We had our first fight because I doubted you, because Sam told me that he saw you getting in a car with a man. You looked at me, shocked, before walking away.
But even then, which was in the middle of Myeongdong on a snow-lined street, as I held an umbrella up against the icy rain, the fog allowed us to forget moments like those quickly, in light of the coming end – which we still never addressed. We never spoke of it again.
Sometimes the mood grew somber, and you looked into the distance with a slight smile on your face. You were full of that grace that took nothing for granted, not desiring more than was given, knowing that there were no words that could be said.
You would nod to show that the thought had been considered, but that you would ignore it yet again. That you would rather not say anything, and you forgot it quickly, letting a giggle or laugh escape, as if your joy were held in delicate vases to be released like strokes of pure delight.
It was in that fog that I learned the first trail of clues that would lead me back to you, years later, when you asked me what I was going to do after graduating, and I said I hadn’t figured it out yet, and you looked at me ponderously, growing quiet.
When I asked you the same question, you pursed your lips and wracked your eyebrows, stuttering out a ‘you know, I don’t know’. I couldn’t have known it then, but now that answer makes so much sense.
It was in that fog, thick enough to provide a sense of calm, that I climbed to the top of the hill next to school one afternoon. The air got finer and more attenuated, as I climbed over paths strewn with branches and sunken wooden steps, passing the hiking clubs in their red caps and vests and socks pulled up to the knees.
At the peak I looked out over Shillim, the neighborhood throbbed by the surging wildlife of the city, and felt a moment of peace and asked myself over and over, what if it were all lost?
What do we do when it ends? And even when confronted by the truth, I could not even comprehend the question.
And so I ignored it, because I could not imagine anything beyond the vastness in every second of every minute. I could not imagine the future or the past. I felt no needs, no extraneous desires, and felt a strange sense of settling, an inevitability that I was defenseless against.
And that was what caused me to make my biggest mistake, by not ever answering the question, even when despite the fog you decided that it should be faced, and you broached it for the first and last time, and I hesitated.
During the last waning days, through that last trip to Chuncheon where we rolled in the snow and looked at the full moon rising above the valley, and through the last frantic trips to the beerhouses and bars and food courts and malls, our lives grew taut like we were dancing on the faultlines at the end of the world.
The fog carried us mercilessly right up to the end, because we didn’t know what to do or expect.
It carried us right up to the airport as I was leaving, when I said over and over that I would come back after graduating, when you walked me to the gate and pressed a note in my hand and said not to read it until I got on the plane.
There, as I passed through the sliding door my heart broke into pieces as I waved goodbye, and under the screen I saw your red sneakers stand there, and they stood in place for a while before they turned and slowly walked away.
It was in the remnants of that fog, as I ascended above it on the plane that I took out the note.
It had three characters on it. I had already known what it would say, because it could only say one thing, and it was dated three months previously.
Then I returned to the States and stayed in my room for three straight weeks, because you wouldn’t pick up your phone, and I debated whether to quit the semester and return for you, which I would have done at the slightest sign, and I ran over and over in my head what had happened and what I had done that made you cut me out of your life.
You had decided something without me.
I played through all the images of our relationship, and I held ambivalently on to those memories, saying that if ever there had existed love then it must be made to stay.
I clutched them, although they increasingly fluttered dimly on my chest, and the days cast jaundiced light on it changing it day by day, because it had grown into a life of its own and did not need me any longer to sustain it, and I knew that its fate was to flicker silently to death.
As the weeks went on, the fog completely lifted, and the memories shuddered through me, fading as I watched, terrifyingly receding, as I sought the faintest smell and slightest gesture that would make you come back, come flooding back.
In darkness I closed my eyes, convulsing at the memories of your smile, a cold breath sweeping through me, leaving me pitted and hollow, and I waited in that darkness, for wisdom to alight drop by drop with awful grace.
Outside my window, I watched a sole leaf hang to a branch, as the weather turned cold and bitter. The wind battered it, but it kept crazily holding on. It did not fall, though everything around it had changed.
Then the weather grew warmer and let it be. There was budding growth, and it was fresh but the smell of newness was layered underfoot by its opposite – the smell of festering, a shriveled and ugly death. No longer was there any wind, but no longer were there other leaves, and no longer did it recognize the sun nor the love of its tree. It was alone, and alone it fell.
In the middle of the next semester as it turned to spring again, I had a dream.
A dream where I heard you before I sensed you, a warm laugh, a laugh that filled the caverns where I stayed, and I sensed you before I saw you, a sweet, full thing in that dark, dark night.
The light crept into my eyes, and I saw that it was as if a war had been fought, with debris scattered everywhere. The wind that had battered the roofs and windows the day before had died down, and tree branches were scattered all over the ground.
The wind had left clairvoyance in its wake. The air was chilly and cool, and the aching memories and pain that had been so agonizing just the day before, were muted now.
On the ground was a photograph of us, quaint, yellowed and bent. It was nostalgia bordering on pain but it was not quite pain, it was now merely a memory, not an actual vital thing, because it was no longer part of me.
It was now possible for me to let it go, though I knew that it would stay. The memory was benign, innocuous, replaced or wrought over with a brush, that same brush that had wrought all this, this battlefield, this life. Then I saw you in the distance and smiled, while you approached, and we rounded each other, and it was brittle, it was sweet. Things had passed that prevented us from embracing. But your face was a glow, at peace, and you looked at me intently.