“Where is home? I've wondered where home is, and I realized, it's not Mars or someplace like that, it's Indianapolis when I was nine years old. I had a brother and a sister, a cat and a dog, and a mother and a father and uncles and aunts. And there's no way I can get there again.”
— Kurt Vonnegut,
The world according to Kurt . Interview with Simon Houpt, Globe and Mail (Toronto), October 11, 2005.
It — the divorce — was going on for some time now so Jooha shouldn’t be surprised. Life, after all, was not like the movies where if he, his parents’ child, could just be crafty enough to think of a plan then somehow his parents wouldn’t separate.
It was happening for a while now. He snapped back to reality; it already happened. They were just waiting for the legal documents to make it official, to allow them to start new lives… even though they were already starting now… by letting Jooha live by himself.
It would take some getting used to though. He could at least allow himself to take his time adjusting to this new reality even though he wouldn’t allow himself to be sad.
“Are you sure you’ll be fine, honey?” his mom asked again.
“Yes,” he assured her… again. It was funny how the more he had to assure her the less he felt sure himself. This was bravery though, he praised himself in his head — he had fears but he wanted to continue on with their plans.
His dad just squeezed his arm before leaving him in his new home.
He tossed around the word ‘home’ in his head. It was not quite right. This was his new house, the new place he would sleep, the place where he would begin to learn how to be independent, the new place where he had to be everything he needed to be because there was nothing else than this place for him now… It was a representation of a lot of things to him but it wasn’t home.
He opened his phone to find a game to play. He read a post on Naver yesterday. It said what he was doing was a form of distraction and it was not really helping him deal with the situation. Jooha had to leave the page immediately. He wouldn’t reply to people who generalize things. Generalizations simplified problems. Generalizations, generally, couldn’t simplify reality.
In the end, he got up from the couch and decided to take out his sketchbook instead.
Drawing required Jooha to focus on the blank page in front of him. Drawing allowed him to imagine and shape the things he imagined into being. There was no complicated meaning in it. He liked the power he had with the pen in his hand because in this house that was not a home to him, he had the power to create other things to his liking.
His phone rang.
“What’s up?” he answered.
“Jooha!” the person on the other line exclaimed. “Give us your address.”
“So cold,” his friend joked. “We’re having a party, of course.”
Jooha tried to control the smile forming on his face. “Who said you could?”
“Stop kidding around. We’re already calling a taxi.”
“Okay, I get it,” he sighed. “I’ll send my address.”
He sighed looking at his space but a new feeling was bubbling inside him and in that instant, the place didn’t look so dim anymore.
When his friends came, he greeted them with “I can’t even have a messy house for one hour to myself.”
“We’ll help you clean. We can even stay the night.”
“We brought enough food.”
“We can also order more. Did you already unpack all your things?”
Jooha nodded. “You guys wanna play?”
The first two weeks that Jooha lived alone were also the last two weeks he had in school before the term ended, and before he had to move to a school closer to his place. It seemed to pass by so easily, partly because living alone felt like freedom when he was with his friends, also partly because he was enjoying the art academy.
There was a new girl who joined the academy around a month ago. It wasn’t hard befriending her and her art was interesting.
One day, Jooha, sick of eating alone, wanted to ask this new girl to eat together. She also broke his phone that one time. He didn’t want to be that jerk who would use an accident but it would just be nice to share a meal with someone, anyone, but preferably someone new so he could feel like there were still things he didn’t know.
“No,” she said.
“So, you’re going to eat alone?”
“No. I’m just not eating with you.”
“Then who are you going to eat with?”
“My boyfriend… in any case, I won’t be eating with you.”
“But your boyfriend has basketball practice, right?”
“Come on. Why won’t you just eat with me?”
It was not as if Jooha liked her that way. He already knew she had a boyfriend but it was just dinner. It wasn’t as if he was asking her out.
Do Hana looked away. “Well, you see… he gets jealous easily so I’d rather not…”
“Okay,” he relented. “I guess I’m eating alone again.”
He hoped, though futile, that she would grow a heart and pity him just this once.
“You can ask Jihoon. You always eat together”
“Okay. I get it.”
Jooha’s phone vibrated on the desk and Do Hana looked up at it and at Jooha. “You got a new phone.”
She ducked back to her work and mumbled, “Sorry again.”
“It’s okay. It was an accident.”
The message was from his dad. It said, “I’m sending you a PlayStation. You can play with your friends on Christmas. Take it as an apology, too. Dad can’t visit you anytime soon.”
He put his phone in his pocket and continued with his work, too.
On the last day of school for the term, one of Jooha’s friends asked, “What are we doing on Christmas?”
“We can play at Jooha’s...”
Jooha frowned. “That’s all we do.”
“It has to be special. We won’t get to see Jooha that much anymore.”
They all looked at Jooha and smiled. “We’ll miss this handsome face.”
“We’ll miss having backup, too.”
“Hey!” Jooha said, “Just stay away from trouble. Is it so hard?”
“You too, dude. Don’t stir up any trouble over there.”
“I don’t look for trouble.”
“In any case, you know you can call us anytime, alright?”
Jooha rolled his eyes. “Let’s not get too sentimental. I’m not moving abroad.”
“We know your house’s passcode so you really shouldn’t.”
Jooha laughed as he browsed his phone. “You shouldn’t joke like that.” Then, he added, “I have Lotte World passes that’ll expire soon.”
“Oh! We wanted to ride the Gyro Swing last time.”
“And the French Revolution!”
In unison, they all exclaimed, “Call!”
Jooha went to the toilet and was sending a message to his friends asking them where they were when he looked up and saw Do Hana with her friends. She had a particularly pretty friend and unconsciously, a smile formed on Jooha’s lips. She wore a bunny ears headband that didn’t help lessen how attractive she was.
Maybe his new school wasn’t going to be so bad if it had such a pretty face in its walls.