(He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not is a collection of three short stories. My First Love Was Not My True Love is a slice-of-life romance, Remembering to Forget is a coming of age romance, and The Man That I Left on The Moon is an unfinished science fiction “anti” romance.)
My First Love Was Not My True Love
He grabbed me by the throat and squeezed. Breathless, I stared into his eyes.
My hands were limp by my side, and my feet were dangling against the wall. He slammed me against the wall again, lifting me higher. I watched a drop of sweat trickle down his forehead. His eyes were brown, trembling. His face was red. He was whispering something I couldn’t hear, but I saw his lips move.
I think he said, “I love you.”
When I regained consciousness we were in bed again. He wrapped his arms around me softly as I closed my eyes and pretended that he was someone else, and that I was someone else, too.
My First Love…
The morning light passed over his skin and sank into the hollows of his narrow collar bone and bony hips. His skin was soft, white. His eyes trembled even when they were closed. He grabbed my hand and twitched in his sleep. I wanted to wake him, but I didn’t. I watched him instead, laughing.
He was young, 19.
I was 24.
I had stopped getting hangovers the way I had when I was young, or maybe I had become numb to them or gotten used to living with them. I went back to sleep after a while, even though I might have had a hangover and even though his heavy breathing kept pressing his ribs into mine. It was the only time I felt awake, being in his arms or by his side. Maybe, it was his trembling, shaking eyes that were always on the verge of tears ever since he had met me that had woken me from a long dream.
Awake, what it meant to wake up in the morning and watch him sleep, to not cling desperately to some souvenir of my old self found only in my dreams.
He was gone when I woke up.
I looked for him after fixing the sheets, brushing my teeth, and running my fingers through my hair. He was sitting in the living room, his eyes looking a little hollow. They always did. He smiled shyly when he saw me. I patted him on the cheek and tousled his hair. I made breakfast in my underwear, and then I got dressed and drove him to school.
He was late and ran away as soon as he shut the car door behind him. He looked back with a smile on his face as he went up the steps, tripping as he did. I finally drove off when he disappeared and went back home to sleep for awhile longer.
I showered and began to work on a case.
In the evening I called my family. They were in America, a place far from Seoul. They asked their usual questions. I gave them my usual answers. I ended each conversation with, “I love you,” but I wasn’t sure if I would ever go back to America even though I did love them.
They would have to visit me here.
Neon lights, painted buildings, everything dying and being reborn, and the ghosts of the dead things somehow haunting every urban street corner: Tradition.
I picked him up from school.
His mother called him while we were eating. He handed me the phone, and I spoke to her. Had he told her about me? She hesitated at first, but when it became clear that I could speak Korean fluently she relaxed and invited me to her home and said, “I’ll teach you how to make kimchi.”
I handed him the phone after murmuring some polite words.
“What did you tell her?,” I asked.
“That I’m meeting a good person, someone that I love…” His eyes trembled as he spoke, and suddenly he looked down. I remained silent, unsure of what to say to the boy in front of me. I held his hand, though, and he gave me his shy smile.
We ate quietly, each of us smiling small smiles that stretched our lips.
I went to his room this time. He lived in a college dorm. He had to sneak me in, but we were naked as soon as the door shut. We cuddled at first, after drinking soju mixed with sprite. Later, I told him to choke me.
He hesitated and asked, “Why? … I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You’re not going to hurt me, do it, please…”
“Why? I… okay.”
He choked me gently, his hands barely indenting my skin.
I kept my eyes open, looking at his face. His eyes were trembling again, and there were tears running down his cheeks as we both came.
When I lay in his arms, he asked me, “Are you ok? Are you hurt?”
My voice was hoarse, but I said, “I’m fine. I love being with you.”
“But, I hate it when you make me do… that. Why do you do it? Do you always do it?” I thought about it, but the only answer I could think of was, “Because it feels good. I like it. I feel like you own me, like you could save me or destroy me… Maybe both? But, no, only with you. I don’t trust anyone else.”
He didn’t say anything at first, but his hold on me loosened.
He tightened his grip on me and said, “I’m going to save you.”
He called me and told me that he wouldn’t be able to see me anymore. I asked him, “Why?,” and he said, “I… I don’t know if I can save you.”
I hung up on him quickly, before I could feel anything. He had done this to me once before, and I had let him go. This time, too, I let him go.
