Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It appeared on the inside of your right wrist from the day you were born. A scrawling across your skin, ebony ink staining your flesh, emphasising it’s permanence. No one knew where it came from, it was just something that existed for as long as humanity could remember. Society had grown around it, flourished around it. Had built its infrastructures around it. As if worshipping that little date that was tattooed to the inside of every single person’s right wrist. It had never been a mystery, it was as if the meaning of it was embroidered into the DNA of every single person that had ever been, and every person that would be.
It was the date of your soulmate’s birthday.
Taehyung had always wondered why it didn’t show something easier, such as your soulmates name. It would be much easier to find them then. Then you would be sure that you had definitely found them. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be easy. Perhaps that was the point.
Either way, it didn’t matter to Taehyung. It wasn’t like he was going to find his soulmate any time soon. You see, there was a grim side to the dates on your wrist, a crippling side that could isolate you in the worst way before you had even laid eyes on the person you were meant to fuse souls with.
If your soulmate had died, the little date on your wrist would have a single, straight black line running through it, rendering your date void. You never got another one either. Nope. Apparently, there’s only one soulmate you can have in a lifetime. Taehyung had always laughed bitterly at the thought of that.
He was one of the unlucky few. One of the ‘isolates’ as the slang went. Not a morning went by without him waking up and staring at the solid, dark lines on his wrist. It was like it mocked him every morning. As if it was laughing at his loneliness. The worst part about the black lines was knowing that there wasn’t any hope. The aching emptiness inside his soul would never disappear; it wouldn’t be relieved by the glimmering future of a person who understood his whole being. For Taehyung, a soulmate didn’t exist.
He had been feeling this way for five grim years now. Every year went by even slower than the last, and he had grown so tired of dragging himself around, making pointless effort. Now that he thought about it, the birth date on their wrist governed so much of society. To the point that it felt like everyone was just going through the motions of every day life. They were just waiting. Waiting for the day they found their soulmate.
* * *
Taehyung stood outside a grotty, building that had weeds and bushes blocking the stairs that led to the door. An ugly, fluorescent orange sign ran across the top, stating community hall. As Taehyung walked up the concrete stairs, his eyes glanced to a sign that stood next to the double doors. The sign read ‘isolate support group’. Taehyung sighed in defeat. His social worker had been nagging him to go to a group like this for months, ever since she caught wind of it’s opening last winter. He didn’t know why he had even agreed, but he didn’t like to disappoint her. He was already a disappointment as it was.
As he pulled open the door, a wave of warmth and the scent of cinnamon came tumbling out and washed over him. Taehyung stepped into the brightly lit room, every step feeling somewhat of a death sentence. Half a dozen eyes flicked towards him, and it almost felt like Taehyung was back at school. His cheeks began to flush for what seemed like an eternity of awkwardness, Taehyung looked around desperately for a spare seat, wanting to make himself invisible again. His eyes clapped onto a plump bespectacled man, who was flashing a gentle smile towards Taehyung.
‘You must be Taehyung? You’re the last one to arrive but you’re just in time,’ he said, his voice full of the same stuffy warmth that clouded the room. The man gestured to a spare seat on the right of him and Taehyung gladly hurried to the plastic chair.
‘Now we have everyone here. Why don’t we make a start?’ The man spoke up addressing the circle. Taehyung glanced around and took in the frames of the other isolates that were sitting anxiously, avoiding eye contact. All of them seemed to have the same dead look that Taehyung saw in the mirror every morning.
‘Welcome to our isolate support group. My name is Seojun and I will be leading the group for the next 12 weeks. Each of you may get something different from these sessions, but our main aim is to help all of you realise that there is no shame in being an isolate, and that life goes beyond a soulmate. Now, why don’t we go around and introduce ourselves? How about telling us your name, and one interesting fact about you!’ Seojun said in a sickly voice. Taehyung barely listened to the names of the others, partly due to the fact that he was terrible with names. The other part was due to the internal meltdown that he was having, trying to think of something interesting about him. It was only when he was the next to speak that he looked down at his wrist and reluctantly decided on his interesting fact.
‘Uh, hi…my name is Taehyung. I guess, there’s not all that much interesting about me, except I guess people tend to find it weird that I have two birthdays on my wrist. And yeah, they’re both crossed out,’ he stuttered out nervously. It wasn’t the strangest thing about him, but he wasn’t quite ready to share that just yet.
He looked around and saw the wide eyes of people. Chagrin flushed across his neck and he looked down in shame. The same shame that had plagued him for years.
