Sincheon Boarding House
January 21, 2000
I was woken up by the sound of my door opening. Looking at my clock I saw that it was only 8:30 am. When I heard footsteps approaching my bed I went back under my covers and pretended to be asleep.
“Na Jeong-ah, it’s time for breakfast,” I heard Yoon Jin’s voice say.
Closing my eyes more tightly I didn’t give her a response. I felt her hand on my back and after a minute she wrapped my cover more securely around me.
“Is she coming out?” I heard Omma say from the door. “Yoon Jin-ah, is she waking up? She didn’t eat dinner last night either. Aigoo the last time I saw her like this was when she hurt her back, and even then she still had an appetite.”
“That bad girl… Let me in there,” Haitai’s voice demanded. “I’m gonna drag her out of bed.”
“Haitai, no,” Omma responded. “Nothing happened, right Yoon Jin-ah? She’s not running a fever? Do I need to stay home? I was going to visit her Appa this morning.”
“No, Omma. She might just need more sleep.” Yoon Jin said. “I’ll check on her again before I leave for work. Don’t worry.”
The door closed again and I am finally again surrounded by blessed silence. Holding my puppy close to me it took just a few minutes for me to fall back asleep. Back to him.
I dream of him a lot. If memories count as dreams, that is. And sometimes I don’t even need to be asleep to dream of him. So if memories that are present even when I’m awake can be considered dreams then yes, I dream of him a lot.
I closed my eyes, and there he was. This time we were at his baseball game, almost six years ago. He stood alone in the baseball mound after the game and gazed at me, then tossed me his winning ball. I caught the ball and we shared a smile. Suddenly I felt like the ground has given way under my feet. I registered the sensation of free falling and with panic rising in my throat I tried to scream to wake myself up. I felt hands shaking me awake and opened my eyes.
“Na Jeong-ah… Wake up. It’s okay,” Yoon Jin said.
“What happened? Why are you here?” I asked.
“I came to check on you when I saw you thrashing in bed. I’ve brought breakfast.” Kneeling on the side of the bed she looked at me with a frown. “I already called your office and told them you wouldn’t be in today. You look terrible.” She stood up and made her way towards my windows.
“Don’t,” I said when I saw her about to pull open my curtains. “The sun hurts my eyes.”
“Na Jeong-ah, I have to go to work, but there’s some rice and soup on your table. Make sure you eat some okay?” She stood in front of me with her hands on her hips. I realized she was waiting for a response and so I nodded wordlessly.
As soon as she left I burrowed back under the covers and into oblivion. I didn’t sleep for long periods of time. I woke up occasionally to drink some water and go to the bathroom. I tried to get up, only to wander aimlessly around my room. In the end I gave in and went back to bed.
I was just about to fall back asleep when my door opened. Several footsteps echoed on my floor and then I heard hushed voices.
“You do it,” Samcheonpo said. “You’re closer to her… She might not kill you.”
“You’re a big guy and you’re scared?” Haitai answered back. Clearing his throat, he continued. “Fine. I’ll do it.” Silence. “No I can’t. Let’s just forget it. ”
“No… We absolutely must try to wake her up, else Yoon Jin will yell at me. I don’t like it when she’s mad.”
“Okay. We’ll do it once and if she doesn’t wake up we’ll forget it.” Haitai walked closer to the bed until I sensed his shadow over me. “Na Jeong-ah… Its time to eat dinner. Won’t you get up and eat with us?”
After a few minutes, I heard the two of them making their way out of my room. I glanced at the clock. 7:00 pm. Is this day ever going to end? I thought. Unable to muster up enough energy to get out of bed and join everyone in the dining room, I just laid in bed quietly. I closed my eyes and forced myself back to sleep
January 22, 2000
When I opened my eyes again Yoon Jin was already sitting on a chair on the side of the bed looking at me. I can feel her concern wash over me and not wanting any part of it I tried to turn over to my other side.
“Na Jeong-ah… I know you’re awake,” she started. “How long are you going to do this?” When I didn’t respond she continued. “Listen… I know you’re having a hard time but Omma keeps asking me questions that I can’t answer. She’s getting very worried about you. You need to snap out of it soon.”
“Yoon Jin-ah… What time is it?”
“It’s 8:00 am. I have to leave for work in an hour but I wanted to see you before I left.” Leaving the chair, she sat on the side of my bed instead. “How are you?” she asked, looking into my eyes.
“I’m fine,” I mumbled. Unable to meet her gaze, I sat up.
“Will you eat some breakfast today? You haven’t eaten in almost two days.” Standing up she went to my table and fetched a tray of food. After carefully setting it down in front of me, she put chopsticks in my hands and lifted the cover off the plates.
“I’m not hungry, Yoon Jin-ah.” She looked at me closely and then took the chopsticks off my fingers. Expecting her to take the food away, I was surprised to see her pick up the rice bowl and spoon.
“Open your mouth,” she said. Sensing that I was about to protest, she silenced me with her hand. “You need to eat. I don’t care if I have to feed you myself but you’re gonna eat today. Coach-nim might be coming home soon and we can’t have him see you like this.” Putting the spoon to my lips, I took a reluctant bite. The food felt alien in my mouth and I struggled to swallow. Taking a deep breath she looked at me. “Yah… You remember what happened to me when Seo Taiji Oppa retired, right?”
Thankful for the distraction I nodded. “Didn’t Samcheonpo bring you his toilet?”
“Yeah… It’s still up on the balcony with a plant growing in it.” She chuckled softly as she fed me another bite of food. “I’m not talking about that part, though. I’m talking about what happened after. You know how long we sat up there talking? I didn’t feel like eating either but he brought a bag of sweet potatoes and fed me while I cried.” I stayed silent, listening to her speak. “So you’re probably wondering what my point is, right?” At my nod, she gave me a small smile. “He did it for me, so I’m doing it for you. Whenever you’re ready to talk I’m here. In the meantime you have to save your strength. And Chilbong…” At the mention of his name, my heart stopped. I felt a lump in my throat and I had to remind myself to breathe. She paused, as if choosing her words carefully. “Chilbong will be back. He will come back,” she said more forcefully.
“He hates me,” I whispered.
She shook her head no. “He loves you. Before you protest let me remind you that I read his letter too. That boy’s loved you for so long that he wouldn’t know how to stop even if he wanted to. Just like your love for Lee Sang Min Oppa is a part of you, loving Sung Na Jeong is a part of him too. I really don’t think that he would be happy seeing you like this, do you? Chilbong would be hurt too if he knew you were hurting.” She gave me a hug and prepared to leave. She was already by the door when she turned back around. “Don’t you want to show him when he comes back how impressive you’ve become?” Giving me one last reassuring smile she left my room.
I sat on my bed for a few hours even after she had gone to work. My thoughts still jumbled, I tried to clear my mind. All I’ve done the last two days is sleep but I still feel exhausted. I’m tired of being exhausted. I’m tired of forcing myself not to feel. Because I feel A LOT! Thinking back on the last three weeks I can feel a full gamut of emotions taking over.
Feeling a frantic and restless energy and with no avenue to use it on, I started pacing my room back and forth. I went to my windows and pulled the curtains to the side. I am not comfortable with feeling out of control. I cannot think clearly and my heart feels like it’s about to jump out of my chest. Trying to calm myself down I attempted to think sensibly. I can’t control what already happened, and I certainly can’t control the future… So for now I’ll just deal with what I still have some control over.
I grabbed a towel and some clean clothes and went to the bathroom. I washed my face and while drying it I studied my reflection on the mirror. A face that looks a little like mine stared back at me. I noted my dull eyes, my sickly color and my mouth in a scowl. Frustrated I went in the shower and started getting cleaned up. Reflecting back on my conversation with Yoon Jin, I scrubbed my skin until it was raw. Chilbong will be back. His letter definitely sounded like goodbye. Ha! He’s got another thing coming if he thinks he can get rid of me that easily. He thought that I was beautiful before, but I’m going to be so much more beautiful when he comes back that he’ll die.
Going into my room to get dressed I noted that the last three days have taken their toll. My room was a mess. A bright idea came to my mind. Next thing I knew I was picking up dirty clothes from the floor and putting them in the washing machine. I brought all the dirty cups and plates to the kitchen and washed them. I replaced the sheets on my bed and cleaned the floor. By the time I finished cleaning up it was already five o’ clock.
I was opening one of my windows to air out the room when I saw that there was still snow on the ground. For a second, I could see myself and Joon frolicking in the snow like children. My resistance weakened by fatigue, my heart ached inside my chest. If I just close my eyes I can see him in front of me again, his callused hands holding mine, his strong arms wrapped around me and his heart beating under my fingers. Don’t think about him, I scolded myself. He left you. He’s gone. All at once I was sad, upset, hurt and very angry. I sat down on the side of my bed, trying to rub away the persistent pain in my chest. I know I have to deal with some of these emotions, but I can’t handle the sadness or the hurt right now. I’m already upset and the anger? The anger I can DEFINITELY handle.
He loves me? He loves me? Bullshit! If he loves me, how could he leave just like that? I quickly stood up, shocked at how angry I was. I looked at my puppy sitting on the bed and pointed a finger at him.
“This is your fault,” I said accusingly.
Decidedly getting more and more irate with each minute I felt an uncontrollable urge to throw something. Love? Love? Has he even called to ask how I’m doing? Did he even think about letting me know how he’s doing? Fine… Whatever… He doesn’t care. I won’t care either. That’s a lie. I can’t not care. Sitting back down I acknowledged that I care more than I wish I did and more than I’d like to admit. If I have a hard time admitting it just to myself was I supposed to admit it to him so readily? When he asked me how I felt about him I was caught by surprise. If he just gave me more time I would have been able to give him a definite answer. But would it have been enough? Would my answer have stopped him from leaving? Am I ready for everything he has to offer? Tears threatening to spill from my eyes I forced myself to stop thinking of him. The answers to those questions don’t matter anymore. Obviously if they did, he’d still be here.
My thoughts were interrupted by the noises in the kitchen. I heard cupboards being opened and voices talking. With sudden urgency I got up out of my room and walked in on Yoon Jin, Haitai, Samcheonpo and Binggrae eating. Seeing me, Samcheonpo broke out into a smile.
“Na Jeong-ah!” Everyone turned towards my direction, and Yoon Jin stood up to get me a plate when I spoke.
“I’m not eating.” Stopping in her tracks Yoon Jin turned to look at me. “Someone just tell me if he arrived safely.” At their silence, I yelled, “SOMEONE TELL ME IF HE GOT THERE FINE!” Scanning their faces I saw relief on Yoon Jin’s, fear on Samcheonpo’s, surprise on Haitai’s and avoidance on Binggrae’s. My eyes blazing in anger, I noted everyone’s discomfort except for Yoon Jin’s. “Yah… If no one speaks up I’m gonna start hitting people.” From the corner of my eye I saw Haitai cower in his seat.
