Authors: David Yoon
“Nah,” I say. “We’re pros by now.”
Joy gives me a weak laugh. Then her face falls. It’s a sad, miserable little joke.
“We’ll just take it as it comes,” I say. “We still have the rest of the year.”
“The rest of the year,” says Joy.
A whisper in my head says,
I just want to walk away from it all.
I don’t exactly know what this means. But I don’t dare
say it out loud. Not while Joy and I lie here under this warm felled sunbeam.
I just want to walk away from it all
makes it sound like Joy is part of the problem.
I just want to walk away from it all
makes it sound like I want to break up with her, which I do not.
But it would make things simpler, though, wouldn’t it,
says the whisper.
I say back.
Just like living alone in a desert bunker would make things simpler.
Joy is part of the problem just like I’m part of the problem just like Mom-n-Dad are part of the problem and so on. We’re all part of it whether we want to be or not. Everyone is part of the problem, and everyone is part of the solution, and that’s what makes everything so infuriating.
I think all I really want to say is
I wish things were simpler.
But I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately. It hurts a little more each time.
Summer will come and go. Dad will most likely pass on. In Korean,
to pass on
, which means
to go back
Oh my god, back to where?
Then Mom comes home, with only a ten-minute gap in between and Mom none the wiser. We excel at running down low, me and Joy.
Usually Mom fusses over me when she gets home:
you eating something, you go playing Q’s house, you study for SAT,
and so on. But she just sits at the empty dining table, which
we never use, and listens to the distant freeway traffic go shh, shh.
“Store so hot today,” says Mom.
“Did Dad turn on the AC?”
“He don’t!” cries Mom. “He so stingy.”
The urge to say,
What the fuck’s he waiting for?
rages, then ebbs.
“Aigu, so tired today,” says Mom. She goes to the living room couch and rests her body there.
Mom takes a deep breath, holds it, and sighs one big sigh. She flops her wrist across her eyes. “Mommy so tired,” she says.
I watch her begin to slip out of consciousness.
“So hot,” mumbles Mom, even though it’s not. “Frankie-ya, you open window?”
I open up the house to let the breeze in. “That better?” I say.
But Mom doesn’t answer, because she’s already still.
The white curtains from the open windows billow back and forth without a sound. Back and forth, moved by the breathing of the warm sun-swept wind.
The High School Era is slowly disintegrating into a preapocalyptic orgy of wanton dereliction. People ditch school to have lunch off-campus. The bell rings, but people ignore it to continue lying on the grass or whatever. There’s a mandatory assembly for some presentation by the Associated Student Body to show off all their accomplishments; hardly anyone shows up. Even the school president herself is absent. Five minutes in, a flock of corn tortillas go flying onto the stage from somewhere in the audience, and the vice principal literally throws his hands up and walks away.
Mr. Soft has foreseen the coming of this proverbial tortilla storm. Mr. Soft is prepared. He hauled in his outrageous 8K projector from home—apparently he’s an avid home theater product review blogger in his spare time—and is letting us watch whatever we can bring in on disc. He even brought in a little popcorn machine. Forget calculus. It’s popcorn and movies at seven o’clock in the morning.
“I’m so proud of you turkeys,” says Mr. Soft. “These last two months, all we’re gonna do is celebrate each and every one of you as those acceptance letters come rolling in.”
And roll in they do.
Naima Gupta got in to The Harvard. She found out during class and sent her laptop clattering to the floor. Extra popcorn for her.
Did I get into The Harvard? With my email notifications muted, only the mail sitting in the Bag of Holding can say.
Do my parents still care about The Harvard like they used to?
Amelie Shim got into the University of Chicago. Paul Olmo, University of California at Santa Cruz. Brit Means got into the University of California at Davis, as planned. I’m happy for her. I’ll never visit her, never see her dorm room, never see her favorite spot on campus to sit and daydream. It’s strange that I once wanted these things so bad.
Andrew Kim got into Yale, where his acting dreams will surely come true. John Lim and Ella Chang both got in to UCLA. They haven’t come out to their parents yet. Wu Tang got into USC and will join his family pantheon of strong-jawed Trojan grads.
I force Q to ditch fourth period to tell him all about the blowup at the Gathering, and how it sent me and Joy pinwheeling skyward, and how my dad has thousands of tiny-tiny time bombs throbbing inside him. Q listens. He can only frown at the ground: the surface of the planet Earth, such an unfair place, so messy and tragic all the time.
Then Q cries. He cries until the bottoms of his glasses fill
up. I take them off, wipe the lenses clean with my tee shirt.
“I’m sorry I’m crying like an infant with gigantism and a poopy diaper,” says Q.
“It’s okay, abnormally huge baby,” I say, and reach out to hold his arm.
Students walk by and glance at us, probably wondering if we’re a couple who has just broken up in the last weeks of school. That sort of thing has been happening all over campus. End of Days.
“No,” says Q. “I mean I’m sorry I’m giving you yet another problem to deal with. You’ve got enough crying of your own. Last thing you need is me piling on more.”
“Pile away, old bean,” I say. “There’s room.”