“I love you.”
They were words I had spat out and slipped on once. Every time I thought of my first love I was only reminded of a huge hole that had been cut into my body, a hole that had been filled with blood, flesh, and disappointment. My first love, H-, hadn’t been my first time, or my last time– hadn’t held me against a wall with his hands wrapped tightly around my neck– hadn’t told me that he loved me.
H-, though, had lied to me.
He had pretended to be exactly who I thought he was, and for two years I had slowly gone crazy because of him, hadn’t been able to live without him.
One day after he said to me, “No one can replace me,” I had told him that I loved him. It hadn’t been a happy confession, and it hadn’t ended well. We went our separate ways in the end, and two years burned to ash.
There had been nothing left between us.
Still, I hadn’t been filled with regret. I had loved him, after all, even though I wasn’t sure how much of him had been real. No, I was sure of what had been real and when everything I loved had disappeared. Neither one of us had ever looked back, or maybe he had…
Or maybe I had.
Another evening passed.
Alone, I locked myself in my flat. The lights outside were too bright in the morning, but at night it was too dark. I called him, because I needed to be with someone. I don’t know why he answered, or came back to me. I told him to choke me, but he wouldn’t. He kept whispering how much he loved me, how I was destroying myself even though he was trying to save me. He kept crying, so I drove him home in silence and said, “Sleep.”
I kept his shirt, though, so that I would remember the smell and feel of him even after everything else between us had faded, just in case I never saw him again. I felt sad, because I had nothing to remember H- by.
I finally fell asleep in his shirt, clinging to the smell and feel of him, taking comfort in his meaninglessness. I had known that it wouldn’t last long. It never did. He had lasted longer than the others, though. But then– after H-, all of the others had only been passing in and out of my life like clouds passing across the sky, one after the other… an endless blur…
I heard that H- was getting married. I didn’t want to think about anything else after that.
I had never seen H- again. Would I ever see him again, on some street corner in America or Seoul, and as I drove past would he stand out from all the rest? Would he be more than just a blur?
I began to drink again, became without him in my life there was nothing to keep me awake. I slept a lot, and even when I had my eyes open, I was dreaming.
I lost my case.
I lost my mind.
This time the feeling was familiar. I wasn’t scared, but when I looked in the mirror I saw my eyes trembling. The tears didn’t fall, and the trembling stopped. Was it because of H-? No, it was only because I had never been able to replace him the way he had replaced me.
Did I want to die? Sometimes…
When my life felt empty and meaningless– when my dreams were better than the life I woke up to– when all I had was a lingering sense of disappointment and the fading memory of the smell and feel of someone else.
I slept in his shirt again, trying to remember the smell and feel of him. I shouldn’t have washed it, because now even that was gone. Suddenly, I missed him, my first love, H-. And him, the one who had seen all of me and whispered those silly words to me.
Had he meant them? Had he meant it when he said that he loved me, that he would save me?
I walked around Seoul in a mindless daze.
It was a beautiful place, easy to lose myself and easy to find someone else. I met eyes with a man in a bookstore. He reminded me of my first love, so when he asked for my number I gave it to him. By midnight, we were in bed together.
We met off and on.
He liked that I was foreign and a lawyer. He showed me off to his friends, but I knew I would never meet his family. I was fine with that. We had normal sex, and I stopped drinking heavily for a while, but he was boring both in and out of bed. I never asked him to choke me, because I didn’t want to give myself to him…
I tried once, but the feeling was too different, and I knew he wasn’t going to save me even though I knew that he wasn’t going to destroy me, either.
I drank heavily one day, after a few months had passed.
That boy, he wasn’t coming back. This man, he wasn’t leaving. He watched me from across the table as I downed glass after glass of wine. As my lids drooped, his opened wide. His mouth drooped open, too, and suddenly he looked like a fish.
I wanted to drop him into a toilet bowl, flush him into the sewage, and let him rot belly up, forgotten.
I was drunk, and I was crying, so I took out my phone and called the boy I missed: Not my first love H-, but my true love. I asked him if he had meant what he said. I asked him, “Can you save me?”
He paused for a long time. Then, he said, “Yes.”
