Chapter 3: Severed
FEBRUARY 20, 1998, Friday
We’ve come to this again.
Jinwon thought he was over this monotonous routine the day he got out of the hospital a month ago. Now he was back again with the familiar throb hammering his head and it took him a moment to hear his family call out his name.
On his left was the same heartbeat monitor, his front, the germless walls of the hospital, and on his right, people. They all looked familiar, but he couldn’t decipher who they exactly were.
“Jinwon-ah, are you okay?” an old man in his mid-forties said.
“Oh, my gosh, we were so worried!” the man’s wife said.
“Oppa!” a girl about Jinwon’s age exclaimed.
Jinwon stared at them in confusion, jumping his vision to each face each second. Then he stared at the girl whom he remembered to be his sister.
“Ha… Yeon?” he weakly reached out to her.
“Yeah, Oppa, I’m here,” she responded, clasping his hand.
“Where am I? What… what happened?” he asked.
“The doctors said you had a seizure. They said it was normal since you had a few damages in your brain and because you woke up from your coma too early. It will heal eventually… I hope.”
“Where am I?” Jinwon asked.
“You’re in the hospital, dear,” the woman said. Jinwon stared at her blankly.
“Who…?” Jinwon asked HaYeon.
“T-this is Mom,” HaYeon pointed to her mother.
Jinwon wondered and still, it didn’t make sense to him. “Mom? Who are you?”
And that’s when they knew, Jinwon had forgotten them a second time. His seizure caused him to forget his life again. But exactly what did he forget? Did he forget everything all over again?
“If you don’t mind me asking, Oppa,” HaYeon started, “what do you remember?”
“I…” Jinwon winced trying to dig deep in his memory. “I remember… umph… waking up. Y-you? You… a fight. Urgh…” His head ached and HaYeon forced him to rest again.
“Do you remember anyone other than me?” HaYeon asked.
“I…” he looked around and saw the anticipating faces of his parents. Something boiled inside of him seeing those faces. He felt they were someone important in his life but he couldn’t place it. He didn’t want them to expect he’s completely healed because he really hasn’t. “I don’t think so… I don’t remember. You’re the only one, HaYeon.”
The faces of his parents dropped. Yet, even if they were not remembered by their own son, they were thankful that he at least remembered his own sister. It gave them hope that someday, he will actually regain his old memories back.
FEBRUARY 21, 1998, Saturday
“This is Ginger,” HaYeon introduced Jinwon’s own black poodle to him for the second time. “He was given to you as a gift last, last Christmas.”
“Why was he named Ginger?” Jinwon asked as the dog jumped to his lap. “That’s such a strange name for a black curly dog.”
“I don’t know,” HaYeon shrugged. “You never told me so I never knew. All I know is that it was a gift to you from Steppani-Unnie.”
“Steppani?” Jinwon wondered.
“O-oh? Steppa-uh… Stephanie-Unnie is your girlfriend.” HaYeon bit her lip. She didn’t know if it was right to reveal it or not but it slipped out her mouth anyway.
“Girlfriend?” Jinwon wondered even more and suddenly, he remembered what happened in school a few days back. Stephanie was that girl who stood by him and forgave him when he pushed her away. She was the very first person he saw when he woke up the first time around.
He walked to his table and found the same key necklace that always had a spark in his eyes. This key necklace radiated Stephanie’s love for him somehow—like there were a million stories aching to resurface in his folder of memories. He closed his fist and kept the necklace in his pocket.
“I’m sorry…” he mumbled and pressed the bridge of his nose, remembering how bad he had treated her.
FEBRUARY 22, 1998, Sunday
“How are you? You got me really nervous when you had a seizure in school. I thought I’d lose you,” Stephanie said.
“Well, I’m here still,” Jinwon smiled. “Thank you again… for staying by me when I lost myself.”
“I have not much of a choice,” Stephanie sighed. “I have to be with you.”
“You don’t have to,” Jinwon said. “I can take care of myself, you know.”
“Hey, if I wasn’t there, you would’ve had a seizure without anyone trying to help,” Stephanie said.
“I guess… but you don’t have to be with me always,” Jinwon said. Deep in his heart, he wanted her beside him through this hard life. HaYeon and Stephanie were all that he could remember after losing his memory all over again because of the seizure. He could not deny the fact that he needed them.
He understood the fact that HaYeon cared about him because she was his sister, but the fact that Stephanie always stuck to him never made sense at all. He was but a burden to her—Stephanie, the diligent girl who was smarter than anyone he knew. He could even imagine her with a great career ahead of her. Of course, that’s only what he thought. We all know her future isn’t set.
