Title: You can say that you don’t miss me, but I think about you everyday
Synopsis: When Tablo heads off for college, to pursue the bigger things, he realizes that he’s leaving someone, something bigger behind.
I just said goodbye to my mum today. As I watched her board the plane, older, smaller with bright eyes of exhaustion, the exhaustion that comes with bringing up two kids, guiding them towards the rites of passage—towards life, towards all the horrors of the world she would bear the brunt of—for me, if she could, I try not to think of you—of the things I would do for you.
More like I try not to think of you too much.
But how could I not?
The walk to my dorm room is long and the silence speaks too much of what could have been—of your hand surprisingly warm in mine, considering that it was nearing winter and the wind was slightly biting, jealous, envious as you hummed to a tune that spoke of summer in pools of spilled navy and glittered gold.
I would clumsily trip over the words—there were just so many words I wanted to say to you about you, wearing that soft looking sweater that I could envision pulling off you, seeing your delightfully mused hair and pale expense of skin stretched over taunt muscles and collarbones—you looking so contended with life—so contended just being with me (Or am I just reading into it too much, Hyukjae?) as you swung your legs (those legs) across my lap, pressing butterfly kisses against my nape, as if saying, “I know. I love you too.”
I thought of sending you my notebook once—the one with the black edges that you would always try to peer at over my shoulder trying to deciphering what I was writing, when all I was doing was to try to define you onto the blank pages of my life.
“It’s all in English, write it in Hangul, hyung.” you would whine, and I would envision that pout on your lips. I would sign blood oaths, write lyrics, sonnets, and war proclamations about my pathetic attempts just to keep you—only you, Hyukjae.
You who completed the pieces of me: Tablo, Daniel Armand Lee, Lee Seonwoong.
I never made it to the mailbox, Hyukaje—never could, I almost got arrested by the campus cops for trying to steal mail once when I pried the mailbox open to get back my letter (in which I did). But one day, I’ll tell you everything I wanted to say once to you.
Early autumn speaks of library books with yellowing, almost fragile pages, cracked spines pressing against each other—the scent of time stilled, left untouched underneath my fingertips, quite unlike the time we had in your smile that slips past the cracks of my fingers like the golden glitter in your hair as you dragged me to that club in Hongdae that one time. You effortlessly fluid, almost mercurial to the beat while I tried to not feel like a lumbering elephant with two left feet on the dance floor as you grinded slyly against me, fingers almost teasing around my waist, way too hot—too much of what I asked for.
But never enough.
I’m selfish that way, Hyukjae. You probably knew it, didn’t you?
The uglier side of me.
The one who would pull away, become distant to the point that I was almost impenetrable like the disgusting puss colored curtains in my room that kept the sun out—kept people within a thinking distance because I need some personal space for my own thoughts.
Yet I wanted you so much—wanted to feel the near-perfection of your smile basking upon my skin as you pulled the curtains open, let the light in, with the slight uncertainty I caught underneath the fringe of your bravado that made it perfect when I got up and pulled you, slightly stiff right into my arms.
“What are you thinking of, hyung?” you asked me once, your voice slightly raspy with roused sleep—you didn’t really cut through the darkness I was so fond of like a bullet. You eased me out of it, your fingers warm, comforting as they closed around the icy tinge of my wrist.
“Stop thinking and sleep with me, hyung?” you asked. It was when I felt, something that I haven’t felt for a long long time, that I could be at peace with the world.
For a while.
Right underneath our warm, white washed cotton sheets.
With you, Hyukjae.
You’re a 13-hour 8000-mile flight away from where I am.
You’re a song that would reach me through airwaves bending space.
You’re my what-ifs that I would have scratched out and replaced with what I did.
You’re in my thoughts all the time.
Fuck. This was what I found myself scribbling on the corner of my 5000 word, one-inch margin printed essay due today. My professor would have a field day reading my poem, reading about you, Hyukjae ever since my first creative writing essay. I could see him chortling while commenting on it with his stupid favorite red marker—ooh, your boy muse’s popping up right, Daniel?
I thumped my head painfully on the surface on my study cartel before tearing the page out and shoving it unceremoniously into my desecrated notebook.
