(We’re just passing kites in the skies.)
(And we don’t know how to love others.)
“I think I need some time.”
“Some time,” he had thought after Hee Ryoung stepped out the door, “for what?” Was it to contemplate the diminishing love between them, as if solitude and time could solve the misconnection between them. “Was it something I did?,” Sungjin asks Younghyun that night--settled together on his couch (the same one where Hee Ryoung sat just hours before) illuminated dimly by the flickering of the television. Drawing pictures on the condensation collected on the beer bottle, Younghyun shrugs. “Maybe,” he says “but if it was, wouldn’t you know?”
“I just don’t understand,” Sungjin sighs, intonation fluctuating even more than usual with the alcohol cluttering his mind.
“And you think I would?” The younger male asks, smiling in a way that--for a moment--seems so utterly dejected that Sungjin forgets to breathe. And only when Younghyun breaks his smile, turning back to face the television, does Sungjin catch his breath again. He doesn’t give the blonde male an answer to his earlier question, drowning his thoughts and words with the bitter acidity of alcohol. They don’t really speak after and the “Was I like this when we were together” never does leave Sungjin’s lips even when Younghyun leaves.
“Some time,” he thinks. Time doesn’t solve much, whether it’s between him and Hee Ryoung--or him and Younghyun.
It’s months before Sungjin sees her again, coming home from a long day at the office, and when he looks up, she’s there--with someone who’s not him. “Some time”, he realizes after he finally finds the courage to step out the train, is simply another way to say “Goodbye.” The fragmented memories seem to string into place, and everything clicks together in his mind. All the times that she had turned away, shifted her phone behind her back--everything seemingly makes sense now. Sungjin wonders just why he had been so blind.
Pulling his phone out with trembling hands, he dials to Younghyun--and just like six years before, his number is still the one under speed-dial.
“Want to get a drink?”
“I’ll be over in a bit.”
“Don’t you think it’s strange you’re asking me to comfort you?” Younghyun asks, as he leans on the door frame of Sungjin’s apartment. “Shouldn’t you be comforting me?” The older male asks back, curling into the couch, eyes bloodshot. “Should I?” He muses, placing the spare key back into the mailbox and stepping into the apartment.
“Is she really worth that much?” Younghyun mumbles, when he watches Sungjin reach for his sixth can, intoxicated enough to blur his senses yet not enough to morph his mind into white noise. The soft ache in his chest spreading from his heart to lungs, where Sungjin thinks even his body is trying to suffocate him. The weight of it presses against him, restraining him with a dull pain that doesn’t seem to let go. “We had three years together,” he answers, words slurring together as with his vision. The world painfully slow, and his thoughts painfully clear.
Younghyun sighs, turning around to put his arms around the older male, breath slowing to a pause when the brunette pulls him closer, warm tears staining the fabric of his shirt. “Didn’t see you this broken when we broke up.” He states, letting the soft and familiar scent of Sungjin’s shampoo invade his senses. But then again, he remembers, they never really did break up--words lost to time and distance. Nor did he ever see Sungjin in between the time he stepped aboard the plane six years back and the six years later. There’s a gap in their memories, that Sungjin doesn’t ever bring up and that Younghyun wants to erase--tie loose ends together to make it wholesome again. He wonders, if Sungjin, has really tossed the sepia tinted thoughts underneath his heart.
It’s unanswered questions and hidden memories, where they both knows that it’s cowardly to keep dancing in circles but Sungjin doesn’t want to stop and face the upbuilding trepidation of all these years. There’s enough accumulated anxiety and melancholy settled between his bones, that he figures with time, will settle into a soft reminiscing. And the delicate balance that he manages with Sungjin will stay unchanged--somewhere between friends and something (nothing) more.
Perhaps there’s a part of Sungjin’s fate that crosses him with love--where he’s always the one left behind; abandoned. And with inebriated impulses, he pulls himself away from the younger male’s hold, looking into the other’s gaze as his hands reach up to gently settle upon Younghyun’s face. “You all leave me.” He whispers. “Why do you all leave me?” He asks, voice louder this time, strained and broken in ways like to the day Younghyun stepped aboard the plane and Sungjin believed he’d never come back.
