
Other pedestrians filled the walkway. Master Yanni had advanced ahead quicker along the rail, creating a single file twosome. I picked up my pace to match hers as I pulled my hood up over my head.
“Time to move on,” she turned back to say to me, smiling, looking at me over her glasses.
I remember the magical way, with just slightly raised eyebrows, Master Yanni’s look conveyed many messages straight to my heart. Even now as on those other occasions, the ambiguity in her sentence struck me as profound in spite of the fact that, in this moment, she was simply moving along on our walk, over the Golden Gate Bridge, on this precious October morning. I focused on breathing out and almost all the way to center span, we walked single file without speaking at all.
There was a song she would play after training sessions while she and her students drank tea together. I never knew the name of it, but remembered that she titled her CD Playlist “Magic Class”. In my mind I filed that one song as “Yanni-Nim’s Magic Tea-Time.” The melody was simple but what struck me as magical were the wind chimes infused in the piece. My ears heard them as if they were coming from anywhere else but the speakers. Now, as we paused at the north tower, I took a moment to center myself before I spoke, and then taking another extra moment until I could clearly hear those wind chimes:
“When?” was all I could get out before my throat caught again.
“Not yet! In two weeks. I’m going to Atlanta, Georgia.”
“But I am in the middle of preparing for the next level of training. I thought you were going to be my teacher.”
“You are ready, Mareesa-nim. You have everything you need inside,” she said tapping two fingers into my chest.
“I want--I need-I want-- a teacher-- for Me. Why do you have to go right now Master Yanni? Shit!”
“Again, Mareesa-nim’s fire mouth comes out. Please do not worry; there is still time. We have millions of time to do more training. Right now, more San Francisco sightseeing. What is that place over there?” she said, pointing out toward the bay.
“Angel Island. Good name. Let’s take a boat and bring the students there for weekend training! We can do hiking, core training, and meditation. And we’ll have a big picnic lunch. We can make bibimbop!”
“Ne, Master Yanni, I would love that. How about if bring avocado, seaweed, and that spicy red stuff we eat at the training center?”
Laughing, she answered, “You mean ‘gochujang’. “
“Ye, ye, ‘gochujang’.” I enjoyed forming this complete Korean sentence with the two Korean words I knew.
“Speaking of spicy red stuff, why is Golden Gate Bridge called ‘golden’? It’s a kind of spicy red color,” she asked.
“Well, this water between San Francisco and the other side, Marin Headlands is called the Golden Gate. It was named in the mid-1800s even before gold was discovered here. So this is the bridge that connects two separate pieces of land.”
“Got it,” she said. Then she added, “Mareesa-nim, you bring the students to Angel Island. That is your training.”
Master Yanni put her arm through mine and pulled me in close. “People come and go, come and go,” she said as she wiped away tears from my face and looked into my eyes. “You can overcome the obstacle of feeling sadness when we have to separate from each other. Mareesa-nim, become the water that flows between the two pieces of land.”
The next day, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and went to the training center as usual. After all the other students exited, I told Master Yanni about the dream I had about us at the Golden Gate Bridge.
“So, was my dream correct? Are you leaving the bay area?
“Yes, of course someday I will move on. But not right now.” She looked over her glasses at me with eyebrows slightly raised, a mischievous smile on her lips. Mareesa-nim, don’t get stuck by the boundaries in your dreams! Be like the water.”
“Mmm, hmm, I understand, Master Yanni.”
“Great! After our lunch, let’s hang these up in front of the Center’s entrance.” Reaching behind the rice paper screen, she brought out ten rainbow colored balloons.