“Are you trying to push me away?” Stephanie asked. She was not sad, but rather, she understood him. Jinwon didn’t know that she’s carrying his child. He once knew, but because of an accident, it had become the biggest secret kept from him. That was enough of a reason for her to understand why Jinwon would say things like this.
“No, no… I’m just… aren’t you tired of me?” he asked. Oh how he wished Stephanie would say no.
“Maybe,” she sighed. “But the thing is that I can’t.”
Again, he could not understand why Stephanie kept saying “can’t.” Why didn’t she have the ability to let go of a guy like him? The answer may be “love,” but that’s not the answer he was looking for since he hasn’t fully grasped its meaning. There has to be something else. There has to be some clear reason as to why she has been acting this way.
“Why not?” Jinwon asked.
“Do you want me to?” Stephanie asked back. This time, her heart ached. She thought Jinwon didn’t really want her around because he kept asking.
Jinwon avoided her gaze and dared not to answer. Of course he does not want her to get tired of him. He will want her around as long as she looks forward to his future and not his past. Yet is it okay to just admit his feelings like that? Verbalizing out the things his heart screamed out seemed harder than waking up from a coma itself. A simple “no” only had to come out of his mouth, but never did it slip out.
“Here…” Jinwon said, handing her his key necklace. Stephanie’s smile dropped. She could not understand why he was doing this all of a sudden. Why was he giving her his necklace? He should have the key to her lock necklace. The scene horribly looked like they were breaking up during a haze of unrevealed excuses.
“Why are you…?”
“Give it back to me when I feel better,” Jinwon said.
“When would that be?”
“When I’ve become a better man to love.”
MARCH 9, 1998, Monday
“Happy Birthday, Jinwon!”
His house was packed with guests. Almost every person that he once knew was there, but he remembered and recognized none of them. Twice the gifts he received last year were piled up on his table like Christmas because people were saying he deserved more after his accident. The amount did not matter to him though, for all these material things cannot help him in his strife. This day only left him pressured and angered. He was being bombarded every second with memories he couldn’t even remember and repeated questions he was tired of answering. No one was leaving him alone when he wanted to be alone. It was impossible to handle new information about all these people in just one day. Trying to get to know his immediate family was already hard enough for him.
“Stephanie,” Jessica whispered to her best friend, “Would you mind if I give my present to him myself?”
“Not at all, Jessica. Go ahead,” Stephanie smiled. “Why are you asking for my permission? He’s also your best friend. You don’t have to be afraid of him.”
“But he doesn’t talk and he’s cold towards me,” Jessica pouted. “That’s not the Jin-goo I know!”
“He’s just a little annoyed. Just be gentle with him,” Stephanie said. “Now go,” she nudged Jessica, “Say hi to him.”
“C-can you… accompany me please?” Jessica shyly said. Stephanie stared at her and understood what Jessica must be feeling. Jinwon hasn’t spoken to anyone properly besides her and his family.
“Hi, Jinwon,” Stephanie greeted and Jinwon gave her a strained smile. “Jessica has something to give you. You wouldn’t mind accepting it, right?”
“Uh… sure,” he nodded. “It’s my birthday, anyway,” he laughed sarcastically and the two girls brushed it off.
“Happy birthday, Jinwon,” Jessica timidly gave him a rectangular present. Jinwon just accepted it. He didn’t even thank her.
An awkward silence fell upon the two girls. Jinwon stared off into space again right after he received the present. It was as if they didn’t exist in front of him.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Stephanie said, trying to break the silence. Jinwon looked into her eyes and then to Jessica’s. He was annoyed that he was expected to open it. Still, he didn’t want to be a complete jerk. So without saying a word, he lazily tore the wrapper and opened the gift as the two girls watched him.
“It’s a notebook for you to write whatever you remember about yourself. I figured it might come in handy. It’s not much… but, yeah…” Jessica said.
He stared at the blue notebook for a few seconds, as if he was trying to recall what this book was. It seemed familiar to him but he couldn’t understand why. It was newly bought from the stationary store so how did it feel so familiar?
“Is something wrong?” Stephanie asked noticing Jinwon’s disturbed expression.
Jinwon looked up to Stephanie then to Jessica. His eyes suddenly twinkled as he saw Jessica anxiously standing there waiting for an answer.
Flashes of a funeral and a boy trying to comfort a girl sparked in his memory line. Jinwon’s mouth slightly dropped. He gulped, trying to sink in what just happened.
“Y-you…” Jinwon stuttered as he stared at Jessica. Stephanie stared at Jessica in confusion.
“I… I think I remember you!”
