The windows. The people. The blur of lives I see every day. Piece by piece coming together but never making a full puzzle. These pieces, these shards of the real and fake, glassy lives that people live, the lies that people tell. The full moon, its yellowness so bright it makes you wonder the reason behind its brilliance. It makes you wonder what kind of dull stars are hidden behind that brilliant star in the galaxy, what kind of talent, love, attention, skill, and backup the other stars lack. The stars shining as dull as me.
I trace the abnormally big, yellow moon with my fingers. Lifting my hand above my eyes, I cover them from looking at something that I'll never be. The cold air swirls around me. The hands grab me, pull me, push me. Filthy fingers tear my hands away from my eyes, my clothes are ripped, and my chest is left bare.
The voices argue and fade into echoes, and my vision becomes blurry and loses focus every second. I try to button up my shirt and my bony, cracked fingers smudge blood on the wrinkled, yellow uniform that was crisp and white when I ironed it this morning. I shrug on my hoodie and pick my feet up to leave.
I limp home, faking a smile, forcing a laugh. I nod along through dinner, through the night, and I wonder if I’ll have to keep nodding along through my entire life. A tear escapes the edge of my eye, and I glance down at the sliver of the fat moon reflecting on the cold floor. The tear falls, escaping, rolling. Down, down, stop.
There is an ache on my wrist that stays throughout the day, and throughout the week. No one bothers to ask what I’ve done to myself, and I nod myself through another week. I cut my hair short. I nod along. I stop wearing the girls’ school uniform. I nod along. I start wearing the boys’ school uniform. I nod along. I stare at the bright stars. I nod along. I find a dull star. I hold myself still.
Soojin sits in the back, third seat from the back door. I sit two seats away from her. Soojin doesn’t eat lunch. She stays in the classroom with me. We don’t talk. Soojin walks home alone, in the same direction as me. We don’t talk.
Soojin came to school today with a bruise on her lower back. No one cares. No one sees.
But I care and I see. Because that’s what’s been happening with my life, and that’s what defines who I am. I am a bruise.
She walked next to me today. She held my wrist up towards her and ran her fingers over it. We didn’t talk.
“Good morning students of Sein High. I have heard recently that a student tried to commit a wrongful act. A source told me she had tried to cut her wrists and jump off a bridge. We are trying to help the student currently, so please cooperate with us and be nice to everyone. Thank you. Class 1-1 dismissed first. Make it a great day and study hard!” I freeze in place, because I know that the student could only mean me. I cover my wrist with my oversized sweatshirt. I blend in with the first class and hide in the bathroom stall. I hear footsteps following. A hand stops me as I try to lock myself away in a stall. I look up and I see Soojin.
“Listen to me,” she begins, but I push her out and lock the door. “I know you’re probably thinking that the administration knows now because of me, but they’re not talking about you. They…they made the announcement because I told them that I don’t find the purpose in living anymore. I told them… and I’ve told them for over a year, for my entire life. And they haven’t even given… a meager thought about my life, but a teacher saw me, and now the administration wants me to be as normal as possible.”
Soojin lets out a breathy laugh that rings my heart, and I open the door. I let her inside. I haven’t talked to a person in years, after the incident. I pull her close to me, and she first hesitates, and then holds me closer and tighter, as if she’s afraid that if she lets go, we’ll both float off into nothingness.
My voice comes out raspy, “I think we can just stay here. For a while. No one will notice.” She nods, and we hold our hands, in silence, with tears occasionally free-falling out of the edge of her eyes, and me trying to wipe the pain away for both of us.
We come back into the classroom long after school is over. No one left a note or a text. We shrug, and we walk back home with our hands still held together. The walk feels short today. Soojin talked about her family. Her parents divorced when she started high school, just 3 years ago. She’s been living with her cousin, Gian, who has an abusive boyfriend who threatens to harm both of them. During those times, she says, she goes to the Incheon Bridge, which is about an hour walk from the apartment. She says she tried to jump off the bridge few days ago and was about to jump off the railing when a school teacher driving by saw her.
“I don’t know if I’m really that thankful to the teacher. Maybe I will be in the future. Maybe I need to live more to see what ‘life’ is all about. Even when I had both of my parents, my parents used to bring in their new boyfriends and girlfriends, just to show that they were better than each other. After the divorce, I realized that life is worthless. Everyone argues, fights, and isolates another. Why not just live in peace?
“When I noticed you, at the orientation, entering the last year of high school together, everyone seemed so… fake, but not you. You seemed as if you would understand me. I just thought, everyone around us is a… light bulb, let’s say, but you’re this star under all the influence and gloom in the environment, and it’s not like you’re the brightest star. But something about the dullness, the closeness I felt towards you didn’t change like a light bulb. I just…” Soojin trails off and stops in front of a store.