I slipped away from the man I was with, suddenly unable to even remember his name as I stared at him from across the dinner table in his expensive apartment. I rose, and he rose, too. I went to him, and I wrapped my arms around him and breathed in: There it was, the smell and the feel of him.
It was all that I would remember him by.
I had fallen asleep again, but as soon as I saw his trembling eyes and familiar face I woke up. I took him home and cooked for him, held him as he cried. We talked for hours. Later, his hands wrapped around my neck. I let my true love choke me gently, because my first love had already killed everything I had ever held inside.
I suddenly remembered H-, his smile and his face. How long had it been since I had been able to push past my unhappiness– my disappointment, and remember him? The last time we met, it had been like the first. All the things that had happened between us, none of them had mattered. There was only us, our smiles and laughter. It had been enough, then.
Did I know how much I would miss him, then?
He hadn’t been a lie. He hadn’t disappointed me. It had been easier to let him go if I lied to myself. Suddenly, I was tired of lying to myself about him. It wasn’t his fault. I had built my world around him. I had loved him. I had left that world and never once looked back until it was too late, and he was gone.
My First Love Was Not My True Love
The light poured in through the window, landing on my body, on his. I woke up from a dream and looked at the boy beside me with a smile on my face. Awake, I rested my head onto his chest and sighed, breathing in the smell and feel of him. Later, I kissed him awake.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes full of innocence like a small puppy, rubbed his cheeks full of blushes like a small boy. I knew I that he would never save me, but I decided to stop destroying myself.
Remembering to Forget
There was no one in control.
I need you.
Ha Na was afraid to tell him how much she needed him. Instead, she pushed him away. From that moment on they began to break. She drifted farther and farther away until only he remained in the place where they had once been together. Did he know that she was gone?
The days she spent without him drove her crazy, because she couldn’t forget him.
I love you.
Ha Na was afraid to tell him how much she loved him. Would it be awkward to see him again?
“I miss you.”
They were the only words Ha Na ever said to him. They slipped back together, and for a while she was able to pretend to be his friend. Night fell, and he pressed himself closer to her, closer than he ever had before. Was she dreaming?
He felt like a dream, and she pushed him away, because she was afraid that he was just a dream she would wake up from one day.
They got married under a soft shadow of spring leaves, but that day had felt like winter, because they each walked down the aisle with someone else.
In Ha Na’s dreams she was leaving him, and it felt good to make him hurt. It felt good to push him away. It felt good to tell herself that he didn’t love her and that she didn’t love him either. It felt good to walk away. When she finally woke up, it felt awful to look at his back as he slept, because her husband seemed so far away even though he was right beside her.
He breathed softly and shifted restlessly, so she pressed herself closer to him until he finally stilled. In moments like this, he was beautiful. It almost made her forget the steady ache between her gaunt ribs, the empty feeling between the two of them even though they were pressed so close together.
It was morning. He was already gone.
She walked around their house as sunlight spilled into spacious rooms sparse with furniture. She sank to the floor and pressed herself against the wood. She felt empty, as if someone else had lived between these walls for the past two years. Someone else must have married him. Someone else must have believed in their future — always together, even as they grew old and ugly.
She was older and uglier.
He was never home.
She showered and changed into the dress his mother had bought for her even though it was too long, and she walked as if some heavy weight was pulling her soul into Hell as the hem dragged across the floor.
She cleaned, cooked, and waited for him to come home. He returned, and her heart beat faster in that moment when he opened the door, but he didn’t ask her any questions, and she didn’t look him in the eyes. He disappeared somewhere inside of their house. Finally, they ate without speaking, and then he was gone again.
She wandered outside after he left, chasing after the invisible trail he had left behind. The evening air was cool against her skin, and she wanted to find him, but something pulled her back.
She was in bed when he came home again. He was drunk, silent. They had sex, and she moaned beneath him, because that was what they both expected.
He turned away afterwards and fell asleep.
She lay awake next to him, breathing heavily. It suddenly hit her: The way the space between them was always empty, the way the house they lived in was never full. She knew something inside of her had died, and only her shell remained.
Was it her husband’s fault? He was only passing in and out of her life.
Was it hers? She was only a shadow by his side.
Was it his? She had never been able to forget the boy she had loved.
“I miss you.”
She spoke out loud, but that boy was already gone.
