He was my favorite person in the whole world. The song that he had written for me, the poems he had whispered upon my ears. But it became repetitive, you know, because you can’t invent new moments out of old memories. Words become tired and once they do, we bear the losses with all our senses. What do you do when you run out of patience for the greatest love, because the feelings are thinned out so much it is barely there? This is the thing. You can’t change the truth but you can make up stories. Realities are just stories your minds tell you – it’s easy, it’s easy. Somewhere in my realities, everything was okay and nothing hurts.
But when it hurts, there is nothing that can alleviate the pain.
Posted 30th January, 2016 by LSH.
Categories: non fiction, uncategorized.
Lee Seunghoon just turns twenty nine for two weeks. His life is alright, despite the expected increased anxiety of adulthood. Job and a place to live have been taken care of. His mother has been in a hospital with professional help. He doesn’t really have to worry about anything. And it has been years since the last time Seunghoon thinks of his past (“the very thing that defines our every sunny day”). He was so young, reckless, and preciously naïve: these were not exactly, but always chosen as, the synonyms for “mostly messy and desperate, with a dash of forgetful and mindless cruelty” when we choose to talk about certain parts of our life. Sometimes, Seunghoon reminisced about the past with an uncertain smile on his lips, wondering if those years actually existed or if it is merely one of the half-baked plots that never made into his (unchangeable, nonnegotiable, uneditable ) novels. The plotline is also incredibly short and cliché to begin with: there was a guy with an inferior complex towards his perfect dead father, who found out the old guy was an addict, then fell for another addict the same way his mother did, because “the sons who are like their mothers” always have to endure hardships. That’s alwayshow the story like this would go, not for the sake of a tired literary trope, but when they say it “runs in the family,” if we’ve got one, chances are we become our parents despite our explicit resistance and conscious effort to avoid it.
“You made the same choice.”
Here Lee Seunghoon is, in the once-frequented coffee shop, having a long overdue conversation with the past he thought he had entirely left behind. In front of him, Jinwoo looks at him with his clear, sad, big eyes. Those eyes still look as keen as he remembers.
“You know, hyung. My mother always told the most beautiful, beautiful stories about my dad. Of how great he is as an artist, a musician, a human being really. Quick reminder every day since I was tiny, is how I only have his look.” Seunghoon smiles tenderly while playing with the silver spoon in his cup. “She told me a total of seventeen completey different stories of how he died, with various versions of each. She came to my bed at night, told one story, kissed me goodnight, and the next day same thing repeated, with a different one. I was extremely confused when I was little.” Seunghoon stops for a second, then continues.
“The truth is, if she didn’t do that, she would run out of stories so quickly, because he OD’ed on her 21st birthday. Twenty one. They are children. They are a couple of teenagers who did drug together, the girl followed the boy. The girl got pregnant, because that’s what happened with teenagers couples who didn’t exactly pay attention to sex ed. She got out of drug, but the boy never did. That’s all it really is.”
“But why, Seunghoon, why did you do that?”
“Fuck, hyung. What do you think? I’m a crack baby. Hell, it runs in the family. My brain must have been wired to smell the hidden coke head. Of all fucking people, I gotta go for the addict.”
“No, Seunghoon. What are you talking about?” Jinwoo’s surprised eyes threw him off. Seunghoon knits his eyebrows as he slowly repeats Jinwoo’s question.
“What am I talking about?”
Seunghoon asks with a genuine puzzled expression on his face.
I open all the windows and the doors. I let out all the water from the rain and the melted snow inside me. The thing about a roofless house is that, storms actually don’t destroy me. They will just swing by if I accept them and let myself go. The water will dry when the sun is out. I just have to wait.
Time goes by and at one point I stop closing the window and the door. I just let them open because I never ask the sky again when he is going to bring out the rage. Life is so much easier, and he loves me back. He loves me more than all the houses that have roofs. They get shattered, trying to defend themselves in the face of his anger. I don’t have a roof anymore, and after the numerous times his dark sides visit me, everything inside me is also gone. It feels like liberation, almost.
The only thing is that, I also stop being a house.
From “The Roofless House.” Lee Seunghoon, 2002.
“Oh, Seunghoon.” Jinwoo exclaims as he reaches out to hold Seunghoon’s hands. “You did it again.” He lowers his voice, and Seunghoon finds himself pondering upon the fear and the excitement of that sentence, indecisive of whether he should feel hurt or relieved by it:
“You were the one who got Minho into drugs.” Jinwoo said, breathlessly.