“Na Jeong-ah… He called when he landed. He sounded tired but he got there okay,” Samchenpo said reluctantly.
Even the relief that coursed through me couldn’t dampen my wrath. Turning on my heels I walked towards my room knowing they were all watching my back. Suddenly a thought occurred to me and I changed my mind. Striding back into the dining room I looked at Binggrae.
“You… You and I are gonna have a talk one of these days,” I warned him. When he stood up, I continued. “I’m not saying now. I’m still too mad. But one of these days we will have a serious discussion.” Seeing that he still refused to look at me, I seethed. “And stop judging me!”
“Judging you about what? Na Jeong-ah, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded innocently, looking at his plate.
“Your cousin left me! HE’S the one who left ME!” I banged my hand on the table for emphasis. Finally he looked up with an amused expression on his face.
“You…. And Chilbong?” Samcheonpo said puzzled. “When did this happen?” No one answered him. “Why didn’t I know?”
“Jagi-ya,” Yoon Jin called out gently. “Just keep eating.”
“Do you want some ddukbokki?” Haitai asked hesitantly. My eyes zoomed in on the container in the middle of the table.
“What do you want to eat? Ddukbokki?” Chilbong’s teasing voice echoed in my ears.
Grabbing the half eaten box of ddukbokki, I looked around to see if anyone will challenge me. “No one… I mean NO ONE is allowed ddukbokki in this house starting today. I MEAN IT!”
Across the table I saw Haitai with his lips opening and closing like a goldfish. As I fixed my glare back on him, he instantly closed his mouth. Samcheonpo continued eating like nothing happened and Binggrae was openly chuckling. Suddenly, Yoon Jin was next to me patting my shoulder.
“Welcome back, Na Jeong-ah,” she said.
January 25, 2000
Going to my room after getting washed up I glanced at the calendar on my phone. January 25th. It’s been 4 days, 21 hours, 37 minutes and exactly 9 seconds since I found out he was gone.
The days are passing a little bit easier. I don’t wake up feeling anxious anymore. The pain in my chest has dulled to a familiar ache. I can hear Joon’s name without feeling like I’m going to break down or kill someone. I started eating again and I’ve gone back to work. Even though I still don’t feel like myself completely, all these things together has kept me relatively sane.
“Na Jeong-ah, breakfast is ready!” I heard Omma call out from the kitchen.
“I’ll be right there!” I called back. I put my bag down in the living room as I made my way to the kitchen. All conversation stopped as I sat down to eat. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me and so I pasted a smile on my face. Fixing my eyes on my plate I focused on avoiding their eyes. I don’t need to look at them to know how they would be looking at me. Though I have gotten better I can still feel their worry every time they see me. The initial shock and anger has receded, but just like with everything else, I have good days and I have bad days. So maybe I’m not as talkative as I used to be, but that might not be such a bad thing in my opinion.
As I was trying to chew my food I glanced at the empty seat to my right and decided this will not do. For days I’ve been feeling as if it’s been mocking me. I stood up and marched to my room to rectify the situation, not noticing the eyes following me. Grabbing my puppy, I brought him with me to the dining room table and plopped him down on the empty chair. There, I thought. Much better. Trying to ignore the slackjawed expressions being directed my way, I continued to shove spoonful after spoonful of food into my mouth. Though I can barely taste anything I am determined to eat well.
“Ahh gashina… Don’t eat that fast. You’re gonna make your…” I heard Appa say before Omma elbowed him to stay quiet. Silencing the conversation around me, I put all my undivided attention into finishing the food in front of me.
“… we should do that tonight. Something different. What do you think?” Haitai’s voice cut in. Rice, kimchi, meat. Rice, kimchi, meat. Water. “Yah Na Jeong-ah…” Rice, kimchi, meat. Rice, kimchi, meat. Wa… “NA JEONG-AH!!!” Suddenly startled I looked up.
“What?” I asked.
Haitai looked at me with furrowed brows. “Have you been listening at all?” he asked. At my blank expression he shook his head. Taking a deep breath he continued. “We should all go out to eat tonight. Do something different. The last time we went out together was… For a movie?” As if realizing he said something he shouldn’t have he quickly quieted down.
At the memory of that night I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and ran to the bathroom. Turning the faucet on to dull the sound I threw up my breakfast into the toilet. When I couldn’t possibly get rid of any more I stood up at the sink. Washing my face and my mouth I looked at the mirror and took in my reflection. What are you looking like that for? I asked my reflection. You’re fine. We’re just having a bad day, that’s all. Knowing that everyone outside was probably wondering what just happened, I quickly dried my face and exited the bathroom. Yoon Jin stood just outside, waiting for me to come out.
“Na Jeong-ah, you don’t have to go to work if you don’t feel well,” she said. “Are you okay?”
“Yoon Jin-ah I’m fine.” Looking at my watch for emphasis I said, “Is that the time? I’m gonna be late for work. I have to go.”
Bypassing the kitchen and the questions that are no doubt waiting for me, I grabbed my purse. “I’m leaving!” I called out, shrugging into my coat. As I was closing the door I heard Samcheonpo.”So are we going out or not?”
Once outside I walked slowly to the bus stop. My hands freezing I dug into my pockets for my gloves. It wasn’t until I had pulled them on that I realized they weren’t mine but Joon’s. Knowing that I only had to lift my hands to my nose to smell him again I quickly took the gloves off and shoved them into my bag.
Looking ahead I saw someone in front of me wearing a hooded sweatshirt and tracksuit bottoms. Could it be? Running towards the tall figure I felt my heart beating hard in my chest. I was out of breath by the time I grabbed the person’s arm and turned them around. He took off his headphones and looked at me. With a curious expression he asked, “Agassi, do I know you?”
“No… No, I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.” Turning away in embarrassment I started walking back towards the bus stop. Thankfully the bus arrived just then and I boarded it quickly. Keeping my head down I tried to compose myself. Na Jeong-ah… Get yourself together, girl. You can’t go around grabbing tall men in sweatshirts all over Korea! Keeping my gaze out the window I looked at the places the bus passed on my way to work. I noted the corner store where we bought ramyun and the ddukbokki stall where we ate. There’s the path we walked on our way home. The places appear unchanged but there’s something different about them that I can’t pinpoint. Averting my eyes away I thought to myself that it doesn’t matter anyway.
Within minutes I was at work. Not for the first time I was relieved to be surrounded by people who knew me only casually. I know the routine by now. They’ll ask me how I’m doing as a greeting, but won’t really care what I say back in return. The question will be asked in courtesy, but the answer doesn’t really matter. They won’t pry about how I’m feeling because they don’t really care. We are all there to work after all. For eight hours I can avoid prying eyes and pitiful looks directed towards me. I sat down to a desk piled high with work needing to be done. Thankful for the distraction I took my coat off and immediately started working.
It was almost lunchtime when I took a break. Pulling my phone out of my purse I saw seven missed calls from Omma. I dialed her number quickly, wondering what she could be needing so urgently. She answered after the fourth ring. “Na Jeong-ah, is that you?”
“Omma, I just took a break from work and saw that you called. What happened?”
“I hate to ask you but I’m out of the house and your Appa just told me that he’s out of his pain medication. He’s in a lot of pain and he can’t go to the pharmacy by himself with both of his legs in casts. Is there any way you can swing by there and pick it up on your lunch break?”
“Omma, I’ll just take a half day from work so I can be home with him. He shouldn’t be alone anyway after taking his medication.”
“Na Jeong-ah, thank you. I’ll try to be home as quickly as possible, but traffic…”
“Omma it’s okay,” I interrupted. “Don’t be rushing home. Take your time. I’ll be with Appa.”
I quickly finished up the work I was doing and spoke to my manager. Thankfully he didn’t give me a hard time about having to leave work early. I grabbed my coat and left the office.
On my way to the pharmacy I stopped to look at a pair of shoes on display when the television screens in the electronics section of the store caught my attention. Feeling like my stomach has been punched I stared at the gigantic plasma screen on display showing Joon’s picture. They had used a picture from our university days, and seeing Joon the way he was when we first met left my throat constricted. Feeling my heart crack, I took in his handsome face, his little boy smile, his broad shoulders and long legs. I had to consciously stop myself from reaching instinctively to touch the screen.
“We have been informed that Kim Jae Joon-ssi and his team, the San Francisco Giants, will be holding a press conference before training camp begins, scheduled for next week. As you all know, he left Korea four days ago to prepare for his career in the United States. His manager informs us that he has been training hard and we here cannot wait for the season to start.”
And just like that his picture was gone. With shaky steps I walked up the stairs to the pharmacy. By the time I was on my way back to our house, I had already composed myself. Wasn’t that a little bit easier? I nodded to myself in response. But when will the pain actually stop? To that question I had no answer and I quickly made my way home.
“Appa… I’m home!” I called out as I was entering the house. Looking around he was nowhere to be found. “Appa?” I went to the kitchen and he wasn’t there either. Growing more frantic I opened the master bedroom door. “APPA!” My father was lying on his side, face clenched in pain. Running to where he was, I sat down next to him. “Appa, are you okay? I’m sorry it took me so long. Let’s sit you up and take your medicine, okay?” Helping him sit up I pulled his medication out of my bag. I grabbed a glass of water from the kitchen and gave him his pill. “It’s gonna take a few minutes, but hopefully it will help with the pain. Why did you wait to call me? What if I didn’t check my phone?”
“Ahhhh.. Gashina who are you scolding right now?” Mustering up a smile he pointed at me. “Daughter.” Then at himself. “Appa.” Breathing through the pain he paused before speaking again. “I’ll be fine once the medication kicks in. Don’t worry, Appa is as strong as an ox.”
“Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?” Standing up I was getting ready to go to the kitchen when my father grabbed my hand.
“Na Jeong-ah, sit down.” Seeing my reluctance, he patted the space next to him. “When was the last time I got to see my daughter by myself? Humor your Appa and sit down for a few minutes. Once this medication makes its way into my system I might get sleepy so I want to talk to you now.” I nodded and sat down. Folding my hands in front of me I waited for him to speak again. “My daughter…” I lifted my eyes to see his face looking at me fondly. “My beautiful daughter, Appa is sorry. “
“Appa, that’s not…” I said uneasily.
“Once I’m asleep I give you permission to talk and even yell if you want. But for now just let me finish okay?” It was a few minutes before he continued. “I know that you’ve been going through a difficult time. That’s why I didn’t call you. I thought I’ll be fine until your Omma came home.”
