Just when I was ten, I was afraid of swimming. I didn’t like the feeling of water brimming up to my throat when I immersed myself in water. I didn’t like the pressure of water pressing against my eyelids, or the slightest distance between my feet and the bottom of the water my toes could never reach. I hated the weight of my own body bringing myself to the brink of drowning. I didn’t like the feeling of losing control of my own body. The aversion reached to the point to which I felt like I was losing a grasp of myself whenever I sank beneath the waters. I am a month short of nineteen as I write this, and I am perfectly capable of swimming and manoeuvering my limbs underwater. And I also understand my deep aversion for swimming when I was little. I didn’t like it when things got out of my hands, so hopelessly that I can’t even attempt to handle them.
It is rather odd to realize this through the concept of water. Maybe this is why I have always possessed an element of awe towards marine creatures. Even the two goldfish that lived in the bleak corner of my house when I was eight held some kind of wonder to me. They are so free underwater – free of any sort of physical limitation in an environment I have always found so foreign. (Although using the adjective ‘free’ to describe the goldfish in this case would deem quite ironic because they have lived and died in the minute glass bowl in the corner of my small room in my tiny, tiny apartment.) But it still depresses me a little, just a tad bit whenever I see a giant roasted fish on the dinner table, with is once glossy eyes covered by a layer of dried cloudy mucus, its fins dried up and flesh ready for disassembling. It is a morbid, bleak feeling – a kind of dark promise that I will never be free of whatever that is restraining me either.
If you think about it, my awe towards fish and other marine creatures is completely invalid. It is normal to feel a little physically restrained when underwater, because the water is not our natural habitat. If you put a fish on the shore, I am sure it would feel incapable too. (Not implying that this should be tried out of pure curiosity) Any other land that isn’t home would feel foreign and unfamiliar. By the time I realized that I discovered that my fear of water was more psychological than I had thought.
So I have figured as I waddle towards the end of my teenagehood, that it wasn’t the matter of whether I am capable of swimming or not. It wasn’t simply the question of whether I can successfully maintain my floating stance on the water surface, or move my arms against the waves such that I can propel myself forward. Because I am adept at all of those now, to the extent that if I were involved in a plane crash and I had to escape the wreck and swim to the nearest island, I would probably be able to do that. I can proudly say that my swimming isn’t necessarily terrible, per se. The real issue is that I am still deeply terrified of situations in which I cannot do anything about. I still hate the feeling of helplessness. Throughout my life, there had been various occasions where I was subjected to this; when I say this though, I don’t just mean the triviality, like being unable to open the jam bottle no matter how hard I try (because in most of the cases, it is very likely I can’t).
These occasions hold such an integral position in my life – especially in building who I am as a person. Perhaps that is the reason I am so deeply terrified of this feeling, because it constitutes such a big portion of my identity. Or maybe I dislike changes. Or both. Who knows? The important thing is, I am still learning. I have found out that my fear doesn’t actually lie in swimming. I have discovered the specific cause of the ‘phobia’. I’ve narrowed it down to a point where this feeling usually occurs during human-to-human interactions, in cases where people I love are at their lowest point and are slipping through my fingers. I am continuously finding more things about myself – but I also know now that just because something is so integral to the construction of your identity, it doesn’t mean that it has to dominate yourself as a person.
A fish can swim. So can I. I was afraid of swimming, and I bet you a fish will not be the most delighted to venture on land. At least now, I’ve disintegrated the fear further enough that I understand myself more than I did before. Maybe one day I won’t even remember that I’ve had this fear of swimming.
Few summers ago we held the tree close
Its trunk against our chests, its warmth rose
to our toes, our fingers, and our flushed cheeks
in a way that left us helpless and weak
then painted our skin in bright mellow shades
of orange, soft pink, lavender and bade
us such fond afternoons. What we loved most
though were the apricots the tree had lost.
We eagerly plucked the fruit off the ground
held them handful in our hands, round and round
in our pockets, our palms and in our homes
and carry them everywhere, even to foams
of our bathtubs. We carried their fresh green
and deep orange and light red – their skin clean
like the sun bursting into many rays.
We kept the sun in our hands, so it stays.
When the summer was over the tree bore
nothing, except autumn-stained leaves and more
warm fuzzy feelings that longed for traces
of the cicadas but only braces
us for impending wasteland of December
branches. But we will always remember
the warmth the apricot left on our palms
the sweet scent of the fruit that made us calm.
