OST: JOHN MAYER “Dreaming With A Broken Heart”
I felt a nudge on my side and turned my head, surprised to find one of my friends from the Air Force Academy darting his head at me. He mouthed something and I shook my head, unable to understand.
“Pay attention!” His words came out through gritted teeth, his smile resembling a grimace.
I nodded sheepishly, looked around. There were many people here today, groups of people and couples everywhere. The restaurant looked no different than it did when it first opened, many years ago.
The first McDonald’s in Seoul. In Gangnam of all places. I tried so hard to not come here that day, fully aware of the crowd and the traffic. And yet one call and I came running.
I fixed my gaze on the table, an unwitting smile on my face. Deok Sun had looked so surprised, her eyes bulging out of her face when she realized I was there.
I thought she was alone. Had I known that her two friends were going to be there, I might have said no.
Oh… who was I kidding? I would have shown up anyway just because she asked me to come. It had been worth it to see her look happy that I came through for her, whatever the reason might have been that she called me.
I had liked her so much. I bit my lower lip, focused on the grain of the wood in front of me, trying to distract myself from the predictable tightening in my chest.
It was safe to say that I missed her. More than she will ever know. More than I was even willing to admit.
I heard someone clear their throat and I looked up to see three pairs of eyes looking at me. My friend was scowling, and then apologetically looking across the table, where his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s friend sat.
I forced myself to smile at her, surprised when she smiled back shyly. Her hair was smoothed back with a headband, her light brown eyes looking directly at me. She self-consciously smoothed a non-existent stray hair behind an ear and licked her lips.
Her skin was lighter than Deok Sun’s. Her hair longer.
I pushed the thought away, tried to convince myself that it had been just a passing thing, though I of all people knew that was a lie. I thought of her constantly, worried about what time she was going home, if she was eating well, sleeping well. It was only natural, I reasoned. Until recently, Deok Sun had been a constant part of my life; of course it made sense that I would compare every woman to her.
I tried to tell myself this as I played with my french fries, picking one up and dipping it into the ketchup before putting it in my mouth.
I realized that in the last few months I really have taken this whole talking to myself very seriously.
“So,” Ji Min, my friend’s girlfriend said to me, “Yo Han tells me that you were very smart in high school. Yoo Mi here,” she continued, “graduated top of her class.”
Yoo Mi blushed, averted her gaze. She wrapped and unwrapped her cheeseburger, stealing glances my way.
“Is that right?” I asked, and she, as if amazed that I was speaking to her, nodded enthusiastically. I instantly felt bad once I realized that those were the first words I said to her since I arrived.
My mother would hit me upside the head for treating a woman so disrepectfully. I really should make more of an effort.
When Yo Han asked me if I wanted to go on a double date, I didn’t exactly refuse. Bored out of my mind in Sacheon and unwilling to go home to Ssangmundong, I had agreed, not realizing that it would involve a trip to Seoul anyway.
“Where are you studying?” I asked quietly and she quickly chewed what was in her mouth, holding a hand up to me as if to tell me to wait.
“Yah,” Yo Han chided. “Were you not listening? They both go to Seoul National University. Yoo Mi-ssi is in her last year studying Economics.”
I nodded my head, attempted to look impressed.
“Do you like it?” I asked Yoo Mi, before taking a sip of my drink.
She thought about my question before she responded. “I do,” she replied with a small smile. “I’ve always liked numbers and that and world economy always interested me so…”
I was still figuring out what next to ask when I felt a vibration in my pocket and pulled my pager out. Not recognizing the number but recognizing the area code that was paged to me, I stood up. I am always in fear that something would happen to Hyung or my parents while I was so far away.
“Excuse me for one minute,” I said to the people at my table. “I’ll be right back.”
I weaved through the tables to the nearest payphone. I put the coins in and dialed the number flashing on my pager screen, looking behind me to see Yo Han and the women at the table, talking animatedly, Yoo Mi occasionally looking to where I was and me turning back around quickly.
She was a nice girl. A nice, perfectly acceptable girl. A nice, pretty, perfectly acceptable girl. A nice, smart, pretty, perfectly acceptable girl.
There were lots of things about her I should like. But the most important part… the most important part was that she seemed to like me.
So why can’t my heart forget the one who does not?
“Hello?” Sun Woo’s voice interrupted my reverie.
“Sun Woo-yah,” I responded. “It’s Jung Hwan. What’s up?”
“It’s a rare night away from the hospital for me,” he said. “So I’m out. Where are you?”
“You know where I am,” I answered, the lie falling naturally out of my mouth.