Ha Na’s friends liked to pretend that they had everything they wanted, but she knew the truth that had sunk to the bottom of their cold cups of coffee. They all knew they had nothing but damaged dreams and faded futures, but her friends– even though they were married like her, still liked to look for love in the arms of strangers. Did they find it in between their lover’s sheets, or did they find it afterwards as they took a taxi home alone in Seoul’s noisy, crowded streets?
She liked to think that in their house was a door she couldn’t seem to find, and locked inside were all the things she had ever wanted: Love, happiness. Maybe the door was beneath the wooden floors or just around some sharp corner or dull edge of a cream-colored wall, but a year had passed, and she hadn’t been able to find it.
She left the coffee shop last and took an expensive taxi to a cheap hotel, because it would be impossible to sleep next to her husband that night. The bed in the room next door was squeaking. The people in the room above her were walking, and she could hear their footsteps. The rain outside had just begun falling, and she could see it splatter on the window. She told herself that she was not alone. She turned on the radio and listened to the sound of commercials. She called her friends, but they were too busy being alive to take care of her skeleton. She wanted to scream, but the walls were too thin for words only she should hear.
“I am so unhappy — so lonely…”
She wanted to scream, but only made a whisper.
It was still raining in the morning when she finally woke up. She took a taxi home, and when she walked in she saw her husband sitting on the hard, white leather couch. He was watching the morning news and dressed in his suit with his tie tied tight around his neck.
He looked perfect.
He was perfect, and he was distant, empty. He didn’t even look at her. If he had, would he have noticed that she was wearing the same clothes she had worn yesterday, the same sad expression she had worn when they had first met three years ago?
He finally looked at her, but only for a moment. She waited for him to speak, but his phone rang, and he took the call in another room.
She found herself in the kitchen.
Her husband walked in and sat down at the small table. She felt trapped in a nightmare, because she had been here before and because she felt as if she would always be here. Here, she was his wife. She was her skeleton.
When had she died?
When she looked down, she wondered if white, brittle bones would be stirring the pot filled with hot noodles. She set the table and sat down across from him. Her flesh covered hand scooped noodles into her mouth. The taste was like ash, like misery. She swallowed it too easily. What else had she been eating for the past four years?
Four years ago…
The letter came in the mail. She had been waiting to hear from him again, the boy she had loved. He had gone to school in America the year before. Was he finally coming back? Did he still remember her?
She held a wedding invitation in her hands, but before she could shove it back inside, it unfolded itself like a bird and grew wings that beat the air around her head and sent her falling to the ground. The bird followed her for days, chirping awful things into her ears and reminding her that he had always been a dream, a dream that would never come true.
She wanted to speak to the man who was sitting across from her, but the words got stuck in her throat. Had she always been asleep since that day four years ago? Because, none of her dreams had come true as she opened her eyes and saw the empty world without him.
How had she met her husband? How many dates until he had proposed? Where and how had he proposed? Had he always been this cold and distant? Did he love her?
Did she love him?
She could only answer the last question.
She whispered softly, the words falling from her lips and drowning in her bowl of cold, uneaten noodles.
He finished eating and placed his dishes in the sink. She heard the door open and close. She heard him drive away. She waited for him to come home.
It was so late, she mumbled to herself, “Where is he?”
She kept lies pressed to her ears, and waited and wanted to hear something other than the truth, someone other than him. The soft, pretty illusions she had wrapped around her skin vanished, and she was left bare. There was something else pressing against her, and it dug into her skin, and it sank into her bones: Truth, loneliness.
Feeling lost and empty, she took a taxi and went outside of Seoul. As night fell, the landscape became a hazy, dark blur. A landlord showed her to a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment above a small noodle shop that was full of tired, hungry workers, big families, and the hot, white breath of steam. The room was small but clean.
She paid the deposit and took a taxi back to the house she shared with her husband.
He was in bed when she returned. She slept next to him with her hands pressed tightly together. She wanted to reach out and touch him, but she knew he would wake up and ask her what was wrong but only tell her to go back to sleep, because he had work in the morning, because he had no time for her: His wife, a skeleton.
She had packed all of her belongings and was ready to leave when he came home. She was already crazy because of him and because she still loved him: The boy she had loved, not this man without his face and his eyes and his smile. What was it that she had seen in him? She stood in front of the door. She was inside. He was outside.