I used to have this habit of thinking what it would be like in the future, then recounting back to the moment I was thinking about the moment, imagining what it would be like. It could be something simple like, how liberating it would feel after my math class. And after my math class, I would recount back, thinking something like, “oh hey, remember the time I was waiting for my class to be over?” It feels like a little accomplishment, a trace of my endurance over time. I do this all the time to give myself assurance that I am somewhat, doing well in whatever I was doing at that point in my life. And I remember, eleven years back in Korea, sitting on the sandy swing thinking what it would be like when I come back to Korea as an adult. That seemingly hopeless gap of eleven years. Now everything in between seems like a blur, like a whoozy little time leap. Like someone pulled me out of my eight-year-old body and squeezed it into a nineteen-year-old’s. Somehow everything didn’t seem as bad as I thought it was when I was in the moment.
Wikipedia defines hindsight bias as the inclination, after an event has occurred, to see the event as having been predictable, despite there having been little or no objective basis for predicting it. As we humans are slaves to the unseen and unknown forces, I don’t think I can say it’s any different for myself. I actually read about this in one of my SAT practices years back (God, all those standardized tests), and I thought this was an interesting logic. Why do people justify past things with less negativity?
Personally, I can’t answer that question. I would be lying if I said my past memories consist of only fond ones. Because I distinctly remember falling off the swing and injuring my back so badly that I had trouble sitting down and up for a while. Or the time when I ate lunch alone in high school for a few months, or the time I cried over something or someone. I am a person with a great memory capacity — I would not call this “petty” as my friend referred to (Thank you very much, Lisa) — and I think I can recount the times I was severely upset. I just prefer to remember the better times. If the past serves as a kind of solace that I would hold onto when I am having troubles in the distant future, I would want to hold onto something comforting. I would reside in the warmth and light of the past and use that to pull myself back to the present.
I try to forget many things, even when I am living in the present. Memory is such a fickle, volatile thing — so even when you want to forget things, you somehow end up recalling them more. I do think though, sometimes it is better to forgo some of the things you have. You can’t always hold everything in your hands. I refer to Sherlock Holmes’ words to explain this (I just recalled; I also read this in another of my SAT passages — goes arond, comes around) :
“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
I mean, memory is not so similar to information as it refers, but I suppose it uses the same logic here. So in my “brain-attic” I prefer to store things like the endless spectrum of sunlight that carpets every exposed patch of land, or the rusty metal bench that has been across the playground for nearly twenty years. The ivy that grows on it, creeping up its wall slightly as the years go by. Things like the thin folded lips across the wineglass, and the sound of waves crashing on the dock. Not the tear-stained pillow after I toss and turn myself to sleep at dawn, or the silence at the end of the phone when I run out of things to say. The painstaking moment to desperately think of what to say to fill up the abyss between. Things like that.
It is rather difficult to voluntarily control things you can remember. I try nevertheless, even if it wears me out and leaves me lightheaded and heartbroken in the end, because I want my past days to be as comforting as possible. I change the pieces to my puzzle, and match them in a way I would want them to be. Going back to hindsight bias, I do think my past has been sweet, just because I left many stuff out of my story and thought “that wasn’t bad after all.” I guess that is the magic of hindsight bias.
그의 말에는 어떠한 힘이 있었다. 그리고 그녀는 비가 오는 날이면 어김없이 그를 생각하곤 했다. 단순히 비가 오는 날에만 그와 대화를 했기에 그가 생각나는 것이 아니었다. 어쩌면 그의 어투에서는 마음이 주륵주륵 흐르고 있어, 가랑비가 오던, 소나기가 오던 그를 연상케 하는지도 모르겠다. 빗소리 사이에 숨죽이는 가느다란 목소리가, 노래 부르듯 잔잔한 그 목소리가 계속 마음에 울렸다. 게다가 기억이라는 게 제 마음대로 되는 것이 아니라, 매개체만 있다면 곧이어 그 시간이 따르는 것일지도. 그녀는 그랬다. 비가 오면 그만이 아니라 그를 향하던 그녀의 눈길까지 생각이 났다. 누구를 봐도 감히 따라할 수 없는, 그를 보는 눈길이. 어떤 방향이 있는 것도, 특정 방법이 있는 것도 아니었던 눈길이었다. 그의 부재엔 감히 따라할 수 없는 그 눈길을 그리는마냥 떠올렸다. 그렇다고 비가 오지 않는 날에 그의 생각이 나지 않는 것도 아니었다. 오히려 있어야 할 것이 없어진 듯, 그 사무치는 빈 공간에 그의 생각을 더욱 꾹꾹 눌러 담곤 했다.
How do you say “I love you”? What do you do when you feel like you have to express your love for someone? Of course, spoken words have the most direct influence — they are explicit and conveniently delivered to the other’s ears. Like an instant message. Swift and easy. It’s so quickly brought upon your senses that it leaves you with no second thoughts. It doesn’t linger. The sound dissipates faster than you think. Only your memories would catch that so distantly and vaguely. So when you reminisce the moment, you would only remember your lover’s lips enunciating “I love you.” It’s easy — it would be like microwaving a cold slice of leftover pizza from the previous night. It’s because you can speak of love even when your feelings are void. It can be done like a swift reflex, like an old nasty habit you’ve had since seven. It’s just like that. It’s hard to tell.