“I’m sorry.” Younghyun replies, pushing Sungjin’s arms away from him.
“You left.” The brunette reiterates.
“I came back, didn’t I?” And he did; too late, he reckons. “The only thing I lost you to was time.”
Time together--time apart. Time needed for him to step back and reassess, to mature, to finally weigh desires and priorities. But also time unnecessary where he was trapped within filial piety and accommodating to norms--covering his conscience.
Time, too long, that he’s spent clearing roads to find that Sungjin has already grown tired of waiting.
It’s seemingly ironic how they’re able to coexist in such ways, subverting memories and nostalgia. Where years of memories become like dreams--slowly fading as the days go on. Yet Sungjin doesn’t know if they’re truly forgetting or whether they’re just avoiding. The memories are still too clear when the clock strikes seven and he wakes up in Younghyun’s hold--familiar scent of his cologne mixing in with the spilled alcohol on the table. It fazes him for a while, and he’s left staring at the sight of the younger male, watching him softly inhale--exhale, whilst wondering if this was real or yet another dream.
“Has the red string unraveled from our hands?” He wonders aloud, “If so, then why are the stars placing you back into my life?” Sighing, he slowly gets up from the couch, stretching out the kinks in his back. He starts to organize the mess from the night before, clearing out empty cans. In the end, the only one inebriated had been him. But then again, everything with Younghyun seems to end him with him alone.
“We’ll last forever,” he said once, back when they were both too young--void of worry and realities. Sungjin had just came up to Seoul, packed his bags and money he’s scrapped for so long before hopping onto the train for a four hour ride. And so had Younghyun--traveling across countless miles to come to a home that wasn’t exactly his. “Young and reckless” is quite the term to coin their experiences, he thinks, placing all their dreams on the line in a place that resonates with cold emotions. Perhaps, it’s the particular coldness of life in Seoul that made them so susceptible to each other’s warmth. The two of them trying to find home within one another. (But Sungjin knows, Younghyun’s home isn’t here--isn’t him.)
“How long is forever?”
“A moment, perhaps.”
Six years, and it seems that he’s the only one stuck in time--still the boy whose accent won’t go away, varying intonations woven into his words. And no matter how much he tries to cover it with the subtle tone that characterizes the speech of the city, he isn’t able to. With time, he gives up trying, and he holds on to these small pieces that remind him of home--back in Busan, away from busy roads and looming buildings. (Away from spiked words and armoured hearts.)
Finally done cleaning the mess, Sungjin sits back on the floor in front of the coffee table, back resting on the front of the couch. Younghyun’s awake now, eyes fixated on the empty ceiling. Sungjin’s gaze is focused as well, looking at the photo frames decorating the television counter. The dull ache is still there, lodged between his heart and lungs--where it hurts to think, hurts to breathe. He should really be taking the pictures down now, but he doesn’t want to--doesn’t want to place the period to his run on sentence.
“Better now?” Younghyun asks, voice still groggy and laced with traces of sleep.
“Not quite.” He mumbles. There’s a rustle of fabric as Younghyun shifts his body, turning on his side to face Sungjin’s direction--following his gaze towards the photos. Each frame showcasing another moment in Hee Ryoung and Sungjin’s life--smiling together, hands intertwined--moments where he isn’t there. He wonders if it’s wrong, to walk back into the older male’s life thinking as if he’s still the same person from years before--as if time hasn’t taken it’s toll on the other male’s thoughts as well. There’s a junction between their memories, disconnecting the past and the present.
People change, sand trickles down the hourglass, and the world rotates on. Even if memories are seemingly stagnant, the world is always moving on. Sungjin feels as if he’s standing on sand, the tide softly washing ashore. Where he’s moving and not moving at the same time, waves waning and even if he stands still, the sand beneath him withers away.
He finally packs away Hee Ryoung’s possessions one day, placing them all within a cardboard box--photos, presents, cards, clothes all piled one upon the other. He doesn’t throw it away though, doesn’t bear to, placing it in the corner of the bedroom. It’s there when he wakes up in the morning. It’s there when he stumbles home after a long day at work. The memories, the soft pain in his chest--it’s all there, and Sungjin knows that even if he does discard all material possessions, he can’t erase the immaterial.