Fuck my life.
I love you, Lee Hyukjae, so, so much.
You do know that, right?
Spring embodies youth, embodies their rejuvenation in the way that I remember seeing you for the first time—that one moment of breathlessness we’re all waiting for to sweep us off our feet, off the daily monotone of being ourselves—being alone in dissonance. The punk rock angst in a playlist shuffling right into soulful indie.
I won’t ask whether you still remember how we first met. I won’t hope for a story to tell our kids to come, let alone hoping that we do end up together someday and become appas, raising our kids in white picket fences and mowed lawns. I don’t dare ask for too much—too much from you after what I’ve done, leaving South Korea without a word to go to another country, another continent for college when I promised you that I would be happy.
Be happy for me, hyung.
You know what they say about getting lost—it’s not about not being able to find the road signs, but about not knowing where all the road signs point. I guess I was too lost trying to shake off the kid Seonwoong with the labels of expulsion, smoking on school ground, fighting to find Daniel. Because it was only Daniel who could make his parents proud by going to Stanford—Daniel who would only be happy for others because that’s where all the road signs pointed at. He never really knew how to be happy for himself—be Tablo.
Till you, till Lee Hyukjae.
I could never have made you happy, Hyukjae. All I could do was to take while giving you my words, my unspoken promises as Tablo, if you would read, no, more like squint in between the lines of my crumped papers lying right beside the trash can.
That was why I left. I thought it would be easy to leave the memories of you behind, like splashing through puddles in rainy days as the sun overwhelms everything.
I have all your pictures and videos locked up in my safe, but today, I came across this overexposed Polaroid of you in between pages of Rilke’s poetry as I was cleaning out my shelves—when all that’s left within the frame was the radiant luminosity of your smile and the golden flyaway strands of your hair.
Dance with me, hyung.
I know I can’t. It’s when I think I’m back to the park with you—it’s like all I hear is the crunch of the grass against your feet and your soft murmur of your voice as you count one two left up turn bend, arms outstretched dancing with the forgotten shadows and their untold stories, the sun as your spotlight and at that moment, you’ve never seemed that blinding—too bright and all I could do was to just blink at you through the shutter of the Polaroid and click—to seize out and own this moment—own you.
But then my world blurs over and I snap my eyes open, only to find myself sitting up in the ceramic bathtub—on the verge of drowning, lungs straining, gasping for air, of life I could have cared less with the shape of your hand retained in mine as I uncurled my now cramping fist.
Regressing back to the stage of the embryo. It’s like I’m living life all over.
P.S. I don’t believe in going around in circles, because wherever we try to go, it’s never going to be the beginning or the end—we just pick up where we left off.
Or maybe I’m just going around in circles with what I’m doing.
Early summer, New York
I found him, asswipe. Now be a man and do the right thing, Blo. I’ve had enough of your whiny moping and emo poetry in our flat.
You’ll thank me for sure. Turns out that you both work in the same club, just different time slots. Destiny, huh?
Club Russell, 947 Avenue, 9 p.m.
P.S. Don’t even think of drowning yourself in the bathtub. Damon kinda went anal and demolished the whole thing after he heard of your little “accident” while you were out with a jackhammer. You might want to invest in a shower.
Club Russell, early August
East Harlem, 75th Street
Hukjae doesn’t know what to make of the stash of letters and the now dog-eared but all the more familiar black edged notebook shoved precariously inside his locker.
He’s read all of them. He isn’t prepared for this—moments like this when he’s left dangling between the past and present—edges away from the future. He’s worked so hard for dancing, for Julliard, for this youthful hope of somehow meeting Daniel once again—me, you under the same sky.
He could never hate Daniel. Lee Donghae, one of his best friends, had once called him shamelessly optimistic when he heard of what happened between him and Daniel.
All I want to do now is kick him in the balls or maybe stab him a few times in the gut with my grandpa’s knife before dumping his carcass in the Han River for leaving you.
All these years, he’s certain that he loves Daniel. It’s not some youthful infatuation and definitely not brotherly admiration with the things he wants Daniel to do to him, let alone the things he wants to do to Daniel.