I was thinking about love the other night. Because love isn’t like a swipe on profiles you may or may not like, or number counts on a Facebook account or disappearing ten seconds of a snap. I am not trying to be derogatory towards anyone, or their ways of being loved or loving someone. I suppose love has separate definitions for different people. To me, accounting love as a number or involuntary, simple gesture has less meaning than what I regard love as. Love is such a soft and mellow feeling. A warm, fuzzy feeling. It deserves more than definitions like that. At least to me.
When I think of love, I think of bursting lavenders and pinks of a sunset. Or the brilliant shades of yellow and orange of dawn. The dog-eared pages of someone’s favorite book, the yellow, musty paper of it. Maybe the resounding G-chord of the guitar that resides in your room as a soft echo. Or the delicate fingertips plucking it. Rose petals dried between an encyclopedia and the petal-shaped stain that smells of its traces. The taste of chocolate under your tongue, old quilts that feel like embraces, the faded bronze coin you’ve kept from your last trip. Something like that. Something that stays.
Yet love isn’t always so special. It can be like cliché, mundane romance films that you doze off in midst, or old jazz you listen to on pouring nights. Something you knew about but still lingers in the corner of your heart for days and nights. Sleepless nights and the recollection that keeps you awake just for more stories told by your memory. The letters you receive. Each word and phrase is tailor-made just for you. Every sentence is joined with the thought of you. The way someone writes each word, the way he writes his ‘y’ or ‘g’. The little flicker in its tail. The way you take photographs, in an angle that focuses oddly into someone’s washed denim jacket. Not everything has to be analogue though, it can be on the other end of hushed late night calls, the muffled exchanges of your day, the missed call you only notice when you wake up next morning. The littlest things that have always been with you, but still leaves you with visceral hours of afterthoughts.
The way someone says “I love you,” the pair of eyes locked into each other, the backlit feeling of warmth spreading throughout your body, the power with which each word is spoken, pressed and calm. Not just the word love. That is my paradigm of love.
I have always thought that distant memories give you a more visceral, longing sentiment. Something of higher value than things that your eyes have just swept by. As your memory gets increasingly dim, the harder you try to envision the remaining traces in your head to regather the time you felt so dear about. Because time can be such a whimsical friend, you often let memories slip by you – sometimes without notice, and sometimes even when you’ve told yourself not to forget about them. The most lasting impressions can disfigure into mere trails of thoughts. Or the most insignificant ones – ones you have never thought your mind would grab hold of – would remain as your pillow-side thoughts every passing night.
I remember Jude. I suppose ‘remember’ is a strong word to use in this case, because all of him I possess this day is an imperfect vessel full of indistinct thoughts and unresolved feelings. Now it’s more of an old reflex, an instinctive response the body harbors. I have known him for at least six years – also because I cannot clearly recall how we met – I am more used to him, or rather, my impression of him sweeping by like a breeze. A vestige from long nights and days of thinking of him. It has been too long since we last spoke, so my thoughts of him are usually void of any sort of feelings. Usually, I would have a distinct opinion towards most people; as for Jude, it is as if I am a disinterested, aloof observer of something. This is also the byproduct of my years of practice of desperately attempting to forget him.
“That’s stupid,” he commented, during one of our heated discussions of whether you can forget something intentionally. I had said that if an occasion leaves you with a certain level of shock, the body would respond to it by removing the recollection from the stream of consciousness.
“You can never forget what you try to forget. The endless acts of forgetting just put emphasis on the memory itself. After all, you would have to recall what the occasion is about to forget it in the first place,” he said.
I remember attempting to argue against it, but somehow it seemed ironically true.
And when I actually had to forget him, I ended up remembering him more. Maybe I wanted to remember him subconsciously, who knows.
Nevertheless, I try to draw his face with the tip of my finger on sleepless nights. I would try to link the speckles of dust garishly floating around the lamplight. I always draw his lips first, because I have always wondered what kind of lips someone who always knew his ways around words would have. The kind of lips the sweetest good-nights came from. The kind that always called my name so endearingly that I would ask him to do so over and over again. And he would. Then I draw his nose, cheeks, and eyes along the wavering orange glow of the lamp. I have the hardest time drawing his eyes. They always gaze over something further, something so distant that I could never follow where he was actually at, or where he wanted to be.