Jessica’s eyes dilated and Stephanie’s mouth dropped. Stephanie was happy that he finally remembered something, but was jealous that he remembered Jessica and not her.
“R-remember what?” Jessica asked.
“Um…” Jinwon winced and closed his eyes. The things that flashed before him were too short. He could barely make something out of it other than Jessica’s face and name. “Just… your name and… a funeral?”
Stephanie turned to Jessica to know if there was such a memory of them being in a funeral. It seemed strange that Jinwon would remember them in a place like that, and Stephanie almost thought he had been mistaken. However, the wave of the tragic past flooded Jessica for she had truly been on a funeral with him when they were younger. Frantically, she looked at Stephanie and then to Jinwon, not knowing what or how she was supposed to feel. It was a memory she dared not to remember again, yet here Jinwon was, suddenly reminding her of those memories with just a word. Too shocked that he remembered that memory out of everything, she muffled her cries and fled their presence instantly.
Jinwon got startled and was left speechless at how fast it got the girl crying. Remembering something felt great but not when someone started crying about it. Maybe his past was forgotten for a reason. It was probably for the best—for him and everyone around him.
MARCH 11, 1998, Wednesday
“Kids, we’re leaving for Jeonju next week,” his parents declared.
“Why?” HaYeon asked.
“Where’s that?” Jinwon asked.
“Jinwon, Jeonju is your birthplace. It was where you were raised before we moved here when you were 13. We’re finally setting up the eyeglass shop we’ve been planning for about a year now. And it is also might be better if your memory start from the beginning.”
Jinwon rolled his eyes. Everything sounded interesting until they mentioned his memories again. It seemed as if their goal in life was to help him remember the past when he has made up his mind to leave it forgotten. It didn’t matter to him if his past was happy or not. If he lost his memories twice this year already, something tells him he’s really not supposed to remember whatever he did in the past 19 years.
“Is that alright with you, Jinwon?” they asked.
“Do whatever you think is best,” he sighed and stood up from the couch and locked himself in his room before they could say the word “memory” again.
“Well… maybe this will be good for me… Yeah, no more stupid classmates and peer-pressure to fight. No more people who expect so much. No more close friends who I don’t really know. Yes, this is good for me,” Jinwon said to himself as he closed his eyes.
“I don’t care anymore.”
MARCH 12, 1998, Thursday
Jinwon sat at his front porch gazing at the twinkling stars above him. He could see the Cassiopeia constellation again. Even then when he was with Stephanie a few weeks ago, he was not lying when he saw these five stars up in the sky. He believed he could only see it when he’s happy and tonight, he felt great. He didn’t know why. Maybe it’s because it was peaceful or maybe because he knew he was going to finally leave this place.
“Knock, knock,” a girl’s voice echoed from the gate. Jinwon knew exactly who that was. He was about to get up, but Stephanie already entered like it was her home.
“Oh, hey,” Jinwon’s eyes sparked in excitement seeing her.
“Do you mind if I take you on a walk tonight?” Stephanie asked.
“Sure. Where are we going?”
“I don’t know… just a walk,” she smiled with her hands behind her back.
Jinwon’s heart thumped at the sight of her cuteness in the moment. Every time he meets her, he notices something radiantly beautiful and new about her. “No wonder she’s my girl,” he would often think. “Every little thing about her drives me crazy.”
He walked beside her and placed his hands in his pockets. Since the spring wind still blew a small winter chill, Stephanie wanted to cling to his arm, but she was too distracted by what Jinwon would think about it. She started to fear him ever since that incident in school even though she tried convincing herself that he was nothing to be afraid of. This uncertain idea of who he had become got worse when he gave his key necklace to her. Yes, yes, it was only a matter of trying to understand him because of the accident, but just how long will he be so clueless? How long will he refuse to speak out his thoughts? How long will this torturous time of their lives last? How was she supposed to love him when her heart was all bruised up from so much emotional warfare? Her heart was getting tired of all of these temporary stitches. One move from him could miraculously heal it or shatter it completely.
“I heard your family is leaving for good,” Stephanie started, unable to admit from her lips that Jinwon himself was going to leave, too.
Jinwon’s energy slowly drained away. He did not realize that leaving this place also meant leaving Stephanie behind. He was too caught up in her smile that he forgot about the fact that he couldn’t bring her with him. He also didn’t have the courage to say goodbye. Goodbyes only meant not being able to see someone again for a long time, and applying that word with Stephanie felt like the end of the world. He certainly didn’t want to stop seeing her.
When Jinwon realized how heavy the situation had suddenly become, he chuckled trying to lighten up the mood, “Why, are you going to miss me?”
“Of course I will,” Stephanie answered. “I’m your girlfriend.”