Hyukjae believes in moving forward, in tearing up paper napkins while drawing new circles—start all over. He doesn’t think of the things that Daniel should have done for him. Instead, he opts to think of the things that Daniel did for him.
He would be lying if he said that he wasn’t scared at times—without Daniel grinning at him from his usual seat in the corner, that silent support—confidence, trust that is true, that was now this utter loneliness feasting on pieces of his soul as he curled up on the floor of his tiny hardwood floor studio, willing himself to not cry but to give out all his best. Daniel’s sheepish smile when Hyukjae caught him in the kitchen at around 5:30 a.m, cooking chicken porridge for him while Hyukjae was on his way to the bathroom.
You need that energy, Hyuk.
Truth to the told, Hyukjae isn’t the type to invest in emotional apprehension or any of that baggage until it hits him in time. He isn’t sure how to face Daniel, standing in the doorway leading to their row of lockers—Daniel who was older, but still had that teenage defiance coupled with an adult certainty in his jawline, Daniel, now Tablo, who looked at him with the same eyes after all those years, the softening of dark, almost sad eyes and that subconscious smile tugging upon his lips.
And we meet again.
Funny how he remembered all those signs belonging to Daniel at eighteen—boy Daniel found in man Tablo who walked forward, lips softer than he ever remembered as they closed around his and all he did was pull Tablo closer for—
Call it now aka Epilogue
“What are you reading, Hyuk?”
Hyukjae first instinct was to first, MOTHERFUCKING RUNNNN AND HIDEEEEE!!!!
But Tablo was too fast for him as he felt the bed dip under Tablo’s extra weight and the letter swish out of his fingers. Hyukjae blames it on his freakishly long alien fingers instead of Tablo’s self-proclaimed athleticism. (You like what I do with my fingers, Hyuk)—all he could do was blush furiously to the tip of ears as he saw Tablo skimming through the letters.
He didn’t expect Tablo to burrow under the blankets, muttering, “Oh my god. You’re still reading them? This is so embarrassing. Oh my god. Someone please dig me a hole.”
Hyukjae couldn’t help but burst out laughing at Tablo’s reaction, prompting Tablo to pull him right under the blankets, mercilessly tickling his sides as retribution. But mirth and embarrassment wasn’t the only thing he saw in Tablo’s eyes—he saw the poorly concealed want, dark and thinly veiled as Tablo grabbed his struggling wrists with one hand, the other hand trailing down his chest where he could feel that not so yet very familiar burn tugging on his belly button, Tablo mouthing I love you against his jawline, nipping the slightly fragile skin as if willing him to say no, say yes—so much conflict with Hyukjae as assurance—never as just some sort of security blanket but the built momentum to jump off electrical fences that tried to stop him, break the necks of guard dogs who would rip flesh off to bone, so much more reasons to live if it meant Hyukjae’s hand in his, telling him to “Run, hyung, run.”
What am I running towards? –Tablo, Run
Towards you, Hyukjae.
You, who chose to kick away the ladder so that you could remain at my side.
It could only have been you, Hyukaje.
“Daddy, what are you doing to appa?” came out a voice they were both familiar of.
Pushing a very pleased looking Tablo off their bed, Hyukjae scooped up their five-year old son, Lee Shunji, as he fought back a yawn while rubbing his eyes with a tiny fist.
Hyukaje glanced at the clock. It was way past Shunji’s bedtime and he had a talent show to perform in the kindergarten tomorrow.
“Daddy’s loving your appa.” Tablo replied, placing a soft kiss on Shunji’s caramel head nestled comfortably in the crook of Hyukjae’s neck.
“Shunji loves daddy and appa too.” Shunji replied sleepily with the unguarded honesty of a 5-year old, nodding off to sleep.
A family consisting of Hyukjae, Tablo himself and Shunji, the baby they found abandoned by their mailbox.
“Thank you.” Tablo whispered as he met Hyukjae’s eyes.
Hyukaje’s smile—it was the same gummy smile that Tablo remembered with he was 18 years old—Hyukjae being his past, his present and future—this forever that transcended everything he thought he once knew—of everything that he needed and now had.