Authors: David Yoon
Night. I’m in my bed alone, thinking about Paris.
The Songs went on an impromptu two-week vacation to Paris and beyond, because (a) they’re loaded and (b) it gets Joy far, far away from me. Does that sound egotistical? Does that sound crazy?
There are pictures of Joy squinting in the sunlight with her little brother, Ben, before all the usual sights: the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré-Cœur, and so on. Wheels of friggin’ cheese. Friggin’ baguettes in bike baskets.
Joy looks gorgeous, photo filters be damned. And lost. And resigned.
Like, like, like, like, why not. I can pretend they’re kisses she can’t feel.
One night I post a picture of the demented little scroll crazy-man Charles gave me at The Store months and months ago, which I still have. I focus in on the drawing of the nude man and woman and the
and all that.
Joy comments with a little blue heart.
I guess that’s gonna have to be enough.
Days later. Q and I have another rip-roaring all-day dungeon-crawling session. Minutes after he packs up and leaves for the evening, the doorbell rings.
Dad shuffles into the room, sleepy and perplexed. “Who is?”
“Maybe Q forget something,” says Mom.
I look around. “Oh crap, his dice.”
I’m talking about Q’s velvet bag of seventy-dollar dice, hand carved from glistering opalite stone. That’s ten dollars per die, nerds. Q loves these stupid dice. I hoist the bag and give it to Mom.
“So heavy,” she says.
When she gets to the door, I hear murmurs in Korean.
I see Dad shuffle over. The Korean gets louder, more formal.
So I get up to see what the commotion’s all about. It takes a second—my ankle is still tender—but there they are, all standing around our shoe-cluttered foyer.
“Whoa,” I say at the sight of Joy’s dad. He’s wearing a sweater around his shoulders. He is totally that guy who returns from Europe and is flustered that everything’s just as ding-dang American as he left it.
There’s Joy’s mom and little brother, Ben, pressed together by the astonished bucking infant cowboy figurine.
And there’s Joy. She’s wearing a Cheese Barrel Grille polo shirt. Where the hell did she score such an artifact?
I laugh aloud, then want to cry, because an insufferably
maudlin part of me wants to believe she wore the shirt for me to say,
I will always love you.
You know what? Fuck it. That is why she wore the shirt. That’s what I’m going to believe right now. Why else would she, of all days, of all places, for me of all people?
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” says Joy.
Joy’s dad hooks a finger at her mom, who dutifully presents a large fancy bag.
“We wanted to bring you a few things from our trip,” he says. “Just little things.”
In the bag are three fine silk scarves, a crystal brooch, a jar of Dijon mustard from Dijon, a bottle of Champagne from Champagne.
“We are so sorry we did not come sooner once we heard the news,” says Joy’s mom, speaking slowly and without error. “We want to offer our sincere apologies.”
“It’s okay,” says Dad. He looks almost embarrassed to be seen the way he is right now, in the lounge sweats he’s lived in for weeks, holding a trembling to-go cup close just in case he vomits. “Thanks much.”
“If there’s anything you need,” croons Joy’s dad. “Anything at all.”
I keep my eyes on Joy, who can only glance at me for a half second at a time. She must have told them about Dad’s illness during the trip. Her body language says it all: this whole thing is fucking weird.
“Frank,” says my dad. “You take bag upstairs, put it in Mommy closet.”
I reach for the bag. I look at Joy again. She’s bent back a finger so far it looks like it’s going to snap. She still has love for me—I can see it—but she doesn’t know what to do with it.
Neither do I, but for different reasons.
“Thanks for the goodies,” I call over my shoulder, and climb.
When I get to Mom’s closet, I close myself in and breathe in the dark and stare at the bright line under the door growing dimmer and dimmer.
That night, after everyone’s gone to sleep, I sit out in the backyard alone. I’m in brand-new lounge wear: a Stanford shirt-and-shorts combo, sent in a care package from Hanna. I post a terrible photo of the moon with the caption
Good night, backyard summer.
I get a few likes, Joy among them.
For an hour I sit there, listening to the traffic on the freeway, wondering how I must look to Mom-n-Dad and Joy’s family now.
Say me and Joy had been born in Korea. We’d be Korean. We’d belong to a tribe. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’d belong with each other. Because there are tribes within tribes, all separated by gaps everywhere.
Gaps in time, gaps between generations. Money creates gaps.
City mouse, country mouse.
If there are that many micro-tribes all over the place, what does
even mean? What do any of the labels anywhere mean?