She spoke through the awkward silence that had fallen between them as he tried to push past her.
“I’m leaving you.”
It was barely a whisper that passed from her lips.
He finally stopped trying to push past her, noticing her suitcase and bags for the first time. When had he ever heard anything she had said? When was the last time he had even noticed her?
They were her last words to him.
He walked past her, and this time she let him. He put down his suitcase, took of his jacket, and folded it on the couch. He walked towards her. He stared into her eyes that had suddenly filled with tears and slapped her.
She had always been so still, so afraid of moving– of leaving, but in that moment she finally felt herself slip out of limbo and into free fall. She crashed somewhere at the bottom. He began to speak, but she brushed past him, refusing to let him see her tears.
They were not for him.
He didn’t keep her from walking out the door, but he followed her, and when he chased after the taxi she knew it must have hit him: She was leaving him, and she was gone.
She let herself cry for the boy he should have been and for the girl she should have been, but finally there were no tears on her cheeks, just awful sounds and heaving sobs that were wrenched from somewhere deep, deep inside of her until there was nothing left inside of her. She saw his image in the rear view mirror, but he grew smaller and smaller until finally the taxi turned the corner, and he disappeared.
There was a small gap between her thighs where the skin no longer touched, but she didn’t feel like eating. She began to talk to herself as she sat in her small room.
“He’s gone. I miss him.”
She wanted to go through her phone to find the traces of the boy she had loved, but she had deleted all of his messages a long time ago, and one day he had stopped sending them. She wanted to call her old friends to ask about him, but she had spent too much time away from them.
“It would be awkward to talk to them again, to tell him I still love him.”
She called her parents and told them lies, because she didn’t want to break their hearts. The sound of their voices made her smile, but when they hung up she began to cry.
“I left my husband.”
She reached for the phone again, but she had no one else to call and no one she could tell the truth to. Why had she married him? She couldn’t remember her husband. She couldn’t forget the boy she had loved.
But, too much time had passed, and that boy was gone. He was a man now. He was a man with a wife and kids and a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and she was just a memory stuck inside a cramped apartment over a noodle shop on the poor side of town.
She went downstairs and watched her favorite Korean dramas on a small screen TV. She nodded off in front of a family with two children and a third one on the way as the movers lifted her new bed up the long flight of steps outside. They finished, and she rearranged the furniture , tried to fill up the empty spaces with paintings and promises.
She fell asleep on the floor.
It was almost midnight when she finally woke up. She went downstairs again and sat at a small table in the corner. She ate cold noodles.
Suddenly, she realized that it felt awful to be alone. Is that why she had married him?
Days passed, and nights passed.
She had her face deep into a bowl of noodles, and didn’t notice her husband walk in, but when someone sat across from her she looked into a pair of familiar eyes. The silence between them spread itself out like a blanket, smothering both of them until nothing but their corpses remained.
She wanted to escape– to breathe– to live.
The night air was hot and sticky. It melted into her skin as she traced the footsteps of someone else. Someone else had already wandered these sidewalks and streets. Had they been alone? Had they been tired? Had they already been this way before but been unable to turn back? She walked next to her husband without speaking. They sat on a park bench underneath a street lamp. It was a place where lovers should have sat. They were like strangers, and it was as if all the time they had spent together had been pressed into one single moment and sucked dry.
“How have you been?,” he asked.
She remembered what it felt like when he had been inside of her, when he had slapped her: The pain. But, she said, “Fine, and you?”
“Fine”, he said in a soft voice as he looked down and away from her.
Strange that it had come to this: An awkward conversation on a broken bench, an awful feeling between a man and his wife.
“Are you seeing someone else… Someone else, someone who makes you happy…?” She couldn’t speak. Her lips wouldn’t move.
They had fought once, a few months or maybe just a few days after their wedding.
Ha Na hadn’t been able to stop crying. Her husband had wrapped his arms around her, but she had pushed him away. He had looked at her, and it had been the last time he had really looked at her.
Then, they had lived in a small apartment, and it had been easy to fill in the empty spaces. Slowly, he had begun to work more, to stay away. They had moved into a house a year ago, but nothing had changed. Only, the empty spaces had become larger, had become harder to fill.
He handed her something without looking her in the eyes, and then got up and walked away. She looked down at the hard, shining thing in her had. It was her wedding ring. She had left it on the living room table.