“Are you going to miss me?” Stephanie asked. Jinwon stared at her. He was a bit taken aback by the question. Once again, he could not bring himself to answer. He just turned away. Stephanie tried her hardest again to understand him and dismissed her worries about him.
“You know, this town isn’t much, but it holds a nice story.”
“What kind of story?” Jinwon asked.
“Our story,” she smiled.
Jinwon stayed silent.
“Did I ever take you to our studio?”
“Every Thursdays, the band that you created meets up in this small studio and practices music for school or church. Come! It isn’t far so let’s go there.” And so they took their time to stroll towards the small studio.
“I remember when we first kissed. It was in that studio. Well… it wasn’t exactly our first kiss, but it was our first really long kiss,” Stephanie started talking faster. “Our first kiss was at my house back a few years ago. We were only 16 then and I was still grieving about my mother.”
Jinwon wryly smiled and nodded, indicating he was listening. Though in truth, his ears have shut down.
“Oh and you gave me this lock necklace in that studio. I totally fell for you then. You were so cheesy and sweet. You even tried to play piano just for my sake when you totally sucked at it…”
Jinwon’s mood changed as Stephanie kept telling stories about their past. He refused to look at her and even listen. He figured maybe the stars above him would make things bearable, but the Cassiopeia constellation disappeared. This aggravated him.
The closer they got to the studio, Jinwon already lost track of Stephanie’s story, but she was still babbling on. It irritated him. Stephanie stopped bringing up the past that didn’t feel like his a few weeks ago. Why did she choose this day to bring it up again?
“Please stop. I’m Kim Jinwon the second, not Kim Jinwon the first. Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that I’m not the same person? Whoever March 9 Kim Jinwon was, think of him dead. I’m not him!” he blurted out angrily right in front of her face.
Aghast, Stephanie stood there in front of him, trying to swallow his words. Her eyes brimmed tears, but she choked it in to keep them from falling. All that echoed in her head was to understand where his anger is coming from… but what is there to understand? She’s running out of time. Maybe it’s time to convince her that he was not the Kim Jinwon she fell in love with. After all, the boy who fell in-love with her and also got her pregnant was now declared dead. There’s no good reason to burden him with this problem anymore. She held her head low and nodded, “I understand… I’m sorry.”
She turned around and walked back to her own home. On the outside, she looked fine but her heart was nowhere near a place of consolation. With every step she took felt like a knife trying to slice through her body. The further she got away, the more she struggled to continue. But she had to leave. She had to walk away even if it could kill every bit of light inside her.
Jinwon immediately regretted what he said. He wished he could take them back and run to her, but his legs were too shocked at his sudden outburst. It did not allow him to chase after her. He just stood there near the studio, watching as Stephanie walked farther away.
“Stupid!” he cursed as he slammed the door to his room that night. “How can you be so stupid, Kim Jinwon!”
His frustration began to build up the longer he stood still. It wasn’t long before he threw his desk chair across his room. He messed up his bed sheets and swooped away the contents of his desk. His items scattered on the floor, making tons of ruckus in the evening. HaYeon heard the noise and came in to stop him.
He did not listen.
“Oppa!” HaYeon repeated, grabbing him by his collar while he still tried to thrash the place. Even though HaYeon was just a girl, her strength overpowered his older brother, especially because he was in a fragile state.
“Oppa!” HaYeon called him with her voice deeper than before. She slapped him on the face and glared at him while gripping him tightly by the hand. She was gravely concerned about him, but sometimes, compassion was not what he needed.
His fist clenched as he tried to bottle up his rage. As he panted away his frustration for a few seconds, he wiped the sweat dripping from his forehead and walked out of his own room. He flopped himself to the living room couch and tried his best to stay calm.
“Want to talk about it?” HaYeon crossed her arms to her chest and sat beside her brother.
“I’m sorry… I just need some time on my own,” Jinwon said. That was the last thing he said that night.
MARCH 14, 1998, Saturday
“Are you sure about this? Don’t you think this is just going to you know… upset you even more?” HaYeon asked. They sat on the waiting chairs of the hospital waiting to be called. Stephanie has never considered checking the status of her baby, but she chose today to face the reality before her.
“I’ve had this in me for almost four months now… It’s getting pretty hard to hide. I need to check if it’s okay.”
“Oh, so now you care for this child?” Jessica scoffed. “All this time you never acknowledge it as a baby. Now you want to take care of it?”
“I don’t know what I want.” Stephanie’s deep hoarse voice expressed how she was tiredly not in the mood for Jessica’s lectures right now. It made compassion and gentleness seep through Jessica’s shrill concerns.