The funny part is that I don’t exactly remember how he looked like. I have built an image of Jude around my own memories of him. The recollections I have are my rough sketches of him. Maybe he does not have a neat pair of lips that spoke with such elegance. Maybe his lips are parched and unrefined. Maybe he never had that smooth, perfect curve on his cheeks that if you run your finger along it, it goes over very smoothly. Or the eyes that had such depth. After all, imagination is stronger than indistinct past memories. The eyes and the lips are what I think he would have, just to justify the memories I have of him. I still lock my eyes into his eyes, the very pair I draw. I intently look into his eyes, not for the smallest creases or the fallen eyelash, but for my own reflection in his eyes, transparent and honest.
“I want to know what you are like,” Jude said out of the blue one day.
“I think six years is pretty much enough to get to know me,” I replied. “You know I secretly like the color orange sometimes. No one knows about that. It’s my guilty pleasure.”
“Someone who would make the effort to observe you just for a day would find that out instantly,” he said.
After a long pause, he spoke. “There are things that you discover only through real human interaction, you know. I want to know what you’re like when you get bored of me talking. Tapping your fingers? Folding the margins of the tissue? I want to know how you laugh. Not just sound-wise, but the gestures you make. I want to follow your gaze and see what kind of things you lay your eyes upon. Things like these.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of you,” I said in defense, a little taken aback by the degree of emotions his statement held. The words came out as a clumped-up choke rather than a neat enunciation.
He laughed. “I’ve been told I’m a bore.”
“But so am I,” I said.
His wish never came true. We never got to meet, and our six years of “getting to know each other” ironically, never came to a resolution. It was not just because of the fact that we are penpals living seven-hour flight distance away from each other. If I tried, I could have always flown over to see him. I would have done that. Because sometimes, even a daunting venture is worth just to see someone you love. It was partly because out of all the days we knew each other, the good days were only a very small portion of it, that it was probably better off for both of us if we did not get to meet. Our days were not always sunny, and most of the times he stayed hidden, somewhere I could not reach.
“I like talking to you. Talking to you makes me comfortable,” he said once. “Actually, it really does. Usually, when I talk to others, I have to think about things that would continue the conversation. And sometimes that’s really hard for me. I don’t have to do that for you. It just comes naturally.”
He stopped. I held my breath too. I listened to the tempos of his breath as I waited for him to resume.
“But I get so mad at you sometimes,” he said.
This time, I paused. Something sank in my heart. I was not disappointed or heartbroken. It came to me more as a confirmation of something I have assumed a long time ago. It was a sort of acknowledgment.
“It’s not your fault. Maybe it’s just me. I just, I just get so frustrated and angry,” his voice got louder. His breath got louder and more rapid momentarily. “Why couldn’t you have just left me alone?”
That was our last conversation. I have not heard back from him since then. He has always yearned to die, so maybe he has achieved his wish. Maybe he was too scared and came back in self-loathe. I can never find out now. Out of those six years, there was never a moment when he was not filled with such sorrow and solitude. There had been times where he felt more like an automaton, repeating old, recorded messages over and over again before even the tip of his lips got rusty that he could not slip out a word anymore. There had also been moments where he was a wild animal, growling at every peripheral patch of light. Other times he had locked himself up in his own bubble that floated aimlessly around the world he felt so bitter about.
Some good days he would share a conversation about his favorite restaurant in the small town he was living in. The rural stretches of asphalt that led up to the only Italian restaurant, the air filled with the smell of grass when the autumn breeze swept by, the one good carbonara he has ever tasted, and the kind owner of the restaurant who always welcomed him and listened to how his day went by. I have never had many chances to have carbonara until then, but listening to his memories of his favorite restaurant made me want to try it. The first carbonara I tasted after years and years was delicious. I always think about the dead shells of cicadas and the sound of the small gold bell that rang when he opened the door.
Other nights he would tell me sad stories about his childhood. He told me about his first and last family trip when days were still bright and he felt more certain of the world. I recall his voice so reminiscent and resigned as he recounted his trip. He remembered every detail of the trip. The sea’s call as he took each step into the shores were so soothing, he laughed under his breath. He watched the sunset spreading across the horizon, and stayed there long after the sun had gone by. After which he returned to the shabby hotel with his family. In a calm voice, Jude spoke about the corniest soap opera on the TV, or how the furniture was oddly placed throughout the room. Things like the color of the drawer. The dusty smell that stole him of his sleep and kept him awake in the night, and the way his brother tossed and turned all night. When the snow globe he bought as a souvenir cracked, he said he ran his finger over the crack repeatedly in the car ride back home, as if that would mend the fissure in the snow globe and his heart.
I thought of this – like a reflex – when I came back from my trip to London. London was one of the greatest places I have been to. Definitely most memorable. I would say I remember moments and moments of it, like the taste of the chocolate chip cookie I bought in Borough Market, or the frozen red tips of my finger as I pressed it around my favorite pen. I remember the busker’s John Denver song, and the intricate gold ring I bought in one of the old markets. I remember the boy with rose-flushed cheeks I met in the museum and the song I listened to on the long bus ride. Moments and moments of it that all came out to be a blur, so surreal that it felt like a dream after I came back. While it came out to be only a chunk of dreamy blur to me, it seemed like Jude was clutching onto the tiniest blur in his memories so desperately, so dearly. I saw him living in the happy days that were long gone by, and that made me sad.