She watched his back as he got blown somewhere far, far away. She wanted to tell him to stop– to stay, but it was too late. He was already gone.
Home, she stared blankly at the night sky as she sat on the roof of her apartment. She spilled her thoughts out to all the ghosts of those who had lived like her and already died. They were hanging over her head, slipping soft tendrils of faded skin through her hair and running them down her back. They were slipping in and out of her body.
She went to the edge of the roof and looked down, walked over it.
She saw the night sky, the passing windows, the blurred faces, the gray concrete, the blood spreading from somewhere…
She saw nothing.
She shook off someone else’s memories and slipped back into her skin. There was a hollow ache– a far off dream– a soft whisper.
“I must have fallen in love with him a long time ago. I must still love him. My husband… I can’t even remember his name– his face– his smile. Where did the boy that I loved go? I thought that he would come back to me someday as someone else, as someone I could love and someone who could love me.”
There was a shadow that had suddenly thrown itself against the wall beneath the roof. A body clung to it and heard all of her words.
Words that were not meant for him.
“Is he happy? Is he happy without me? Does he need me– love me– miss me? He must have forgotten about me. My life is just a dream I’ve finally woken up from. Have I always been alone?”
But, she wasn’t alone. There was someone watching her. He listened to all of her words and wondered if he would ever be the same again– if she would ever be his wife again.
“I hate being alone, talking to myself like this. I must be crazy. I must have been crazy to let him go– to think I could let him go and live without him– to think I could fall in love again.”
The shadow vanished, and her husband sat on the ground nearby with his head in his hands. Their lives had always been like this: Quiet, distant. There was a road he had never been able to find: One that lead to her. He had thought she would change, that someday he would see her smile at him the way she had smiled as she stared at the sky or the stars. She had always been beautiful, but she had always been lonely, even when she was with him. He looked back at her shadow and the soft gloom of her words before he left, casting a long shadow in the soft, dark night.
Ha Na finally called her sister. It would be too hard to tell her parents. Would they understand? She had always been different from everyone else in her family, but they loved her. She loved them, too, but she felt burdened by them. She had never been able to live up to their expectations. Maybe she wasn’t meant to be a daughter– a sister– a wife.
What had she wanted to be? Happy? When had she been happy? She remembered, but her memories were colder than winter and frozen somewhere in the past.
Ha Na’s apartment was quiet, because her parents had not returned from whatever roads they were traveling while they visited her. She drifted off to sleep and woke up when her mother tapped her softly on the shoulder. Her father pulled her up from the floor.
They had told her to go back to him, but now they were silent. A month had already passed, and nothing had changed.
Were they finally giving up on her?
They left, whispering I love you softly in her ears as their arms held her tightly and then let her go. She would miss them, but she knew they couldn’t stay.
Did he still have everything she had given to him?
She would like to take it all back.
She would like to be someone else– someone other than herself– someone different. There had been a reason for the difference, but she couldn’t see it anymore, and there had been a reason to believe in love, but that boy she had loved– she knew that he wasn’t it anymore.
She wondered if she would ever return to him, her husband. He had been drinking again. His slurred words filled her ears as she listened to him outside of her locked door. He banged on it with his fists, as if he could break it down. She was tired.
She wanted to sleep– to forget– to dream.
Instead, she listened quietly as her husband slumped down against her door. She couldn’t see him– his head buried in his hands and his heart beating too fast in his chest, but she felt him and she knew she had carved the soul and smile out of his body.
They weren’t in love, she thought, but he couldn’t let her go. Maybe he had thought that she would always be by his side, just like a shadow. She fell asleep while her husband snored outside of her door. She dreamed of someone other than her husband’s face and smile, of the sound of laughter.
When she woke in the morning, she heard her husband as he snored. An hour later she knew the change in his breathing meant he was still half-asleep, but would wake up soon. Silence, and then the sound of his shoes as he walked down the stairs was similar to the sound of her heart as it beat: Slow, steady. He would keep walking away, and her heart would keep beating, both of them alive and yet both of them dead.
She slipped into a tee shirt and cleaned, putting away the sheets and the pot from last night. It was half-filled with noodles she hadn’t eaten. The clock ticked, chronicling her hours spent alone.