“But, Appa, this is…” Seeing his hand raised to hit me I quickly shut up.
“Yah, didn’t I ask you not to interrupt?” He paused, as if thinking of what to say. “You haven’t been yourself since you came home from Australia. Before, I wasn’t going to say anything because you looked happy. But now, you just look…” Terrible? Miserable? Crazy? I finished in my head. “… sad. You haven’t spoken to me or your Omma about what happened there. I’m not asking you to talk about it now, but I hope you know you can talk to us.” Clearing his throat he proceeded. “Jung Gook came to see me at the hospital when I was there. He didn’t give me any specifics but I figured out what happened.” Surprised I looked up, seeing my father with a sheen of tears in his eyes. “I keep thinking to myself that if I hadn’t made those bad investments, we wouldn’t have lost our money and you wouldn’t have needed to go. Maybe you two could have worked it out. I don’t know…” Taking my hand, he looked me straight in the eyes. “I’m sorry… Appa is useless sometimes.”
“Appa, you’re not…”
“Na Jeong-ah… If you interrupt me one more time I’m really going to hit you,” he warned me. “In any case, I got the impression that Jung Gook still loves you. Do you love him still?” When I didn’t respond he added, “You can talk now.”
“Appa…” I started, unsure how to proceed. “You’ve been friends with his father for a long time. I don’t want to disappoint you.”
“Na Jeong-ah… If you still love him and want to try again, that’s okay. But if you don’t love him anymore, that’s okay too. You don’t have to do anything because you think that’s what we want. It’s your life. And your choice. No matter what you decide… Get married, not get married, to Jung Gook or whomever… Your family will always support you. Your Omma and I just want you to be happy.” A rush of relief flowed through my veins and I hugged my father gratefully. Surprised, he chuckled then gave me a little squeeze before pulling away. “Yah… I’m getting sleepy now so I’m going to rest. Wake me up in two hours, okay?”
“Okay.” I responded. I helped my father lie down and covered him with a blanket. I had my hand on the doorknob to leave when I heard him say my name.
“Na Jeong-ah.” Turning around, I looked at him questioningly. “Don’t tell your Omma how you found me okay? She’ll worry and she won’t leave me alone. That woman likes to share my pain.” With a wink and a wistful smile he laid down and closed his eyes. I stayed looking at him for a few minutes before I walked to my room.
A few hours later…
The persistent beeping sound in my room woke me up. Not even realizing that I’ve fallen asleep I rubbed my eyes and stretched as I reached to look at my phone. Confused I read the text message.
“It’s me, Oppa. Can you come see me right now? I’m a little sick.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Is this how my life is going to be? When I needed one, the other is there, and when I want to talk to one, the other texts. I knew that our meeting at the coffee shop wasn’t the end of it, but I didn’t expect him to reach out again so soon.
I got dressed quickly and went to the kitchen. Grabbing some items from my table, the refrigerator and the kitchen I was on my way out when I bumped into Haitai coming home.
“Na Jeong-ah, you’re going out?” When I nodded, he asked, “Where are you going?”
I hesitated before I answered. “Oppa is sick. I’m just going to see him for a little while.”
“Are you okay going on your own? Do you need me to come with you?” I shook my head no.
“I’ll be alright,” I reassures him. “I have to do this on my own.”
Outside it was snowing again. I walked briskly to the street and hailed a cab. On my way to see Oppa, I found myself reflecting back on all my choices the last two years. Though I have grown up a little, I realized that if someone was to ask me at this moment in time who I am or what I wanted, I would have no clue how to answer. I thought about how different my life would have been had I decided to get married two years ago to Oppa. It makes me sad to finally understand that had I been married years ago I never would have the opportunity to find out who I really am.
My whole life I defined myself by the roles expected of me. I was a daughter, a little sister, a friend, a girlfriend and a fiancee. I never felt the need to know more about myself because I never had to. Though I had been engaged in the past, it had been to someone who has known me from childhood. He already knew everything about me so I never felt the need to change, aware that he would always take me back to who I am… Or who he thinks I am. I never wanted to rock the boat, afraid that if I changed too much I would no longer be the Na Jeong that he loved. Rather than change into myself I changed out of myself to become who I thought he wanted me to be. In the end it’s ironic that our relationship fell apart because I changed into someone who I thought he could spend his life with and he was unwilling or unable to change into the person I needed him to be. With a start, I realized that hindsight really is a bitch.
Getting out of the cab I shook off my nerves before heading towards Oppa’s apartment. While in the elevator, I ran through all possible scenarios in my mind, trying to figure out what to do for each. By the time the elevator stopped on his floor I still wasn’t sure what to expect so I just stopped worrying about it altogether.
I hesitated for a minute before knocking on his door. Taking a deep breath, I decided to bite the bullet and just do it. Oppa opened the door after a few minutes. He stood at the doorway, leaning against the wall for support. His face looked pale and he looked sick. Coughing a few times, he allowed me into his apartment without a word. Looking around, his apartment was still a mess, not unlike the last time I came here and cleaned up. Clearing a bit of litter from his couch, I took off my coat and sat down. He sat down across from me and waited for me to make the next move. Reaching into my bag, I picked out some items and offered it to him, along with a plastic container.
“What’s all this?”
“I brought you some medication for your cold. The plastic container has Omma’s soup and the drink is one of Appa’s health drinks.” Meeting his eyes I noted that I felt nothing more than concern. No butterflies, no fear. Interesting.
“Thanks.” He looked as if he was thinking of what to say before he spoke again. “How is everyone?”
“Oppa… I know you didn’t call me out here to make small talk. Just say what’s on your mind and tell me why I’m really here.”
Looking like he hadn’t been expecting my response, he took a deep breath. “Na Jeong-ah… I still love you. I want to know if we can try again.”
Suddenly I saw our situation as clear as day. “Oppa, thank you for telling me, but I don’t think I can do that. ”
“Listen… I know I messed up. Oppa is sorry. I can fix this.”
“No Oppa, we can’t.” I paused before continuing. “This was not just your fault. Our relationship fell apart because neither of us tried hard enough.”
“Is it because of Chilbong?” Surprised, I met his gaze.
“No,” I answered, shaking my head. “It’s not because of him. It’s because of me. Did you know that I don’t even have a favorite color? I don’t even know the simplest things about myself.”
“Of course you have a favorite color.” He bristled. “It’s blue. And I really don’t know what this has to do with anything. ”
“Oppa… I liked blue because I knew it was your favorite. If someone asked me why I liked blue I would have answered, ‘because Oppa does’. I think I need to figure out who I really am on my own.”
“Did Chilbong put all these ideas in your head?”
“Oppa, is it wrong for me to want to become a better woman and a better person? Isn’t it time for me to grow up?” I tried to keep my voice neutral before speaking again. “And why do you keep bringing Joon into this?”
“I know Chilbong’s back.” At my questioning look, he added, a little bitterly, “Appa mentioned that you’ve been spending some time with him since he’s returned. Chilbong has liked you for a long time.”
Feeling my hackles rise, I didn’t even try to control my temper before responding to him. “Joon had nothing to do with my decision. He’s not even around anymore. Why do you keep bringing him into this? And you don’t get to talk about him that way. You don’t get to say his name like that.”
“What did I say about him? How did I say his name?”
Unable to control my emotions, I started speaking, my voice getting louder with each sentence until I was screaming at him. “You don’t get to talk about him like he did something wrong. And you don’t get to say his name so casually, and in such a horrible way. You have no right.”
“Why? Why don’t I have the right to do that?” Angry now, Oppa stood up.
“Because Joon is a good person… He’s not perfect, but he’s strong and he’s kind and he’s honest and he’s supportive. He gives so much of himself without expecting anything in return.” I paused and took a deep breath. “And we’re not talking about him, we’re talking about us.”
“I think that if Chilbong wasn’t in the picture, you would be willing to try.”
Suddenly exhausted from this conversation, I stood up and put my coat on. I hardened my expression. “Oppa, believe what you want to believe.”
“I really think we can make us work again. I can…”
I looked him in the eyes before speaking again. Uncaring of how I may sound, I said exactly what was on my mind. “Can you listen to yourself? Do you realize that since I came, all you’ve been talking about is what YOU think, how YOU feel, and how YOU’RE sorry even though the fault wasn’t even just yours alone? Did you even ask me once what I wanted? THIS is the reason why I can’t go back, not because of anything else.”
“Just like some things, Oppa, some people never change. You can say you’ll try, but you and I both know that you’re someone who stays the same. You’ve been this way for as long as I’ve known you. That’s what makes you a great brother. You’re consistent and unchanging, and I always took comfort in that, and in you. But I’m not like you. I didn’t realize it until just now… But I’ve already changed.” Grabbing my purse I was already almost at the door when I turned around one more time. “You sit there and tell me you love me, but you don’t bother to ask if I still loved you. Has it ever occurred to you that there might come a time when I didn’t feel the same? ” I reached into my purse and took out the box that held my engagement ring and placed it on the table. “If I haven’t given you enough reasons to convince you why we can’t start over, maybe this last one will do the job. I’m not in love with you anymore.”
I didn’t wait for his response before I made my way out the door. Strangely I wasn’t emotional at all. I felt calm and in control. For the first time in years I felt like myself again. There are some things that I wished I never had to do but knew I had to do. Settling things with Oppa was one of them. I gave myself an imaginary pat on the shoulder and a small smile formed on my lips. Stripped of my unsettled past, I felt free.
After leaving Oppa’s apartment I took the long way home. Unwittingly, my feet took me to the path where I last walked with Joon, and looking around, I realized that I haven’t walked this way since he left. Everything still looks like how it did that day, and being here now makes me feel closer to him somehow.
My mind wandered to what it must have been like for him that day and to everything he must have been thinking. Knowing that he was leaving, feeling like he had no choice, wanting to make the day last as long as possible. It must have hurt a lot, huh? I asked him in my mind. Joon-ah, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything.
In my head I replayed our last day, and realized that even though he said he was being selfish, he still managed to give me the most beautiful gift. He gave me memories. The best memories. The warmest memories. He gave me a day when I was able to be myself. I was all at once childlike, silly, passionate and… Happy. In his eyes I saw a vision of the woman I always wanted to be. Through his faith in me I know now what I need to do to become that person. Through his love I now have the strength to move forward.
As I walked up the path to our house, it felt like he was still next to me. Always true, always faithful, always believing. I think that it’s time for me to become a person worthy of all that. Luckily for me, waiting for me to come home are people who will help me get there. I opened the door and saw my father and friends in the living room.
