(Junho is an auto-biographical short story that I wrote the night after I met my first boyfriend, Junho, on January 23, 2011. I’ve always wanted to share this story with you all, and now I’m finally ready.)
Did I fall asleep that night, the night we first met?
I remember the sound of teeth on teeth as you ground yours in your sleep. Lying in a stranger’s bed, I should have been afraid. The large tattoo of a winged angel on your back, its head bent down, your head bent down…
Your smile, your broken English.
And later, the way you hugged me as I slept, saying, “미안해,” over and over again when you finally realized I was a virgin. In the morning, I put on your shirt, and it fit perfectly. You walked around in your underwear, drinking cans of coke and smoking Korean cigarettes.
Flashes of the night before, when we had met, always come back to me.
I had been dancing on top of two speakers with my friend, S-, when I saw you. Another friend of mine, P-, had been rubbing my legs as I moved to the music. Later, you would tell me that I had looked funny. Our eyes had met, and I had liked your leather jacket and tight fitting jeans, your Italian shoes that were made in Korea. I went to you, looked from you to your friend, and asked you to dance. Later, we went to the bar for drinks. That was when I began to slur in Korean.
I had to leave to meet more friends, so I told you to come with me and to bring your friend. We left, hand in hand, and I was as dead on the inside as I had been since I realized my first love was not my true love, that my true love was somewhere far away across the ocean. You were going to be just another boy who would hold me for the night, who would keep me from falling apart. We danced more, and when the club closed, I asked you to go to 노래방. Outside, you met some of my friends, and as we were walking you said that you wanted to date me. I laughed, because no one had ever said those words to me before, and I didn’t believe you, then.
I still have a picture of you, the first picture we took together. Its from that night.
Your friend dropped us off at your place and left feeling lonely. Your roommate left the room to us. It was right before we slipped underneath the sheets of your twin bed, drunk. In that picture, you’re in the middle of brushing your teeth and a bit of toothpaste is stuck to the corner of your mouth. I’m there beside you, smiling. You always told me to delete it because of that little bit of toothpaste.
In the morning, did we brush our teeth together?
I know that you cooked and that we hugged and that you kissed me sweetly and that you put your head in my lap and talked to me, listened to me, showed me pictures of your family. You spent six months in America with no one to talk to until you met me. I spent twenty-one years in America, with no one to talk to until I met you.
Traditional, my family is from Nigeria, Africa. They grew up in a small village where there were no strangers. Then, they came here to America. They tried to raise us– three of us, my brother and my sister and I, the way they had been raised, but we were surrounded by strangers. I always felt as if I was an alien. The first day of kindergarten: Why do I still remember the way my sister teased me in front of her friends. My father, who called me stupid. My mother, who didn’t know how to do my hair or dress me. The kids, who all teased me. My teacher, Mrs. Tools, who taught me how to read and write, to escape into books and dreams…
Later, I would learn how to cry. Discipline, love. Absence. My father is absent from many of my memories, but I remember the first time I told him I loved him after I stopped kissing him goodnight. My mother is absent, too, but I remember how she used to swing us around and around in the backyard near the huge magnolia tree. I remember different grades and different teachers. I don’t remember the names of many of my friends. They were only strangers, passing in and out of my life. For me, growing up meant forgetting the meaning of love.
I was loved, once, when I was child and before I knew the world. In other memories, my sister lets me crawl into her bed after I wake up from a nightmare, my brother lets me read his comics and play his video games, my mother is singing to me, my father is telling me stories, and my friends surround me as I fall asleep.
I remember a song, a song that I thought was written for me.
Simon and Garfunkel came on, singing, “I am a rock, I am an island. I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain, it’s laughter and its something I disdain.” Those lyrics: Full of depression and loneliness, resigned to hate instead of love. From then on, I lived that way. I don’t remember what made me decide to live that way, what made me think I could live that way…
I liked a boy for five years once, A-. I wanted to marry him, even though we had never really met. He played soccer, like me, and he had the most beautiful smile. I asked him out, which was harder than the time I asked out M-, another boy I had liked. I didn’t know that boys should ask out girls. He said yes, though, and then he stood me up. Later, he would look me in the eyes and lie to me, making an excuse like his mother had when I had called him and she had answered instead. Looking back, I never loved him.
I didn’t even know who he was.
I think I just wanted to be like everyone else. I was only pretending to be like everyone else, because it was what everyone wanted. What did I want? I wanted to be liked, to be loved…
My first love: I loved him, but I did not belong in his world, so I left him. I was always leaving him, but there he would be, again, by my side. We have always been somewhere in between strangers and friends and lovers. I think he was the first person I ever really knew.
You are the first person to know all of me, parts of me that I could never show to anyone else. I asked you once, if you could love me. You didn’t look me in the eyes as you said yes, but I like to think that you meant what you said. One day, you told me in a song. Later, you told me…
There were many ways that I knew you loved me.
You’ll return someday– to your mother and your father, to your home…
Did I fall asleep the night we first met? Since then, my life has been like a dream I once had.