Love was never going to come back. Without it, everything had fallen apart. She was flattened, now, thin and incapable of living. She fluttered, her breath like butterfly wings in and out. She was a butterfly sinking low– about to die, but carried on by some eternal wind making promises that could never be fulfilled.
Ha Na’s lease expired.
She had spent the past few months asleep, barely aware of anything but the past. She was finally ready to return, because there was nothing left: Not of that boy, not of that girl. She didn’t know who she was, but there was a feeling inside of her.
She was hungry. She was starving. She was tired of being a skeleton.
For days she had dreamed of a devil that had ripped her into pieces. It had hovered over her as she slept and had followed her as she walked down streets filled with strangers. She was sure that she would die, but she was still alive…
It had only been a dream.
So much of her life had only been a dream.
Her husband was silent as she made her return. The car he drove her in was loaded down with the things she had taken. They were all going to return to their places. The paintings would be placed on the walls in the living room, and she too would hang herself somewhere in the house. A painting and a skeleton: Both of them nailed to the wall. As he drove, she stared at his alien face and hands. Had he changed or had he always looked this way? There was nothing familiar except for the silence in the air and the distance between them. For some reason, she wanted to speak to him, to touch him.
Was he real?
They slipped back into their life without a sound, and it was as if she had never left. They smiled when their family and friends made their visits, but slowly their smiles slipped away.
He came home drunk and forced her into bed, breathing heavily and weeping. The smell of soju on his breath and skin, the feel of those alien hands on her skin and the hard pushing of his body into hers…
Suddenly, there was so much pain inside of her.
Where had it come from, and why did she finally feel alive as he pressed himself against her and into her? She held him close, her arms wrapped tightly around him. She dug her nails into his skin until red, half-moons appeared. There was something falling from her eyes, but she couldn’t move to brush away the tears. His hands reached up gently, and he wiped her tears away with the soft skin of his thumbs. Who was he, this stranger in her bed and this man inside of her?
Why did it hurt to see him again?
She should never have married him. She should never have left him. His voice was hoarse and loud. It broke the silence that had always been between them.
“I missed you.”
The words slipped into her ears as she closed her eyes and came. They collapsed and fell asleep, exhausted. When she woke, he was gone, but she remembered everything and knew that it hadn’t been a dream.
Remembering to Forget
She wandered around their house, searching for that door. This time she was sure that she would find it.
There were thoughts escaping from her head and weaving their way into the walls. She had always been sad. Had she made him unhappy? It must have been her fault. She had been unable to love him.
She had been unable to love herself.
“Not that you lied to me but that I no longer believe in you has shaken me.”
She whispered the words of Friedrich Nietzsche to herself. They hung over her head like the devil that had ripped her to pieces. They were words that put her heart back together with clumsy stitches. They were the pain and truth that she had never been able to accept. Who would she speak them to: The boy that she had loved, her husband, or herself?
She spoke them to herself, the innocent girl of her youth who had died after first love came and went.
“It is not that you lied to me. It is not that those dreams you dreamed never came true. It is not that he never loved me the way you thought he would. It is not that I have never been able to love again. It is not that my family is all I ever had, the very people you pushed away in anger. It is not that I am alone like you were.
It is that without you and your hard, unyielding ways I can no longer believe in myself. Why must I bend, break? And I have spent so much time looking for you. I think maybe I have spent too much time looking for you and all the things you had. If I found him again– my first love, would you also come back? He knew you. He believed in you. I left myself behind in order to find you, but you were already gone.
There is no door to the past, and I can never go back. All I have is this empty house– this empty heart– this empty marriage. And suddenly, it has occurred to me that I have never given myself away the way you did.
If the world around me is empty, it is because I have always been a part of the past, living only in memories. I would like to let you go. I would like to be myself even though I am nothing like you.
Youth, I woke up one day to find you gone, and next to me was a snoring man and a devil that hovered over me. I am no longer afraid. I am terrified, because I have been asleep and unable to live and breathe for so long. What have I lost? If I have lost my belief in myself and in love, then I have lost everything. What am I looking for? What am I looking for…”
She sank to the floor and pressed herself against the wood, knew she had been there before. She lay on her back and stared at the ceiling. The light of morning pressed its way through the window and settled onto her skin. There was a sudden stillness, a memory of a soft thumb on her skin. Breathless, she closed her eyes.