“Na Jeong-ah! You’re home!” Haitai said, standing up to greet me. He walked towards me and looked at me in concern. “You’re okay?”
I smiled and nodded. “What are we doing?”
“Oh there’s a new drama on,” Binggrae said. “Omma is slicing up some fruit, come sit.”
“Let me change first…” Looking at my father, I caught him looking in the direction of the kitchen, watching my mother with a fond expression on his face. Following his gaze, I watched as my mother wiped her brow and smiled to herself. Even after all the pain and the losses, my mother always stayed true to herself. She always loved me and my father and our makeshift family with all that she has. She was everything I wanted to be. Suddenly overwhelmed with love and respect for my Omma I found myself going to the kitchen. Feeling like I was a child again I snaked my arms around her waist and hugged her.
“Na Jeong-ah! You’re back?” She turned her head slightly to look at me. “Are you hungry? Should I get a plate for you?” She chuckled before continuing. “Yah… How am I supposed to finish up when you’re holding on so tightly?”
“No. I’m not hungry.” I smiled. “Omma, I’m sorry for worrying you.” She turned around in surprise.
“You have nothing to apologize for. I’m just glad you’re okay now.” She smiled in response but I saw a sheen of tears in her eyes.
“Omma, you’re the best.” At this she cupped my face in her hands then enveloped me in a tight embrace.
“Go change. The drama is almost on.”
February 1, 2000
Coming home from work a familiar scene greeted me. My Omma and Appa were watching television and bickering again. I am convinced they love doing that because they do it all the time.
“I’m home,” I called out. “I’m thinking of going back out again so I’m just changing.”
“Na Jeong-ah, there’s someone…” I heard Appa say just as I opened my bedroom door and found Oppa inside, sitting on the chair. He was holding the stuffed seal that he gave me years ago in his hands. Shocked, I entered my room quietly and was putting my stuff down when he spoke.
“Na Jeong-ah… You probably weren’t expecting me right?”
“Oppa, why are you here?” I turned around and looked at him.
“I wanted to see Omma and Appa.” He hesitated before continuing. “And I needed to speak to you. Listen, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said, and I have a proposal.” Seeing my face pale in response, he chuckled. “Not that kind of proposal. I heard you loud and clear a week ago. I’m sorry if it didn’t seem like I was listening to what you were trying to tell me. You know it always takes me a long time to think things over…” He paused before continuing. “We can never go back to that, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Honestly, I think I just reacted to the fact that speaking to me the way you did made me question myself, more than you. Hearing you finally say what’s on your mind… It felt like I was seeing you for the first time.”
“Oppa, that’s fine. But you’re still not telling me why you’re in my room,” I said, putting my bag and gloves down on my table. He looked like he was struggling to find the words to say, and I was getting impatient.
“Cut me some slack, okay? I’m trying, Na Jeong-ah. I want to be in your life. In whatever way I can. I was your Oppa first before I was anything else, and I want to know if I can be that again.” He ran his fingers through his hair and stood up.
Looking out the windows he proceeded speaking. “I can’t promise you that it’s not going to feel strange sometimes, or that I’m not gonna be sad about it sometimes, but if being in your life means being your brother again… I can do that. Plus I missed Omma’s cooking,” he added jokingly. “What do you think?”
At that moment I thought to myself how lucky I was that some of my prayers were unanswered. By not granting me my wish, I got my brother back. A hesitant smile on my face, I responded. “I can do that too.”
Looking like he didn’t quite know what to say, he started rummaging through the stuff on my table. Picking up Joon’s gloves, I was about to yell at him to put them down when he looked at me. “Yah… When you told me that Chilbong was gone, I thought you just meant he left the boarding house. I didn’t realize you meant he was really gone. As in out of the country gone.” He finally put the gloves back on the table and sat back down. “Does he know how you feel about him?”
Flustered, I wondered for a moment if we were back to this again. “Oppa, I don’t even know how I feel about him. So how can I tell him when I’m not even sure myself?”
“Na Jeong-ah, how long have I known you? You’re twenty six now, so twenty years or so?” I nodded. “In all the years I’ve known you, I can count on one hand how many times you’ve disagreed with me and told me so. In all these years I have never seen you so vigilant in defending anyone. And I certainly have never heard you talk about anyone that way. Even about me.”
“How? How was I talking about Joon?”
Oppa motioned for me to sit down before answering my question. I sat down on the bed and waited for his response. “His name sounded different coming from your mouth. Even in anger you said his name carefully. Lovingly. Tenderly. I have never heard that in your voice before.” When I didn’t respond, he continued. “Chilbong has loved you for a long time. Did I ever tell you what happened after you all went to Samcheonpo? Do you remember? It was five years ago, for New Year’s Eve.”
Of course I remember… That was the night he confessed to me and then kissed me. “Yeah, I remember. And no, you never told me what happened.”
“We were outside playing catch when Chilbong told me that he confessed to you despite him knowing that you liked me and I might like you back. I hated him at that moment, because I knew that unlike me, he was someone brave enough to take a chance even when he thinks the odds are against him. But at the same time, I thought ‘Wow, this kid. How can he be so sure of his feelings? This kid can really take Na Jeong from me.’ He stopped calling me Hyung from that day. He really pissed me off.” Oppa chuckled at the memory. “You know, I’ve learned since then that there are really only two things that change people. The first one is loss, and the other one is love. That incident proved it then and I see it in you now. You’ve grown up a lot.”
I have never heard about this before and was still trying to figure out where Oppa was going with this when I heard him say my name. “Na Jeong-ah, I think we can all learn a little from Chilbongie, right?” At my questioning look, he continued. “A man like Chilbong wouldn’t give you up just because. Don’t wait too long to figure out how you feel and as soon as you do, tell him before the opportunity is lost. Take it from your Oppa, you’ll end up regretting it if your indecision causes you to lose the person you love.” Looking at his watch, he stood up and grabbed his coat. “I have to go. I’m expected at the hospital tonight. Yah, answer my texts and phone calls. Or else I’ll beat you up.” I nodded in response and he smiled at me. After ruffling my hair, he went out of the room. I vaguely heard him say his goodbyes to Omma and Appa before I heard the front door close.
Hugging my knees to my chest, I thought about what he said. I closed my eyes and memories of Joon… Memories with Joon came crashing into my mind. Like a movie in flash forward, I saw him kissing me for the first time, laughing when I broke the egg on his head, and shaking my hand in the snow. His voice taunting, teasing, laughing echoed in my ears. You’ve always been the most beautiful woman to me… Na Jeong-ah, I like you…. Are you alright… I’m here…. It’s our ramyun now… Let’s go together… Say my name…
I laid down on my bed and stared out the window. I was still thinking of Joon when my mother called me out to eat.
Closing my door behind me, I watched as my mother made her way to Appa. Ever so carefully she sat down next to him and took his hand in hers. He whispered something in her ear and she looked at him with a loving smile. Aigoo, these two. Wasn’t it just a few minutes ago that they were bickering like cats and dogs and now they were all lovey dovey. It’s funny because knowing my mother and father one would never think that they’d be compatible.
My mother is an elegant beauty, my father coarse in his looks. My mother is soft spoken and gentle, whereas my father is outspoken and brutish at times. Somehow and someway though they managed to make it work. They complemented each other and grew more in love as the years went by. When we lost my brother, my parents held on just a little tighter to our family to make sure we all made it through that difficult time. Whenever my mother was sad, my father never hesitated in doing whatever he can to make it better. And my mother always supported whatever my father wanted to do,doing whatever needs to be done so that he could fulfill his dreams.
I knew when I was growing up that my parents always tried to teach me life’s important lessons. To be kind and to be myself. To work hard and to not take anything for granted. It isn’t until now that I realized the most important thing they were trying to teach me through themselves and their actions; what love is and how you treat the people you love.
I always thought love was about sacrifice but then thought back on what my father said about my mother, that if she saw him in pain, she would feel that pain as well, and I realized I had it all wrong this whole time. Because love is not about the act of the sacrifice itself, but being able to share all of yourself to someone no matter how weak or bad it makes you look. Truly loving someone means that whatever it is they’re feeling that you make yourself available to share that feeling with them, whether it be joy, sadness, or whatever it may be. Out of nowhere Yoon Jin’s voice echoed in my head. Chilbong would be hurt too if he knew you were hurting. I remembered the trip to Samcheonpo, and how he traveled six hours to be there with me. I remembered the Sampoong Department store collapse and how he was more concerned for me than himself afterwards. I remembered him worrying with me when Appa had his accident and him coming home on New Year’s Eve just so I didn’t have to be alone. No matter the situation or the circumstance, one thing was the same. He was there… Physically and emotionally available to share whatever it was that I’m experiencing or feeling.
I think I finally understand now, what love is. And just like that, it hit me that everything before now has been leading up to this moment. I felt Joon’s arms around me, his hand cradling mine, his lips on my lips. I saw him slow dancing with me, playing with me in the snow, and watched him kiss me one last time.
I admitted to myself that nothing else made me happier than being with Joon. When I was with him, it didn’t matter where we were or what we we were doing. As long as we were together, I was happy. I worried about him more than I worried for myself. When I realized that he’d left, I felt grief so overwhelming it left me paralyzed for days. The thought of never seeing him again leaves me feeling out of breath. With trembling fingers I put my hand to my chest, trying to ease the pain. I tried to slow my breathing and still the discomfort persisted.
When nothing I did could make the ache go away, I finally heard what my heart has been trying to tell me this whole time. Somehow I felt like I just passed a test of sorts, except this time there was no reward. How sad it is to realize that the person I love had been right in front of me all along, but I had been too blind to see him.
Two hours later, once everyone had gone to bed, I grabbed Joon’s letter from my table and walked into his room. I haven’t been here since the day he left. Looking around I noted the empty furniture and the empty shelves. I quietly sat down on the edge of his bed, took a deep breath and read his letter again. You would think that knowing what the letter said would diminish the pain, but sadly it didn’t. By the time I had finished reading it, I was crying. Silent tears turned to sobs as I laid myself down on his bed, a bed that still smelled like him. “Joon-ah,” I whispered brokenly. “Joon-ah.” Holding his pillow close to me, exhaustion finally took over and I fell asleep before my tears even dried.
The sensation of butterfly kisses woke me up. I felt gentle lips on my eyes. “Wake up.” A kiss on my right cheek. “Wake up.” A kiss on my left cheek. “Wake up.” A kiss on my nose. My eyes opened and there he was, lying on the same pillow, looking at me with the tenderest of looks in his eyes. He leaned down and pressed a kiss on my lips. “Wake up.”
I lifted my hand to caress his cheek and he smiled. “I’m dreaming right? You’re not really here?”