“No, I didn’t, that’s why I asked, bastard,” Sun Woo said, laughing. “I thought I saw your Jeep parked by the McDonald’s in Gangnam.”
“Why would I be there?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Sun Woo said. “That’s why I asked.”
“Why are you in Gangnam anyway?” I wanted to change the topic, wondering why, of all places, he had to be here.
“Dong Ryong didn’t tell you?” He asked. “Deok Sun scored some tickets from her job to a restaurant so we all went.”
“Deok Sun did?” I was almost ashamed at how interested I sounded, embarrassed that even now, even after everything, I still did a pretty shitty job of hiding how I felt for her. Not that she ever noticed anyway.
My heart tightened at the memory of her easy, almost relieved willingness to believe that my confession had been a joke.
Even the best liar couldn’t have made a lie like that. And I was never a good liar.
“Damn,” Sun Woo continued, “I hoped you would be in Seoul.” I heard him take a deep breath and when he came back on the phone, his voice was lowered. “When are you coming back?”
“I don’t know,” I said sincerely. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.” If I’ll be back, I wanted to add, but didn’t say out loud.
“Yah…” I heard him make a frustrated sound. “You know you can talk to me, right? I know you’re tough and you’re not exactly the talkative type but I’m here if you need me.”
For a second I was tempted. Sun Woo and I have been close since childhood. Maybe even closer than me and Dong Ryong were. Once we told each other everything. I thought it would be that way forever.
Until Taek became his brother and everything changed.
If there was one thing I knew to be true and believed myself, it was that family was everything. Blood, even one only connected by marriage, still runs thicker than water.
Just like Jung Bong Hyung would always take my side whether or not I was right, by default he would have to support Taek. It was just the way it was. I had learned to accept this a long time ago.
“Thanks, Sun Woo-yah,” I said lightly, trying to make myself sound brighter, more carefree. “But I’m fine. It’s just been really busy here in Sacheon and it’s a pain in the ass to go home.”
He didn’t speak for a few moments and then resignedly, I heard him say ‘Okay.’
“I’ll call you soon,” I said, stopping myself from asking about Deok Sun, even under the guise of friendship.
“Yeah, okay,” he replied. “Call me once in a while, will you?”
I made a noncommittal sound and hung up the phone, my mind trying to convince my heart that this was necessary, that this was the only way. I wasn’t perfect but I knew that there was one thing I was proud of: that I always did right by my friends… no matter the sacrifice that was asked of me. I may be shit at everything else, but at least, I was consistent in my loyalty.
I shook my head, tried to get my bearings. I had just taken a step out of the phone booth when I looked outside the glass paneled walls of the restaurant.
It was raining.
I watched as Sun Woo ran towards the phone booth only a couple of minutes since he paged Jung Hwan. I tried to look nonchalant as I drank a sip of beer and wiped my mouth, told myself that I wasn’t jealous that Jung Hwan would answer Sun Woo’s page and not mine.
Except I hadn’t quite gotten around to paging him yet. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, even now. I’m still trying to get my head together so that if and when we meet again I would be able to stand in front of him as a calm, rational, adult human being and not as the emotional mess I was sure he remembered me as.
Why is Sun Woo speaking so quietly? I tried to lean closer towards the payphone to catch what he was saying but he turned around and spoke even more softly, if that was possible.
I picked up a piece of chicken from the basket in front of me and took a big bite. Dong Ryong, who was munching on a drumstick in front of me, raised his brows but said nothing. I kept on eating, trying to ignore the fact that Dong Ryong seemed intent on studying me, much like he did that night.
“Why isn’t there anyone?” I asked miserably. “I guess I’m a woman who has no right to be loved.”
Dong Ryong and I sat on the steps, the night after I found out that Jung Hwan had given my birthday gift to his brother. I thought he liked me, was convinced of it, in fact, so why did he do that?
“Deok Sun-ah,” Dong Ryong said.
“Do you like boiled sweet potatoes or baked sweet potatoes?”
I didn’t have to think about my answer. “Boiled sweet potatoes.”
“Do you like Lee Moon Sae or Park Nam Jung?”
Again I answered without hesitation. “Lee Moon Sae.”
“Me or Taek?”
This was a no brainer. “Taekkie.”
He sighed audibly. “How annoying. You hate me?”
I shook my head. “No, but I still like Taek more.”
His tone became more careful. “If that’s the case, do you like Jung Hwan or Sun Woo?”
What was he getting at? I looked away. “Don’t ask questions like that.”
