1. Unpacking your belongings in your new dormitory room. A fresh new start. A beautiful new beginning.
2. Setting your alarm for five a.m. and actually being able to wake up at that time. A long, hot shower, wrapped in the warm glow of your own free-associating thoughts. Dressing carefully in your uniform for the first time in months and walking with a light step to school. The morning air is clean and cold, and it is sweet.
3. Actually managing to control yourself to eat half your usual portion and some horrendously slimy salad for breakfast! HAHAHAH. I just hope this keeps up for this whole semester…which is highly unlikely.
4. Having friends who will run eagerly up to you first and throwing their arms around you, saying with utmost sincerity, “I’ve missed you.”
5. Having three cynical and very platonic boy friends tell you you’ve actually gotten much prettier over vacation. WIN. I love you guys:)
6. When two friends you’re really fond of celebrate their 100th-day anniversary of surviving a romantic relationship in a school that bans dating.
7. The last class with your favorite teacher ever – sad but heartwarming. Especially when she mentions you in that last class, saying, “Esther’s writing is beautiful,” and recommending other students to take a look at it for an example of excellent essay writing. <3 I’m going to miss my English teacher so much.
8. Throwing away all the textbooks in your locker from last semester. Stupid statistics. Stupid biology. Into the bin, every one of you! There are few sounds as satisfying as listening to the heavy thump of your torturers crashing into nonexistence.
9. A good friend giving me an unexpectedly lovely gift of a small writing book from a Cambodian night market – so thoughtful of her.
10. An adorable text from a younger sister. A kind word of encouragement from my mother. Thank you.
this year will not be splintered through with ungrateful complaints or uncontrollable depression.
this year will be one shining with gratitude, and intense joy, and smiles that break forth in spite of the tears.
hoping and praying that I will never forget to find happiness in these small, daily shards of beauty in life!
I used to have this friend –
Quiet enough to tell my secrets to
And lean against his shoulder
Tell him I love him platonically –
Sweet enough to walk me home
And text to see if I’d arrived safely,
Cynical enough to add
There’d be nobody dumb enough
To kidnap me anyway,
And tell me I made his life tiresome–
Friendly enough that teachers approved
And didn’t try to break us up,
Close enough that our friends laughed
And asked us twice a day
When was the wedding date.
We said we were just friends –
He loved to read; whenever I
Felt writer’s block steal in,
I pounded on my dead-end door
And asked him where he’d been.
Send me some prompts, I said one day,
And four were duly sent;
Without a thought of how each word
Would my heart break and bend.
I think it’s time to tell the truth…
You know I look at you…
I think about you all the time,
I wish that you did, too…
my friend asked me today as we sat together on the bus, exhausted from four hours of orchestra,
—what did you do during vacation? I mean – for fun?
—writing, I replied, and smiled.
—that’s for fun? he rolled his eyes. you’re always scribbling. so when you’re tired, do you say, ‘oh, I’m going to write, now I feel better’? do you write when you’re sleepy? do you write when you’re bored or sad or mad or depressed?
—why don’t you try taking a break from writing for once? just stop writing? he asked.
—stop writing? I replied, warmly. you might as well tell the fire to stop burning, or my lungs to stop breathing! Writing is the outburst of all the emotions I can never speak, writing is the most honest, self-revealing, and self-healing method of expression I have!
—yeah, yeah, yeah. he laughed and rolled his eyes. to each his own.
I looked out the window at the trees passing in blurs of color and smiled.
—you know what, I said, I’m going to write this down, too.
image courtesy of Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala
In exactly eleven months we will split paths. You will forget me, and I will not forget you. I can’t help feeling a little sad, because despite everything, I will miss you very much.
We split paths long ago in our hearts, or at least you did, one year ago, but the finite and physical distance will certainly make it more real. Swallow any last crumb of hope.
And I’m afraid, K. I’m afraid of meeting someone kind, someone who will understand and accept me for who I am, but I’m afraid of never being able to smile or fall in love with him because I would always be thinking of you.
