“If someone loves a flower,
of which just one single blossom grows
in all the millions of stars,
it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars.”
–Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince
This morning, my youngest sister Eunice had looked me up and down, smiling critically.
“Hmm! You look pretty, but very cold.” She pointed at my bare legs. “It’s freezing today.”
“I’ll be okay.” I dimpled as she smoothed back my hair in her precise, fretful way.
“Ooh, I like your bunny-and-carrot earrings.
Personally, though, I think the carrot’s orange color clashes, so hide it with your hair.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, thanks a lot, kiddo. I don’t trust your fashion sense.”
“This isn’t fashion sense, it’s common sense.”
As we walked down the stairway,
I was rather alarmed to see that the door of the church building had actually shattered
because of the strong wind. I hoped it was not an ill omen.
Eunice paused, again concerned.
“Can’t you wait just another hour?” she pleaded.
“The wind will just get stronger – and colder.”
I shook my head. “Thanks, though. Goodbye!”
She spun me around and jabbed a finger in my chest.
“Don’t you even think about coming home again if you don’t end up with him.”
I blinked at her, then smiled, partly amused and partly touched.
“Sweetheart, I have no idea how the end of this evening will go.
After all, we’ve always had a complicated relationship that’s gone in circles for months.”
“CIRCLES? CIRCLES, my Aunt Fanny!” Eunice exploded. She took in a deep, furious breath.
“Okay. Look. If you break his heart again, I’m going to DISOWN you. DON’T disappoint me.”
I shrugged, smiling. “Wish me luck!” I said lightly,
kissed her on the top of the nose,
and tripped out of church.
A gust of wind blasted into my face, blowing my hair back and leaving me breathless,
but I plowed on.
It would take more than some wind to stop what I had to do today.
Standing pensively in front of the glass window of the subway,
I traced my finger over the filmy blur of dilapidated buildings and crumbling pavements
that whizzed past my view.
Please let this be the right decision.
“This stop is Jam-sil.
The doors are on your right.”
Turning around, I stepped onto the glossy fake-marble platform.
Sitting down in the Jamsil Kyobo Bookstore with a Penguin copy of Washington Square,
a novel by one of my favorite writers – Henry James,
I pondered on my relationship with Y. and all the strange convolutions it had gone through.
Y had asked me to go out with him when I was still in high school,
and I’d rejected him with hurry and distress:
the thought of losing my pseudo-big-brother in the bewildering, unpredictable sea of romance,
the disparity in our ages and futures, the unshakable conviction that I was going to leave Korea
and that he couldn’t, the realization that my family strongly opposed our relationship,
my long-cherished ideal of dating a quiet, clever, serious person fluent in English and exactly my age,
all of these were obstacles I recoiled at, and with some real terror.
Then as we became closer, I had struggled miserably with teetering on the precarious line
somewhere between friendship, and romance, and brother-sister-ness,
and finally caved in enough to ask him if we could be in a temporary relationship until I left the country.
He’d refused. “I don’t see how much I could devote myself
to a relationship with a fixed end,” he said, rather coldly.
Then just last Saturday, he had turned around quietly when we were studying together,
and asked in a low voice, “Do you really want to date me, if only for three months?”
And I felt struck with the blood-deep, guilt-sweeping conviction
that if I said yes, he would date me, even if he knew we would break up in three months,
even if I would forget him entirely once I went to America and move on to a life without him.
Well, now I was here: crumpling and uncrumpling the edges of my skirt
in a tremor of anticipation and the same request he had asked me in high school now on my lips,
wondering where we were going, how long we would last,
if this was the right direction at all.
“My daughter is a very weak woman,” said the doctor in the novel that sat open in my lap,
and I wondered to myself,
Am I being weak?
Then, startled, I flinched violently. Y was crouching down beside me, smiling.
“I can wait for you,” he said, catching me under the chin. “Finish your book.”
“That’s okay,” I said, springing up quickly. “Did you eat dinner?”
“Nope. Let’s go get something to eat. What do you want to eat?”
I laughed. “I saw a Facebook post about a restaurant literally named ‘Anything,’
because that’s where girls always want to go when consulted.”
Y made a face. “Well, we don’t have that convenient restaurant around here.
Want to go to a buffet?”
“Oh dear no,” I said, rather alarmed.
“Well – all right. But nothing too expensive. I don’t have much money.”
“That doesn’t matter,” he said, pushing open the thick glass doors of the building. “Dinner’s on me.”
With a plate of spicy noodles and chicken-embedded rice before us,
I folded my hands together.
I felt so dreadful and nervous, and so anxious to get it over with,
that my voice came out sounding most unnaturally bright.
“So! Um. The reason I wanted to meet you tonight was…”
He looked at me – an unquestioning, calm glance. “Yes?”
“I was speaking with Mother yesterday, and she said – it’s all right.
We can date. All the obstacles I talked about,
they’re not enough to compensate for how miserable we are every week.
And I just wanted to tell you,” I was speaking too quickly, my words trembling and falling all over each other,
but he was smiling and he looked at me neither critically nor coldly,
and I was plunging headlong into a quagmire of complications but I needed to say this:
“I want to begin a relationship with you.”
Y stared at me for a moment. Then he said,
“Is that what you came all the way here for?”
“You could have just called. You know I would have said yes.”
“That’s ludicrous. Of course I should come here and say it myself.”
He broke into a smile then – warm, incredulous, happy.
“Then is this our first date?” he asked, reaching over and taking my hand.
I nodded, feeling a wave of relief wash overwhelmingly over me.
“I like long walks and conversations over coffee. You?”
“Libraries, mostly.” I smiled timidly. “But it’s so nice just sitting here talking with you,
without feeling guilty,
I can’t really think of anything else I’d want.”
He smiled and exhaled slowly.
“Wow. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we.”
And looking at him, I still wasn’t sure of anything:
would we be able to keep dating once I went to America?
Would my family be okay? Would I hurt him? Would the church disapprove?
But we were happy, and a great burden of forced-back tears and heavy loneliness
had vanished from my heart. It was enough.
It was more than enough.