My reverie is interrupted by a rustling in the bushes at the far end of the backyard. I jump to my feet and fumble for
my phone light—I’ve always wanted to catch a photo of a possum, or a raccoon.
The possum is huge. It has green in its hair.
It’s not a possum.
“What the fuck?” I say.
“You say that a lot when you see me, you know that?” says Joy.
She extricates herself from the bushes with a graceless kick, then smooths her shirt.
“How—?” I say.
“There’s a gap in the wall three houses down and the fence is all bent,” says Joy. “I have like two minutes. My car’s on the shoulder with the hazards on.”
“I just—I leave tomorrow.”
Crap, she’s right. CMU starts earlier than Stanford. She walks toward me as if on cracking ice.
“I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry,” she says.
She takes another step. I just watch her. She looks so lovely, I want to crush her in my arms and twirl her around, but the fist of my stomach stomps
. So I say nothing.
“I’m just sorry,” she says.
I don’t move. I just stand there with my arms folded.
“I wish I could be more brave,” she says. She takes another step, then takes it back. “I wish I could be as brave as you. I feel so stupid sometimes. I’m eighteen already, I’m a freaking adult already.”
Joy growls at the sky. After a moment, she looks at me again.
“But fuck all that,” she says. “I just want to say I’m sorry. I’m really, pathetically, contemptibly sorry and I want you to forgive me and this sounds like the shittiest thing in the world but you have to know you’re my best friend and I don’t ever want to lose you.”
That last part—
I don’t ever want to lose you
—gets lost as I kiss her.
It’s way longer than two minutes. Let her car get towed away. Let them all.
Because fuck it. I’m not going to waste my life blaming her. I’m not going to waste my life fanning embers of regret alone in the dark.
“I love you, yubs,” says Joy. “I’m always gonna love you. Do you agree that we’re always gonna love each other and that it was all just circumstance?”
“I do too.”
“I now pronounce us husband and wife,” I say. “You may now, uh, go off to college and not see me until the holiday season.”
“Grr, your stupid jokes!” shouts Joy amid the din of the traffic, and lands the best hit ever with her open palm.
“I will love you forever, Joy Song.”
“I just needed to hear you say it.”
“I can’t help but love you, Joy Song.”
“Now I’ll have something to keep.”
“I’ll keep it, too,” I say.
The traffic takes on an insistent tone, and I begin to imagine a curious cop discovering her empty car.
“Your car,” I say.
“I know,” she says.
“Go do you,” I holler, before she heads toward the bushes again.
Joy looks back. Her smile glints in the dark. “What the hell else is there, right?”
The final two weeks of summer pass like cats after an earthquake. Mom-n-Dad, sensing my melancholy, tiptoe around me. Asking if I need anything. Cutting melon after melon.
My ankle feels strong now. I feel taller, as if things healed in such a way to grant me extra height. I leave the house to go for runs without telling anyone, come back whenever, fix my own meals. I’ve been researching the local music scene in and around Palo Alto. I’m starting to see myself there.
I tell Mom-n-Dad all about it, and they can tell I’m getting excited. It makes them sappy (sad plus happy). Because just when they thought their son was all done growing, here I go changing on them all over again. I’m becoming different.
Q notices, too. We finish up
in a blaze of savage glory under my meat-headed command. I do not fight smart. I do not think it through.
“Totally insane man, I love you,” shouts Q.
What neither Q nor Mom nor Dad can see is the secret little chamber in the wunderkammer of my heart, and what it contains.
Back to my campaign of reckless blood: by the time Paul finally shows up to play, we’ve already destroyed the Supreme Bladeling in ¡P’Qatlalteiaq’s central keep, divvied out the piles of treasure, and traveled back to our homelands. Normally we would now spend time gathering resources and healing and training for the next big campaign, but there will be no next big campaign. So Q just closes up the campaign book, folds up his cardboard screens, zips his big backpack shut, and exhales.
Paul examines his figurine of Totec before slipping it into its little special bag.
“I guess we’re finished,” says Paul. “Isang bagsak?”
“So when do you guys leave tomorrow?” says Q.
I look at Paul. “Mr. Olmo, what time?”
Me and Paul are driving north together. I’ll drop Paul off at Santa Cruz, then keep going to Stanford.
“I dunno,” says Paul. “Nine? Ten? Maybe eleven. After lunch?”
“Sunday traffic should be light,” I say. “Convocation’s on the Monday after—it’s all good.”
“I can’t believe this is the last time we’ll—” says Paul, unable to finish.
After a truly uncoordinated group hug that evades headbutts only by millimeters, Paul and Q leave.