His smile disappeared and he looked at me somberly. “Yes, this is a dream. And no, I’m not really here… But you have to wake up. This dream will end soon.”
“Can’t you just stay a little longer? I’m not ready to let you go,” I said softly. He touched my cheek with his fingers and shook his head no.
“Remember everything I told you, okay?” he said. Pressing a kiss on my forehead, I was about to say something else when the opening of a door shoved me back to reality.
Sitting up suddenly I looked around and saw Binggrae standing by the door looking at me with a surprised expression on his face. “Na Jeong-ah, did you fall asleep here?”
“I must have.” I quickly hid Joon’s letter in my pocket and tried to leave quickly. “What time is it anyway? What are you doing here?”
“It’s only 5.30 in the morning. I have to leave early today to make morning rounds at the hospital.” Spotting the box that still sat in the corner he made his way towards it. “I’m seeing my aunt later and Chilbong asked me to give his Omma his stuff to hold until he comes back.”
“You’ve… You’ve spoken to him?” I asked haltingly.
“Yeah.” Though I wanted to ask more questions, I kept my mouth shut and just nodded. I left his room and went straight to mine. I was putting the letter away in the closet when Joon’s old baseball cap fell out, the one he put on my head years ago. Turning it over I saw something I never saw before: my picture inside. I knew that he had liked me then, too, but I don’t think it ever hit me how long he’s loved me until this moment and how hard it must have been for him.
Silently I gathered everything that I have left of Joon. His gloves, his letter, his cap and the phone charm he gave me. Anyone who sees me right now might think that I must have the strangest assortment of random stuff. But I don’t care. These are the only pieces of him that I have left, and the only proof that I have that he was here. They will forever remind me that once upon a time, Joon loved me. My puppy sat nearby, seemingly watching me with his observant eyes.
“Are you happy now?” I asked him. I put him on my pillow and laid down until it was time to go to work.
Pacific Bell Park
San Francisco, USA
February 24, 2000
Practice ended a couple of hours ago but I found myself reluctant to leave. Here, on the baseball mound, I felt more like myself than anywhere else. Playing baseball saved me from myself. Who knows what I would be doing if I didn’t have it?
Being in a different country, surrounded by strangers, I made myself feel better knowing that I am finally doing something that was just for me. It was the most painful thing I ever had to do, but I know now that if I was able to do that, I can do anything. It feels like Seoul had been an eternity ago. The distance has helped me move past the pain. Maybe soon I’ll be able to say that I’ve moved on. Now more than ever, I am convinced that I definitely did the right thing.
“Hey, Kim! How long are we gonna stay here? It’s already 7 pm.” My catcher, Scott, asked me. “I have a date,” he added with a smile. I grinned back at him before I responded.
“You can leave,” I answered. “I’ll just throw a little bit longer and I’ll go home too.”
He nodded and took off his mask. Walking off the field he turned back and said, “Don’t strain yourself. We’ll be back here again in the morning.”
“I got it,” I said. Once he was gone I was left alone again. I looked at the ball I held, finding comfort in its familiar weight. This was what I was meant to do. Adjusting my cap, I focused my eyes on a can sitting on one of the bleachers and threw the ball at it. With speed and precision the ball knocked it straight off. With a satisfied smile on my face I had just picked up another ball when a memory stopped me.
“Your position is pitcher, right?” Na Jeong asked.
“Then can you hit the top of that fire hydrant?”
“What are you going to do if I hit it?”
“I’ll never ask you to play basketball again.”
“You don’t know how hard it is to hit that. Is that all you’re gonna give me?”
“What do you want?” she asked.
“Listen to one request,” I said.
“I’ll tell you once I hit it.”
“Yah… I don’t think you’re gonna make it so don’t embarrass yourself and just tell me now.”
I’d thrown the rock and knocked the can off before she even finished speaking.
“Come to my game.”
The memory ended abruptly. I looked down and saw that I was squeezing the ball so tightly my knuckles had gone white. I shook my head at how naive I was. Did I really think it was that easy? Suddenly not feeling like throwing anymore, I quickly packed my gear and walked out of the stadium.
Unlocking the car, I placed my stuff in the trunk before I got in the driver’s seat. Setting the GPS to my apartment, I heard my phone ringing. When I answered I heard my manager’s voice on the other end of the line.
“Joon-ah, are you just now going home? Practice ended hours ago. I’ve called you six times,” I heard him say.
“Yeah, Hyung. I stayed a little longer with Scott. I’m about to drive home now.”
“Ahh, I remember why I called you. A package came from Korea. I left it on your front door. And don’t forget you have English lessons tomorrow after practice.”
“I got it. Thanks, Hyung.” I hung up the phone and drove off to my apartment.
After I parked the car and locked it, I entered my apartment building. Walking into the elevators I didn’t notice the admiring looks being sent my way by the women in it. Keeping my gaze straight ahead, I waited until the elevator stopped on my floor and stepped out quickly.
I picked it up the package sitting in front of my apartment and unlocked the door. The lights automatically turned on as soon as I stepped in. Dropping my baseball gear in the entryway I carried the box to the kitchen. I examined the box for a minute, wondering who it could be from. All it said in the return address portion was Seoul, Korea. Omma? I shook my head. My mother would never do this sort of thing. Now curious, I carefully opened it by the seams with a knife. Peeling back the top of the box, I spied a handwritten note on top.
We thought you’d be missing home so we got you a few things we thought you’d need. We hope you stay healthy and eat well. We will be here when you get home. Fighting!
Omma and Coach
P.S. Don’t yell at your cousin for giving us your address. Coach hit him until he gave in.
With the biggest smile on my face, I started taking out all the items in the box. There was a big jar of cabbage kimchi, a smaller one of radish kimchi, a tub of red pepper paste and a tub of bean paste. There were also health drinks and on the bottom, wrapped with a ribbon was a pair of handknit gloves. With the gloves came a separate note.
I wasn’t sure how big your hands are so I used Samcheonpo’s for reference. If they’re too tight or too loose, Seoul Omma is sorry. I will fix it when you come back.You don’t have to wear them, but I made them just for you.
Trying the gloves on for size, I felt tears come to my eyes. Overwhelmed, I quickly grabbed a fork and started eating the kimchi straight from the jar. Thank God Dong Joon moved into Sincheon Boarding House. I suddenly missed home so much it hurt. It’s 8.30 pm here, so it must be 1.30 pm there. I picked up the phone and briefly hesitated dialing, unsure whether Na Jeong would be home. Nah, I thought, it’s Friday and the middle of the day so she should be at work. I had to consciously stop myself from wondering how she’s doing. It doesn’t matter, dummy.
After the third ring I heard Omma’s voice. “Omma, it’s Chilbong.”
I heard her intake of breath before she spoke enthusiastically over the phone. “Omo, Bong-ah! How are you? Are you eating well? Are you staying warm?” She sounded so happy to hear my voice, it made m e smile just listening to her.
“Yeah, Omma, I’m doing well. My coach and teammates are really nice so I have been adjusting easily. I wanted to thank you for the package you sent.” Before I could speak anymore, I heard Coach-nim’s voice take over the phone.
“Chilbong-ah, is that you? Aigoo, they’re not working you too hard are they? Tell them you need rest okay?”
“I’ll tell them Coach-nim. Don’t worry,” I reassured him. I heard some arguing on the other end of the line before Omma spoke again.
“Bong-ah, everyone’s at work so it’s just us here right now. I’ll tell them you called though, if you want me to.”
“No that’s okay Omma. You don’t have to tell anyone I called. I called to just speak to you and Coach-nim anyways. I’ll email the rest of them.”
“Ask him when he’s coming home and when he’ll call again!” I heard Coach-nim yell in the background.
“I don’t think I need to ask him. You’re so loud I’m sure he heard you,” she tsked before addressing me again. “Ahhh Bong-ah, you heard right?”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to come home until after the season ends. My schedule is pretty packed until then. But I’ll call you guys regularly. This time, every Friday if that’s okay.”
“Really? I’m sad that you can’t come home anytime soon but I understand. Every Friday afternoon is perfect.” Sounding like she’s covering the receiver with her hand, I heard her muffled voice yell back at Coach-nim. “Yeobo, Chilbong says he’s gonna call us every Friday at this time!”
“Omma, I have to go now. Practice starts early tomorrow and I still have a lot to do.”
She bid me goodbye and I hung up the phone. I thought about how good it felt to hear their voices. It makes me feel a little closer to home, a little closer to her. At the unbidden image of Na Jeong that popped up in my head I felt my heart clench inside my chest. Don’t think about her. She’s not thinking about you.
I leaned back on the chair and watched the city lights twinkle from my windows. I got up an hour later and did my laundry while I showered. The television played while I checked my email. Half an hour later I climbed into bed, prepared to spend the day tomorrow like I did today and just like I did yesterday. My life has become all about routines, but at least I felt safe. Living this way, nothing will ever take me by surprise ever again.
Sincheon Boarding House
April 8, 2000
“Okay, puppy, it’s time for you and me to find out which one we like best,” I said to my puppy as I sat him across from me on the floor. Between us sat a bottle each of soju, makgulli and sake. “He’s coming back home soon and we need to show him that I know what I like, okay?”
I set my notebook next to me and started pouring a shot of each into separate marked glasses. Realizing I forgot the snacks I ran downstairs to the kitchen and went back upstairs.
“There, I’m ready.” With a determined nod of my head, I took a shot of soju. “Hmmm, it’s quite strong. A little harsh going down my throat.” Picking up my notebook and pen, I flipped to the page where I had already written three columns, marked “SOJU”, “MAKGULLI” and “SAKE”. Under soju, I wrote bitter and good. “This is easy. I’ll definitely know what I’ll like best after this.” Drinking the shot of makgulli, I smiled after. “Delicious. Sweet.” Again I wrote down the adjectives on my notebook. Thinking it’s probably a bad idea to be drinking without anything in my stomach, I started to munch on the dried squid. I addressed my puppy. “You’re probably wondering why I’m doing this on my own right? Well, I don’t want people to think I’m crazy. So… I wanted to do this on…”
“Aigoo, aren’t you too old to still be playing with stuffed animals?” I heard Oppa say from the stairs.
“Oppa, you came? I thought you said you had a date?” I asked, chewing on a piece of dried fish.
“Only for a few minutes… I think I left one of my textbooks here.” Looking at the drinks and my puppy, he asked, “What are you doing here then? This looks like some weird sort of experiment. You even have a notebook and everything.” He plopped himself down on the couch.
“Yeah… Oppa, every weekend I’ve decided I’m gonna find something out about myself.”