“I heard you guys are leaving…” Jessica said to HaYeon.
“Yeah…,” HaYeon sighed. She glanced at Stephanie and laid her hand on her arm. “Are you alright, Unnie?”
Stephanie sighed and ignored Jessica’s question. What was there to feel? Sadness? Regret? Depression? Was she supposed to feel those things? Those feelings were surely inescapable when the one that captured her heart has forgotten her, leaving her without the key to free her from this prison of miseries. However, there was another way to be freed from these bounds, and that was to let the thought of him go. She knew the things that had to be done in order for this to happen, but was that what she was supposed to do? Would it really be okay to cut off half of her body, heart, and mind which had every trace of Jinwon, the father of her coming child?
A nurse called her in the ultrasound room and two girls came along with her. Stephanie was made to lie down on a stiff bed and the doctor asked her a few questions. The doctor was slightly disturbed by how a girl like her got pregnant at such a young age, but she did not say anything about it. Jessica was thankful for that. At least Stephanie wouldn’t be put to shame anytime soon.
The doctor scolded Stephanie, however, for not having any previous checkups before. She said it was quite dangerous if the condition of this child was not known especially since Stephanie was not stable physically and mentally. “It’s like you’re begging for a thrill of danger, and you definitely should not do that, no, no!”
Stephanie lifted up her shirt showing a very visible bump on her stomach. It was a growing thing, indeed. The doctor applied some kind of liquid on it, pressed the ultrasound equipment on it, and soon, the view inside Stephanie’s stomach started to show on the screen in front of her. As the doctor searched for the baby, the baby’s heartbeat began to echo loudly. The new mother, though overwhelmed, didn’t know whether to be happy or to feel scared and confused about the life she was carrying.
“See that? That’s the baby’s head,” the doctor said, pointing out to some kind of shape that had a small body connected to it.
“Oh my gosh…” Jessica’s mouth slightly dropped.
“Wow…,” HaYeon smiled in awe seeing and hearing her niece or nephew alive and well.
Stephanie clenched her teeth as she felt the pain of heartbreak coming again. She wished Jinwon was by her side, gripping her hand in excitement as they fearfully and joyfully discuss the future family ahead of them. She wished the hopeful, optimistic, father Jinwon would be here to celebrate the new life with her, but what were the chances of him being here? “Jinwon the second” said the Jinwon she once knew was dead. And so, dead he is. It’s time to grieve.
She muffled her cry and let the tears fall down. Jessica couldn’t do anything but caress her hair to comfort her. She’s tried so many times to use comforting words but those sweet words do not work anymore. There’s nothing else but time that could heal Stephanie’s heart.
Later in the afternoon, at the Kim’s house stood Stephanie anxiously waiting behind HaYeon for someone to answer the doorbell. Since the Kims were going to leave exactly tomorrow, Jinwon’s parents invited Stephanie over for a private conversation, intentionally a conversation kept secret from Jinwon himself. They wanted to have a word with the girl who was carrying their grandchild. Soon, the door opened, and Jinwon immediately froze at the sight of her.
“Hey…” Jinwon tried to gain some kind of forgiveness from the girl who he scolded for bringing up his unknown past a few nights ago. Contrite words stuck to his throat but he was too slow to let any of them out. Stephanie already avoided his capturing gaze before he could even say anything. She sighed and went in the house without a warm welcome. She didn’t need it. Jinwon couldn’t do anything but watch her enter as if he never existed. And that’s when he thought in agony, “Please, I’m sorry… come back to me.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Kim?” Stephanie called out from the living room. Soon, Jinwon’s mother appeared from upstairs and invited Stephanie over to Mr. Kim’s study. They closed the door and locked it, ensuring that no one would barge in while they have their conversation.
“How are you, Fany-ah?” gently asked Mr. Kim.
“Are you alright?” Mrs. Kim looked at her with caring eyes.
“I heard my baby’s heartbeat this morning,” Stephanie smiled, but it quickly turned to sadness. “It was overwhelming and unbelievable,” her voice trembled as she covered her face and cried. Jinwon’s mom sat beside her and comforted her.
Meanwhile, curious Jinwon pressed his ears closer to the doors. He never understood why Stephanie hung onto him like a leach. Maybe this way, he would find something out. And so, he listened carefully.
“Are you sure you’re going to be alright?” Mrs. Kim softly caressed Stephanie’s hair.
“Don’t you need our support? We can stay here if you want to,” said Mr. Kim. They deeply cared for Stephanie as their own. And since Stephanie was carrying their grandchild, it was only natural for them to at least help her in some way.