It’s a matter of the difference in our desire to hold onto something. I was always surrounded by things. Littlest things could make me happy. The washed clean smell of morning laundry, dried up lavender bookmarks, and a good hot chocolate could keep me happy for the rest of the week. I had many things to hold, and many things I wanted to hold. So some memories didn’t hold much importance to me. I could easily let something slip through my fingers. I could just find another source of happiness very quickly. That was me. It was my way of keeping myself happy. As for Jude, he had nothing to find solace in. His crumbling surroundings were bleak and grim, such that even residing in that reality would drain him. He needed to clutch onto something brighter, something distant but lighter. He had to hold onto memories like the broken snow globe.
There is a small boundary that separates remembrance and recollection. You remember someone out of your own will. It is a voluntary action, and recollection happens because perhaps, you spot something that reminds you of someone. In contrary to what I have said previously, I remember Jude. I remember him because he is an integral part of my memories. I would gladly do so. And Jude would have recollections of me. If he sees a cup with orange polka-dots, he would recall how I secretly adored the color. Or when he listens to Glenn Miller, he would probably take a while to recall that my favorite Miller piece is Moonlight Serenade. We have always had this demarcation – the distinction between remembrance and recollection – between us. And I’ve loved him so dearly, even with this separation.
However hard I try to draw out my remaining impression of him, I always end up with another blurry picture of the past. The distance the time leaves you with only bestows sleepless nights of longing. The longingness with which you look upon your past makes you uncertain of what actually happened. And this is also my way of telling a story. Our story was composed of a more complex tangle of feelings – marked by many unspoken wishes and frequent departures. Tear-stained pillowcases and solitude – our days were not as good as I had described throughout this memoir. Even Jude himself has defined us as a “love-hate relationship.” Time has never been so generous, and I would not be lying if I said that I am glad to forget some parts of our story. I just had to forget some things about him to remember some parts.
I would be less inclined to define this as sugar-coating. If life is a book with pages full of endless chapters, omitting less favorable content would be simply another way of storytelling. I would prefer to leave our story as that. A story. A short memoir. A sweet remembrance.
The light touches on every exposed patch of land in Kalahari. It falls on the leaves softly; it bounces across your eyes and resides in your iris like a pool of stars and shimmers across the prairie. The light touches everyone — children, visitors, and even the stray dogs — with a sort of brilliance in its yellow and orange. A mellow, yet so generous that it even seems sacred. The bus rumbles, and so does the pebbles beneath the worn out rubber surfaces of the tires. When you step out of the bus, the air blows dust and summer into your cheeks. The air is hot; every breath taken is held back and let out with traces of light and warmth. You swallow each breath with great caution; you listen to the noise it’s making, the intricate sounds of your breath, the soles of your shoes scratching against the grains on the parched ground, the fire crackling and the distant laughter of local children from far beyond. Yet the horizon is too far, and the sound dissipates even before it reaches your reminiscence. The light paints the horizon before it reaches the eyes of the villagers who observe the arrivals of their visitors with wary eyes. The children, on the contrary, peep through the wooden walls and stained glasses, in a new-found curiosity, often clinging onto their arms like monkeys in jungles. Their eyes are kind and unknowing. They welcome the visitors warmly. Their fingertips touch the corners of the visitors’ lips, napes of their necks, and their fingertips for sharps (South African greeting gesture), pulling them close to their embrace. And the horizon — the horizon is ever so forgiving. They wrap everything in their vision and the day goes by as it closes its eyes.
There is no clear demarcation of the sky. The soft pink of the setting sun that sits on the edge of summer meets the garish blue that once engulfed the city entirely. The concoction of the colors creates a smudge, a blur of light that ripples throughout the vast expanse of the sky. The sun melts into a sort of soft, mellow purple that spills onto every patch of land and every handful of water. The sunset offers solace to the weary-hearted, the lost, and the sorrowful. It keeps their words and sends them echoes through the waves that return as gentle crashes against the bridges, the wind that sweeps past the green leaves that herald the arrival of summer, and footsteps with soles scratching against the cold surface of the asphalt. The worn out travelers return to the sunset like moths around a flicker of lamplight, desperately seeking for a slumber-like consolation, a sort of reassurance. Their words are swallowed, rarely spoken back, but still comforted.