‘Well, it has been heard of, even if it is rare. Thank you for your introduction, Taehyung. I’m glad you’re here,’ Seojun smiled kindly. The knot in his stomach somewhat eased, but still remained as Taehyung saw the constant glances of the people around him, their curiousity apparent on their faces.
‘Thank you for your introductions. As you may know, this is a support group, and you may share anything in this room and it will not leave these walls. How about we start off with what brought you here? Would anyone like to go first?’
Silence fell across the room. The awkwardness skittered around like static, raising the hair on Taehyung’s neck. He hated moments like this. He hated silence and always felt that he needed to fill it. He wanted to so desperately end the awkwardness.
‘Uh…I guess I’ll go first?’ he spoke up, his voice barely above a whisper. Seojun looked as if he was relieved at the volunteer. Taehyung’s heart pounded.
‘Well, obviously I’m an isolate. Always hated that name for us. Makes me feel like I’m less human. What, am I less of a person just because my soulmate is dead?’ Taehyung laughed nervously. The people around him shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
‘A-anyway, my story kinda starts from birth. The names on my wrist were both crossed off from the moment I was born into this world. Never really had any hope in the first place. I was given up for adoption, probably because I’m an isolate, but no one really wanted me, so I stayed in the care home until I was 18. I’ve been living alone for a few years now, just working some retail jobs here and there…so yeah…,’ Taehyung trailed off, looking anywhere but at the eyes boring into him.
‘Thank you for your input, Taehyung. That was very brave of you. Is there anything anyone would like to say to Taehyung?’
He expected silence again but a voice next to him spoke up.
‘Sorry, I have a question. Is that okay?’ A man next to him asked tentatively. Taehyung nodded.
‘I couldn’t help but notice the dates on your wrist seem really odd. We’re in 2018 right now, so why do the dates on your wrist say 1900 and 2122? What is the point of the dates if you were never going to meet your soulmate in the first place?’
Taehyung froze. A frown painted Seojun’s warm face. The memory of a steel capped boot colliding with his chest flashed across Taehyung’s head.
‘Dirty isolate!’ a voice screeched from a distant memory. Taehyung shook his head. No, he didn’t want to remember that.
‘You’re gonna die alone!’
It was no use. Taehyung put his head in his hands. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
‘No!’ Taehyung roared, hitting the hand away and he shot up. He saw the fear in the eyes of the people around him and his stomach sank, like an anchor in the depths of the sea. Drowning. Taehyung bolted out of the room, ignoring the call of his name as he ran.
* * *
Hazy waves drifted across the river like a blanket. The sun was hidden behind a dam of clouds, and the blue atmosphere was speckled with grey. Taehyung sat at the edge of a bridge, his legs dangling over the edge. The only thing blocking his way was a great, iron pillar that smelt of rust. As he looked into the water below, he imagined what it must feel like to fall below. He imagined the feeling of weightlessness as you fell through the air, the wind racing around you. He imagined smashing into the water, and slowly sinking…slowly drowning.
His phone started to ring. It was his social worker.
* * *
‘Taehyung, I’m concerned about you. Your isolate group support called and told me what happened last week. Can you tell me what you’re thinking?’ His social worker quizzed him at their monthly meeting. Taehyung couldn’t answer that question. He was trying not to think about anything lately. If he didn’t think, he couldn’t be hurt. His social worker sighed, her eyebrows rising in frustration.
‘I don’t know how to help you, Taehyung, if you don’t help – ‘
‘Jiwon, I want to find my soulmates grave,’ he cut her off. She stuttered in shock. There was a moment of silence as she registered what he had just said. Taehyung endured the silence, holding his ground.
‘I don’t – I don’t think that is really a great idea, Taehyung,’ She said gently.
‘I feel like the idea of visiting their grave is the only thing keeping me from killing myself,’ he stated bluntly. There was a sharp intake of breath followed by more silence.
‘Okay, Taehyung,’ Jiwon conceded, ‘If that’s what you need, I will try to help you.’
He looked towards her now, tears welling up in his eyes.
‘Thank you,’ he whispered.
‘For obvious reasons, I can only search for one of the dates, seeing as one of your dates is in the future and impossible to find now,’ she said. Taehyung nodded.
‘That’s good enough.’Jiwon sighed and rested her hands on the table.
‘Give me a few days. I will try to get a list of all the graves that are registered with that date,’ Jiwon nodded.