“Oppa, this is nothing. Na Jeong-ah, I see you’ve moved on to beverages,” Yoon Jin said as she closed her door. Shaking her head at me, she moved my puppy and sat down on the floor.
“Yah, don’t move him,” I protested.
“Who’s more important to you? Me or the puppy?” she asked.
Without even thinking, I answered quickly, “My puppy.”
She pretended to be hurt before laughing. “Oppa, you should have seen her the week before, demanding to be brought every item in the house that’s red or blue, says she needs to figure out which color she liked better. Or the week before, when we all had to eat fish every night the whole week, said she was on her quest to find her favorite. This is how it’s been for the past six weeks,” she chuckled, then shook her head at me. “Na Jeong-ah, you forgot right? You forgot that I asked you to go somewhere with me today?”
I looked at her as she looked at me with a shy smile. “Is it that time already? Don’t you still have a month and a half left?” At Oppa’s confused look, I gave him a smile. “Yoon Jin wants me to go with her to the dress shop and help her pick out her wedding dress.”
“Ah that’s right… You and Samcheonpo got engaged on Valentine’s Day right?” He smiled and motioned for her to come closer. Once she did, he pretend whispered, “Yah, you sure you want to marry him? He looks like a murderer.”
“Oppa,” I said, smacking his shoulder. “Don’t listen to him Yoon Jin-ah. Samcheonpo is a good guy.”
I quickly capped all the liquor, grabbed my puppy, and stood up. “Oppa, can you bring these down to the kitchen? Yoon Jin-ah, are you ready?” She nodded.”I just need five minutes to change.” I went downstairs into my room and set my puppy down on the bed. Deciding on a red floral dress, I put it on and pulled my now shoulder length hair up in a ponytail. I quickly put on some lipgloss then grabbed my gloves and my phone.
“It’s warm outside,” Haitai said. Next to him, Samcheonpo and Binggrae nodded. “You don’t need gloves.”
“Na Jeong never leaves this house without those gloves,” Samcheonpo said, looking at the television. “Snowing, sunny, rainy, whatever. It doesn’t matter. She always has those gloves on her.” He looked at Binggrae. “Don’t you remember the time she thought she lost them? I thought she was gonna tear this house apart yelling and cursing. Good thing she found them before she emptied out all the cabinets.”
I cringed and pushed the gloves and the phone in my purse. Wanting to change the topic, I asked if Oppa already left. Binggrae responded that he did after bringing the liquor down. Nodding, I sat down on the couch and waited for Yoon Jin. When she came bounding down the stairs a few minutes later, we got ready to leave.
“Yoon Jin-ah, should I drive? It’s not far, right?” I asked her. “I only drive when there’s someone with me.” Her face paled and she took a moment before responding.
“Na Jeong-ah, I have an appointment. We really can’t be late.”
“Fine. We’ll take a cab.”
We bid the boys goodbye and walked out of the house. Once we were in the cab, I was looking in my purse for my wallet when I dropped my phone on the floor with a loud thump.
“Aishhhh…” I muttered. Worried I picked it up quickly.
“What did you drop?” She watched me examine my phone. “What happened? Is it broken?”
“I don’t care about the phone. I was just making sure that my charm hasn’t been scratched.”
“You’ve really become weird, did you know that?” Yoon Jin was gazing out her window when all of a sudden I saw her fidgeting. I looked at her curiously as she tried to cover her window from my view. I frowned and moved her to one side and saw what she was trying to block. Behind her a bus pulled alongside our cab with Joon’s face plastered all over it. It looks like he’s now endorsing some type of sports drink.
“Yah… It’s fine. I don’t even dream about him anymore.” Well, technically that’s true. I don’t dream about him, but I still think of him every day. “Besides, it’s not like I can ever not see him. His name is on television weekly, his face is in the newspapers just as often, and he’s getting a lot of endorsements from different companies. It’s only going to get worse now that his season has started. Trying to avoid seeing him is like trying to avoid air. It’s impossible.” Watching the way I clutched my purse protectively, she narrowed her eyes at me.
“Give me your purse,” Yoon Jin demanded. When I didn’t give it right away, she grabbed it from my lap. Reaching in, she pulled out my gloves. “How long are you going to be carrying these? Look how dirty they are! It’s not even the season for them anymore.”
I grabbed them from her before speaking. “Yoon Jin-ah, it’s my thing. Let it go.” She frowned at me for a moment, as if thinking. I sensed her hesitation before she spoke.
“Na Jeong-ah… We wanted to know if it’s okay to invite Chilbong to the wedding.”
“Of course it is. He’s your friend too.” My heart started racing in my chest. Trying to keep my expression blank, I looked at her. “That’s fine. Has he responded yet?” Joon might be coming home, my heart rejoiced. Joon might be coming home!
“No, not yet,” she said. “You’ll be okay? I don’t want either of you to be uncomfortable.”
“Yoon Jin-ah, I am a cool woman. Why would we be uncomfortable? We weren’t officially together, so we never broke up. You can’t break up with someone you were never with.” She didn’t say anything else and soon thereafter we were in front of the dress shop.
Once inside, I helped myself to a cup of tea while Yoon Jin was trying on dresses. She came out with each and I gave her my opinion on each. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be for someone her size to find a wedding dress that didn’t drown her frame. Finally I heard her voice.
“Na Jeong-ah, I think I found it,” she said wondrously. “Can you come here and look at me and tell me what you think?” I opened the curtain and saw Yoon Jin, her eyes shining with tears. The dress was lovely… Perfect for Yoon Jin. It was strapless, with a fitted bodice and a short train. With her hair up and her veil, she actually looked like a bride. Feeling so happy for her, I told her what every bride should hear from her best friend.
“You look beautiful, Yoon Jin-ah.” I put my arms around her and she hugged me back. “And you’re gonna need a really good bra,” I whispered. She pulled away and hit my shoulder affectionately.
The saleswoman came through and asked if she wanted a picture of her in her dress to show her family and friends.Yoon Jin said yes and handed her phone over to take the picture. A few minutes later, she was back in her regular clothes and had paid for her dress. As we waited for the bus to take us home, she turned me around. “I picked you out a dress in your favorite color.”
“Red?” I asked and she nodded. “Good, I’m glad. Just let me know when I need to try it on.” The bus came and we boarded, both of us giddy. She with finding her dream dress for her wedding, and I with the idea of seeing Joon again.
After we finished dinner, Yoon Jin and I found ourselves on the second floor continuing with my experiment. Omma, Appa, Haitai, Samcheonpo and Binggrae all went out to the cinema, so it just left the two of us home.
I had just taken my fourth shot of soju when I realized I’ve stopped taking notes. I tried to count in my head how much of each I’ve had to drink but my brain wouldn’t cooperate so I just gave up. Across from me, Yoon Jin sat with her eyes half closed, cuddling the bottle of makgulli.
“Na Jeong-ah, I’m so, so lucky. Samcheonpo is suuuuuuch a wonderful man,” she slurred at me. “I mean, he gave me Seo Taiji Oppa’s toilet… Oppa’s toilet! Who does things like that?”
“Joon would do that…” I nodded absently to myself. Looking at my puppy sitting on the couch, I winked at him. “Joon would totally do that. Except not with Seo Taiji… But he would definitely steal Lee Sang Min Oppa’s toilet for me… For me…” I paused, trying to think. “Have you ever tasted his ramyun, Yoon Jin-ah? It’s delicious. JJIANG!” I gave her two thumbs up.
“Samcheonpo is such a good singer too…” she cooed. “I hope when we have kids that they’ll be able to sing.”
I pouted. “Joon says he can’t sing, but I know he can dance… Did you know we slow danced right here?” I asked, pointing to the floor. “We did a lot of things here,” I whispered, giggling.
“Samcheonpo gives the best hugs… He doesn’t look like he would, right? But he’s a really… Really talented hugger.”
“Joon is the most amazing kisser,” I declared drunkenly. “He kisses me and… And I lose my mind. He does this thing with his tongue… Omo… I can’t even describe it. But he’s amazing.” I grabbed my puppy and planted a loud kiss on his lips. “You have to take my word for it though. Cause his lips are all mine! ALL MINE!”
“I can’t believe I’ll be married in less than two months! Two months…” she said incredulously. “In less than two months, I’ll… I’ll be Mrs. Kim Sung Kyun! Mrs. Kim Sung Kyun!”
I nodded and said, “I can’t believe it’s been almost three months since Joon left. Three months… Dogs give birth in less time!” At this injustice I started tearing up and I had to hold back a sniffle.
“I love him so much!” Yoon Jin said. She looked like she was going to cry.
“I love Joon so much!” I announced. “SHHHHHhhhhh… It’s a secret okay?” I put my finger on her lips while hushing her. “I want him to be the first to know.”
I’m not entirely sure how long we kept having two different conversations at the same time, but the next thing I knew we were both hugging and crying at the same time.
“Yoon Jin-ah, I love you,” I sobbed.
“Na Jeong-ah, I love you too!!!” She sobbed back.
We heard footsteps on the stairs and both turned to see Omma, Appa, Samcheonpo, Haitai and Binggrae staring at both of us dumbfounded. Samcheonpo had to pried Yoon Jin’s arms from me and I almost started crying even harder. He brought her to her room while Binggrae helped me stand up.
Using his sleeve to wipe my tears, I looked at his face. So pretty, just like Joon. “Yah, Binggrae… You… You haven’t forgotten right?” At his confused look, I dropped my voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “You and me. Our talk. We still need to have a talk… Okay?”
“Na Jeong-ah, let’s get you to bed,” he answered. He helped me down the stairs and into my room. “Binggrae, turn my fan off! Joon said I shouldn’t sleep with my fan on,” I muttered as I laid down fully dressed. As soon as my head hit the pillow, it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.
Pacific Bell Park
San Francisco, USA
April 8, 2000
I had just gotten back to the locker room after practice when I checked my phone and saw a text message from Dong Joon. It said only three words: Check your email. I chuckled and put my phone away. I had just put a shirt on when I heard the Coach’s voice.
“Kim!” At my name being called out I looked up. He motioned for me to into his office and I followed him. “JJ, how do you think you’ve been doing in practice?”
“Uhm, I think it’s good, Coach. I feel like the extra training has paid off ”
“I think so too. I just wanted to let you know that you’ll be pitching for our first game.” Surprised, I met his eyes. “Good job!”
“Thanks, Coach.” Standing up, I shook his hand and exited his office. Hearing what Coach said just reinforced to me that my 10,000 hour rule really does pay off. I was always the first to arrive in practice and the last to leave. I always iced my shoulder meticulously and pushed myself on weight training days. Physically, I am in the best shape of my life. Surprisingly, mentally too. I’m definitely ready to show the world what I can do.
