With no hope for the future and no yearning for the past, where go to next then? If you still have some fight left in you, why not just take the paths less traveled? A little give and take won’t make the shadows any darker, nor bring any light.
Take it as it is and beware of intentional self destructive behavior. If you can’t find beauty or comfort in your own actions or yourself when you are at your worst, it’s best you don’t read this.
Sometimes, when he looks at JunHong, YongGook can see his death so clearly it's almost like another flesh and bone creature standing besides the boy.
YongGook walked down the street with his hands in his pockets and his face buried in the scarf around his neck, not minding the cold autumn wind for a very long time until he noticed that the daylight dimmed and the weather had grown colder. He had no plans for the day and he didn't know for how long he'd been walking, completely at random, leaving behind the crowds, the main streets and the sound of the traffic then diving back into it a few blocks away. He passed by unnoticed mostly because he himself was not aware of his own presence, his brain taking over his body just enough to keep him going and the rest of it completely drifting further away, sometimes in memories, other times in completely random things he didn't even know why he bothered to think about.
YongGook stopped and for the first time since that afternoon, he looked up. Seoul's lights were getting turned on one by one; colorful bilboards with ads filled with familiar faces and street lights mixing in with the car headlights. Life sparking up in an atom of electricity, people breathing, loving and hurting as they rushed past him.
What is your pain? What is your joy?
“See the world in a grain of sand”. It was a line from a poem by someone whose name he didn’t remember. He didn’t remember the rest of the poem either but that particular line stuck with him because it was like a message left specifically for him by some dead guy from few hundred years ago, counting on the power of the printed word to bring it to his path.
He always saw the world in shapes and pieces of puzzles he put together that the people around him didn’t seem to notice. He saw shapes in clouds and, spacing out from the lessons in class, watched the fall of an autumn-dried leaf onto the schoolyard ground with intense fascination, its movements telling a story only he could hear. He liked color, sounds, and he liked words. Stories. Works of pure creation. He could see the most beautiful images and stories, imagined with feverish childlike enthusiasm in the most simple or smallest of things.
He used to believe beauty sprung from everything and now he was starting to wonder how flawed that concept had become. When exactly he had started to destroy things around him on purpose, he was not sure, it had been a slow process, but he knew, roughly, the time around which he stated to destroy more of himself and leave the rest of the world alone. Understanding that the world was not to blame for his own problems was not a reality he wanted to accept, but his logical mind fought against the self-righteous narcissistic tendencies and ultimately, good sense won; on some level, it did. Alcohol and cigarettes never saved anyone but sometimes, just sometimes, after the bottle was drowned down, he thought he could find a glimpse of the truth at the bottom. But he never could fully grasp on what the truth exactly consisted of.
He woke up and with eyes still swollen from sleep, he lit up a cigarette. He placed it on the edge of the sink as he washed his face and then proceeded towards the kitchen, eating but not eating, his breakfast consisting of things with persistent taste but of no real value for his health. The days started to melt one into the other and he found himself often losing track of time, mixing in the days and the hours. Not because his lifestyle was affecting his health but merely because he had been burying himself inside himself each day. It was almost as if he was digging a cemetery full of graves, unsure in which one he should finally lay down and rest so until he decided, he just kept on digging.
It was just as good a metaphor as any.
YongGook looked up but he couldn't see anything. On occasion, the flickering light of an airplane gave him hope. He was not sure why, maybe it was the hope of one day leaving towards a new life and starting fresh, becoming the man he always imagined himself to be. The logical side of his brain warned him that the past always chases after you regardless how far you go because ultimately you can't run away from yourself and not facing yourself means you will have to live with the consequences of running from yourself for the rest of your life.
Somehow it sounded like the right thing to do for him.
It was not that he resented life or being alive, it was not like he wanted to refuse his condition as a living human being. He did not hate life: he just didn't know what to do with it anymore.
JunHong once told him to continue to do what he was doing with himself even if it was the way it was because YongGook needed it. When he asked JunHong what exactly in all this mess he needed, YongGook remembered JunHong hesitated a little before replying, his fingers twisting the cup of tea on the counter, staring into it as if he was expecting it to spit out an appropriate phrase.
