Note before reading:
Please read 기억한줌 / A Handful of Memories first–you can read it here.
You walk alone, a bag of groceries in one hand. You’re taking your time; it’s been so long since you’ve had any kind of leisurely walk. School keeps you from doing these kinds of things.
You stop by interesting displays on the windows of some shops. There’s one on a teddy bear shop showing teddies of all sizes and shapes. When was the last time I received a teddy bear? You ask yourself as you go by the bear shop and into the front of another shop. This goes on and on until you reach electronics shop being flocked by teenage girls outside. You wonder about the commotion and curiously head over to look, only to see a couple of high-definition television screens.
You think about how odd it is that teenagers ogle at television screens but you just shrug and say to yourself how younger people get more advanced technology every year. You turn and are about to walk away from the television displays when you hear a girl scream a name so familiar, you can’t help but turn around.
There he is. He looks good, as far as anyone can tell. He’s smiling to his fans as if he’s not the least bit exhausted, but you know him. You know him better than the girls standing closest to him, you know him better than the people who see him perform live. You know him better than all the people who scream for his name day by day.
Biting your lip and gripping the plastic bag tighter, you head back without another look at the television screen.
Your university friends drag you to the shopping center; it’s a free period. You tell them that it’s better to spend the period in the library to study for the exams tomorrow, but they never listen. You reluctantly go with them rather than stay in the library alone—there’s something very sad about sitting alone on a table for six in a library that’s too quiet.
The other girls head for a boutique; you say that you’re not in the mood to look at dresses, so you follow your other friends. Before you know it, they’re headed for the one place you haven’t been into for the past months…the one place you’ve been deliberately avoiding for the past months.
What’s wrong? You shake your head at your friend’s question. They don’t know about you and him, and it’s better not to tell them. Everything’s in the past now, so there’s no reason for them to know now. You smile at your friend’s worried face and slowly follow them inside.
The music blares inside the store and you dare not look anywhere. You clench your fist as you hear a familiar tune playing in the background. Please, please, please, you say to yourself. Make this as painless as possible.
You head to where your friends are; they’re listening to a sample CD. You’re smile at them and point that you’re going to look at the other aisle; they nod back, telling you to go ahead.
Slowly, you leave the pop aisle and go to the International Section full of albums from other countries. You look at a few CDs and a couple more, slowly browsing through. As long as the albums remain English or Japanese, there really is no need to worry.
That’s when you hear it.
It’s probably their new song; you haven’t heard it before. You close your eyes and you try to breathe slowly and heavily. When you open your eyes, the first thing you see is a store employee sticking a new poster of his group by the window. You hurriedly go outside the store premises, away from his voice, away from his face, away from everything that reminds you of him.
It’s a blissful Wednesday and you’re off to your next class, your friends waiting outside the classroom, eager to go to the next building. Before you can even get your things, though, someone taps you on your shoulder. You look up; he’s the cheery classmate who keeps bugging you for some reason. He seems friendly and your friends tell you that he’s pretty cute, but you never really notice.
He says hi, and asks where your next class is. You tell him that it’s in the Arts Building and he nods and then gets your things for you. You quickly say no and take back your things. You know he’s just being friendly but there’s only one guy who has ever carried your things for you, and deep inside you don’t want that to change.
Before you leave the classroom, your classmate stops you again. This time, he looks serious. He clears his throat nervously. For some reason, you’re afraid of what he’s going to say to you.
Can we…go out sometime?
Your university friends are starting to worry about you. You haven’t been dating, and you just rejected someone who seems to them as “the cutest guy ever.” You shake your head and tell them that you’re not ready to date anyone. Not yet. That’s when they start getting curious.
One of your friends asks, is your ex-boyfriend really all that?
Another urges you to spill the beans on your past relationship. You do so, but you leave out who he is and what he does. They don’t need to know he’s a celebrity.
Your friends aren’t really sure how to console you about your break-up. Your logical friend asks you, aren’t you the one who broke it off with him?
Another one of your friends plainly advises, forget about him and move on.
You look away from them. Is it that easy to forget and move on?.
A high school friend calls you and asks how you’ve been. You haven’t heard from her for a very long time, so you’re happy to hear from her. You talk about so many things; your conversation lasts a few hours. Then she innocently asks about you and him.
We’ve broken up.
Hearing those words come out of your mouth still sends a stinging sensation straight to your heart.
…oh. I…didn’t know. I really thought you guys were gonna end up together…you know, married and happy…forever…
You really thought so, too.
It’s 10:45 pm and you’re still awake; you’re watching a movie you rented the other day from the video store on the corner of the street. It’s a romantic comedy that you know you watched before but can’t remember exactly when you watched it and who you’re exactly with when you did. The guy in the movie belittles himself by saying he’s really ugly when in fact he’s not, and tries to avoid his once-blind-but-can-now-see girlfriend, who wants to see him more than anyone else.
…you laugh as the memory dawns upon you.
You watched the movie with him. You remember how he seriously related the movie in your relationship. He told you that he’s not exactly good-looking and you’re too beautiful for him, much like the main couple in the movie.
You stopped walking that time, put both your hands on his face and looked him straight in the eye. You told him that you aren’t blind, that you fell in love with a good-looking, talented young man who’s going to blow everyone’s minds out when they see him dancing. You remember how you hugged him afterwards, how you whispered to his ear that you wouldn’t wish for any other boyfriend, that he’s fine just as he is, and that you love him for all he is and all that he isn’t.
You’re too caught up in your memories when your cellphone starts ringing.
You grab your cellphone and take a look: there’s an alarm set.
You’ve forgotten—your cellphone is set to ring an hour before his birthday.
Before you know it, you turn on the radio and listen to him. You know it’s probably going to make things worse in the long run—you’re supposed to try to forget him, after all. But you can’t help it.
You hear his speaking voice once again, the static of the radio in the background, a sad reminder that his voice is for everyone to hear, a thousand listeners tuning in to his show.
A million reasons try to stop you from doing what you want, but your hands tell you differently. Like an involuntary reflex, you dial your phone.
As you hear his voice on your cellphone, it feels like you haven’t broken up. You say hi, he says hi back. His radio partner, his group’s leader, asks you if you have any message for the birthday boy. You say yes and you hear the leader tell you to proceed with your message.
You don’t know if he recognizes your voice, but you go on with your message. There’s so much that you need to tell him, words like I’m sorry, I miss you, Let’s go back together, I made a mistake…there’s so much to be said, but only a few words to express on the radio.
Happy birthday, Hyukjae. I wish you all the best.
…Thank you, he replies, his voice solemn, not a voice of a joyous birthday celebrant. That’s when you know he knows it’s you.
I love you, Hyukjae. You say on the telephone.
…I love you too, he replies. He laughs and goes on to add how much he loves all of his fans. You smile as you end the phone call. It’s enough to hear him say those words, even if it’s not meant to be solely for you.
Then your phone rings. One new message, it says. You read the message…and slowly, a smile appears on your face. You carefully replace your phone atop the small table in your bedroom as you are reminded of that one short message meant only for you.
From: Lee Hyukjae