Today’s Recommendation: Chaconne- Yiruma
The bus often rumbled and shook when it drove over the pebbles on the ground. Hana frequently bounced from her seat and the wind ruffled her neatly combed hair, like the willow trees that swayed whenever the breaths of the season touched their leaves. She touched the yellow window pane, and traced her way back to her hometown. Hana remembered everything: the wheat field that enclosed the town, the smell of old grass, and the occasional hot puff of wind that blew onto her face. It had already been nine years since she left her home, and she had always felt uncomfortable at the thought of home, but the previous Sunday when she spent the night indulging in cold pretzels and apple soda watching late night soap dramas, she came across a dusty box under her bed that she had not been opening since she moved into her new apartment- that was eight years ago. It just had to be that moment when her empty can rolled under her bed, and that box just had to be the first thing that her fingertips touched. The box was full of letters, letters from ten, twelve, fifteen years ago. Many, many letters with handprints, ink stains and teardrops. That particular unopened letter she slipped into her bag held such an old, compelling sentiment that she could not ignore.
Why she was returning, Hana did not know. Home now, was a nonexistent place. Even the very moment where she sat by the window and the bus started driving across the old town she doubted her decision and often questioned herself if she should alight and board the bus back to the city. She could barely forget the imprints of the memory on every footsteps made in the grounds of this town. Every inch she got closer to home, the letter in her bag felt heavier, and it made her anxious that she had to grip onto the handrails of the seat. And when the bus broke down and the driver told the passengers that they had to walk to their destinations, Hana might even have relieved a bit. It gave her more time to think- and more excuses to return to the city. It was a summer midday, and the hot air that rose from the ground made her sweat- though she wasn’t sure if those sweat was from her anxiety or simply the hotness of the weather. She hoped the latter. Hana took timid steps into the long path; the scent of the unripe wheat and grass filled her nose. At dusk the sun would melt into the wheat, with the golden light splashing onto every patch of the land. She remembered walking up the hill with Rosie, and watching the sunset every afternoon, and rolling down the hill after sharing a joke or two. Hana held her bag close to her; she felt like she could even touch the letter neatly folded between the pages of her diary. The letter that brought her home. The letter written by her sister before she died.
Frankly speaking, Hana was not aware of the presence of the letter until the very moment she spilled the box of old letters onto her floor, and only after the box was empty she found an unopened one among all the others. The words To Hana was vivid on the envelope. Below those words was another sentence; instead of the address, Rosie had written, from home, where everything is alive. Hana didn’t know what she meant, and she figured that she would never find out surrounded by murky waters of the sewer and tire-stained asphalt: so she decided to return home. Hana would see for herself, what remained alive, in the house that no one stayed. To Hana, the word home felt so distant that it felt as if her home did not exist in the first place. Home, she spoke. The word slipped from her lips into an awkward sound that dissipated into the air. Home, she repeated. The second time she could barely hear her voice. Hana stopped walking; she wondered if she should continue her journey. What was the point of returning to a place where everyone had left? Hana thought of turning around and catching a town bus back to the nearest subway station, and rewatching the fashion shows she had missed out the last night. And she thought of the letter. The unopened, unanswered letter. At least someone has to answer the letter. It was an unspoken rule within the household. All letters have to be answered. Dad first suggested it. They shared words on paper when they were either too embarrassing to be spoken aloud, or too harsh, like “your breath stinks, please brush your teeth in the morning.” It was just a game at first, but at one point, it became a ritual between the family, and they would always end off with “with all my heart”.
Hana stopped by the old road that leads to the empty grounds where the town fairs used to be held. If she walked left, she would reach the empty ground within a quick fifteen minutes. Probably ten if she quickened her pace. But Hana merely paused for a moment and stared at the grounds that appeared as a blurred smudge from a distance. There were days when the carnivals were in town, and on heart-soft whim, Dad would drive the three of them to the fair, and they would spend the sun-soaked afternoon wandering the fairgrounds- between stalls selling popcorns and hotdogs, and behind clowns that performed tricks with balloons. Hana would hold Rosie’s hand, though mostly being tugged by her to wherever her caprices guided her. Hana stood by the fences, and recalled the first time she had bought Rosie a caramel apple. She handed her little sister a candy apple with sticky brown caramel wrapped around the skin of the apple, and watched as Rosie carefully studied the apple. It’s sweet, she had suggested, and Rosie took a tentative nibble. Hana remembered laughing at the sight of Rosie’s eyes widening as she giggled with delight. They were both smiling at each other, one flushing with wild joy and one soft with many unsaid things, just close enough to infinity. Hana wondered how they would have looked like from a distance as she continued walking toward the old home. That night Rosie had written to her that she would have brought home thousands of candy apples, and Hana wrote back she would have, too. Hana decided not to stop by, because it would make her sad to see all the hustle silenced down to specks of dust and wasted dreams.