* * *
As he woke, Taehyung’s eyes drifted to the two dates on his wrist, as he did every morning. He traced the definitive lines that crossed them out with his left index finger. Dragging the soft flesh of his finger over each number, as if caressing them. It was all he could do. He whispered the dates out loud to himself.
He wondered what their names were for the billionth time this year. Closing his eyes, he imagined their faces…but nothing came to mind. Even in his mind, he was alone. He stared towards his bedside cabinet, his eyes locking on a slip of paper that he had practically begged his social worker for. Taehyung reached out of the covers and grabbed the paper, opening it and relishing the crinkling sound that disrupted the silence.
Almost a hundred birthdays scattered the page and Taehyung felt his heart sink. It would take him forever to find his soulmate’s grave if he even found it at all. He had no idea how he would even know if it was his soulmate or not. According to accounts from united soulmates, a person would just know when they had found the person whose birthdate was on their wrist. He wondered whether it was the same with dead soulmates. He hadn’t ever heard any accounts of that, not that he was surprised. Placing the paper back on the desk, he shook his head. He wasn’t ready to face something like that just yet. Despite what he told his social worker, he wasn’t quite ready to face the finality of a grave.
The alarm clock rung and Taehyung threw himself out of bed, racing to get ready for work at the trainer shop. He was grateful for the work, anything to keep him busy from the slip of paper. Yet, regardless of his dread, he still ran back into the bedroom and folded the paper up and shoved it into his right pocket.
The shift went quickly that day, without much incident. He didn’t quite reach his sales goal for the week but it wasn’t like Taehyung cared, in spite of how many reviews he received from management. His eager eyes watched as the clock hit 5 pm and Taehyung stalked back to the staff room. A group of his colleagues was there, chatting excitedly about something. He sidled around them in order to grab his backpack and coat from the hook.
‘Hey, Taehyung-ssi! Are you coming tonight?’ One of his colleagues, Dojoon, asked. Confusion struck him.
‘To Hajoon’s party at the pub! He found his soulmate!’ He said excitedly. Taehyung stuttered a little. Another colleague hit Dojoon’s arm and scowled intensely at him.
‘What!’ Dojoon yelled in defense. Taehyung hesitated, blocking out the arguing. He would be lying if he said that there wasn’t a knot of jealousy spiking his gut. Did he really want to go out to the pub where everyone would be talking about soulmates? Yet, wasn’t this what his social worker had been suggesting? She had told him to be more social, and even though he would rather do anything else, he kind of owed her.
‘Sure…’ Taehyung spoke up, ‘I’ll come.’ The rabble around the table stopped and his colleague was wide-eyed.
‘Taehyung…you don’t have to come if you don’t feel up to it,’ he said in an almost apologetic way.
‘Thanks, hyung but I’ll be okay. I haven’t been out in ages anyway,’ he mumbled. After a moment, everyone around the table cheered and with that, they all began to filter out of the staff room and went to the closest pub, which was The Pink Carnation. The air smelt of beer and wine and Friday night workers had already been drinking for a while. Pumping music synchronised with Taehyung’s heartbeat as he followed the others to a booth.
* * *
Midnight was nearing, and Taehyung had all but lost his ability to walk. He found himself one of the last two remaining at the bar. Apparently, others had already ghosted out of the pub and it was just him and Dojoon left. Dojoon raised his glass which only had a few dregs of beer left floating around at the bottom.
‘Tae - you don’t mind if I call you Tae, right – ‘m, I just wanna ‘pologise for putting you on the spot earlier. ‘m new ya see, and I had no idea your soulmates were dead,’ Dojoon slurred. Something shifted inside Taehyung’s chest. He slammed his drink down on the table.
‘Thanks, Dojoon. No worries. I wanted to come out anyway,’ Taehyung replied, gritting his teeth. Dojoon nodded and looked around the table. A long silence stretched between them.
‘Right, I should probably head home, ya know,’ Dojoon stated loudly in his drunkenness, ‘shall we both head off?’
Taehyung shook his head.
‘Nah, thanks though. I think I’m going to stay a bit longer.’
‘Oh…right. Well then, let me know when you get home safely,’ he said whilst grabbing his coat from underneath the table. Dojoon chugged the remains of his beer.
‘Thanks, you too. See ya, Dojoon.’