I’m afraid of locking my heart, bars and all, because it still shrinks with longing for you.
I think you will do well without me, though.
I can see you in a prestigious university, roaming across the campus grounds with your soft, soundless step.
Your hard black eyes will soften as you cross the library and jot down notes and calculations on your favorite subject, because for all your shyness and the way you deny it, you are clever. (Remember you once told me that reading our Economics textbook was as fun as reading a novel?)
You will dance to the music of a different life, find yourself in the arms and the love of different girls. They will write you stories and poems, maybe better than mine, but none quite as heartfelt.
I can see your fingers play her the same song you played for me.
You appeared in my dreams yesterday, your face pale and your eyes ghostly as anthracite as we walked down a valley of purple mists and deep gravel together.
We walked down until the pebbles piled up to our chins and we were drowning in the thick fog, which enveloped us like a thin sea and made your outline faint and shadowy.
The moonlight shone bright white over us as your voice drifted toward me in the darkness: “I’ve missed you, Esther.”
That’s when I woke up, heart aching.
That’s when I knew it was a dream.
Because I knew you would never, ever have missed me.
Or even if you had, you would never have told me.
You asked me one year and several months ago what love meant. I replied then, “I don’t know.” One year and several months later, here I am, but no longer with you, the wind running through my hair as I walk the streets alone. And suddenly I realized what love was. What is love?
Love is when I set down a glass full of water next to your cookie, water because I know you dislike caffeine, the glass blue because I know that’s your favorite color, a triple chocolate chew cookie (your favorite flavor) that I bought five minutes before you came, because I know that you’ll refuse to let me buy yours when you do arrive. A struggle in politeness that my shyness will not permit me to win. So love prompts me to arrive five minutes early always, to buy your favorite cookie before your kindness protests, to fill your blue glass with clear, ice-cold water, and wait with beating heart for your footsteps to echo through the room.
Love is when I lie to you that I’m not hungry, that I’m on a diet, that I don’t like chocolate, because your eyes looked longingly around the cafeteria after you gulped down your share. Love is when my stomach growls but my eyes light up as you say joyfully, “My savior,” and toss it back between your shining white teeth. Love is when I know you’ll steal my snack every time I go into the classroom at eight twenty exactly, but I still run to meet you anyway.
Love is when you’re recommending movies to me, and I say, “But I don’t like—” and you hold your finger to my lips and say with a hint of a smile, “I know, I know. You don’t like action flicks with blood and gore and battle scenes, you like movies with sad, beautiful music and romance and realism and kindness and tragedy with a hint of hope at the very end. You don’t like ‘flower boy’ movie stars in their twenties who dress up like high school kids and say slobbery sentimental stuff. You like movies based on your favorite books, as long as the movies don’t ruin your literary fantasies. You like everything Disney and Studio Ghibli and Pixar on occasion. Right?” and I say, “Right.”
Love is when you’re teaching me math, and pointing out a difficult question to me, you say, “If you solve this question correctly, I’ll buy you everything you want at the convenience store.” I bend over the question, fear and ignorance and panic filling my eyes to the brim, and my pencil swirls in haphazard calculations over the blank paper. Halfway there, you grab my hand and say, “Wait, wait, wait. Backtrack three steps and make sure you didn’t make any mistakes.” And when I finally do solve the question, we smile at each other, and you say, “Let’s go to the convenience store.”
Love is when you run towards me, treading water in flecks of spraying foam and pounding waves, and grabbing my hair you pull me underwater with you. Screaming. Laughing. But I don’t need to hold my breath, because when I’m with you, I always am. Breathless, I mean.
Love is when you walk to the window and stare out into the cool, drifting air of the night sky as my voice slowly pronounces the words of my poetry to you. “Your words are so magical,” you say, and when I look up, I see tears in your eyes. And I think, I wrote these words because you exist. Because from some moment in life, all my love poems had become about you.