Hana was getting closer to her old home, and she often had to stop to reconsider her decisions. The town had begun to reveal itself to the returning dweller, and Hana was nauseous as she glimpsed at the red roof with fading colors on the highest ground of the town. The signpost read the town’s name in light paint that was barely visible with the time’s passage. Hana stood uncomfortable below the signpost. It creaked slightly when Hana leaned her arm against it. It felt like it was going to topple over in any second. It was pretty strong years ago, though. Dad had kissed them on their cheeks, at that very spot, with high hopes of finding a better opportunity in the city. He had a brand new hat and suit that matched the color of his tie. He was smartly gelled, shaved and brushed. Mom had wiped his shoes bits to bits the previous night, that it glistened under the sun as he took a step further away from the town. He said in a bright, hopeful tone that he would write them every day, and take them to the city as soon as possible. Hana was never sure when that ‘soon’ was, but she waited. Mom read his letters to them in their bed every day, and Rosie drew petunias, Mom’s lemon pound cakes and Hana’s mufflers- everything she could find. Dad said he missed home, and Rosie wanted to send him home. The letters stopped arriving; in the end, he did return, but simply as a news that travelled all the way to the small, old town.
Hana stepped into the town. The town was now a barren wasteland, with no life evident on the streets. Not even the rats that lived in the sewers peeked into the daylight. Hana disliked the silence that filled up every corner of the town. Just years ago Hana heard a cacophony of high and low-pitched voices rising from every visible parts of the streets. The silence in the town made Hana wince at the disparity it had caused. Only her footsteps echoed back to her. Only the streets and the shrubs that grew by the paths welcomed the time’s waters, and what stayed were the vestiges of unfulfilled yearnings. Hana passed by Mrs. Whittaker’s bakery, where Rosie saved her nickels in a jar to buy her favorite raspberry tarts. Hana remembered gardener Joe, whose wife Mary was a florist who lovingly handed Rosie a rose or a daisy. Rosie had taped a fallen petal onto the letter she wrote to Hana that day, and Hana was sure that letter was somewhere in the box, though the petal would have dried and withered. That day Mary had told Rosie about Provence’s lavender fields where waves of purple stretched till the horizon that even the sunlight looked purple. Rosie scribbled her letter in purple, and said she would ask Dad to take them all to see the purple sun, when he came back. Hana recalled not being able to write about the lavenders, because she knew Dad would never return, and there would be no one to take them to Provence. She only said someday they would get there. Soon, someday, one day. These words held meaningless promises of reunion that no one kept.
Hana walked past the houses that no one resided in anymore, and stood before the familiar red-roofed house with ivies invading every hole between the bricks on the wall. She hesitated for a good amount of time, nearly turning her footsteps twice. The letter in her bag held her back every time; it seemed to call her back home, a home that was no longer home. She walked, into the doorsteps that she had promised herself she would never return. She had watched the departure through the very doorstep she had just passed, and she had to frown to stop herself from crying. Hana walked through the hallways; the air reeked of old wood, and it felt stale, as if from another era. Hana imagined Rosie sitting by the fireplace, writing her letters with terrible, squiggly letters. She walked by the grandfather clock, which that stopped ticking ages ago, and climbed the spiral stairs slowly, pressing her foot onto each step she made. Somehow her heart felt fleeting and wandering- lost. She stopped before Mom’s room. Hana had expected her room to be locked, just like the day she left the house, but it was open. The doorknob felt hot in her palms. When she stepped into Mom’s room, a faint stench of alcohol brushed her nose. Alcohol bottles were strewn on the floor haphazardly. Hana took a step back and held her breath. The day Dad’s letters stopped arriving, Mom locked herself in her room, and refused to come out. She could never take it well, because she became utterly cold when Dad was mentioned, and Hana understood. It was never easy to let love hide from your sight. Hana prepared all the meals and left the trays outside her room, and only occasionally were they emptied. She slipped letters through the small space below the door, but the letters were always unanswered.
Hana sat on Mom’s bed, and dust rose into the mid air like snowflakes. Something rustled beneath her old bedsheet, and Hana uncovered some unwritten, some unfinished letters beneath it. Some simply had Dear Rosie or Dear Hana; some had two lines, and some had none. Some was just signed off, With all my heart. One, buried deep under the pillow, was dated back to days after Hana had left: it said sorry. She wondered what Mom had been thinking all those years, locking herself up in solitude, refusing to let anyone into her own space. Until the very last moments in her house, Hana didn’t get to see Mom. Did she leave the house in the end? Hana didn’t expect Mom to find her. Hana closed her eyes and took a deep breath; the faint stench of alcohol floated in the air. The day Rosie caught a bad cold, Hana had knocked onto Mom’s door, telling her that they needed to bring her to the doctor. It was the worst winter they had experienced in years, and the blizzard was devouring everything into its bleak white gulf. Hana was pretty sure Mom had heard it, because she heard rustling inside her room. Hana fed Rosie a spoonful of old cold syrup and a lemon drop, and told her bedtime stories until she fell asleep, cocooned in Hana’s embrace. In the morning Rosie’s fever worsened, and so did the blizzard. Nothing could be seen beyond the porch, and at least, Hana then thought, with Mom’s car, they could drive Rosie to Mr. Williams’s, the town doctor. The knocks turned into desperate bangs, and echoes that returned to Hana unanswered. Hana stood up and walked over to the door. She ran her fingers against the door, and imagined what Mom could have thought then, when Hana cried for help. Help, Mom, Hana whispered. Her voice escaped her throat as a thin whisper, still an unanswered echo.