Seunghoon feels as though suddenly falling into the bottom of an icy cold lake. His whole body freezes with the revelation; his skin stings like pressed against thousands of needles. He thinks of Minho’s eyes the last time he had ever seen the boy, those worrisome but beautiful eyes, with teary, smudged black eyeliner, looking down onto him; his lips mumbled something with an echoing, muffled voice. Seunghoon opened up his blurry eyes; he blinked constantly because of the excessive light. He never understood what Minho was telling him till this day, but he now remembered having pushed the guy out of the way and screamed while running away. In his mind, Minho was the one lying on the floor, unconscious, saliva on his lips, eyes rolled back. In his mind, Minho was the one destroying his own veins with inexperienced shots of cocaine that couldn’t make it to the bloodstream. In his mind, he was sketching his father’s real death and planning his mother’s escape, for the thousandth time.
“When your mother permanently settled in a mental institution in our first year in college, you got intense insomnia. Then you started on sleeping pills and I don’t know how but you got into other substances. They were all prescribed, so I wasn’t very worry.” Jinwoo grabs too tightly on his hands, the fingernails start to hurt the inside of his palm. “But it got worse with you becoming totally shut off from the world. That was why I tried to bring you to places and connect you to interesting people. But you met Minho, and you fell into your worst state. Why?”
Seunghoon stays silent. So, this is it. The truth he has been so relentlessly protecting. Mother always said it best. Truth is never the complicated, entangled layers of incidents... It is always what’s underneath. Truth is never readily presented. Human don’t want the stories that write themselves. It has to be the process of digging down, picking, choosing, interpreting, and finally naming the most important piece of information as the Truth. After all, Truth exists, and it wasn’t able to save him from the truth he held in his mind. It didn’t convince him that the things he heard and saw were all in his head. In the end, it didn’t matter if he was the culprit. It didn’t change the course of actions, nor the consequences. He was there, suffered till breathless, then left before he’d see himself dying.
“I guess I didn’t want to fall for the poor boy that much. He was everything my father is said to be. Handsome, talented, mesmerizing. The only one in this whole world that made me feel that way.” Seunghoon sighs after minutes of silence. “That kind of love story is dangerous. My mom lived it. She never made it out alive.”
But when it hurts, there is nothing that can alleviate the pain.
And I’m in so, so, so, so much pain. God, it used to be delightful. It used to be about finding the highs and not fighting the lows. It used to be enhancing the life and not avoiding death. But in this whole entire world the only person that could make me happy, the source of my happiness, is not there anymore. What do I do, what do I do?
I go find him.
Posted 30th January, 2016 by LSH.
Categories: non fiction, uncategorized.
Jinwoo studies Seunghoon’s face for a very long time before responding. “This is what it all means, isn’t it. All the pieces in your non-fiction category. You post them thinking nobody understands.” He bites his lips, as if trying to find the right words. There is simply no right words. “They were all your mother’s last words, aren’t they?”
Seunghoon touches the phone on his pocket in reflex, but it isn’t vibrating. He pulls it out and look at the screen to make sure it isn’t another call from nurse Kim that he put on mute or the reminder of that appointment he put off for days before finally came in to pick up his mother’s remaining belongings from the hospital. All of it was yesterday’s story. He looks at his phone for a good five minutes, before turning back to Jinwoo.
“So that was why you emailed me.” Seunghoon’s smile is one that doesn’t convey any emotion, a total emptiness. “Because you saw through my words. Must be hard for you, after all these years, to still worry about me.”
“No, Lee Seunghoon,” Jinwoo says after much consideration, “I worried and am deeply sorry about you, yes. But I needed to confront you about what happened – I needed to know if it was worth it, being abandoned by you yet still tried to take your side all the while. I needed to know that you are worth it. I’m truly regretful that I wasn’t there.” Jinwoo’s voice sounds quiet and calm. “But we haven’t talked to each other in so long. After you left, I should have come find you, but the boys were mad. I got into fights with Taehyun over you, we broke up, and… I was also mad at you for always having to keep you in check when you take it so easy to ruin my life. I wanted to reconnect to you, but I was waiting for the right moment…” He chokes on his words, realizing what he just said.
“Kim Jinwoo.” This time, Seunghoon reaches for Jinwoo’s hands and slightly squeezes. “At one point of my life, you were the only connection between me and the world. I never forgot that.” He whispers, “and I couldn’t help but thinking, do I really deserve it? A loyal friend or a lover who doesn’t leave before I do? I tried so hard to imagine a different ending to the story of my life – but somehow all the endings are the same.”
“No.” Jinwoo reacts instantly. “No, no, no.” He shakes his head almost violently. “That’s not your story. That’s your parents’ shitty life stories and you want to rewrite them. Hell, you spent your whole life trying to rewrite it. And what did your mother do? She let herself go and commiserate her addicted husband to the point she poisoned her son with extreme fears of happiness.” His voice trembles with frustration. “I’m sorry for your loss and my heart breaks for her, but you are not a damn roofless house, or whatever you call yourself. Stop rewriting that story already. You are a goddamn author, give yourself a happy ending.”
“How?” The question comes out of Seunghoon before he even realizes.