Love is when we both sit avoiding each other’s eyes as everyone else filters out of the classroom for the beginning of vacation, unable to say goodbye to each other but also unable to simply leave. Your friends ask, “Aren’t you going to leave?” and you say, “Later.” You look at me. I look down. I take my backpack, walk out the corridor, and hear the scrape of your chair as you follow me. Halfway down the corridor I turn and meet your eyes in one hasty, fleeting blur of color as I blurt, “Goodbye” – “Goodbye” – and I leave, my heart clawing away at the absence of you.
Love is when I sit in the subway station one year and a half since you last spoke kindly to me, scrolling down my threadbare playlist when a song you recommended to me comes to view, and a wave of fresh, cold, vivid pain overwhelms me, stabs me in the stomach and heart and makes my eyes fill with tears and my knees tremble so that I have to sit down suddenly, making people stare. Love is being unable to forget you even when I want desperately to, of being unable to erase every clean and beautiful memory you gave me from the slate of my heart, even when it has been crusted over with the cold looks and unkind words and unfathomable silence you have given since.
Love is me writing of you thinking of me in ways I hope but cannot dare think you ever do.
Love is creasing these words tightly, in a hundredfold folds, every letter lined with memories for you but unable to run forward and place it in your hands. Because love just wants you to be happy, even if it means that love has to let you go.
Love is everything you taught me.
Love is what I wish I could teach you.
Love is me writing these words again and again and again, even though I will never be able to say them to you again:
Recently, a graduate at my high school gained early acceptance into Princeton, Seoul National University, and Cambridge simultaneously. (His regular results haven’t come out yet – I’m sure he’ll get into several more Ivy Leagues with flying colors.)
When he posted on Facebook, “Wow, it sure is easy to get into college,” our whole school was in an uproar (although it turned out later to be a joke post by his friend). “I’d give anything to give you a good kick in the jaw right now,” someone commented. “I’d kill to get into one of those ‘easy’ colleges,” my friends snarled, eyes burning.
With renewed rage, they all reached for a fresh can of caffeine to pull another all-nighter, memorize another page – to do anything, in fact, to strain themselves onto another rung on the ladder of success. Those prestigious, faraway castles in the air called colleges seemed havens of glorious jobs and seas of emerald-green bills – or so we thought.
Now, as a high school student on the threshold of college myself, I have come to disagree.
College undoubtedly offers many benefits: a greater breadth of knowledge, the opportunity to make many compatible companions, and, of course, an intellectually stimulating environment where one is enriched with a plenitude of new experiences.
However, it does not have to be so for everyone. The importance of college has been inflated to far more than it is worth, and in the dog-eat-dog race to get to the “highest” centers of education they can get accepted into, so many, many people have lost sight of more important things – like following their dreams. Like finding happiness. Like love, or memories, or rich experiences, or friendship, or morality, or imagination. It’s really very sad.
I know that as young kids with ambitious dreams and a very limited scope in Korea, it’s only natural (and even commendable) to try hard to get into a good university. But there are far more important things than just the name value of a college.
I hope that even in the midst of the hassle and hustle of a busy senior year, I will never forget that.
Tonight I listen
To the drip of the raindrops
Pearled on the eaves,
And with each faraway plink
I hurt the feelings
Or forfeited the love
Through my mistakes,
Through my own hurt,
Through my thoughtlessness.
My friend who once admired me
As much as I admired her,
Another who once said
I was – perfection,
Only to find the deep flaws
Running through my cracked nature,
One whom I would have laid down
My life to serve,
Instead I bloodied and tarnished,
In revenge for the blood I shed,
Dear God, you most of all
Accept my wounds
And fill my wasted barrenness,
Yet I worse than rejected—
I forgot you.
I whisper – I wish I could tell you
Is it too late
To try again?
Tonight I cup my hands
In the shining night
To catch the raindrops
Pearling on the eaves,