When she opened them, she began to rise and then stilled.
Her husband was lying on the floor next to her. He had taken off his suit and changed into a white tee shirt and jeans. She turned her head to face him and stared into his eyes. Suddenly, she remembered his eyes– his smile– the day they had first met. His hand slipped into hers, and then he looked away, looked up at the ceiling.
She did the same.
They stayed like that for a long, long time.
The Man That I Left on The Moon
At first there was this silence that lingered over us like the thick, black night hanging outside and the soft, warm blanket draped over us. My mother’s voice echoed in my ears, suddenly, as if she was singing me to sleep with a lullaby from some far off place.
My mother was far away– miles away, light years away.
The Man That I Left…
He held me loosely in his arms, and I thought that he might let me go in the morning. When we were through, I snuck out onto the balcony that overlooked a crater on the moon. I had traveled far to see him. He had told me to come, but his cold embrace reminded me of a lost love, of a love that I had lost.
Still, he didn’t make me unhappy– being on the moon did. It always seemed like night, and gray sand blew over hollow craters. We were trapped in glass, and even though I couldn’t see where it began or ended I knew that there was no endless horizon, no limitless sky. I could see the stars, though, and they glittered and sparkled like the diamond ring that he had given me on earth.
Black eyes flecked with silver pierced my gaze as I turned to leave the crowded cafe. I was on my way to work– coffee in hand, but he stood in my way, blocking the exit. When he smiled, only one corner of his mouth turned up. It was his dimple that caught my attention.
When I blinked, he was gone. When I blinked again, I was gone, too, or at least not in the cafe where I had been only moments before.
That day when I had disappeared from the cafe with him, I hadn’t wanted to return to earth; because, I would be leaving soon to meet the man who would be my husband, but I knew that I wasn’t capable of loving him. That day, as I looked into his alien eyes as we stood underneath an alien sky, I had thought that I would be capable of loving him.
I went back inside and slept beside him. His ribs pressed into mine as he breathed. He was exactly my height, and our bodies fit together perfectly– like a pair of matching puzzle pieces, but I could never get used to the way his bones and his body and his heart pressed into and indented my skin, pushing me to the edge of the bed, to the edge of some cliff the more I struggled to put distance between us.
I was capable of loving him, but I was also capable of losing him, of being lost without him. Afraid, I packed my things and left quietly in the morning.
His black eyes shone, glittering and sparkling like the stars in the sky– like the diamond ring on the living room table.
He was different in indescribable ways, and I didn’t think that we had much in common other than the fact that we had both wanted to disappear from the world that we knew.
We spoke different languages, but he had learned mine by the time we met on the moon. I wasn’t sure how old he was or if we would ever be able to have children together, but I didn’t want children, anyway. I didn’t care about his age, anyway. Occasionally, I would fall into his eyes and get transported to faraway places with colors and sounds and smells that I had no name for but began to adore.
I don’t know what he saw in me, but he was always blocking my exits and taking me to new worlds with new beginnings. I had always been too poor to travel. I wasn’t sure if he had anything other than the black shirt and jeans he always wore. I had bought him clothes once, but he had washed them in hot water, so I complained about the way they fit on him, and he never wore them again.
I wandered around the moon lost in thought after I left him, and I don’t know how he found me, but he did. When he was angry with me he rarely spoke and would only stare at me. I didn’t know what he wanted from me. Maybe, he didn’t know either. I wasn’t sure if he knew what marriage meant. He had studied earth for some time, he had said, and wanted to give the woman that he loved a diamond ring, to get married.
I was tired, so I held his hand and let him usher me to a cafe where I sat and sipped the coffee that he bought for me. I looked at him carefully before saying, “I don’t want to get married.”
“Because, I don’t love you.”
He cried, but aliens have a different way of crying that I can’t explain, and I had never seen him cry before. It made him seem younger but less attractive. I felt sorry for him, but I had stopped being able to comfort the boys and men in my life after I turned 16.
Suddenly, he got down on one knee before me, but I quickly rose and left. This time, he didn’t block my exits, and I didn’t disappear.
The Man That I Left on The Moon
There was something important that I knew I was forgetting; but, like everyone else, I lived with desperate longings and lost loves killing me softly every time I happened to remember the man that I left on the moon.