He exists in the space between sleep and consciousness. Exists in the glimpses between heartache and momentary relief. In the interval between breaking and stagnancy. He exists and does a good job of it but only of that.
Existing and surviving.
He thinks of his footsteps on the fine line between heartbreak and downright destruction.
In the past three years it had been quite wobbly.
He often found himself laying on the bed- his self made mausoleum, and thinking. Analyzing and cataloguing every thought and moment spent together . Breaking it into a million pieces and examining from each angle and then putting it back again.
However the result remained miserably consistent, clueless and empty.
He wakes up everyday and follows a routine of eating, working and cleaning. Every part of it meticulously calculated and measured.
He hadn’t meant to work, couldn’t find the strength to but Hyemi had forced him with threats of breaking friendships and all that bullshit so he had obliged. The pay was generous and in his opinion a little excessive for cleaning tables and windows but he didn’t have the strength for complaining either. He was just glad someone was willing to associate with him, a depressing human machine .
It starts slow they say and you slide so gently as though slipping through clouds and you don’t realize it. Can’t realize it.
It was just another day at work and he was stood scrubbing tables, he liked doing it, at least for the sense of accomplishment. While moving tables he had come to the table at the far right corner by the window. At first he hadn’t even realized it, scrubbing against a particularly stubborn stain when he caught sight of his name.
His name embedded in the wood, a dull white against the warm mahogany. The letters of his name ending with ragged edges and clustered together .
Then it hits him.
The strength of it surprises him and threatens to knock him out, even after all these years.
The warm toned table, uniforms and laughter and heartache. The place and the person. He looks at the seat where he had once sat and then his gaze shifts towards the opposite end and down to his name and he stops.
His heart stutters in his chest and he swallows.
The sunlight filters through the window and the name shines. He stares due to lack of an alternative; he just stands and stares unbelievingly.
He loses track of time until a customer jostles his shoulder asking him whether the table is reserved.
He looks at the customer and his mind screams yes.
Yes it is reserved
Yes, he reserved it for me.
Yes you can’t sit here because he etched my name into it.
Yes my heart is marred and splayed on the surface of it can’t you see it?
Instead he shakes his head and moves away.
That night when he goes back to his flat he stands at the doorway and surveys the space. Although it’s been years since he had moved in, there is a huge cluster of things and unpacked stuff piling up against the walls. He should’ve felt embarrassed at the state of his apartment. He hadn’t.
That night he realised how his flat looked to an outsider. A temporary spot bearing more resemblance to a refugee centre rather than a home. Not a home. Never that.
His house was a mess
Guk was a man of cleanliness. He had a job attributing to that.
He goes to work everyday and each morning stands at the table looking at his name in the wood, the corner of the table digging at his hip reminding him, rooting him.
Sometimes when he’s feeling brave he reaches out and traces the scar with his fingertips.
Kim pil hyeun visits the shop sometimes, the animosity and bitterness long forgotten. However, over time the frequency of his visits increases and guk understands why on a chilly afternoon when he finds pil hyeun and Hyemi by the backdoor locked in embrace and lost in each other.
A wild panic takes root in him at the scene. A craving so intense it leaves him breathless, the emotions creating a crater in his chest. He turns away then, before his mind spirals down the train of scenarios and what ifs.
That night he goes back to an empty house and finds a buried pack of cigarettes under his pile of things. He sits on the window ledge and puts the lighted stick between his lips. Not sucking just resting against the corner of his mouth. The frigid evening air forces him to curl his fingers under his sleeves. The weight of the burning stick rests gently on the tiny scar at the edges of his mouth. On other days he’s strong enough to resist temptation of thoughts and desires and longings.
Tonight however, he feels vulnerable. The iron rods surrounding his heart feel rusted and worn. He lifts his finger to touch the stick but instead finds himself pulling at the scar and is transported back to another night quite similar to this one.
Clenching his fingers in his sleeves he is reminded of the softness of another material held firmly and a rhythmic heartbeat beneath his palms.