“I just,” says Q with a mighty sniff, “what the fuck does any of this mean? You live, you work, you die? One day you fight with your friends from forever and then the next day you’re just strangers again? Is that what the universe is telling us here?”
“I know, right?”
Q pretends to push up his glasses, but I know he’s hiding his eyes with his hand. “Is that gonna happen to us?”
“Hey,” I bark. “No way. Stop that noise.”
Q blinks at the lockers, the shiny linoleum floor, the doors. “I’m gonna miss this infernal asylum,” he says. “My mom said the last of the envelopes arrived today.”
“Mine too. She’s putting them in the Bag of Holding, yeah?”
Q shoots me a look. “Is your mom?”
I nod. “I guess our bags are finally complete.”
“And you haven’t peeked.”
“My boy, none of us know shit.”
Q lets his head fall on my shoulder. “I love you, man.”
“And I love you too, top chap.”
“I’m so, so sorry about your dad—”
I raise a hand to stop Q. Enough of this sobbing. “What did the nut say to the other nut it was chasing?” I say.
“I’m a cashew.”
I look straight into Q’s eyes. “What did one nut say to the other nut it was chasing?”
Q meets my gaze. His irises are so dark his pupils vanish into them.
“I’m a cash—” I say.
“Puhahahahahaha,” says Q. “Geehahahahakekekekek.”
“Say it,” I say. “Don’t spray it.”
An hour before school ends, me and Joy conspire to get to the somnolent Consta early to see how many kisses we can fit in before Q arrives to ride with us.
“Let’s go out to Mouse World Theme Park this Saturday,” I blurt.
Joy smiles, but gets cut short. “I can’t. I have a Gathering.”
I elevate my eyebrows as far as they will go:
She gives a sad shrug. “Just the Kims and the Changs.”
“So it’s true,” I say. “Everyone’s chosen sides.”
Now it’s Joy’s turn to raise an eyebrow.
“I have a Gathering on Sunday,” I say. “Just the Lims.”
“Wow,” says Joy with dismay.
“Whatever,” I say, and reel my beautiful girlfriend Joy in for a kiss. But it’s like kissing a ham.
“What’s wrong?” I say.
“I don’t know,” says Joy.
I look at her.
Joy draws a circle on her thigh. “Here’s us. Kissy-kissy. But outside the circle is all this endless bullshit. And it just sucks. It makes me feel icky and tainted.”
“Like a forest covered in tar,” I mutter.
“I said, ‘Me too.’”
I cover the circle with my palm, then place her hand atop mine.
“Can we agree not to let the endless bullshit get to us?” I say.
“Can you agree that it sometimes will, though?” says Joy. “I mean, I can’t believe I have a king dick for a dad. I’m so ashamed of him. His pride. Fucking with our lives.”
I raise the armrest and pull Joy closer. A brown leaf blows in from outside and lands on my thigh. The leaf’s cells have dried out and turned it into lace.
How long do our parents hold power over us? I wonder. Is it only as long as we let them?
As if in answer, Hanna finally texts back on my fartphone.
You can have anything you want in my room,
you wearing my clothes too? Bad joke, I would totally support you if you had gender issues to work out
Maybe the answer is forever: our parents hold power over us until they die and beyond.
I promise myself to call Hanna soon.
“Compose thine garmenture,” says a voice. “For here approacheth anon your humble servant Q with such light step that the snowflake herself wouldst grow heavy with envy at missing—”
“Ask him who he likes,” I say to Joy. “Blindside him.”
Joy pops her head out the window.
“Who do you like?” she yells.
“I shall whisper the answer to that mystery upon my last breath,” says Q, not missing a single damn beat. “And not a sigh ere. Motherfucker.”
“Grr,” says Joy. She climbs into the back seat so Q can ride shotgun. We arrange ourselves like this for a specific reason: for visibility.
As we gather the Bags of Holding.
We head to my house first. I park right in the driveway. Mom peeks out and flashes a frown at the sight of Joy in the irreproachable Consta. But she also sees Q riding shotgun, and smiles and waves like normal.
I run in, grab my Bag of Holding, and drive off.
We get to Joy’s house. Joy gives my right earlobe a pinch as she hops out, heaves open the front door of her house, and disappears for a long, soundless moment before reappearing. The great door is easing closed behind her when it stops.
Joy’s dad stands there. Impeccable. Intelligent. Penetrating.
I see Joy’s dad say something to Joy. Joy says something back. He raises a cautionary finger, still staring right at me, and says something more. Then he looks at Q, and suddenly gives an absurdly cheerful wave.
Jesus, what would this guy do if it were just me and Joy without Q?
I watch Joy groan, twirl her hair into a spinning umbrella of green underglow, and hustle back to the car.
“Let’s get the fuck outta here,” she sighs.
So I drive. Joy’s dad’s eyes follow us as we leave.
“You okay?” I say.
“Yeah-but-nah,” says Joy.
“I feel that,” I say.
“Our parents, who wanted us to date, no longer want us to date,” says Joy to Q. “Can you believe that shit?”
“Actually, yes,” says Q.
