“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
- Jamie Anderson
“But love is impossible and it goes on
despite the impossible. You’re the muscle
I cut from the bone and still the bone
remembers, still it wants (so much, it wants)
the flesh back, the real thing,
if only to rail against it, if only
to argue and fight, if only to miss
a solve-able absence.”
— Ada Limón, “In A Mexican Restaurant I Recall How Much You Upset Me”
It’s a bullet hole through her heart with no exit wound in sight. The worst kind of damage in the place that hurts the most, where Jiwon had always counted on to be her safest. Each morning after Heesung, no Hyunsoo had told her his secret, she wakes up, the weight of it pressing her down.
Normally, it’s her husband who’s the one she turns to when she’s in despair. The one she relies on. Trusts. To hold her, to fix her up with tender kisses and careful hands. They’re an artist’s hands after all. Hands that had held their baby. She still remembers how he’d looked as she watched him stand guard outside her mother’s convenience store the night the power went out. How gently he’d held his palm up to catch the snow. It’d stirred a wild aching in her then to see him like that, suddenly fragile and uncoiled, like something in him had let loose just a little to allow him to savor this small joy. He holds her like that, still, after all these years, fingers fluttering with the wonder of it all. Like he’s been blessed just to be snow-kissed, to be touched by her.
Sometimes she’ll slip into their bedroom, tired out from work and the sight of him so familiar on their bed will choke her up with such longing that she can’t bear it. For a moment, just a moment, she’ll let herself forget.
Tonight is one of those nights when it feels like the world’s caving in over her head. She’s seen too much blood and filth today and she just wants to come home to what used to be her sanctuary. When she’s finished showering off the day, she finds him sitting up in bed, blinking sleepily,fond,at her.
“Why are you up already? Did I wake you, honey?” she asks. The word 'honey' still rolls so naturally off her tongue. It's ingrained in her vocabulary by now; her mouth's basic instinct is to form its shape. Her traitorous heart leaps in her chest, threatening to burst with fondness at how he’s looking at her sleep-soft and muzzy, his hair sticking up on one side and so, so, vulnerable. Her gentle, wonderful, kind husband who’d do anything for her and their daughter. Or is he? She examines him; a stranger-killer superimposed over her lover.
He smiles at her warmly. “No,” he says affectionately in that private voice that he reserves just for her. (Or does she only think that because it’s what he lets her see?).
“Oh? You were asleep when I came home,” she says, getting on the bed beside him.
“Hmmm,” he murmurs as he gazes at her, eyes soft, like he can never stop drinking her up, hand reaching up to smooth down her hair. She’d stopped flinching away from his touch after that first time in the hospital, her body falling back into its familiar rhythms. It’s like a reflex, the way it trusts him, as natural as breathing, how she leans into his touch like this. “I was. But I woke up because I had a dream.”
“Was it a nice dream?”
“Mmmmph.” He stretches lazily, smirking. “How did you know?.”
Before, she hadn’t even had to think to answer him. Before, Heesung was a safe place where she didn’t have to perform anymore, where she could just be herself, like slipping on a comfy pair of old worn clothes.
She smiles. “It was about me, wasn’t it?”
He laughs. “Look at you,” he teases. “Always thinking that you’re on everyone’s mind all the time.”
He leans in close to her and whispers, breath fanning hot on her ear, making her feel shivery inside. “Always.” The way he says it sounds truer than true. It makes her want to believe in him.
Her skin remembers his. Her skin does not want to forget. Every part of her aches for him. Like muscle memory. She traces his face slow with her fingertips, looking for phantom imprints, traces that Heesung, the man she’s loved for 14 years is (still) there. She brushes his mouth with her hand. This is her husband . This is her husband’s mouth she’d kissed, overjoyed, the day they found out she was pregnant. He’d tasted like the chocolate cake he’d been baking for her, like euphoria and surety, like someone she’d want to kiss for the rest of her life. This is his face she knows like the back of her hand. How his eyebrows crease when he’s worried, what she’d thought was his tell, even when he’d never voiced his concern. But this, this is also the face of Do Hyun soo. Are they the same person, her Heesung and Do Hyun soo, just with a different name? Did he do the things it’s said he did?
Suddenly, she’s desperate - to get under him, under his skin, inside of him - desperate to see that it’s still her Heesung underneath it all. She wants so fiercely to feel him inside of her that she thinks she must be burning with it. How is the skin of his palms not melting off already? She pulls him into a kiss, searing hot, she, a fire ablaze and all she can breathe is him. She unbuttons his shirt, reaches up to slide it down and off his shoulders.
And she misses him, she kisses him, she misses him.She just wants to take comfort in him. She links her hands behind his shoulders, to keep him close. For a minute she gives herself up, to forget, forget, forgetting.
He breaks the kiss to tuck a piece of her hair carefully behind her ear. “Honey, is this okay?”
She can’t breathe, just nods.
“How do you want me to…?” And it’s so tender, she can feel tears pricking the back of her eyes. He’s so careful, so careful and she remembers now how what had struck her about their first time, was not the sex itself, but the way he’d stopped to cup her face, his lips grazing her cheeks, her forehead, the side of her neck, reverent, like she was someone precious, someone to be worshipped. And after that, there’d been lazy morning sex, days and days of it, and joyful laughter-filled sex and quick desperate sex squeezed in just before she had to head to the station for her next shift. Years and years, of a lovemaking that’d flooded her with a happiness she’d never known before, so bright she’d thought she could close her eyes and still see stars.
“Just,” she says, her voice coming out strangely fragile. “Just, hold me.”
He nods, ever-obedient and eager to please.
“Like this?” he whispers into her ear.
“Yes,” she mumbles. “Just like this.”
I know you better than you know yourself , she’d loved saying to him. What a fool she was. But now, its her who knows more than him. She knows his secret and he doesn’t know she knows. It’s his turn now to be the one left in the dark.
Jiwon has always believed in what she sees. Here is the evidence she knows. Exhibit A: Heesung will always check in with her in bed, even after all this time. Exhibit B: She may not know him like she thought she did but she knows the places on his body where he likes to be touched, how to make him come undone, the way his breath hitches when she kisses him so, what he sounds like when he comes. This she revels in, this she takes. She’ll take every bit of pleasure from him that she can get. I know you , she thinks desperately as she basks in his kisses, the way he plants them all over her body like worship. I KNOW you .
She’d come so close to losing him but here he is now alive, alive, heart beating beneath her fingertips. Jiwon still remembers the frantic desperation she’d felt at his stillness, his pale wet skin, as shed dragged him out of the pool. She kisses him now greedily, her fingers searching out his pulse, fluttering like hummingbird wings beneath her thumb. She traces the peaks and valleys of his body. This, this, what they’re doing is not just about their bodies but also a history, one that they’ve woven together and crafted, the two of them. Fourteen years of it, their bodies as testament, as archive, as memorial site to their love, her love.
She wants to bury herself in him, in his warmth, in his embrace, the feel of his mouth on her skin. She clings onto him, fingers running through his hair, holding on, to the desperate rhythm of her heart beating out I remember, I remember, I remember you, I remember when you were mine.
And I want you. Always. This is her truth.
“Jiwon,” he breathes out, “Jiwon,”, like he’s coming unbound, for her, all for her, and it sounds like something to believe in.