But deep inside he knows, that this pain isn’t about losing her, it’s about her leaving him. Where’s he’s the one abandoned, left to himself again. “What do you love about me?” She had asked him once, when they were still testing the waters of a relationship. He hadn’t given her an answer, softly smiling while reaching out for her hand. But he knows that he had held onto her for reassurance, and that his answer (though unvoiced) was, “That you love me.”
He had loved her, sincerely, but that love had settled in a way that seemed more like family than lovers. And it just couldn’t outweigh the love he had for himself. Everyone desires to be wanted and loved, placed above everyone else and cared for by someone. He’s no exception, and after so long of pining after someone that was no longer there, he was tired--exhausted of waiting for an indefinite answer. Sometimes love grows over time, someone had said. You’d never know if you didn’t try, and in the end, he had held Hee Ryoung’s hand for three years before letting go. She was his stability, someone to lean on when he was too tired of living with armour and spikes.
“Are you moping over her or yourself?” Younghyun had asked, answer imminent between his words, before he stepped out the door. The words engrain in his eardrums, echoing through his mind as he continues through the day.
“Why’d you come back for?”
“Would you believe me if I said ‘for you’?”
It’s an understatement that Sungjin wasn’t surprised to see Younghyun step back into his life--wasn’t angry over how easily the younger male overturns the stability he’s spent so long trying to establish. Yet, no matter how much he tells himself to let go of the past, he gives in to the flicker of sadness that lingers in the bottom of Younghyun’s eyes. And when the blonde male smiles in broken ways, he finds himself tipping the scale he’s spent six years trying to balance.
He doesn’t understand how. How the same person who left him for social norms and constructed duties can come back when he’s finally trying to fit into the mould that the world has created. They’re no longer living the lost, yet adrenaline-filled, teen years and Sungjin can no longer find the courage, nor strength, needed to return to old battle grounds. He doesn’t want to face the same wars only to be the only one persisting again. There’s too much to lose, wounds barely turning into scars with the way they’re being reopened one by one.
“Let’s start over, as friends.” He states, though his mind feels as if he’s pleading, “Just friends this time around.”
(And from now on, neither of us should look back.)
(We’ve loved till we’ve parched and wilted, and yet we still can’t find green land.)
Hee Ryoung comes back one day, on a Wednesday afternoon--the clouds are wispy and the sunlight floods through the windows. It’s too calm, he thinks, too languid in the way that his heart beats normally even when Hee Ryoung is handing him back every part of their together. The ache in his chest numbs, and he doesn’t feel it hurt anymore. “You know,” she says, stooping down to pick up the box at the corner of his room.”Have I ever entered your heart?”
“I--” He hesitates, words clogged in his trachea.
“Or is that I just happened to be at the right time at the right place?” She looks at him with a soft smile, hair softly framing her face.
“I could only pretend for so long.” She says with a sigh, passing him to head towards the doorway. He keeps his fist clenched, nails digging into his skin. When he finally unfolds them, crimson crescents adorn his skin.
(Even if we can’t forget we’ll part ways.)
(I’ve etched myself in the center of your palm.)
”I could only pretend for so long.”
As if this whole time--days weaving into years--Sungjin hasn’t pressed himself into a mould and covered himself with a mask. Tell a lie three times and it becomes the truth, so how is it that he’s still trying so hard to convince himself that he is okay? It’s nothing that devastating, and he knows so--people drift apart, couples fall in and out of love, nothing really does stay forever. So why is it that he can’t feel so. Why is that as much as he wants to--knows that he should--push Younghyun out of his life, he also wants him there, wants to integrate him back--but just enough that the pain is dull enough to ache but not reopen old wounds.
“I could only pretend for so long,” Hee Ryoung had said to him--but he’s known her long enough to understand that she really means, ”And how long can you keep pretending?” He’d probably answer “forever”, until he’s old and the memories finally begin to fade; where everything settles into a calming longing and he can finally face Younghyun with a smile that doesn’t tug at the scabs on his heart.