"The...pain?" JunHong had finally told him, dragging out the last word as if he was unsure of it. YongGook burst into laughter back then and threw a random but harmless insult towards the younger man across the counter. JunHong took it with a laugh as well, but it was a distant laugh, accompanied by a look of disappointment in his eyes. It had bothered YongGook for days, the fact that JunHong could be disappointed in him. How could he? They were two of a kind and what they shared was rare.
He thought on that as he did many times before while his steps were carrying him towards the tea shop JunHong worked at. The many lights around the street had caused him to lose his shadow and that thought alarmed him a little for a moment and YongGook was not even sure why, it was another one of those strange moments of his, the kind that bordered some sort of madness. The strange thing was that he knew if he told JunHong about it, he would have understood exactly what he meant.
Him and JunHong shared death between them and that was not a bond a dying man could ever achieve with one set on living; him and the sixteen year old were bound by the depth death gives to a bond, which is probably the strongest of bonds. YongGook still smiled to himself sometimes when he remembered that the first time he met JunHong, he wanted truly and honestly to hit him with a chair. Just because of his big mouth that seemed to come alive at the worst of times. Loud and attention-seeking, JunHong retreated in a world of his own, silent and remote, completely at random. It took YongGook a while to understand what was going on, how JunHong never seemed to eat and how soda cans were more often in his hands than food. How bubble gum was more often found in his pockets than candy bars and how he wore three layers of t-shirts that made him look normal sized for his height. And there were always his wrists, poking from under long sleeves, his bones nearly cutting through the skin, the way his jawline looked sharp enough to cut yourself into.
YongGook did not understand back then why JunHong refused to eat but when he was aware of what the boy was doing, he did not feel worry or fear for him, he did not feel disgust or reluctance towards being in his company. On the contrary, it was the moment YongGook could have said, as much as his black heart allowed him to, that he started to love the boy.
Everything that was wrong with that picture faded in the background and YongGook didn't trouble his mind with it.
JunHong was dying by his own accord and his death was very delicate.
YongGook reached the tea shop and he saw JunHong and his colleague handing out packs of freshly opened tea to a few customers while three others were waiting. He didn't go in and JunHong did not notice him, busy weighing another 50 grams of green tea for the next customer, so YongGook leaned into the wall and watched him through the glass. The tea shop shimmered with warm colors and candle light lit up in two lanterns on the far wall. The wood was dark and the aprons they wore, a deep red. All good enough colors and plays of shadow and light to not make you aware of how pale JunHong actually was. He rolled up his sleeves at times, out of necessity, and his wrist bones protruded painfully through the skin, his knuckles dark shadows moving thin bones on the back of his hand. YongGook saw he was wearing a t-shirt under the black sweater, giving the illusion he was actually a pound or two heavier than he actually was. But YongGook had seen those collarbones rising more and more as the weeks passed, their shadows increasing, he'd cleaned a handful too many strands of hair off JunHong's sweaters not to know he was watching the boy dying.
But JunHong's death, unlike his own, was violent but in a fragile way, his death was like a gothic lolita who artistically arranges her suicide setting, putting every curl of hair into place and making sure she is wearing the perfect outfit. JunHong's death was as close to a high class play it could get: it was artistic in an unintentional way.
And in his death, JunHong was beautiful.
After the customers left, YongGook knocked in the window and JunHong gave him a light smile, signaling him to wait.
The boy juggled school and work, they did not have much time to spend together but YongGook still came over, even if only to walk him home.
What were they?
That was a question he couldn't yet answer.
Sometimes JunHong lit up YongGook's cigarette with lazy and sultry gestures, other times he walked within an arm's length away, and on occasion, he held YongGook's hand, casually, naturally. YongGook had not pushed it away.
When YongGook got so drunk he couldn't even walk, JunHong put up with all his drunken non sense and eventually got him home more or less unharmed. He never told him to stop drinking, to find a purpose in life or to quit smoking; on the contrary, JunHong bought him a pack of stronger cigarettes, which YongGook adopted the very same day. If it was because they were stronger or because their smell reminded him of JunHong, he couldn't tell.
