We all feared time.
It was a fear I knew everyone had felt at one point or another. She crept on the best of us, eavesdropping on our conversations and planning our next days accordingly, always being sure to throw in an extra treat.
Each of us feared not the act of growing up or the fact of it; it was the feeling of it. It was knowing we were drifting, slowly, so slowly we weren’t always sure it was happening at all, away from each other. It was not really knowing if we’d see each other again beyond the last week of school for us, ever , it was not making promises we knew we could not keep because we did not know our future selves and none of us could risk selling them off.
The last day of school had been a whirlwind; Hyuck had been in charge of planning the senior prank of the year, and usually, it happened during homecoming week. While it did happen then, he wanted a second one. He had always been in love with high school, of the atmosphere and overwhelmingness. If he could, he’d stay here forever. I think that was why he was going off to become a teacher; he didn’t want to let go of his youth.
Ten and Taeyong were excited, of course. Underneath each of us was this buzzing excitement, for newness and advenures and freedom. For them, they had the ability to go wherever they wanted; they had the grades, the motivation, talents upon talents and most importantly they had confidence . They used all of this, and so they were going out of the country for college together. I never expected different.
For Johnny and I, it was uncertain. I looked around at each of us, of everyone in the halls during passing periods, and I wondered what we were. Our friend group was loved in a subdued way, where people knew us and spoke to us but never in a way that made us important. I could never tell where we fit; whether I was the hipster I always joked about being or just another teenager. I still don’t know.
But Johnny. He was an enigma--smart, attractive, absolutely kind and warm. That’s what made him easy to date and fall in love with; he never made me feel cold and did his best to help me find the way out of it. But that was never his job . His job was never to babysit me, he was never supposed to become my caretaker. And that’s why we broke up.
It was something I told him back when we started dating our sophomore year. If we lasted long enough we would never last beyond our senior year. I’d been afraid then and afraid to this day of holding him back from the person he could be, of the change he could incite if he was dating me past this year. And he agreed easily, understanding my logic completely. But it was more difficult said than done.
It had happened a couple months ago but it still hurt. Dependency was never something you could learn without experiencing it, never something you can prepare yourself for because you do not realize until it’s over. It flared deep within every single time I needed to go to him, every single time I was lonely and needed familiarity, somebody who knew, somebody I didn’t need to explain myself to. But every single time I was reminded with the fact he wasn’t mine anymore, he was never mine alone period, and I needed to move on.
I had been, but everything backfired when he found another girl. They weren’t officially dating but it was perfect. She was tall, but not too tall, of course; long black hair, a face that wasn’t too pretty or too anything. She was simple.
But it was okay. It was okay.
At our final party, final just us party was simple. We covered the melancholy in the air with alcohol and microwave food and layered on top was stories from each of us. Our freshman homecoming dance where I went with Donghyuck because I had a crush on him at the time and he couldn’t say no to me, our sophomore homecoming dance where he didn’t even go. There was stories of arguments and choir competitions and state academic meets.
“What are y’all’s favorite memories?” Yuta asked, still smiling wide from a joke Ten had told them a moment prior. Each of us thought for a moment before I spoke, without really thinking it through.
“Football games. Definitely the football games.” Everyone nodded along, and so I continued.
“I miss going backroading. I mean,” I started laughing, “I’m sad it ended after fucking Ten and Doyoung got their goddamn truck ran into a fence. Those were fun, really.”
“It’s not my fault it was raining! Fuck you,” Ten shouted out to me, and I gave him my middle finger. But all of us went silent after that. The air conditoner came on, and we could hear Taeyong’s washing machine from the laundry room, and the smell of weed and his vape lingered in the air. And it was right.
As each of us slowly started leaving, Johnny waited next to me in the living room while I finished my last beer. It was a strange, cloudy sort of tension, not necesarily uncomfortable but not truly kind, either.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered to him, watching as he turned to face me.
“Wasting your time.” I laughed almost bitterly. “Two years and all you get is dumped before going to college. What a goddamn waste of time,”
“But isn’t that the point of high school?” He squinted his eyes as he looked at the wall across the room, and I assumed it was to avoid looking at me. Johnny had an issue of being afraid of eye contact.
“Weren’t we supposed to waste time, Y/N?” His eyes turned to me, and I knew it was over. It was the way he said it, the way he slightly emphasized my name, the lack of sadness in his voice.
“Nothing in high school is supposed to outlast it, really,” Johnny continued, and I took another swig from my beer.
“Like, nobody stays dating in college. Most people do not marry their high school sweetheart. Most people do not keep their friends. But that isn’t the point . We have to learn, whether it be heartbreak or confrontation or whatever , we’re tasked with the mission to make mistakes and to learn and to move on.”
I took a moment before replying.
“But, Johnny,” A sigh. “How the fuck are we expected to learn ? I know how I feel, I know the sequence of events almost exactly that lead to this. Change builds on decisions, building on top of every single action you make until you cannot remember the first decision that started it. But I do, and I regret it, because I don’t want to move on.” There were tears now; I wiped them away.
“I regret it because I know it was supposed to end this way.” Johnny was crying too, and I tried to smile at him, rolling my eyes and wiping them away again.
Johnny spoke softer, quieter, conviction pure and evident.
“Y/N, the only thing we can do after we decide something is to say we won’t regret it. If we feel guilty over outcomes we would never become anything. Please listen to me when I say you’ll be able to know why it happened, in the future.”
I nodded again before saying one more thing.
“Can I get a hug?”
That was the last time I saw Johnny Seo. We went backroading again one last time, alone, talking to cover up my thoughts and to avoid what was coming. Finality was covered in the night like a glaze on a cake, it made everything hazy, blurry. But it was okay.
We didn’t need to make new happy memories; we needed a final memory. I needed closure. I needed certainty. And while I don’t know if I’m happy or if I really understand anything clearer, I know it’s over. And I think at the very end of anything we need an extra reminder that it’s truly gone.
We cannot outrun time. We cannot outrun change or our fates because that is what makes it fun to be alive, the uncertainty and anxiety. It makes us question, it makes us curious, and most of all it reminds us how good it feels to feels . And even after a moment is over, and the moment after, even when the memories of those moments fade (because eventually, they all do turn into faded pictures in a dresser drawer in a bedroom that was no longer yours to remember), we remember the feelings. We remember what it felt like to be whatever the night was shrouded in.
And we remember that she was with us guiding us all the way.