Hana clutched the letters in one hand- she could only guess now what those letters meant to say, but she wished Mom had finished writing those letters and opened her door on that day, few years back. Hana held the doorknob and collapsed to the floor, just like the day she fell, on the other side of the door. She had screamed that she would wait for Mom to come out and take care of them. She cried all night that day, and she did check on Rosie once in awhile, but when she returned to Mom’s room, she fell asleep by her locked door. Hana was barely fourteen, and Mom was just very sad. That night the blizzard wrapped its hands around every household, breathing onto the roofs and engulfing all presence of warmth. And Rosie was very, very sick. Hana cried, recalling all her last moments in this lonely home. Winter put everyone into a long sleep, and it was as if Hana was the only one awake amid the cold snowstorm. As soon as the winter ended that year, Hana ran away from home, cursing that she would never return. Now she wasn’t sure if it was anyone’s fault, but even when she was away from home, she often thought of home. She thought of Dad staying home, in his humble pajamas instead of smart suit, and she thought of Mom opening her doors wide, and thought of herself and Rosie running into her embrace, with her arms enfolding around her mother’s waist. She thought of her sister running in the wheat field, her gold locks dancing in the air as the sun splashed its lights onto them. This, she thought as she held the old rusty doorknob and opened it, this is where it ends. Hana carefully unzipped her bag and opened her diary, gingerly slipping the envelope from the pages of her diary. She tore it slightly, and opened the envelope. A small, colored paper fell from the envelope.
Dorothy walked along the yellow bricks to find her home. If all the paths Hana walked were the yellow bricks, where was her home? Hana unfolded the colored paper that fell from the envelope. Inside was a drawing, carefully decorated and colored with crayons, of Mom, Dad, Rosie and Hana by their red-roofed house. They were all smiling and holding one another’s hands, looking very, very happy. On the back Rosie had written: Hana, this is a present for you! I hope everyone comes back soon and we’ll all be happy together. Home, home, where everything was alive. Hana held the drawing close to her chest. She could almost feel the slightest sentiment of warmth lingering on the paper. As Hana held the letter close to her; she tried to imagine Rosie speaking to her about their beautiful red-roofed home with Mom baking cakes and tarts every weekend and Dad reading them books. She reminisced them sitting by the fireplace with hot chocolate in their hands, speaking of all the small sparkling things that happened in their lives. She recalled all the letters they shared overnight, reading and reading them as the night deepened. All the days and nights where they spoke of hope. Hana thought about the day Dad left and when only his brand new silk hat returned, and when Mom started building her own solitary cave. Hana stood outside her door, speaking to the door that never answered back, Then she remembered the pile of letters in Mom’s room, her unwritten letters of apology. Hana could almost see the hesitant fingers hovering above the empty papers, chasing the time that had already passed by her, leaving ink blotches on the bed. The thousands of unspoken, untouched words that finally echoed back to Hana’s unanswered letters. For all these time Hana had been running away from home, chased by the ghost of the past. And when she finally turned around after years and years, the ghost was nowhere to be seen. Hana wished she had stopped halfway to turn around earlier.
Hana turned to the final station of her destination. She stood by the door that led to Rosie’s room and held her drawing close to her palms. The room smelled of old vanilla and lavender, two of Rosie’s favorites. The room was still and preserved, as if time hasn’t resided in that room since Rosie left Hana. It was exactly like the day Hana left, with Rosie’s box of crayons still by the corner of the room and her wooden horse on the other side, gently moving from side to side as wind blew. It felt as if Rosie was waiting for her the entire time, throughout the years that passed and Hana yet distant from home until the very moment Hana stepped into the doorsteps of her room. Hana stood in the middle of the room, and each step she took creaked from beneath the wooden floor. Hana took a deep breath as she held the drawing even closer to her palms. Rosie, Hana spoke. Her voice echoed in the room; a summer breeze tickled her cheeks, as if Rosie was answering to her calls. Hana closed her eyes as the breeze brushed against her eyelashes. I’ve finally come home.