TRACKSIDED

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DARK

JANE

Tae Won nods like a doctor who agrees with diagnostic before saying, “now, I understand why you faint so often.”

“No, that’s something else.”

His stare darkens, “what else?”

“I have panic and anxiety attacks when I’m in a crowd or a car.”

“Why?”

Because I killed your family.

“I just feel uncomfortable, and my breathing halts.”

“There must be a reason; phobias always have a reasonㅡ.”

“Please, Tae Won, can you stop with the questions.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just I think that if I know you better-” he stops as the waitress arrives, asking if we’ve made up our mind.

Once she takes our order, I try to gain the upper hand by talking first.

“You asked your questions. Let me ask mine.”

“Okay.”

“Why did you stop swimming?”

“After my parent’s death, I too had a dangerous phase. I drank a lot and got into fights; I skipped practice, I messed up.

The articles I read didn’t mention this.

“I wasn’t myself, I wanted to die, and I tried without success. So, I killed my potential career and burned every human connection I had.”

Until now, I wondered what connected Tae Won and me. I thought it was an accident. In reality, there’s more; other things link us. That’s why our eyes lock in this peculiar way; he spies in my eye what I see in his.

We are like two shattered car window panes, trying to fix each other or blind men seeking to lead each other out of the dark.

It’s impossible.

Still, we need each other.

I’m the one who holds the truth, and I know I should put a stop to this because, at the end of the road, the glass pieces we are now will be nothing but stardust as we will destroy each other. It’s not a fantasy of mine; I know for sure that in the end, only one will survive if we don’t both die along the way.

We eat, we don’t talk while we eat. As I said, the food here is sacred, but being quick to eat mainly in sikdangs is standard practice. Remember, Koreans are impatient and hate to wait, so to leave space for those in a hurry to eat quickly without speaking too much.

Tae Won presses a buzzer to say that we’ve finished. The waitress comes with the bill.

I take out my card.

“I’ll pay,” Tae Won says.

I know his financial situation, and I see he’s trying to be polite, but I can’t let him pay.

“Let’s split the bill.”

He doesn’t look happy, but we both pay and head out.

“Where should I take you?”

“I’ll take the metro.

He repeats, “where should I take you; I don’t want you to faint somewhere and waking up in Incheon.”

Persistent.

“I’m meeting Mona at Dongdaemun.”

“Okay, I’ll drop you off.”

I can’t say no. Tae Won never takes no for answers.

We walk back to the boxing club where he left his bike, and I climb behind him and grip his waist. Even with his sweater on, I can feel his abs. Tae Won doesn’t wear thick jackets though the weather has gotten colder. He told me he liked the cold; I hate it.

Tae won likes everything I don’t; there’s not much we have in common except our pain.

As he drives, I think of Soo Ae she and the number of times she must have gripped him like I am doing now.

Today more than ever, I know I’m not an adopted child. Like my mother, my capacity to pretend and play the part is above average.

I feel like I’m usurping Soo Ae’s status, impersonating someone I’m not, and I could never be.

I have to give back everything I’ve stolen.

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