But he knows well enough that “forever” is simply a spontaneous moment that leaves before the end is due. “Forever,” he had been promised once--forever that lasted for a mere moment in the course of his life.
“We’re merely bypassers of each other’s life,” he says when Younghyun asks to meet up for yet another outing. Sungjin doesn’t know if he’s consciously or subconsciously bringing them back to their beginnings, walking through the same crossroads, sitting in the same booths as if everything hasn’t changed. And yet there is nothing that’s the same. “We’ve passed our intersection point,” he says, idly swirling the spoon in his coffee as the world goes on beyond the glass windows.
“I’ll wait,” Younghyun replies, and for a moment Sungjin freezes, spoon falling from his grip to clink against the porcelain cup. “I’ll wait until our next intersection point.”
“Two lines can’t converge twice.”
“No one ever said that life is a straight line.” There’s a softness in his voice, another thing that reminds Sungjin of how much time has slipped past them. The elegance and pose of the younger male that seems to be like the polishing of glass after settling in fires harsh enough to melt itself. That’s right, he reminds himself, they’re no longer the two teenagers running towards the finish lines. They’re both slowly walking towards the next decade of life, scraped knees and bruised skin from falling down too many times--from rash and impatient experiences.
“How long can you wait?” He says with a empty laugh.
“Forever.” Sungjin muses, “A moment.”
“Are you happy without me?” Younghyun asks him once, phone lighting up in the dark room as the words flash past his irises. He never does reply, notification left alone for the longest time and Younghyun never does bring it up when he seems him next. He wonders what he’s trying to prove, whom he’s proving it to. He doesn’t want to say no but he can’t bring himself to say yes. (No matter how much he wants to do so.)
Because in all honesty, he is fine--breathing, living, and surviving one day to the next. There’s no apparent ups and downs in his life--nothing devastating enough besides the trivial heartbreak. So then why? Why is it that he finds it so hard to breathe, so hard to feel content? As if for these six years, he’s been swimming endlessly--lunch aching with pain, muscles numb and sore. As if every movement he takes is too strenuous and he’s much too tired of it all. And for the time that he has rested---clinging onto the floating raft that Hee Ryoung was--has seemingly ended.
“I’m drowning in you.” He replies to the text a month later, tossing the phone next to him on the bed. He gets a message shortly after. “I’ll be your lifeline.”
Funny, he thinks--because if anything Younghyun seems to be like the anchor cuffed onto his ankle--pulling him farther and farther down the depths of the ocean. His phone rings with an incoming call and he glances over to the lit screen--Younghyun.
“I said I’ll wait for you.” He says, as Sungjin observes the shadows on his ceiling. There’s a long pause of nothing but soft breathing, he doesn’t want to speak--doesn’t trust his voice to keep steady when Younghyun presses faded memories into his mind. What happened to burying the past, he wonders. Wasn’t Younghyun the one that had told him “We won’t work out.” The same person who had first said “Let’s forget this”? So why? Why was he digging up what Sungjin’s tried so hard to cover up.
“I’ve waited for you before too,” he says finally--voice barely audible from not having spoken for so long. “It’s tiring. Waiting for someone.”
It had been a tuesday when Younghyun stepped into the airport, ticket in hand. The bustling of the crowds around him only seem to enhance the silence in his mind. Everything seemingly fades into a distant murmur as he searches for the right words to type into the message.
”I need to go back home, wait for me. He frowns, brows knitting together as he types another message. I’ll explain everything when I come back.”
Home, he’s going back home. It’s this thought that reminds him, this isn’t home--simply an escapade from his family and duties. A place he had run away to, free of plans in pursuit of change and chance. But it seems that no matter how he tries escaping, he has to make his way back to his beginnings. Problems only avalanche as you pretend they don’t exist.
“I’m not an escape route,” Sungjin had told him four months later through a long distance call. “You can’t enter my life when you want and exit when you’re tired.” It doesn’t take much for Younghyun to know that the older male was drunk, accent more pronounced and words more angry--forceful and edged unlike his usual tone.
