박 재: Him
“The boy woke up from another awful nightmare. Bad memories from the past that he wanted to remove from his mind were replayed in his dreams every night and haunted him endlessly. The boy was terrified of falling asleep.”
-The Boy Who Fed on Nightmares
Park Jay [박재]
Park Jay’s slender yet fragile hands fiddled against the dark-colored jacket that coated his being; a dingy contrast to the white illumination of the psychologist’s office. He was both nervous and freezing, to be honest—both his hands shook with the intensity of those feelings—but he never stated it to the man clad in white robes sitting across him. Instead, Jay let his fingers scratch the swollen base of his right hand’s thumb, leaving chafe marks that would later turn into wounds. He leaned back on the plush red seat he had settled on, promptly staring at the nameplate that screamed Dr. Nick Murray, Psychology in bold letters.
“Okay,” continued Dr. Nick, flipping a file back on the folder he was holding before gazing back at Jay. “How about the nightmares?”
“Here, there,” Jay answered in a slightly jaunted tone to cover up the shaking in his voice. “They come and go.”
The psychologist nodded as he jotted down notes on to the paper. “Any changes in it?”
“Same old.” Grinning even though there was nothing funny, he casually flicked a finger at the seat, trying to seem haughty instead of tense. “The typical: shots ringing, people dying, me . . . drowning. You of all people should know what they usually are.”
“No, Jay,” replied Dr. Nick. “You, of all people, should know them. Only you.”
Jay bit his lip, his fraud arrogance deflating. “Come on, old man. I was just kidding.”
“Well, I wasn’t.” Dr. Nick began ignoring the increased hand-scratching and anxious actions but took note of it down. “So, I heard you’re leaving in a few days. When is that, exactly?” he asked, peering back at Jay through his half-moon glasses perched on top of his nose.
“Tonight. The plans have been changing so drastically, I can’t even follow through anymore. I wouldn’t even be surprised if my mother fetches me right now and drags me to the airport.”
Dr. Nick aligned the papers in its folder. “I think we’re done here.”
“Great.” For once, Jay was not lying. He stood up, brushing his jeans nonchalantly before striding to the door without a backward glance. “See you never?”
“I am actually hoping for that.”
“I’m not sure if I should be offended, but, whatever. Ciao.” He twisted the doorknob and slipped out, hands gripping his jacket as an attempt to stay strong.
“Jay,” Dr. Nick called out just before the door shut behind Jay. He stopped, hearing the door slowly creak into a close. “Running away is never the answer.”
The door slammed shut, sealing a wall between Jay and his past.
Three-year-old Jay had never seen such a humongous plane before. It was white, carmine, and gigantic; a hundred thousand times bigger than the puny aircraft toy he was holding.
“Mama, where are we going?” he asked, looking up to his mother as she held both his hand and their luggage. His father had already gone inside the plane, talking to one of the attendants in red.
Mrs. Park did not spare him a glance; she was staring up at her husband, gesturing in an almost frustrated manner. “Somewhere awesome,” she muttered almost distractedly to Jay in order to stop him from grabbing the hem of her blouse. “You’d like that, won’t you?”
“Somewhere awesome? Wow!” Jay could already imagine it, him soaring high up in the air, like the colorless rectangular bamboo kite he and his mother fly around during New Year. “But, Mama, where?”
Another attendant scurried towards them, leading them to their seats. His mother was yet again preoccupied. “Honey, not now.”
Mr. Park appeared. Jay looked up to him too, seeing the worn look on his father’s face as he whispered something to Mrs. Park. Jay pulled at his shirt. “Papa, where are we going?” he asked once more, but his father was still talking to Mrs. Park. “Papa?”
Finally, his father peered down at him. “Yes, Jay?”
’Where are we going? Mama’s not telling.”
Mr. Park stared at him before sighing. He crouched down so that Jay wouldn’t have to look up. “To California. Do you know where that is?”
“In the States!” he cried in delight. “But why are we going there, Papa?”
“Because Papa have some business to do with Mr. Jeon.” Mr. Park stood up. “It’s gonna be a long trip. You better buckle up in your seat, buddy. In the meanwhile, behave okay?”
With one last ruffle of Jay’s hair, Mr. Park left.
It was all nothing but a passing blur outside the bus.
In reality, the scenery before them was awe-striking. The beautiful towers, structures, and architectures passed them leisurely, owing oohs and ahhs from the tourists beside them as the bright colors slowly trudged into their sights. The surrounding seemed magical with the clicks and flashes of cameras that distributed to the unrealistic feel, glittering underneath the bright rays of glowing golden yellow sun. Even the smooth concrete beneath the storm of strangers’ shoes twinkled brightly.
They were like paintings lovingly and scrupulously made by careful, expert hands — but to the man staring behind the tinted bus window, they were nothing, nothing but mixed palettes of colors and undistinguished shapes smudged against the window he had been staring at.
Park Jay had been gazing at the landscape before him all throughout the ride. Ever since he stepped into the plane, out the airport, and into the bus — heck, even way before that. To him, it felt weird riding back home after seventeen years of living in a foreign country . . . if he would ever dare call Seoul ′home’.
South Korea had never been Jay’s home. Not once. Not now, not ever.
Jay’s last and actual memory of his birthplace was staring down at the land through the plane windows as they flew out of it to live in California for his father’s business. That was about eighteen years ago, and he had been living in Cali since he was two. Just like a crazy rich Asian boy from a wealthy family, Jay graduated primary and middle grades from top schools, and believe him when he said that living in Cali taught him many things.