“No,” Stephanie sniffed. “It’s best if we all lived our separate ways now. I have people here who love me and will support me. Don’t worry about me.” Even though it sounded the right thing to do, it cut right through her already bruised heart. “He won’t remember me anyway,” she thought and cried even harder.
Jinwon felt a bullet run through his heart. Stephanie had the power to make his family stay, but she didn’t do it. His uncontrollable rage surely took it too far. He once believed that he was perfectly fine on his own even though the doctors clearly stated that he should take it easy on himself because his brain was still quite fragile. Now he knew what they meant. He really was still sick. It took losing Stephanie to realize that.
He was to blame for losing the one thing he gravely needed. He will never be a better man without her. Now it felt like his life lost its purpose.
He stopped listening and walked away. What would be the use of listening any further if it was clear how Stephanie didn’t want him anymore? It would just break his heart even more. However, if only he listened just a little more…
“But will you let us see the baby if we ask to?” Mr. Kim questioned.
“If you wish,” Stephanie nodded. “But don’t ever tell Jinwon.”
“He’s the father. He’ll have to know someday,” Mrs. Kim said.
“I know. But please… just don’t mention anything. To anyone.”
Stephanie stared at the ceiling of her bedroom for about 10 minutes now. Short times like this made her think about nothing, and nothing was better than anything. If she was thinking, her mind would only turn Jinwon, the baby, and her future. All three of those screamed pain for her life. How much more grief can she go through in her life if at the age 18, her heart has been battered to pieces from so much tragedy?
Automatically, her brain started shifting thoughts and once again led her back to the thought of Jinwon. Everything around her room had Jinwon’s memory all over it. There was nothing she could do but watch as they play right before her.
Right at the end of her bed, there they sat one day flipping through magazines. They were talking about college and then the topic lead to her family back in Seoul. She was crying for she felt alone, but Jinwon comforted her, “I’m gonna be here for you…”
JULY 26, 1996, Saturday
“You’re going to be fine, right?” Jinwon said, cupping her face as he wiped her tears away.
“Y-yeah,” she said, slowly forming a smile.
“You sure?” He stared at her with concerned copper brown eyes that reminded her of her brother who protected her when she was young.
“I’ll be fine,” she chuckled as one last tear fell. Not a drop came after that.
“You need to show me that you will be, okay?” he said. Stephanie’s merry eyes started to form into shapes of two crescent moons. She leaned closer and pecked Jinwon’s lips, leaving him stunned. This was the first time their lips had touched.
“I will,” she giggled. Her cheeks went bright pink and out of embarrassment, she covered her cheeks and left the room as quickly as possible.
Stephanie closed her eyes, rejecting the memory that played before her. She grimaced at his question and her own answer on that night they first kissed. “You’re going to be fine, right?” Of course not. Not as long as she is in his arms with a son or daughter in hand, peacefully trying to be the family that could’ve been.
DECEMBER 13, 1997, Saturday
“Do you think we can do this?” she asked the day before the accident—about three months ago. “Do you think we’ll be able to get through this? ‘Cause I honestly don’t know. I’m so scared… so scared that somewhere along the way, we might fall out of love or… the future isn’t as bright as we think it would be.”
“I’m scared, too… but we have to deal with it. There’s nothing else we can do but believe that somewhere along the lines, our mistake could turn into a blessing.”
Even then, she expected something bad to happen between the both of them, but not this soon. Not this bad. If only she could take Jinwon’s wise words to heart, then everything will gradually get better. However, now that Jinwon has truly “died”, she could not seem to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
MARCH 16, 1998, Monday
“Is there someplace you’d like to go for the last time, Jinwon?” Mr. Kim asked before stepping on the gas.
Jinwon thought about it really carefully. He knew he wouldn’t really miss this place. Every little detail about this place irked him only because anywhere a memory might be waiting for him to discover, and he just didn’t don’t want to scavenge for them at all. Leaving would be the best thing for him, but he had to do one last thing.
“The Jung’s home,” he said. Stephanie lived in Jessica’s home and that’s where he wished to go—to see Stephanie. His parents doubt that would be a good idea, but they could not say no. Spoiling him was the best they could do these days to help his condition better.
The doorbell in the Jung family’s home rang.
“Do you think that’s him?” Jessica said as she comforted Stephanie who cried on her shoulder for the fifth time this week.
Stephanie suddenly sat upright and dried her tears.
“You just sit there. I’ll go get it,” Jessica said.
“No,” Stephanie wiped her tears. “I’ll go get it.”
“You don’t have to push yourself in trying to move on, you know,” Jessica sighed.
Stephanie wryly smiled and walked to the door. Jessica couldn’t stop her. She was tired of doing so.
