Your arms are tattooed with names.
They began to color, starting from your wrist, when you were five. It is the average age a soul name appears on the body, but all else was anything but average.
The first month the characters darkened into Yoosung Kim, like a streak of ink on your skin. You watched, day by day as it darken into a forest green, in private excitement when you woke up every morning to see that name swell with color like a promise.
A week after the color steadied, another, just above it, halfway between Yoosung’s ink and your elbow, began to swirl.
Saeyoung Choi became your second soulmate, the ink bold and red as a stoplight. You delighted in it, not yet showing your parents until your mother spotted it. Red isn’t easy to hide.
Your parents were baffled, halfway between disbelief and wonder. They knew of a trio, blessed and happy sharing each other’s names. They tucked you in that night and hoped with all their hearts you would be just as happy.
Saeyoung’s name was not the last.
Silver, like a metal sheen, almost lost on your skin, began to darken as Hyun Ryu became your third soulmate. Tucked into the crook of your elbow, you felt protective of this soulmate. The name was marked with such an elegant color, but it was so faint and didn’t darken as much as the previous two had. You couldn’t help but feel there was something they needed. You could be strong for them, like mother was for father.
It wasn’t until the last two showed within days of each other, Jumin Han on the outside of your upper arm, dark like the navy of you mother’s best suit, and Jaehee Kang across your shoulder, bright dandelion yellow, that your parents realized you have gained three more soulmates.
After Jaehee and Jumin the ink stopped flowing.
Soulmate counselors your parents went to guidance for didn’t know what to say. Historically, it was possible. There had been accounts of people with up to three or even four soulmates, when the world was not so big and people were not so plentiful.
In the modern world, so many soulmates were unnecessary, and the average was a single mate per person. It was uncommon for people to have two, and exceedingly rare to have three.
Five, even historically, was more than rare. It was unheard of.
You didn’t want to be famous for that. You didn’t want to share your soulmates with anyone. The counselors and scientists asked and pleaded, but your parents looked to you, and you firmly said no .
Nearly seven, and you had no desire to share your privacy with anyone. Your soulmates didn’t deserve it, and you didn’t want it.
Your mother and father were soulmates. They had found each other through friends of friends, the way many had before the popularity of computers, cell phones, and mobile applications boomed.
That was how you wanted to find your soulmates. You wanted to be like your mother and father; Father so gentle and kind when he stayed home with you and picked you up from school. Mother so strong and steady as she left for work and came home for dinner, tired but happy to listen as you told her about your day.
You wanted that sense of family with the five people that colored your arms with their names.
In primary to middle school you wore sleeves to your wrist, exposing only the name of Yoosung to the world.
No one believed you when you told them you had five people in the world who were just right for you.
Once, a group of children held you down as one scrubbed your arm raw with soap and a rag. When you came home, bruised, right arm beading blood, your father had you transferred to a different school within a week. Even when the summer days sweltered, you wore the winter uniform for the sleeves.
Your second year of middle school, your mother gained a promotion and your family moved. You were… Not sad to go. You had few friends, no one you would call more than an acquaintance, or someone you simply passed time with.
Your new middle school would not allow such distance. Rather, she wouldn’t.
Sujin Park was a force, the name of her soulmate bold across her throat. She found you, and clung close.
By the time you realized you had made a friend, you were sitting in the art room while Sujin drew you.
She introduced you to the many different ways beautiful things could be captured. Through paint, photography, sketching, pencils, and… Clay.
Never had you touched clay or sculpted. The moment you felt the cool earth, firm but giving, you could not stop. Through the rest of middle school you molded and shaped, creating and destroying.
Come high school you followed Sujin’s school choice, but you were obsessed. You wanted to be great, to sculpt something that caught the eyes of those who had branded their names on your arms.
You didn’t care about the new soulname apps Sujin tried to ply you into, because at the base of each sculpt you made, you named it for one of your mates. You would sell these, and they would find you.
In the middle of your first year at college, Sujin called. When you didn’t answer, she showed up at your rented studio, stranger in tow.
She had found her mate, a woman as passionate as her, a camera slung around her neck.
You wished them well, and turned back to the small cat you were piecing together. Perhaps you would dedicate it to Jumin.