For example, speaking and reading in both English and Korean came to Jay as easily as breathing; skimming through business contracts and understanding what they meant was essential, especially if the topic was business management. He lived his life grandly, thanks to his family’s companies, yet he learned how to become a swimmer, a dancer, and a singer by watching athletes and street performers. Being called ‘Chinese’ even though he was Korean by blood and being singled out by racists was a normal basis. He knew how it was to live in a place he wasn’t born in and still be able to call it his own home. He learned lots of insights, both the good and bad.
Jay was a man who knew many things. He handled many things. His potentials and abilities were gifts he never took for granted. In fact, he tried improving his talents to be able to use them in near future situations: theatre arts, ballet, athletic performance, scholarships, and many other situations. Circumstances, even.
Just like now.
You see, Jay not only had a plethora of physical talents, but he also had several astonishing mental abilities. Academically and emotionally, he was flawless. And one thing he was an expert at—a mastered profession, even—was pretending.
It was one of his extremely useful abilities. He even liked to think that he was a master when it came to masking his own feelings; he could fool both the people around him and his own self. Actually, it wasn’t a surprise. After all, that was what he had been doing his whole life: faking his beliefs and sights, fooling people round and round.
He was pretending to be fine, acting as if he had forgotten about her, bluffing around like he was quite amazed to be back home. Why, he was even concealing the fact that he was feeling detached, masquerading a parade of him enjoying a new life. That, no, he wasn’t feeling separated from anyone, not at all, thank you very much.
But, yes, detached. The word stabbed him like a dart thrown directly on the bullseye that was his heart. It was exactly what he thought his mind felt like: isolated. Distant. He was separated from his real home, cut off from his real life, and taken away from reality. But he pretended anyways. He did it for his own sorry sake, did it the sake of Jong Seok, his one and only best friend.
Jay took a deep breath, trying to summon some sort of excitement and enthusiasm by blinking at the passing blurs. He kept his mind distracted with stupid thoughts and questions: why wasn’t he feeling ecstatic at least one tiny bit? Hadn’t he been waiting for this trip since he was a kid? Hadn’t he been dreaming of visiting and staying in South Korea to see what his birthplace looked like compared to what it was before? To know the exhilaration his mother told him he would feel, and most importantly, to leave Cali and forget about the last few months? That was what he wanted. That was everyone’s main goal. To make Jay forget about everything that happened, to make him live his life normally.
This trip had been about forgetting her.
Wanting to feel what a normal person would do when they’re finally home, Jay stared at the passing buildings, silent as he looked at them without really seeing. He felt far away; undone, like the sudden freedom a once tangled knot was given. From the plane to the bus, he had been silent.
Silent, Jay had been staring, his gaze never-ending. Still trying to encourage himself, still lying, and yes, still pretending. He was still fooling the people around him.
The voice was quiet and soft, like a whisper, like the way his name sounded through the ringing in his ear, sounding like the echo that ricocheted through the gurgle of the water around him. He could hear it: the rushing of ocean currents, the sinking feeling he felt as the darkness dragged him further down. The sound of her voice calling out his name rang out vividly as if it all happened just yesterday, as if it was happening right now. Wait—no. He shouldn’t be thinking about that. He shouldn’t be remembering those moments. He should have been forgetting about them.
No, he thought, shaking his head like it would wipe the sudden memories out too. NO. Forget, Jay, forget. Forget, FORGET—
But he was already remembering; his hands were shaking—his breathing turned ragged—
Suddenly he was there, inside that room, staring at her—he was backing up against the wall, he was watching helplessly as she died—he could hear that long beeping sound that signaled the end, the high pitch and continuous sound of flat line on the monitor—
“Jay!” The voice was an urgent whisper, a concerned tone, panicking, then like lightning, Jay was back, staring wide-eyed at Jong Seok, gasping for air. He was back, sitting on a bus seat, on the way to his new apartment, on his way to build a new life.
He was here; just here. Here, and nowhere else. He wasn’t there in that room, he’s back, she’s gone, he’s still breathing.
He was looking at the hands clenched around his—Jong Seok’s hands. They were grasping his hands with tension. Then he glanced at his best friend’s wide doe eyes, communicating with silent pleas, trembling in fear.
He’s here. She’s gone.
“Are you okay?” Jong Seok was asking, his voice a mumble among the babble of chatter around them. “Do you need anything? You—you’re not thinking about that, are you? Hyung—”
Jay closed his eyes, still shaking from the sudden memory. He had to stop himself, had to make sure Jong Sook didn’t find out. He took a deep breath, trying with his might to control himself. In. Out. In. Out. Breath, Jay.
His long lashes lifted slowly, like the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings. Then Jay grinned at Jong Seok, using the bright beaming smile he always used to fool everyone. He hid the emotions he felt behind it, concealing the fear, the loneliness, and the desperation. His grin felt forged, felt forced, it felt amazingly unrealistic.
But of course, to everyone else, it looked real.
“I’m fine,” he said in a tone that proclaimed Jong Seok was over-reacting. “I’m fine. We’re fine. Everything’s okay. I’m just shocked by the sudden culture change.”
“Are you sure?” Jong Seok insisted. “I could always ask someone to bring us directly to our place if you want to.”
Jay nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. Stop worrying and enjoy the view.”
He pointedly removed his gaze and bit his lip; he was back to staring at the window. Jay looked as if he could now see and feel what the tourists felt in this journey, eyes wide as they took in the cityscape before him. Jay was looking as if he belonged, but he knew he wouldn’t. Not now—not ever. He’d never belong because he, Park Jay, was someone else’s.
But that someone else was long gone.
Lies, he thought, still pretending under Jong Seok’s gaze. Everything was nothing but lies.
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