Guk wasn’t a very expressive individual. He didn’t have a lot of needs or materialistic desires. Come to think of it he didn’t have any desires. Period .
The good conditioning if started early does that to you. He prided himself on being a man of simple things with minimal requirements.
He took comfort in being unacknowledged, a permanent shadow etched in the wall completely unnoticed. People tend to not expect things from beings they don’t bother with. It was a relief.
Moreover, in his line of work he didn’t really have a choice. He was dispensable and he had come to terms with that. Sometimes he wishes it stayed like that, his role and importance inessential and replaceable. It would’ve been easier to move on, easier to forget. Somehow he had created a safe space in the dreary and uninteresting lifestyle but it didn’t last long.
Tae joo was a constant presence since the beginning, consistent and unavoidable. Guk doesn’t remember when he turned from a chore to a responsibility, from a tedious task to a craving, anticipation , the best part of a day.
He doesn’t remember the change but he remembers the increasing intensity and the urgency with which tae joo started demolishing his carefully crafted interior and began remolding it. He remembers tae joo collecting the darkened embers and constructing it with blazing fire between his fingers. He remembers how he shone from inside out with only one look, one touch, and a sigh.
Tae joo was a n irresistible flame and guk was h is work of art.
Tae joo was an all-encompassing force and he could still feel him even in his absence. The name echoed inside of him raising his heartstrings and bringing him to life.
The stars could burn in the sky and splash across the galaxies, yet would lessen in comparison to a single smile, a whisper.
His eyes held the secrets of the universe, of places unknown. He was a siren in the sea , luring and captivating . His skin was liquid gold and guk; well he was a hopeless addict.
Guk could steal an entire Milky Way and all the riches in the world but it would never be enough.
Tae joo saw him.
Tae joo ignited him.
There was less of him and more of tae joo in him.
There was no one like him and there would never be.
I t wasn’t like he didn’t think of maintaining contact or didn’t try to establish one. In fact the very next morning had him ru nning to the booth and dialing a number that no longer existed . He had inconspicuously asked around but the results were fruitless. He had held on tho ugh, firmly and unrelenting, counting the days towards the end of one year and the beginnings of another.
However as time passed he started slipping, the startling reality began pricking uncomfortably.
The room between what was and what he wanted it to be began expanding, the uncertainty threatening and ripping. His hopes and wishes began getting caught on the frayed edges of the present. The realization started setting in towards the end of the second year, no matter how hard he fought it. The realization making home, the lack of contact a catalyst.
Now when he looks back at the year that passed he wonders how he hadn’t seen it before? He wonders how he was stupid enough to believe like a lovesick fool? He wonders how he survived the revelation. Miraculously he had.
People spoke extensively about healing and moving on. People spoke about how life didn’t end because of heartbreak. Every protagonist in tae joo’s favorite dramas pledged forever to their love interest.
It was all garbage.
Completely and utterly trash.
It was true that his world hadn’t ended; he was still breathing and moving.
His purpose had ended; his passion, his desire, his goals and everything else had ended. People did move on and they found other people and they lived and eventually found happiness. Guk couldn’t.
Tae joo was stitched into his skin and flowing through his veins, absolutely indistinguishable.
There wouldn’t be anyone like him even if guk looked but guk didn’t want to look.
His love and feelings for tae joo were so enormous and magnificent that there was place for nothing else.
Sometimes he felt his insides were drowning. The love and ache growing each day; on those days his chest felt a little smaller.
Its not like guk hadn’t torn himself apart thinking of all the possible reasons why tae joo hadn’t returned. He had spent sleepless night after night hurting and imagining tae joo strolling the streets of England with another girl or worse another man. The thoughts plagued him day after day tugging and splitting.
Guk had waited. Not for days or weeks or months but for years. He had waited, bearing the gnawing in his heart and desperately praying for another chance, another moment. Each day he had woken up to an answered prayer and no signs of him.
He had waited and waited and waited but tae joo didn’t return.
He wasn’t coming back.