We hit Q’s house last. While Q runs up his four-hundred-mile-long gravel driveway, I stretch myself to the back seat to clock in a few more kisses with Joy. Hot twin sister Evon appears in one of the windows, rolls her eyes at us, and vanishes.
“That crazy wingnut has all my phone chargers,” I say.
“I’ll kill her,” says Joy.
When we reach Cafe Adagio, it’s nearly empty: no students with their laptops, no nothing.
“I guess the senioritis has hit this place, too,” I say.
“Inflammation of the senior,” says Joy.
We order our drinks and take over the biggest table we can
find. Q instructs us to raise our Bags of Holding laden with envelopes.
There are two types of college admissions responses: Fat envelopes and Thin envelopes. Fat is good. You want Fat. Fat means
we have lots to talk about, and we need all this space for all the words
Thin, on the other hand, means they need space for only one word.
“This is it,” says Q. “Dump on the count of three. Joy, do not jump the gun this time.”
“I won’t,” says Joy.
“I mean it,” says Q.
“I won’t, jeez,” says Joy.
“One,” I say.
“IgotinIgotin,” cries Joy. Six envelopes now lie tumbled before her, two Thin, four Fat, and she holds up a Fat marked with the Carnegie Mellon University logo.
Q and I still stand poised with our Bags of Holding as Joy springs up and down.
“I knew you’d get in,” I tell her, beaming. “I knew it. You’re a rock star.”
“Thank you, Frankie,” says Joy, and kisses me. She gives me a look. I know what the look means, because I’m giving the same look to her, too. It’s the look that says
I guess this is really happening.
“Come on, Frank, onetwothree dump,” sighs Q.
“Onetwothree dump,” I say.
We dump. The envelopes spill onto the table like fish.
I sift through my pile. UC Berkeley, in. Yes. I pump a fist.
Goal achieved. UCLA, in. Too close to home, but I’ll keep it in my back pocket. Princeton, no, whatever, and The Harvard, no. Also whatever. I was expecting nos from those two. Plus, at the moment I could not care less.
Because now I see a big red
and a tree: one of the stupidest logos ever created, but to me it transforms the envelope it adorns into a priceless work of art.
It is a Fat.
It is Stanford.
The Harvard of the West.
Actually, fuck everybody: Harvard’s the goddamn Stanford of the East.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa,” says Joy, and leaps onto my back. I stumble to keep my balance. I feel dumbfounded, like my face has just been hit by a flying bag of marshmallows, and I slowly turn to face Q.
“We’re gonna be roommates,” I say.
“My man!” screams Q, and hugs my neck.
Now there are two people hanging off my body. My two best friends on the surface of this unfair, messy, and tragic planet Earth.
“Ow,” I say.
Q lets go; Joy slips off as I tip backward, hitting her butt on the floor.
“Let me see yours,” I say to Q. “Where is it?”
We sift through his prodigious pile—Q applied to fifteen schools—using all six of our hands to spread everything across the whole table surface.
“Where is it, where is it,” I say. I’m scanning for the big red
and its tree. Howard, Georgia Tech, Cal Tech, Cornell, all Fats, and finally there it is: Stanford.
It’s a Thin.
Everything’s gone quiet. Even the baristas say nothing. They eye us nervously from behind their big coffee machines.
“Q,” I say.
Q’s knees buckle once and he catches himself at the edge of the table.
“I don’t get it,” says Q. He carefully picks up the envelope and tugs at its edges, like maybe it shrank in the wash. Then he lets it drop.
“But my uncle does research there,” says Q to no one. “Even my stupid sister got in. This makes no sense.”
“Oh, Q,” says Joy.
Now it’s our turn to hang off of him. He doesn’t handle the weight so well, and falls into a chair.
“Stanford was my only West Coast school,” says Q. “I just assumed.”
“You didn’t apply to Berkeley?”
Q shakes his head. “I just assumed.”
“What’s your second choice?”
Q shrugs and nudges a Fat on the pile. “Well, I guess I got into MIT, but.”
My eyes go flat. “You got into MIT.”
He shrugs at the envelope. It is most definitely a Fat. It’s the most Fat one there.
“You got into MIT,” I say.
“We’re gonna be so far away from each other,” he says.
Q, I decide, is the stupidest smart person I know. I take the envelope, hold it by two corners, and give it a generous backswing.
“Don’t,” says Joy.
“I have to do this,” I say, and score a clean hit to Q’s temple.
“You got into MIT,” I say, hitting Q over and over again. “You got into MIT. You got into MIT.”
“I guess that’s something to be proud of, huh,” says Q finally.
There’s a pitter-patter of applause coming from behind the counter as the glamorous baristas clap their finely boned hands together.
“You kids are, like, smart,” says the male barista.
“Jyeah,” says the female barista through her chewing gum.
Me, Joy, and Q huddle in close for a group forehead hug.
“We did it,” I say. “I’m happy and sad at the same time.”
“Sappy,” says Q.
“Had,” says Joy.
When I get home, I flop the Stanford Fat onto the kitchen counter. Mom smiles like
I knew it.
Of course Mom knew. She’s the one who’s been dutifully packing the Bag of Holding in the first place. She takes the Thin from Harvard and simply rips it in half and smiles.