The door swung open and there was none other than Jinwon staring back at her. There was a long moment of silence, but their sorrowful expressions said millions of things.
Soon, Jinwon spoke, “Can’t you make my family stay?” he said. “Can’t you make me stay?”
“I can’t do that,” Stephanie tried to reply coldly, but her bloodshot eyes gave her away.
“Why?” Jinwon thought, though he could not ask it out loud. He knew Stephanie wouldn’t give her the answer he needed.
“Look,” he held her hands causing the tears to rapidly roll down Stephanie’s cheeks. “I love you.”
“I loved you, too,” she replied, slowly prying his hands away from hers. “I loved, but you’re not the same to me anymore.” She closed the door and tears pulsed out much faster. Only between them was a door, but they felt like oceans away from each other. Her knees went week and she fell to the ground. And so, was it really over between them now?
Jinwon tried to process what had happened. He knew this was the end—the very last day he would see her. Even if the future allowed them to come across each other, with words like those shot at him, nothing could win her back—nothing other than his abandoned memories. He walked back to the car and went in without a word.
“How was it?” HaYeon asked.
Jinwon didn’t answer and continued to stare out the window. He stayed like that for the rest of the trip. Though silent in his seat, his thoughts crammed with words of heartache:
“I didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye…”
MARCH 19, 1998, Thursday
Another day passed by without Jinwon. It was incredibly agonizing how the boy who always accompanied her every day was finally out of reach. A memory with him kept haunting her everywhere she went. Sparks of little moments electrified her at every second of the day. His inside jokes pop up in her brain at the most inappropriate times. His scent inside her bedroom suffocated her every night. Her lips quivered longing for his kisses. Even Prince Charming, the dog given to her by him on her 17th birthday to ward away loneliness still lived and breathed beside her every night, reminding her of how compassionate of a boy Jinwon truly was. And since the band used to gather at the Jung’s home often, Jinwon’s dorky laugh still echoed loudly in the living room. And sometimes, even Yohan’s embraces of consolation only remind her of how awfully cold her skin had become without Jinwon’s warmth. She could not avoid him no matter how hard she tried even though he’s already gone.
She looked at the calendar. It was Thursday. Thursday afternoons were usually spent in the small studio where their band played. However, after Jinwon’s accident, all of them stopped coming. Their band practice every week didn’t continue to happen. Without much discussion, their band silently disbanded and their bond was broken.
Stephanie hasn’t been back at that studio for a few months now. Even if no one would be there, she’d like to remember the times she spent with Jinwon there even though it hurts.
Before she turned the knob, music started playing from the other side of the door. That’s strange. No one was supposed to be here today. As mentioned, band practices don’t happen anymore.
Her heart stopped when she realized what was playing.
Nocturne Op. 9 No.2 in Eb Major, the love song Jinwon had always eagerly played for her in the past. Its melody was gentle and steady unlike the imperfect versions Jinwon had done—but that was the horror. With its soft, lullaby tune, emotions effortlessly crawled their way up the barriers of her crib. And she feared, not again should her tears beat her today.
She wasted no time and carefully opened the door. A girl with long, straight black hair was playing the baby-grand piano. It was Seo JooHyun, the youngest in their band, and also the most talented. JooHyun disappeared right after Jinwon’s accident. She refused to see Jessica, Yohan, Hyungsoo, Stephanie, or even HaYeon, whom was her closest friend. She never visited Jinwon in the hospital and didn’t attend his birthday party. And now, JooHyun was right here playing the very piano piece Jinwon craved to learn. Even the lessons she had scheduled with him were not even finished, just discontinued.
Stephanie sighed as the beautiful piece echoed around the room. Memories played before her.
JULY 11, 1996, Thursday
“So what do you do usually to pass time as you wait for your band mates?” Stephanie asked JooHyun back in 1996.
“I just practice my piano. There’s nothing much to do here anyway,” JooHyun said, admiring the black, baby-grand piano before her. “Talking about piano,” she snapped her fingers, “I’ve arranged a perfect piano piece for that song you wrote, Unnie. Want to try and sing along?”
“Oh, did you really? Okay then.”
JooHyun then proceeded to play. Then she gave a simple nod, signaling Stephanie to start singing.
(Song: By Myself – Tiffany)
Please just pass by without acknowledging me
Please don’t even glace at me
On a windy day like this
Don’t give anything to me
I’m folding away my only heart
I’m hiding my only tear
Like it’s the first time we’ve seen each other, like we’re strangers
Just pass by. It has to be like that.
By myself, I confessed my love
I gave love away
In the memories I cherished alone, my tears overflow.
Even if you’re far away, I hope that you’ll be happy.