We stare at the darkening sky, and the shops around us begin to click on their lights to make them appear the brightest. I look up at the sky and point out a dull star to Soojin. She nods and takes my hand again. I don’t want to go home. I want this moment to stay with us forever, where no one can harm us in any way. We stop at my house. The bright houses contrast with mine. I know that no one is home. No one has been home for a while.
“Thank you.” I turn to leave, and then pause at the door. “Soojin, do… do you want to sleepover at my place tonight? I mean, if you want. I just thought… I mean, I just…”
“Thanks, but I think Gian’s boyfriend isn’t home today. I’ll just go to their apartment. Just in case you need me for anything, I’ll give you my phone number.” She calls off her phone number. She waves goodbye, but she doesn’t fake a smile. We nod at each other, and I head into the empty darkness, repeating her phone number in my head, the numbers warmly circulating in my blood.
The buzzer rings in the middle of the night. I click the intercom to see who it is, and I see that it’s Soojin. I run to the door and let her in. I don’t ask her what’s wrong, or why she’s injured, or why she’s here. I help her wash the pain away and give her one of my few nice shirts and comfy pajama pants.
As we lie facing the same direction on the blankets laid on the floor, I delicately touch her lower back. She stiffens, and then relaxes. I imagine nothing ugly on her pretty skin, her slender body, and her beautiful soul. I wish nothing would exist except for the two of us. I pull her in closer, and I stretch my arms to mimic a pillow that I don’t own. A tear lands on my arms, and she holds my hand the same way she did few hours ago. Her breathing slows, and the tear becomes nothing but a trace on my mind.
“Soojin,” I whisper. “I just really want to thank you, for doing what no one else has done. I’m not sure if I’m ready to confess in front of you, so I’m going to say it now, while you’re asleep. It’s about my life.
“I had a pretty normal family. My parents worked. I had a brother, and a little sister who was going to enter into the world that seemed so perfect back when I was in 7th grade. My parents were really happy together, always buying us things that put a little stress on the bank, but never showing their concern in front of us. My entire family died when I was away in a school field trip. I saw a dead cat on the bus ride home. I asked if anyone else saw it, but only I did. When I came home, no one greeted me at the door. I got scared and called their phones, and when someone finally did pick up, it was the emergency room, calling back to say on my father’s phone that they’re in a better place now.” I take a shaky breath. I haven’t talked this much since that day. But I want to continue my story. I want to let out my pain that I’ve been holding in for such a long time.
“My family… they… went out to buy a present for my birthday. They were run over by a dump truck while they were heading back. If I… wasn’t born, they didn’t have to suffer. Four. FOUR people dead… because of me. Because I wasn’t there. Because I… asked for a stupid bracelet for my birthday. And maybe, even if I didn’t go on the trip, the accident would’ve happened. But I would be gone also. Then I wouldn’t have to blame myself and them for everything in my life that’s going wrong…” Tears that I’ve been keeping in rush out, dropping one by one, silently, on my arm.
“I wanted to be with them. But no one seemed to understand the scars that I carried. I tried. I tried to understand their point of view, of a girl who lost her family and is living off of the government. I tried so hard, Soojin. But they didn’t. They dismissed the actions, the words, and the feelings. They even claimed that I had a congenital mental problem.
“Kids at school constantly isolated and harmed me. And even the teachers too. Calling me names and harassing me physically and mentally. And to be honest, I was trying to end my life this week. It seems too long, doesn’t it? I’ve lived only 17 years now, but up to a hundred years? No, I’d rather not. Life seems so much like a… habit now. The only reason we’re breathing is because we breathed yesterday, and the only reason why I’m still breathing is because death fears me. My family is pushing me back, trying to let me live a better life in a world without them, but I don’t think it’s possible. I tried so many times to reach them, but every time I wake up from bed, I tape my aching wrists and walk to school. Because that’s what they want me to do.” My voice trails off in the end, choked by the rising sobs in my chest. I hold it in, because that’s what I’ve been doing my entire life.
Soojin slowly turns to face me.
There are tears in her eyes, and from the obnoxiously bright, yellow, moon, I can clearly see the bruised eyes that give a rise to a wave of emotions that I had learned to keep to myself. In front of me, I see a girl that fills my heart with warmth, a girl who finally gives me a reason to live.
I pull her closer, and she tilts her head so she’s looking past my head, at the slow rise of another day. I reach out to her, holding her head gently in my two arms, her arms around my waist, both of us lying down on top of the old blankets, and I lower my head to hers, my cold lips tenderly brushing her chapped lips.
The sun rises behind me, the brightness slowly creeping along the floor, highlighting more of her visage, her closed eyes, her beautiful face marked with tears.
Two dull stars, coinciding at the right moment, the right time, the right place.
I stop nodding myself along.