After a brief moment of silence, he spoke again. “Deok Sun-ah. How do you feel?” I didn’t quite know how to respond. “Instead of people liking you, what is it that you like? You’re so clear about the way you like to eat sweet potatoes. Don’t you know the type of person that you like? You can like someone without them liking you, right?”
I hadn’t known how to answer any of his questions. Maybe because I didn’t know the answer, or maybe because I didn’t like the answer. I knew I liked Jung Hwan, though. I don’t know why I didn’t admit to it.
I regret it now. Not saying it when I felt it. Not telling him when I should have.
I looked up when Sun Woo slid back into his seat. “Nope,” he said, shaking his head. “He’s in Sacheon.”
“Of course he is,” I said, hating that I sounded so forlorn about a known fact. He’s been in Sacheon all this time. “There are many people who drive Jeeps in Seoul.”
“I think he may have been out on a date or something,” Sun Woo said, grabbing the pitcher of beer and pouring himself some. “He definitely wasn’t alone.”
I dropped the chicken I was holding loudly onto my plate and blinked at him. He lifted his shoulders and looked at me, as if asking ‘what?’
“I think it’s great if he’s dating,” Dong Ryong said, his tone pointed. “I mean he can’t be alone forever, right?” Sun Woo nodded his assent. “Our Jung Hwan is smart and funny and if he stopped scowling long enough, he would even be handsome. He has a great job and you know he’ll be successful at whatever he does because, well… because he’s Jung Hwan.”
“That’s right.” Sun Woo’s barely indecipherable words were spoken through a mouthful of chicken and I snatched the drumstick he was holding and slammed it onto his plate in a fit of temper.
“He’s not dating,” I said. How could he be dating already? I wasn’t even dating. He can’t be dating. Wasn’t it just a few months ago that he was telling me that it’s always been me? I thought it went without saying that it would always be me (except, I had to remind myself, he had been joking.) “He can’t be dating.”
I didn’t even realize I had spoken the words out loud until I saw Dong Ryong and Sun Woo looking at me, their chopsticks suspended mid-air.
“Of course he can,” Sun Woo said carefully. “He’s single, so why not?”
“He can’t be dating,” I repeated, a lump forming in my throat.
“It’s not as if he has anyone waiting for him here so I don’t see why he wouldn’t be open to it,” Dong Ryong commented. “Or does he?”
I said nothing and took such a long gulp of beer that by the time I was done the glass was empty. I stared miserably at my glass and was reaching for the pitcher when Sun Woo’s arm shot up and stopped me.
“Deok Sun-ah,” he said worriedly. “You know you can’t drink. Your sister made me promise her I wouldn’t let you go home drunk.”
“I need a drink.”
Sun Woo and Dong Ryong looked at each other then back at me.
“What’s wrong, Deok Sun-ah?” Dong Ryong asked.
I shook my head, as if in doing so I would banish the images of Jung Hwan with another woman, smiling at her like he used to smile at me. Wondering if he would confess the same way. If he’d tell her ‘don’t go’ if she tested him.
He’d probably kiss her, I thought spitefully. We’re all grown-ups now and he would definitely kiss her.
“What’s wrong, Deok Sun-ah?” I heard someone repeat the question and I took a deep breath. Hesitated. Then thought what the hell… they’ll soon find out anyway.
“I like Jung Hwan,” I said, then corrected myself. “I love Jung Hwan.” I lifted my chin in feigned defiance, as if daring either of them to challenge me.
“What?” They both asked, a little too exaggeratedly, in my opinion, as if they weren’t surprised at all. “Since when?” The last question came from Sun Woo, who at least tried to sound a bit more taken aback.
“I liked him since 1989,” I admitted. “I loved him I’m sure since then, too, but I didn’t realize until a couple of months ago.”
They exchanged another glance. “What happened two months ago?” They sounded so funny asking the same exact question at the same time that I probably would have laughed any other time.
But not tonight.
“Taek told me he liked me,” I said. Neither of them looked surprised, as if this was something they knew all along.
“And you said no,” Sun Woo said.
I nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
“Because you liked Jung Hwan more?” Dong Ryong asked, his tone somewhat impassive.
“No,” I said. “Because I liked Jung Hwan, period. There is no ‘more.’ I love Taek… we all do, but how I feel for Jung Hwan and how I feel for Taek are completely different things. They’re not even related.”
There was a tense silence for a few minutes before Dong Ryong started clapping, much to Sun Woo’s amusement. “Wow, Deok Sun-ah,” Dong Ryong said. “You finally figured out what you wanted.”
“You know I’m slow,” I mumbled. “And now it’s too late.”