When YongGook found JunHong on his knees in front of the toilet in a bar, throwing up like his life depended on it, he knew it was not because he was sick. He didn't tell him anything, he didn't ask any questions, instead he grabbed a few paper towels and went into the stall, closing the door. YongGook pushed the hair back from JunHong's forehead as the boy spat the last of what he had inside his stomach into the toilet. YongGook pushed back the boy's hair over and over again until he stopped heaving, and then wiped his mouth.
JunHong didn't push him away, he didn't glance at him with questions in his eyes, he kept them down, but he didn't run away or tried to make excuses for himself.
YongGook remembered that time clearly. JunHong hugged him from behind as they stepped out of the stall and buried his face into his jacket, holding on tightly, as tightly as his weak arms could.
"I'm sorry you had to see it." JunHong had told him.
"I didn't even see you eat." YongGook had said. It took him forever, he remembered, to actually get himself to put his own hands over the boy's, which were clutching on his chest.
"I didn't. It was the alcohol, too sweet, too much of... of everything I guess. I couldn't stand knowing it was inside me."
"You should have told me, then. I wouldn't have let you drink it." he had responded, matter-of-factly.
Ever since then, it was enough for JunHong to shake his head just a little, an almost imperceptible move, for YongGook to know he had to push drinks or food away from him or distract the people that were trying to feed him in some way, more than he wanted to be fed, which was, on a good day, just an inch above the survival minimum.
JunHong never took his drink and cigarettes away and YongGook saved him from having to eat.
They never really talked about it, it was just the natural course of events that just seemed 'to happen' in between the two of them. A quiet understanding.
All this, all this mess was what they were and it was just something between them, kept a secret from everyone else.
Sometimes, he kissed JunHong. He was completely tasteless and YongGook found that fascinating.
What they shared was deeper than all this and perhaps it didn't even have a name.
YongGook lit himself a cigarette as JunHong was waving good bye to his colleague and was walking towards the exit. The large jacket and pants did a wonderful job of hiding his bones, but on occasion YongGook noticed how JunHong seemed to collapse under the weight of his own self-imposed sickness, shoulders dropped, his back slightly hunched in the same manner most tall people walk, but YongGook knew it was not just because of his height. JunHong turned around to say something else to his colleague, some laughter was exchanged.
Ah, right there, that was it. That smile. Bright, child-like, radiating with hope and life. JunHong had the best smile YongGook had ever seen and it was the most deceiving and at the same time the most honest thing in the world. That was JunHong's secret weapon and YongGook felt priviledged that he was the only one who knew about it.
As JunHong had once confessed to YongGook, while highly inebriated, smiling, being polite and going through the motions of pleasant conversation was his favorite thing because he was withering away from the inside and no one he met on a daily basis would ever know. It was almost as if it gave him some sort of pleasure to do that and YongGook knew that was a part of JunHong's delicate, artistic death - the burden he would carry on his own, not because he had to but because he chose to.
He wanted his slow death to be beautifully acted like the last performance of a theatre artist: smile. Bow. The curtain falls.
YongGook thought it was dramatically beautiful.
"I respect a man who chose his own means of destruction. I really do." JunHong had once told YongGook, looking him dead in the eye, his childish features completely honest.
That was one of the scaries things: they had no secrets from each other. Once their greatest secrets came out, everything else seemed to follow without the need of many words and each related to the other in perfect sync.
Whatever they shared, they had not come up with a word for it yet.
JunHong stepped out of the tea shop and they both started to walk towards the main street almost at the same time. JunHong was wearing at least three layers of clothes but he still looked cold; by now his immunity system was slowly starting to give up on various functions. YongGook wrapped his scarf around the boy's neck and JunHong, taken by surprise, slowed down his pace and then he gave him the weakest smile:
"You look cold."
"I am cold."
"Do you want to go somewhere?"
"No." the boy shook his head "I feel so tired, I just want to sleep. I feel like I could sleep for days."
"Then you should sleep with me, at least for a few of those days." YongGook replied, matter-of-factly. JunHong gave a light laugh. Weak, powerless. The way his lips curled up and revealed perfect small teeth made YongGook think of snow. He really loves snow.