One’s youth is a strange time. What once was so important becomes a blur. Days of fun and adventure turn into distant memories. It’s like a mirage. You want to reach out and touch, remember, reminisce. But when it’s finally within arm’s length, it disappears. Growing older isn’t all that bad, but people often lose sight of who they wanted to be. Who they are.
Circa 1985, Johnny and Jaehyun were inseparable. They were young and free, bound only to their hearts desires. What started out as an innocent friendship turned quickly into a whirlwind romance but, as it happens with relationships of that kind, it wasn’t destined to last at that time. When Johnny’s family announced that they would be moving to America to expand their company, the neighbourhood was overjoyed. America! What an opportunity! There were only two frowns in the crowd, but who would notice such a thing in the midst of celebration?
Between the laughter and muffled synth-pop, the two snuck away hand in hand to a dark corner somewhere. They lit their surroundings with the clicks of a lighter, but even that became tiring eventually. They allowed the darkness to cover them like a great blanket of comfort, sharing a joint. In that moment, neither would have opposed if the smoke suffocated them, but those plans were put on hold when a little cousin let in the blinding white light after opening the closet door. High pitched laughter erupted, too much for the child to ask about the smoke or the stench. Rushing the child off in another direction, it was decided that they needed somewhere more private. Where better than by the water? In the dark of the evening, few would be around. It was empty enough that they could hold hands and kiss each other every few steps. Now that sadness wasn’t a factor, they floated away with each kiss. Every touch of the lips chipped away a bit of the ground beneath their feet. The breeze swept each other’s scent into their systems, engraving it so deep that they’d linger in the years ahead.
Not quite boys, but not willing to admit they are men. One of 23 years, about to be groomed for his father’s business, and the other 21, unsure of what lies in store for him.
The families parted at the airport, hugs and kisses to say goodbye. One group would keep their feet planted on the ground while the other rose thousands of feet above. Jaehyun’s fingers repeatedly glided across the edge of a crisp, white envelope, unable to let go. All it would take was an extension of the arms. The calling of a name.
Of course he would turn around. He’d steal as many last glances as he could. Jaehyun hugged him. An act of cowardice, but the heartbreak was too mind numbing. He wanted to kiss him, but the family was watching. The whole airport was watching. Now was not the time. He prayed the sound of a zipper opening and closing would be drowned out as he stuffed that envelope into some random pocket where it would stay much longer than intended.
Circa ’95, maybe closer to the new millennium, that envelope was found. No longer was it crisp and white, but crumpled and stained from the passing of time. It was a glum day overall, but the envelope paralleled the left over speck of hope in Pandora’s box. After Johnny’s father’s funeral, the family decided to clear out the attic. His mother was a mess and needed to be held, engulfed by memories of her love. Johnny was familiar with the feeling of losing one’s love, but he had not been allowed to be so vocal about it back then. Now things were out in the open and everyone was ok with it, but it was a few years too late to mourn his Jaehyun. Besides, he wasn’t dead. Hopefully. It’s a scary thing, losing touch.
Johnny pulled out a backpack that was stuffed into some box, accompanied by old scarves and purses of his mother’s. He recognized it as the one he had on him when he left his life in Korea behind. He gave the bag a sad smile, like that of greeting an old friend. Each zipper was pulled up and down to check if it still worked. Every zipper until he got the that one front pocket that was too small to utilize. Just like the others, it worked fine, but unlike the others, there was something there. Crumpled. A bit stained. With his name written hurriedly in the middle of the surface. He excused himself to go somewhere, anywhere else. That handwriting looked so painfully familiar. The glue had lasted all this time but was spared no mercy by Johnny’s nail tearing through the paper.
Dear Johnny, it said.
You’re not gone yet. But I miss you. As I sit here and write this, I can feel your breath behind my ears. I can feel your hand in mine if I leave my palm open for too long. How can I say goodbye? I’m not ready for this to end. Am I foolish in thinking we’d last forever?
The sea on the day of your farewell party, it carried your scent to and from me with the waves. It was cold, wasn’t it? But my chest was on fire. With you. Your warmth. You’re not gone yet, but that warmth is fading. It gets farther as you do. I miss it. I’m trying to cling to something that’s scattering beyond my reach. You’re still in your house right now, so why am I struggling to recall the colour of your eyes? The sound of your voice? I don’t want to forget. I am most afraid of forgetting.
When you’re in America, remember me. Call me. Write to me, if you should so choose. I’ll wait for you, I promise. You’re not obligated to wait for me, my love, but don’t forget me. I don’t think I could bear that. I know I couldn’t.
I love you,
Johnny wanted to take a deep breath in, but the air around him was wispy at best. He was late. He had been stupid not to call or write. He thought Jaehyun wouldn’t want to be plagued by his memory, but how he was wrong. Tears were blinked back as his mother called him back upstairs to help transport some boxes. In conversation, he slipped in curiosity about the Jungs. Did they still talk? Did she know their numbers? Why? No reason, just curious. Fortune took pity on him that day. His mother did have the Jungs number stored in a little black book somewhere.
His fingers shook as he dialled the number. Who could say if it was still in use, or belonged to the same people. A familiar voice answered and Johnny could let out the breath he had been holding in for minutes. He asked Mrs. Jung how things were, if she remembered him. Of course she did. Her son’s best friend of fifteen years- sorry, not "friend.” It took her some time, but she had gotten used to it. Mr. Jung had not been so open. Where was Jaehyun now? America? How coincidental. After hanging up, Johnny looked at the new number that he had copied down on a stray napkin. Mrs. Jung hadn’t mentioned a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend. Perhaps there was time to apologize. To wish him the best.
“Hello?” The voice came through from the other side.
Johnny swore someone had reached in and clenched a fist around his heart. It was slightly deeper now, and more worn-out, but it was him.
Silence. Such a long silence.
“I missed you.”
The two talked. Although they wished it was like old times, that would be a false statement. It was more like getting to know each other all over again. A process. Jaehyun was an office man now. Things were boring. Johnny said the same. Neither was married. Did they want to be? Perhaps they could discuss this in person. Jaehyun, through some blessed twist of fate, was in the same state for a conference.
Both hearts were buzzing before their meeting. When they lay eyes on each other, it was apparent that time had treated them well.
“You look good.”
Over drinks and smiles, they bonded again. Johnny apologized for not finding the letter earlier.
“The letter? Oh, god. The letter.”
“It’s probably… outdated.”
Jaehyun threw his head back, as well as a drink.
“That depends. Did you forget about me?”
Now Johnny was the one downing alcohol.
“I’ll admit, you lingered in my mind. Cruel of you to occupy it for so long.”
Something beautiful burned in their eyes. Aging makes one thing that there is no room for spontaneity in their life anymore, but it’s quite the contrary. What better time to get rid of what binds you than when you solely are in control of your life?
“I have a room upstairs,” Jaehyun stated. There was no point in trying to dress up his suggestion.
“You would not believe how dizzy I feel right now,” Johnny whispered in a low voice with his face buried in the crook of Jaehyun’s neck. He had pushed the other against the wall of his room and was taking the moment to let his hungry hands feel all the things they had been deprived of for the past decade or so.
“I think I feel the same.”
When the room was full with remnants of rasp whispers and years of foregone passion, the scent of each other returned to them like the waves of the water on that evening years ago. It was fair to say they’d never left each other. Familiarity was comfortable enough to show its face and notify them that, perhaps, they were incapable of ever forgetting one another.