“No way,” Sun Woo said. “You’ve already done the hard part… the figuring out part. The rest is easy.”
“Says the guy dating his first love.” I looked him straight in the eyes. “Not everyone has it as easy as you.”
“Yah,” he responded in all seriousness. “You really think I have it easy? Have you forgotten who I’m dating?” I didn’t answer and he continued. “I don’t think that it will be as bad as you think it will be, though. Jung Hwan’s bound to come home.”
“Is he?” I asked and they both nodded. “When? Give me a date.”
Neither of them responded to my demand, choosing, instead, to stare at everything else but me.
Two hours later…
I stood under the awning, trying to figure out a way to leave without making it look like I was trying to leave. Yo Han and his girlfriend were talking quietly and Yoo Mi stood idly by, looking as awkward as I felt.
“Do you guys want to have a drink?” Ji Min asked. “I know a place not too far from…”
“I can’t,” I interrupted before she even finished her sentence, earning a glowered from Yo Han. “My mother wants me to go home,” I said, by way of explanation, “so I’ll be heading out.”
“Your mother told you that?” Yo Han asked, his voice skeptical. “When?”
I coughed and cleared my throat. “Just a little while ago. She paged me.”
Yo Han frowned at me, as if trying to suss out if I was telling the truth, but didn’t say anything else.
“I had a great time,” Yoo Mi said, holding out her hand. I reached mine out and shook it gingerly, trying to at least be a gentleman. “I hope I see you again soon.”
Her sentiment surprised me… I didn’t think I was that good a company. I spoke when I was spoken to, made the appropriate comments to show that I was paying attention. But still… I didn’t think I had done enough. I certainly didn’t expect that she would actually want to see me again.
I struggled with how to respond until a little voice in my head nagged at me. You have to move on, it said, you have to try.
Surprisingly I found myself nodding. “Sure,” I responded. “I’d like that.” I turned to Yo Han. “Will you be okay getting back to Sacheon?”
He nodded. “Yeah… I’ll crash at a friend’s house tonight and take the bus first thing tomorrow.”
“Shall we, then?” Ji Min said brightly, taking Yo Han’s arm. Both Yoo Mi and he nodded and they took off in the opposite direction. I stayed in the same place, watching them walk away. When they were almost at the end of the block, Yoo Mi turned around and waved.
I lifted my hand and waved back.
Once they were out of sight, my shoulders sagged, my head bowed low. I was so tired all of a sudden. The rain was still falling steadily on the pavement, making the black on the ground look almost translucent.
I looked up and saw that the clouds still looked heavy, as if the rain won’t be stopping anytime soon.
I hope Deok Sun has an umbrella. She never knew when to bring the things that actually mattered.
The thought, though not entirely unexpected, still filled me with a bitter taste in my mouth. I hated that my every memory was connected to her, resented that though she felt nothing but friendship for me, my feelings for her had not changed at all.
Those feelings have become so ingrained in me that it seemed I couldn’t get rid of them even if I wanted to. Dear God, though, I wanted to.
Perhaps the only thing I despised more than these feelings was my inability to brush them off, as I have been able to do everything else.
I’m going to keep trying. I have to keep trying.
With that thought in mind, I pushed the memories of Deok Sun aside. I ran out from under the awning and made my way towards my car, ready to make the six hour drive back to Sacheon.
We walked out of the restaurant, the three of us, and were greeted by torrential rain. Sun Woo and Dong Ryong scrambled towards the bus stop, and I stopped to pull my umbrella out of my bag.
And then… a flash of memory. Jung Hwan standing in front of me, an umbrella over my head. I closed my eyes.
Over the last few months I have tried to banish the memories away, convinced that if I did so, the thought of missing him wouldn’t quite hurt so much. I tried it so many times but never broke through. I thought it was because I was weak, until I realized it wasn’t that at all.
I couldn’t erase the memories because I didn’t want to. I wanted to savor them, hold them close to me, as close as they could possibly be. I want to imprint them on my skin, evidence of what we could have had. What we could have been. I wanted to keep them with me as long as I possibly could, in a way that I couldn’t do with him.
In my mind’s eye I saw him as he always looked, all derision and scorn. A sense of humor so dry it was a wonder it could be considered that at all. But also… something else. Kindness and loyalty. Friendship and integrity. All in one person. The one that I love.
I opened my eyes, found myself reaching out a hand, palm upturned towards the rain. I wondered if it was raining where he was. Wondered if the rain made him think of me. Wishing that it did.
I have never wanted anyone to show up with an umbrella in all my life.