I was almost in my car when my teammate stopped me. “JJ, man, why haven’t you called Amanda back? My girl is riding me hard about this. Didn’t you have a good time at the double date?”
Amanda? I searched my head for a minute when I matched a face to the name. Ah, I remember. Blonde, tall, pretty eyes, wide smile. Yeah, I remember. “Yeah I had a good time. I just haven’t had the chance. I’m gonna call her, for sure.” After waving goodbye, I went into my car and drove back to my apartment.
It took me about a month and a half of lessons to even feel comfortable enough speaking in English to people. But the lessons have paid off, along with the practice DVDs that Hyung bought for me. Now I can actually have conversations without a dictionary. As soon as my teammates found out I was comfortable speaking English they haven’t stopped setting me up on dates. The one with Amanda being the latest one. It’s not that they haven’t been beautiful girls, but I just haven’t met one yet who took my breath away. That’s because you’re too picky. You already had one who took your breath away, and you saw how that played out. She took your breath away and leaving her almost killed you! I told myself to shut up. That voice of mine has gotten me in trouble one too many times.
Once I was home I showered quickly before getting on the computer. Eating a salad, I clicked on my email and waited for it to load. Scanning my inbox I didn’t see any emails from Dong Joon, but there was one from Samcheonpo. I clicked on it and was greeted by an invitation to their wedding. May 13, 2000. It’s right in the middle of the season, so I doubt if I can make it. As if reading my mind, there was a message under the invitation.
We know the timing is not very good. You just started your season so we completely understand if you can’t make it. Even so, here or not, please know that you are always welcome to come and are in our thoughts.
Yoon Jin and Samcheonpo
I was about to close the email when I noticed that there was another attachment, I clicked on it and a picture of Yoon Jin in a wedding dress came into view. Smiling, I noted how happy she looked. I was writing a note to myself to send them a congratulatory card when I noticed the image in the corner of the picture. It was a reflection from the mirror in front of which Yoon Jin was standing. Na Jeong. I studied her more closely, and just looking at her I felt my heart race. It’s just a picture. Calm down. The picture was in profile, and she had a wistful smile on her face. Her hair, cut short since I have known her, was long enough now to put in a ponytail. Her eyes were shining with a mixture of affection and pride. She glowed as brightly as the sun. She looked happy. Hands shaking, I closed the email quickly and shut my computer down.
There are times when I can use a drink. This is definitely one of those times. Opening my refrigerator, I spied a quarter bottle of white wine in the back. Good enough. I grabbed it and took a swig straight from the bottle. I kept chugging until it was empty. Hoping that the little bit of wine was enough to help ward off thoughts of Na Jeong, I turned off the lights and climbed into bed.
As I laid in bed that night, I admitted to myself that she will forever be my weakness, my personal Achilles heel. Luckily I am far enough to not be affected as badly as I would be at home. Enough time has passed that I can almost convince myself that I was over her. Closing my eyes, my last thought before I fell asleep was that I can never allow my weakness to get the better of me again. I will never let her get close enough to me again to even try.
Hotel Le Crystal
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
April 30, 2000
I feel awkward wearing a tuxedo at 8 am. In a hotel room in Canada. Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I laughed sheepishly at myself as my manager set up a video camera.
“Chilbong-ah, are you sure you don’t want to just go back to Korea for the wedding? You’re not pitching that night or the night after. If you want to, we can probably fly home for a day and come right back.”
“Hyung, it’s okay. It’s not really a good idea to be flying for long periods of time during the season. It might mess with my immune system. Plus I don’t want to be distracted.”
“You’re not still hung up on the Sung girl are you?” he said offhandedly.
“Hyung…” I said quietly, narrowing my eyes at him. “I appreciate all you do for me and I like you. But if you refer to her as that Sung girl again I’m going to beat you up THEN fire you.”
He put both his hands up. “Chilbong-ah, I didn’t mean anything by it.” He avoided my eyes and pretended to check the lens on the camera. “Are you ready? We only have an hour and a half before the team meeting.”
Still a little pissed off, I took a deep breath before sitting myself down on the stool he had set up in front of the camera. As he pressed the record button, I fixed a smile on my face. After clearing my throat, I started to speak.
“Yah… I bet you never expected to see me like this, right? I don’t really feel comfortable wearing this either, but since I can’t be there in person, I’m trying to be there in spirit instead. So I decided to dress up just for you.” I paused, realizing something. “Oh I forgot… I’m not supposed to start a formal wedding speech like that, right? Hyung, can we start over?”
“NO!” he said, then mouthed ‘we don’t have time’.
“No?” Hyung continued shaking his head behind the camera. “Ahh, okay, I’m just gonna start from scratch anyway.” Taking a deep breath, I continued. “Hello, my name is Kim Jae Joon. I have known both Samche… Sung Kyun and Yoon Jin since our university days and I am honored and proud to still call them friends now.” Looking for the right words, I stayed silent for a second before continuing. Speeches are not my forte. “Ahh, to be perfectly honest, I was a bit surprised myself when they started dating, just like I’m sure most of you were. But seeing how far they’ve come, I can confidently say that they will be together forever…”
Hilton Namhae Golf & Spa Resort
May 13, 2000
Sitting in between Haitai and Ae Jung, and Binggrae and Jin Yi, I watched as Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin smiled at each other and giggled at an inside joke. Ever the newlyweds, they looked like they only had eyes for each other and like no one else existed in the world. Drinking a sip of wine, I wondered for a minute if I can talk someone into getting me some soju instead. Next to me, I watched as Binggrae and Jin Yi nuzzled each other while Haitai and Ae Jung pretty much did the same thing. Omma and Appa sat across from me, also giving each other moony eyed looks. I suppose I should feel like the odd one out, but seeing my family and friends so happy banishes any feelings of self-pity I may be wont to indulge in.
Next to me Haitai looked at his watch and stood up. I watched him walk over to Samcheonpo and whisper something in his ear before approaching the podium.
“I like your watch, Binggrae. Where did you get it? I was thinking of getting Ho Jun-ah one for his birthday,” Ae Jung said next to me. I had just put a mouthful of crab in my mouth when I heard Binggrae say thank you.
“Dong Joon-ah, didn’t Chilbong send you that for your birthday?” At the mention of Joon’s name I almost choked. In the back of my mind I knew that they had all kept in touch with him, but they were all so careful about not mentioning his name or talking about him in front of me that I can go and have gone for weeks without hearing his name.
Finding out that he wouldn’t be able to come hadn’t been a surprise really. I have been following his team’s schedule online and saw that they were supposed to be in Colorado today. When Yoon Jin told me, I had to keep the disappointment from showing on my face, but that was weeks ago and I’m over it now.
The high pitched noise from the mic startled me from my thoughts. Haitai was touching it a few times to make sure it’s working before he actually spoke. Next to me Binggrae stood up and picked up the video camera he brought with him. Adjusting the lens he went towards the front of the hall to record what was about to take place.
“HELLO…” Haitai started. “YOU ALL… Ahem, You all saw me earlier at the wedding, but in case we haven’t been introduced, my name is Son Ho Jun. I have been Sung Kyun’s roommate and best friend for the past five… No, six years. You might want to knock off a few months off that number though because we couldn’t stand each other when we first met,” at this, he looked at Samcheonpo and gave him the ‘V’ sign and everyone laughed. “Anyway, I’ve known Yoon Jin for just as long. I was there when they first fell in love and to see them getting married now just reminds me how old we are getting.” He cleared his throat. “We have another close friend from Yonsei University, who unfortunately today couldn’t be here due to professional reasons, but he did however send a special message to the groom and his bride. Can someone dim the lights, please?”
Oppa? He didn’t tell me anything about sending something special to Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin when we had lunch last week. I thought he already gave them their present since he had to work today.
I was wiping my hands on a napkin when I heard a familiar voice clearing his throat. Surprised, I looked up and saw Joon’s face on the projector screen in front of me. He was dressed in a tuxedo and I couldn’t help my reaction when I looked at him. My heart felt like it was about to jump out of my chest. My hands felt cold and clammy at the same time and I had to keep them under the table to keep anyone else from noticing how badly they’re shaking. I felt like my stomach is lodged in my throat and I am finding it hard to breathe.
He looked just like how he always appeared in my dreams and my memories. His hair was a little longer, but his dreamy poet’s eyes still looked the same. His little boy smile still took my breath away. His lips still look as soft as I remember them feeling. His jacket fit his broad chest and wide shoulders perfectly. His confidence exuded from the screen and he looked well rested… Healthy… Happy. I waited with bated breath to hear what he has to say.
“Yah… I bet you never expected to see me like this, right? I don’t really feel comfortable wearing this either, but since I can’t be there in person, I’m trying to be there in spirit instead. So I decided to dress up just for you.” he paused. “Oh I forgot… I’m not supposed to start a formal wedding speech like that, right? Hyung, can we start over?” When a resounding no was heard in the background, everyone laughed. “No? Ahhh… okay…”
As he spoke, I fixed my eyes on his face. Feeling as though I haven’t seen him in forever, my eyes devoured his smile and the look in his eyes. I felt my eyes fill with tears and in my hand I saw that I am still clutching the napkin. Putting it down, I looked up and addressed his image, my mind telling him what my voice could not.
Joon-ah… Do you know how long I’ve waited to see you again? I know that to you it’s only been a few months, but to me it feels like a million years. It doesn’t even matter that you’re not really here, because at least right now I can see your face and know for sure that you’re living well.
I still dream about you sometimes, and in my dreams you’re always looking at me with love in your eyes. I never realized it before, that that was how you always looked at me but now I can finally see it.
Do you think of me? I… I think of you a lot.
I think of you when something good happens, because I know that whether it is trivial or grand, you would see my triumph as yours and you’ll celebrate it with me.
I think of you when I’m sad and feeling alone, because whenever I’m with you the world just becomes a little bit less lonely.
I think of you when life has me feeling invisible, like I was just one speck in this big world, because in your eyes, I always felt important.
I think of you when I’m scared, because there’s no one else in the world who can make me feel safe like you do.
I think of you even when I’m mad, because I know there is no one else who can handle my temper and calm me down as quickly as you can.
You’re the first thing I think about when I wake up. I wonder if you slept well and tell you good morning, wishing I could spend the day with you. And when I fall asleep, I think of you then, too. I imagine how your day was and bid you good night. Every day since you’ve been gone, this is how I begin and end my day.
“You are both so lucky to have each other. Loving someone in itself is a gift, but having that person loving you back IS a miracle. And to have it happen at the right time… Well, if that doesn’t convince people that there is a God or such things like destiny or fate, then I don’t know what will.”