I’ll bury my love deeply within my heart…
“Woah! You really have an amazing voice, Unnie,” JooHyun clapped.
“And you’re an amazing pianist! You never told me you were this good! This sounds brilliant!” Stephanie praised back. “I only gave you a chord sheet and you made it so bitterly sweet!”
The door opened and it was Jinwon with a big smile on his face.
“Ah, Jinwon Oppa!” JooHyun smiled as she stood up from her piano chair.
“Seoobabyyy!” Jinwon exclaimed and wrapped his arms around his youngest band mate and friend, JooHyun.
Stephanie, who was just standing there, felt a little awkward. She was still a bit new to Koreans and how they use words in English. “Are you guys in a relationship?” she asked with a bit of a tease in her tone.
“Eii, no Unnie!” JooHyun withdrew from Jinwon’s embrace. “He’s just a friend!”
Hyungsoo then barges in while barely carrying parts of his drums.
“Haaay Seobaby, haaay new bandmate!”
“Hyungsoo Oppa!” JooHyun and Jinwon helped him gently lay the drum parts on the corner.
“Seobaby? Are you on a relationship with these guys?” Stephanie teased.
“No. They just call me that because I’m the youngest.”
“Should I start calling you that, too?” Stephanie laughed.
“If you want,” JooHyun chuckled.
“Where’s Yohan?” Jinwon asked Hyungsoo.
“He’s outside with some chick.”
“Yeah, I think she’s also going to join the band.”
“Ah, that’s probably Jessica,” Stephanie said.
Soon the pieces of drums were set up. They just needed to wait for Yohan and the drums’ cymbals.
“Hi, I’m Jinwon,” he said with his natural cute smile as he introduced himself to her, the new member. He looked like a twelve year old with that white, baby-like skin, but in truth, he was the oldest among their group. He was 17 at that time.
“I’m Stephanie,” Stephanie said, with her eyes taking the shape of crescent moons. They looked as if they were almost closed. Jinwon was slightly taken aback by how cute she was. Her smile instantly made his heart melt in some way he couldn’t understand.
“Wow, you have the best eye-smile,” Jinwon smiled, unable to keep himself from saying the truth.
“Thanks,” Stephanie blushed.
“Oh, Fany Unnie,” JooHyun said, breaking Stephanie’s thoughts. “What are you doing here?”
“I should be asking you the same thing,” Stephanie said as she sat beside her. JooHyun didn’t reply and just hung her head low.
“Tell me, why were you playing that Chopin song just now?” Stephanie asked.
“I heard Jinwon Oppa left…” JooHyun looked down. “I miss him.”
“You had a chance to meet him and visit him all you like while he was here. Why did you never show up?”
“With an accident like that… he won’t remember me anyway,” JooHyun sighed. “What’s the use?” Stephanie understood what she meant. Jinwon forgot everyone and he didn’t want to remember. So what’s the use in trying to make an effort? Everything that she did seemed useless at this point.
Her eyes wandered around the studio and felt emotions rushing once again. Too much history was made in this small room. She wouldn’t want to go back here anymore if she only could.
Her eyes landed on the Chopin piece right in front of her. She run her fingers through the black notes and sighed. She then gave it to JooHyun.
“Throw it away.”
Chapter Theme Song:
Noel (노을) – 잊혀진다는 거 (Being Forgotten)
The day we first broke up
I didn’t know what goodbye was
Only after a few days have passed
Not getting a call from you felt so awkward
The empty text message inbox, a day without you
Were we ever in love?
The images of you in many places
At some point are being forgotten
The fact that you’ll be even more forgotten as time goes by
That hurts even more, it just doesn’t feel good
I guess it’s really over now
It finally feels real
Everything that we used to love is now being erased
The times when we were always together
The days I was happy by looking at you
The night I looked for you, asking you to come back
Saying that I missed you
Hiding and crying all night, all of that
And the fact that we’re getting farther apart
That hurts more for me
As I was organizing things one by one
I suddenly thought of this
There were so many things I am sorry for
I wasn’t good enough so I couldn’t express myself
I know you were disappointed with me back then
I guess it’s really over now
It finally feels real
Everything that we used to love is now being erased
The times when we were always together
The days I was happy by looking at you
The night I looked for you, asking you to come back
Saying that I missed you
Hiding and crying all night, all of that
And the fact that we’re getting farther apart
That hurts more for me
On a day when it really hurt a lot
I really missed you
I was so young
I hated you so much
So I hoped you would suffer too
I hoped you would hurt without me too
Your phone number that’s still clearly in my head
The way you talked that always changed
Your body that was so warm
All the things that I miss are being forgotten
That is what hurts