Seconds later Mom hustles in. “They leaving already?”
“Oh,” says Mom with a sag. “I saying goodbye.”
“You’ll see them at Thanksgiving.”
Mom starts to say something, but stops. I want to say the same thing.
But Dad won’t be around then.
“Are you okay?” I say.
“I’m okay,” says Mom.
“Mom, just say it. Whatever it is, I want to hear it.”
“I’m okay,” is all Mom will say, and leaves to pretend at laundry.
Joy and I have been texting again. We send idiotic stickers and animations and so on. She sends me a photo of her new dorm room, and a stealthy candid of her roommate, who looks eerily like an African-American version of Brit.
Joy’s messages start out strong but begin to dwindle as she explores her new world. And that, I decide, is perfectly okay. It would be strange otherwise.
That night Mom makes my favorite dinner of seafood pancakes and cold mul naengmyeon noodles, and we try not to panic when Dad makes a heroic show of eating with forced gusto. He winds up vomiting most of it back into a to-go cup.
“I sorry, Mommy,” he says.
“Aigu,” says Mom, which means,
Don’t worry about anything. It wasn’t your fault.
She gives him water to sip. He pushes it aside.
“Gimme two beer, would you, please, Frankie-umma?” he says. That word
. He’s gearing up to something.
“Shouldn’t be drinking, you sick,” says Mom.
“Doctor say drink as much beer as I want, doesn’t matter,” says Dad.
This stops Mom cold. She sees him, sitting next to his son on his last night before college, and understands. She knows the next time I see him might be late one night, after a rushed trip back home from Stanford, in some hospital room.
So she brings the beers. She opens them. She leaves us.
“Beer is terrible,” I say. “Why do you drink it?”
“It’s all-natural barley water,” says Dad, and we toast.
I drink, because I can’t think of anything to say. I drink again. Terrible.
But it’s the best drink I’ve ever had.
“So,” says Dad. “I’m reading other day. I’m learning new word.”
Dad waits for me to take the bait, so I take the bait.
“What word, Dad?”
Dad’s being cryptic. Here we go.
mean, Dad?” I say dutifully.
Dad takes a sip. “I am Korean. You Korean too. But you also American boy, hundred percent. You so-called
. You know
what it is?”
“Sort of,” I say, looking into my beer.
“Spiritual essence, so-called nucleus of soul, like particle, physical particle. You know what is quark? Nothing different. Atom? Nothing different, same-o same.”
“Okay, Dad,” I say.
Meanwhile, Dad winds up for another round of free-form
arcana. I gird myself. Tonight is our last night together. Must maintain.
“Anyway,” says Dad. “Anyway.”
“Anyway what, Dad?” I say.
“I very proud you,” says Dad. “So, so proud. I love you, my son, okay?”
He places his hand atop mine. His skin is so thin. He has a hospital needle port thing taped to his wrist, and always will.
I can barely get out the words, they’re so frozen shut. “I love you too, Dad.”
I get that old floaty feeling again, but this time it’s not me doing the floating. It’s not Dad. It’s all the crap around us. The chairs and toaster and pots and pans and thousands of kooky knickknacks atop bookshelves coming unmoored from their spots in the carpet.
It’s beautiful, this constellation of ephemera.
“Anyway,” Dad declares, restoring gravity with his voice. “Life is but a dream.” He releases my hand with the pretense of wiping clean his sweating beer can. He’s never been comfortable with prolonged physical affection. It’s never been his way. And that’s fine.
“Come on, Dad. Don’t be morbid.”
“No, I’m not be morbid,” says Dad. “Life is but a dream. My dream? So beautiful dream I’m having whole my life, God giving me. Beautiful wife I having. Store success having. Beautiful son Stanford going. My daughter too, beautiful woman she becoming. You telling Hanna my dream is best dream.”
“Tell her yourself,” I say.
Dad laughs, which in Korean means,
I am so terribly ashamed by my own behavior.
“Dad,” I insist. “Tell her yourself. Okay?”
“You need to talk to Hanna. She has big, important things going on right now. You hear me?”
“Okay, Frank, okay.”
I sip the bitter-sour beer. Who likes this crap? I sip it again, and again.
Thank you, beer.
“I going sleep,” says Dad. “Big day tomorrow.”
“Maybe I’m sleeping, you waking me before you going, okay?”
“Of course, Dad.”
“Also music study? No money earning, music,” says Dad. “You majoring business. More better.”
I just laugh to myself. Because you know what? I’ll do what I want anyway. I need to. So did Dad, after all.
“Okay, Dad,” I say.