“I don’t want you to be with me because you can forget about everything else.” The refutation is lodged in Younghyun’s throat and Sungjin continues.. “I want you to be with me so that we can face everything else together.”
You can’t wait for someone to save you, when you’re the only one capable of saving yourself. Sungjin knows this, carved it on his inner wrist enough times for the pain to remind him. Hee Ryoung can’t save him, neither can Younghyun and he falls within the realization that he’s simply drowning in poison wells--building a fortress that only cages him in. And suddenly it seems like all that’s he’s worked for was useless, somewhere along his road he had gone astray and lost himself. He’s walking in counterclockwise circles.
There’s been knocking on the door for a good ten minutes, but Sungjin’s too tired to care--wounded on both the inside and outside as he sits in the debris of his apartment. Younghyun barges in, spare key in his hand, not too long after. The house is a mess, aftermath of Sungjin’s temper--bottled up emotions that have been resilient for too long, tension rendering strings with frayed edges. The sight of the younger male breaks something in him, overdue anger and unspoken words. Sungjin clambers up, stepping upon broken glass to reach Younghyun. “Why?” He asks, pushing the other male back.
“Why are you always walking in and out of my life on your will?” He shouts, hands trembling--and whether it’s from anger or frustration, he doesn’t even know himself. He feels as if he’s on the brink of insanity, tiptoeing on a tightrope--one step away from plummeting down onto the ground below. “Why do you always break everything I try to hard to build up?” He whispers, throat sore and dry, grasping onto the fabric of Younghyun’s shirt. “Why,” he asks again, “can’t you just leave me alone?” He says shakily, legs giving out as he releases his grip.
There’s a million “why’s” that he wants to ask--a million things he doesn’t understand but all that Younghyun answers him with is silence. A soft buzzing of white noise as the blonde male crouches down next to him, arms reaching out to pull him into an embrace. There’s a stinging sensation in Sungjin’s eyes, but he hasn’t any more tears left--dried up well, parched dry, wilting. Sungjin thinks he’s slowly dying.
”We won’t work out.” Younghyun mutters, “Nothing will work out.” Everything seems muffled to Sungjin, lights dimming and noises fading out as if there’s a shroud of fog suffocating them. There’s still a ringing in his ear from the sound of the guitar hitting against the wall, deafening cacophony in the silent room.
“What do you mean?” He asks.
“I meant that we’re idiotic--romanticizing challenges and dreams in a world that’s so grounded by reality.” And when Sungjin doesn’t reply, he continues. “What’s dreams and talent when you can’t bring food to the table? So you have talent? So we have love? But what about money? What about our future?” Sungjin clenches his fist, knuckles turning white from the pressure. “How long do you expect to be like this?”
Forever--as it turns out--is only as long as three years and two months. (Still a fleeting moment.) And it takes two whole years for Sungjin to realize that inconsistency is the only constant in life. It’s also then that he understands a solitary force cannot become the exception to the system. Perhaps, Younghyun was right--what’s love and dreams when you’re starving.
(You’re travelling in my memories, every step filled with trepidation.)
(I’ve walked so many roads with you, and I can’t bear to turn back.)
It’s seemingly a warp in time, as if they’re reliving the past--the two of them in the middle of broken glass and scattered debris. Maybe, this time as well, it will be the precursor to another farewell--the intersection of their fates that will no longer converge. Only this time, their roles are reversed, and the one holding on is Younghyun.
“Why is it that everything I try to do comes out wrong,” Sungjin asks, voice muffled, warm breath splaying on Younghyun’s shirt. “I just wanted to prove, that I can live without you.” And it’s ironic, how no matter how hard he tries, Younghyun still stays within his mind, heart, life--scars embedded beneath his skin. He continues, pausing every few seconds to catch his breath, voice threatening to break. “That I can be perfectly happy.” Sungjin can’t see clearly, tears blurring his vision as he buries his face into Younghyun’s chest--and he hates it, being vulnerable to the one person he doesn’t want to see in this state.
It’s a while before Younghyun speaks, “I’m the one that was wrong, you know.”
“Because what’s money? What’s prestige and stability when the only one you want by your side isn’t there?”
“I left once, I’m not going to leave again.”
Love eats him from within.