“I don’t know?” Jinwoo scratches his head anxiously while rushing to find an answer, as if afraid Seunghoon is going to change his mind if he can’t find one instantly. “Put a roof on it and forget about the sky. Fall in love with another house that has a damn roof. Build the house with concrete and see-through rooftop if you still want that damn sky or whatever.”
Seunghoon burts out laughing. Jinwoo looks at him nervously at first, only starts giggling after realizing that the laughter is not a sarcastic response from his old friend. They laugh, for the first time in many years, in the place that they used to sit with the other friends. Jinwoo is in front of him, his face looks just like when he was twenty-three, with his pink-ombre pigtail and unmatched punk outfit. Next to him, there were always the three boys in NuGalvanists, chainsmoking and playing music; the five of them were in this very same place, talking, making jokes about each other, and laughing until it hurt. Jinwoo was sitting on Taehyun’s laps while shaming Seungyoon for not bringing his partner(s) to the coffee shop to join them. Minho took it as a chance to secretly put his hand on Seunghoon’s lower back, underneath the shirts while Seunghoon tried so hard to hide his goosebumps. The tender thought of Minho makes him withdraw his laugh; Seunghoon lets the warm memory in his dirty little dark heart transfer to each and every vein throughout his body. It could have been a happy ending, if he let it.
Then it reminds him perfectly, painfullyof how he has let go.
“Seunghoon. One question, and you got to be very, very careful when you consider answering this.” Jinwoo unbuttons his collar and fans himself after the intense laugh. He notices Seunghoon’s silence. “Have you relapsed since?”
“No, I got clean.” Jinwoo’s somewhat worrisome face relaxes upon the answer. “And you, how are you, Jinwoo?” He sincerely asks. “I should have been the one to say sorry but I couldn’t get myself out of this lifelong mess. Did I make you sad, a lot?” Jinwoo shrugs, not answering. He turns away to wipe a tiny tear from the corner of his eyes. He holds a hand out to signal Seunghoon not to ask him any further. The writer reluctant adds:
“And everyone else? I wonder if it’s even okay to think about them now.”
“Now you wonder.” Jinwoo sniffs. “It’s almost psychopathic how you just pick your whole life up and settle elsewhere without saying a word.”
“My shrink calls it ‘disassociation.’ Hate to correct you but I wasn’t exactly in a place where I knew what I was doing. Also exact quote from her.” Seunghoon’s answer makes Jinwoo chuckle in disbelief. “Your mother, the poor woman, is so damn unfortunate but she’s so messed up. She fucked you up, my friend.”
“She does.” Seunghoon sighs.
“So what are you going to do now? Are you thinking of, I don’t know, reconnecting with old friends and whatnot?”
“I don’t know if I deserve a second chance, to be honest.” Seunghoon flicks his own fingernails. “Especially Minho, he must abhor the thought of me, to be honest.” Jinwoo’s suspicious smiles while listening throws him off guard.
“Why?” He asks, but Jinwoo insists on showing his white teeth without saying anything.
Seunghoon feels a wind from the door opening behind his back. The amount of emotion that comes with the familiarity of the voice which hits Seunghoon’s eardrum like a thunderbolt was overwhelming.
“Welcome back, Seunghoon.”
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He stands up, knowingly receive the strongest back hug he had gotten received in his whole life, fighting against the verge of tears that consumes his whole being of the moment.
“Hello there, little boy.” He says while caressing his chin onto those strong arms. “I’m back.” Across the table, Jinwoo cheerfully shows all of his white teeth.
The thing about a house it that, people don’t just return to houses for shelter. It’s not the matter of the defense against the ruthless or inconvenient natural phenomena. It’s not about the protection from all possible death causes. It is something people built with life in mind. The walls and the roof aren’t there to create borders or separate the house from the surroundings. It’s not so much an immobile place as it is a living place people try to make. Inside the house there is the life people set up for themselves and those whom they want to connect over that intimate space.
The thing about a house is that, more often than not, it’s mean to be a home.
From “The Roofless House.” New edition, Lee Seunghoon, 2016.
When Seunghoon got home that day, it was already eleven pm. His cat cried as she heard him opening the door, but he passed through her mindlessly. He walked straight into the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror in the dark. He slowly started unbuttoning his shirt. The reflection of the man inside the mirror was nothing he remembered. Skin and bones, popped blue veins covered in bruises. Those dark blue spots on his arms, neck, underarms, groin, they might never heal at all. But he didn’t really have to think about it for seven years – because no one was ever going to see it. And now there would. Just the mere thought of having to explain, or to come clean again, shook him so violently he almost opened the drawers underneath and let himself purposefully forget.
Except that time, he didn’t. It was the last time, the truly last time, he thought about the things that helped him justify the irrationalities of his version of reality. He opened the drawers anyway, grabbed the white tiny bags, dropped it into the toilet and flushed.
“All’s well that ends well.” He whispered to himself as the absorbed powder turned the flush almost murky.