Joon-ah, it’s red. My favorite color. Because when I see the color red I think of love and I remember you. And I’ve found out that I love soju, makgulli and sake equally. Not because I can’t make up my mind, but because I have made up my mind that I liked them all.
Yah… You’re proud of me, right?
Thank you for your loving me. I never said that before so I’m saying it now. I know there were a lot of things I didn’t do or say, but it was never because I didn’t want to or because I didn’t have anything to say… It was because I didn’t really understand my own heart until now.
Your love for me made me strong and brave, and knowing that I was loved by you gave me the courage to find out who I really am. Good or bad, I’ve learned to embrace all those parts of me, just like you do. You gave me back myself, and for that I will always be grateful.
“You know, hearing the way Sung Kyun talk about his Yoon Jin and seeing first hand how Yoon Jin always puts Sung Kyun’s needs above hers has really shown me that there must be a little magic in love. That two such different people, from two different places, can find each other, fall in love and grow together… That’s really special. And to have those two same people promise to devote themselves to the other sincerely through life… It is definitely an honor to witness that. It makes me realize that there is a meaning to this life, and that the answer lies completely in finding that person who will love and accept you no matter what. We should all be so blessed to find that kind of love.”
I miss you. I miss you so much sometimes I feel like I will die from it.
I would give anything to just be able to breathe the same air that you do. But then I remember the words you told me and I realize that you’re still here.
You’re still here… In my heart.
When you left you took a part of me with you and you left a part of yourself with me too. I promise I’ll keep it safe until you come back to me.
Please come back.
There’s one more thing I want to say. It’s taken me a long time and it may be too late, but I’m going to say it anyway.
Are you ready?
Joon-ah, I love you.
“Sung Kyun and Yoon Jin, congratulations. I wish you two happiness and have lots of kids who look like Yoon Jin.” He chuckled before continuing. “I’m just joking. Ahh, one last thing. I hope you enjoy your present and I will see you both soon.” He waved goodbye and the lights turned back on.
By the time he finished his speech, tears were running down my face. All around me, everyone was applauding and lifting their drinks for a toast. I could barely see anything from the tears in my eyes and I felt like I was going to fall apart. Overcome with emotions, I quickly excused myself from the table and ran out the hall. Once in the main foyer I put my hand up to the wall for support as I struggled to regain my composure. I forced myself to slow my breathing down and calm down. Shakily, I made my way to the bathroom. There were two women re-applying their makeup while talking when I entered, but upon seeing the expression on my face, they quickly left. Leaning against the counter to keep my knees from buckling, I washed my face.
Knowing there will be watching eyes, I tried to erase all traces of my tears before going back to the reception. The rest of the day passed by in a blur. It was almost as if I was watching myself go through the motions but I wasn’t really there.
On the bus back to Seoul that night, I rested my head on the window as I attempted to get some rest. My body was exhausted but my mind was running a hundred miles per hour. As I closed my eyes I decided that whoever coined that phrase ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ clearly has never fallen in love with Kim Jae Joon. They must be stronger than me because not seeing Joon just made my feelings even stronger. I am now convinced more than ever that I will never stop loving him.
Gary Danko Restaurant
San Francisco, USA
July 24, 2000
Shrugging off my jacket, I looked out the window overlooking San Francisco Bay. It was a beautiful evening in the city, and there were a lot of tourists on Fishermans Wharf milling around. Checking my watch I saw that there’s still about five minutes until Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin were expected to arrive. Taking a sip of my drink I made a mental note to rest my shoulder as soon as I get home. The ride back from Los Angeles had been comparatively short but the team has been travelling so much since the season started that my body is starting to feel the stress. The arrival of the hostess interrupted my thoughts and I looked up to see two familiar faces looking at me.
“Chilbong-ah!” Samcheonpo said. Standing up to greet them, he held out his hand but I grabbed him to me for a tight hug.
Turning to Yoon Jin, I greeted her warmly. “Mrs. Kim,” I said. She greeted me by putting her arms around me in an affectionate hug.
“Yah… Yah… That’s enough.” Samcheonpo put himself between me and his wife to break us apart. I laughed and motioned for them to sit down. He took in our surroundings before speaking. “We would have been here earlier but there was traffic from the hotel and we couldn’t find a place to park. Did you know that this is a very popular restaurant? There’s a line of people outside waiting to go in. How did you get us seats so quickly anyway?”
“Aigoo,” I responded in a teasing voice. “Don’t you know I’m a Major Leaguer?” I laughed. “No, I had to beg them… Told them it’s the only place around that didn’t have a menu.” At their questioning looks, I added, “I still have a hard time ordering food.” At that, Samcheonpo chuckled and Yoon Jin laughed.
“Wow, Chilbong-ah… Look at this view! I can’t believe you live here! It’s beautiful.” Yoon Jin said appreciatively.
I nodded. “Yeah, but it’s not home.”
“Mr. Kim, are your guests ready to order drinks?” The waitress appeared at our table and I shot an enquiring look at Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin.
“I just want water,” he replied.
“Orange juice for me,” answered Yoon Jin.
In English I told the waitress what they wanted as Samcheonpo looked on.
“Your English is so much better now,” he commented, sounding impressed. I held out my fingers about an inch and responded.
“Just a little. I have a lot to learn still,” I paused as the waitress brought their drinks. “So, tell me, how are you enjoying your honeymoon?”
“Chilbong-ah, you didn’t have to give us all this for a wedding present. It’s really too much,” Yoon Jin said.
“Hey, it was the only way I can see you guys…” I said jokingly. “Have you moved out of the boarding house yet?” Yoon Jin nodded.
Looking at the two of them sitting across the table from me, I was struck by how happy I am that they were here. My Omma barely calls, and when I do speak to her, she’s made no mention of any plans to come visit. Surprisingly she’s still married to her third husband, but unsurprisingly, she was still busy with work. I make it a point to speak to Seoul Omma and Coach-nim every Friday, except for that one when Na Jeong answered unexpectedly and I hung up the call in panic, but I usually get an email from the rest of the gang at least three times a week. Still it wasn’t the same as being able to speak face to face.
The food arrived shortly thereafter and I listened as Samcheonpo spoke excitedly about driving in the Nevada desert coming here from Las Vegas. Yoon Jin just looked on lovingly at him while he told funny stories about the problems they’ve had while travelling because of the language barrier. They both spoke about their jobs and their new apartment. It was good to see them both settled and happy. Samcheonpo appeared to be settling into his new husband role well and Yoon Jin looked radiant.
“Yah… Marriage suits you both. Yoon Jin-ah, I’ve never seen you look more beautiful.” She blushed prettily and Samcheonpo leaned towards her and gave her a quick hug. Clearing my throat, I kept my eyes on my plate. “How… How is everyone?” I asked hesitantly. Looking up, I met Yoon Jin’s curious eyes. “Well, I’ve been really busy on the road so I haven’t had a chance to check my emails…” I stammered. She didn’t respond and just kept looking at me.
“Really?” Yoon Jin asked. “Because you answer our emails VERY promptly. You even answered the one we sent you from our hotel room coming here.” I was thinking of an acceptable believable response when thankfully I heard Samcheonpo speak.
“Erm… Chilbong-ah, where’s the toilet?” Samcheonpo asked. I pointed behind me and he nodded. I watched him make his way to the bathroom and when I turned around, Yoon Jin was still watching me with an unreadable expression on her face.
Unsure of how to proceed, I blurted out the first question that came to mind. “So… What time is your flight to New York City tomorrow?” Without waiting for an answer I continued. “I’ve been there before but only for games so I never had the chance to explore. I heard the views from the top of Empire State Building are magnificent. I want to go see the Statue of Liberty too…” I know that I’m babbling, but she just stayed silent. Suddenly she reached into her bag and pulled out a slim envelope. She put it on the table and slid it to me. “What’s this?” I asked, slipping my finger under the flap to open it.
“Wedding pictures.” she said simply. Looking down, the first picture I see is of Na Jeong fixing Yoon Jin’s veil. Her hair in soft curls, a bright smile on her face. Second picture was Na Jeong sandwiched between Ae Jung and Jin Yi, her expression caught mid laugh. I briefly scanned all the pictures and saw that they all featured Na Jeong somehow, in different poses, with different people, and with different facial expressions. Stopping at the last picture I saw that it was a shot of Na Jeong, looking straight at the camera. Her beautiful eyes sparkling, her complexion flawless and her lips tinted with a bit of gloss. She looked like she was thinking of something important. She looked like a woman in love.
Before I could stop myself, my thumb brushed over her image, as if in doing so I might actually feel her again. I was putting the pictures back in the envelope when Yoon Jin spoke.
“Keep them… They’re yours.” I met her gaze and a lump formed in my throat. Attempting to keep my face expressionless, I gave her a wistful smile and was about to give them back when Samcheonpo returned and sat back down. Unable to refuse, I put the envelope in my coat pocket just as dessert came.
“She’s… They’re beautiful, Yoon Jin-ah. Thank you.” She nodded back in acknowledgment. We ate our desserts in silence.
After dinner I walked them to their rental car. Feeling suddenly melancholic, I reminded them to text me when they arrive in New York City. Samcheonpo nodded and shook my hand. Yoon Jin gave me one last embrace before getting into the car.
“Chilbong-ah, don’t work too hard! I’ll talk to you soon,” Samcheonpo called out from his window as he was driving off while Yoon Jin’s hand waved from the opposite side of the car. I waved back in response and started walking home.
Once I returned to my apartment I quickly took a shower and packed my gear for my game tomorrow. I was just about to get into bed when I remembered the envelope still in my jacket pocket. I took it out and placed it into the drawer of my bedside table. Finally lying down, I resolved not to look at them again. I don’t need pictures to remember her face. Whether I like it or not, Na Jeong haunts me in my dreams every night.
October 4, 2000
I looked at my watch impatiently as I put my drink away. Shifting myself on the seat, I wondered how people could ride this all the time. I tried to tamp down my anxiety by looking out the window but I kept checking my watch, anxious that I won’t make it on time. I haven’t even arrived at my destination yet and I was already dreading the trip back. I was about to get up when I heard an announcement over the PA system.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve already started our descent procedure into San Francisco International Airport. We expect to land at 1:30 pm. We will be arriving about 12 minutes before our scheduled time.
If you want to adjust your watches, it is 12:45 pm local time in San Francisco now.The weather is sunny but a little windy and the temperature is 17.7 degrees Celsius or 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
On behalf of all our crew, thank you for choosing Korean Air as your airline today. We wish you a pleasant stay in San Francisco and we hope to see you again very soon.
Cabin crew, please prepare for landing.”