‘See ya,’ Dojoon said as he began to stumble across the pub and out of the pub door. Taehyung breathed a sigh of relief at finally being alone. He leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling, analysing every paint chip. Adjusting his hands, he heard a crinkle from his pocket, as he brushed against his jeans. Confused, he buried his right hand deep into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled up piece of paper. Oh right, Taehyung thought to himself, it was the list of graves. He unfolded the paper and looked at all the different dates. Where would he even start?
Yet, as he thought that, a particular name and gravesite kept catching his eye. Taehyung was drunk enough to entertain the idea that perhaps he might ‘just know’ which grave belonged to one of his soulmates.
Why not, he told himself. He could probably think of many reasons for why not if he was sober, but he wasn’t sober, and the idea of going home to his empty bed was the most unappealing thing he could think of at that moment. With that, Taehyung grabbed his coat and hurried out of the bar, staggering as he went.
Despite it being ridiculously late, the bus that could take him to the grave site was a night bus and ran 24 hours a day. At the bus stop, he was so close to changing his mind, but the bus came grumbling along and he had already jumped onto the dimly lit vehicle, joining the other late-night riders.
* * *
When Taehyung set out to find his soulmates grave, he did not think about the fact that the graveyard may be closed at midnight. His heart began to sink at the dead end. He admitted defeat and turned around but something tugged on his heart; stopped his feet from moving. His eyes widened. What was this feeling? It was the most he had felt for years. Turning back around the feeling grew stronger, almost like a relief. Taehyung stepped forward towards the gate. As he suspected, the feeling surged inside his chest. It wasn’t quite good, but it wasn’t bad either. It just felt right every time he walked a little bit closer towards the black, iron wrought gates.
He needed to get into that graveyard.
Scaling the wall, Taehyung searched for something to help him climb over the wall. He found a tree that stretched far past the wall. There were enough branches for someone to hold onto and climb over, but Taehyung doubted his ability to climb a tree, considering his insobriety. Yet, being as drunk as he was, he decided that it was no big feat. He grappled onto the first branch and pulled himself up. He was pretty sure that splinters had embedded themselves into his flesh, but he was numb to the feeling. Slowly and surely, he climbed higher and higher until he reached the top of the wall. With a manoeuvre that Taehyung felt almost proud of, he managed to pull himself onto the wall into a sitting position.
Much to Tae’s surprise, the drop on the other side of the wall was much smaller compared to outside of the graveyard. He dropped down and steadied himself after stumbling slightly. In the darkness, Taehyung couldn’t make out a single thing. He grabbed his phone from his pocket and turned on the flashlight, illuminating hundreds and hundreds of old, cracked graves. This graveyard was clearly a resting place for people who were alive hundreds of years ago. ‘How on earth am I going to find this stupid grave,’ Taehyung thought to himself. Yet, he knew from the feeling surging in his chest, that he would have no issue at all. He laughed at himself, he was probably just imagining the feeling either way.
He began to walk forward through the overgrown wild grass, brushing past stinging nettles and bluebells. He brushed past an ancient weeping willow, pushing the hanging tendrils out of the way. It was obvious that this place had been neglected for a long time. Every grave he passed was dusty and he could barely make out the names on each one, not that it mattered to him. Taehyung was relying on the intensity of the feeling in his chest to guide him the right way. Even though he wasn’t quite sure he believed the feeling, he had never felt such a rush of in his entire life. Only Taehyung would be excited to be walking through a graveyard.
Suddenly, he tripped on a jagged piece of rock and went tumbling onto the grass. Taehyung lay there for a good few minutes before recovering himself, as the alcohol had really made his head foggy. He pushed himself up, his hands and knees embedding themselves into the soil. It wasn’t until Taehyung looked up that he realised he was on all fours on top of a grave. He would have quickly scrambled off the grave, mortified at his own disrespect towards the dead, except that the weird feeling in his chest had expanded into his throat and stomach. It was swirling around and urging him to clean the gravestone. He scoffed at himself, but nevertheless, he reached forward and wiped off the dust that caked the grave. It erupted into a cloud, every single particle illuminated by the light coming from his phone. Taehyung coughed as he accidentally inhaled some of the dust. He waved it away and wiped his eyes, eager to see the name on the grave. As he opened his eyes, his mouth dropped open at the convenience of it all. It was like the grave was calling to him, begging him to pay a visit to the long, abandoned plot. It was like he really had just known that the person buried in this plot was his soulmate.
On the grave, a birthdate, a death date, and a name were scrawled along the thick, concrete gravestone. Taehyung took in a sharp breath as he read it.
09/03/1900 - 22/06/1941