in love, there is nothing but a frantic desire for what flees from us.
There had been a book on the bedside table of the boy he’d shared a room with, during his years in Singapore. The boy had been a Murakami fan; the author’s works filled a whole shelf on his side of the room, stacked up beside messy notes on Southeast Asian history and the biscuits he’d enjoyed snacking on over midnight mugging sessions.
Hongseok has never favoured the writing, but the one time he had deigned to pick up the book on the bedside table out of curiousity, brushing stray crumbs off the cover, there had been a single line. So the fact that I’m me and no one else is one of my greatest assets. Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent, it had said.
He remembers that line often, now.
There is strength in solitude, his mother had said, the warmth of her palms chasing away the cold in his cheeks, the day he’d left for Beijing with his bags in tow. Her words have always been long-lasting. Her words are a truth he cherishes. There is strength in independence. Don’t ever forget it.
He remembers those words even more.
Hongseok doesn’t believe in the easy way. The salt mines he’s accustomed to are of a different quality compared to the ones he works now. Where the mind had once been allowed to triumph, now the body must do so instead. It almost doesn’t seem right, at first. Hongseok has never known this life, Hongseok has never allowed his thoughts to be on the back-burner, Hongseok has never truly known the dream these other kids know.
But the dream lives.
Perhaps he’d allowed himself to get careless with his reveries. Perhaps now, he has flown too many flights with nothing to stave his loneliness but the reveries of others, folded into his own palms and taken to heart within a single breath of the new air of a country previously unknown. Perhaps, the stratagem of the firmaments is catching up to him, now, a cruel gimmick forged to earn every last drop of his trust and wring him out until he has nothing left to offer the world.
Maybe it is just love.
Hongseok will never admit the words to anyone but himself, but they must know. They must know by now, after multiple nights of walking into the living room to see Hongseok curled up in a corner, the same de Botton novel with its pages worn and frayed between his fingers, equally worn and frayed. Hongseok has always been contract to the law the heart runs on, despite the way he presents himself. Maybe this is why he continues to chase a dream that doesn’t seem to want to meet him halfway.
He doesn’t allow himself the luxury of tears where anyone can see him. The shower is the most conducive of places, the easiest place to let himself go when the nights take a toll. It is not that Hongseok does not know hard work, god, never has it been that way at all. The struggle to adapt is what gets him hard in the chest.
And honestly, he doesn’t blame the others for coming off as strongly as they do. He doesn’t blame them for their anger, for their irritation, for their despondency at having yet another set of feet slowing them down, heels stuck in the mud like reeds. It is understandable. He is an obstacle, another person to train, another competitor, another rival.
Montaigne had declared that in love, there is nothing but a frantic desire for what flees from us. Hongseok likes to believe that he knows this well, just as well as the other members do, even if they believe otherwise. He knows they believe otherwise. He has less years on them despite his age, he has less experience. Some of them had given up the things he’d been blessed to have, but now, if anyone were to ask, he would give them all up for a better shot than this.
It flees further and further from him each night. But the thread of hope that loops around his little finger is enough to pull him forward, to keep his feet moving, to keep his voice steady, to keep him keeping on. For it is desire that advances him. It is the want for something rare, the opportunity of a lifetime, that furthers him. It is love that keeps him going.
Love for the stage? Love for the lights, the camera, the poignant pieces of action that only serve as fodder for the mainstream to extend their pities towards? Probably.
Bobby finds him, the night before their own personal Day of Judgment, huddled in his bunk. The comfort of his favourite book is what grounds him in the moment, even as Bobby shuffles over and sits down beside him. Their shoulders nudge. Hongseok finds just as much comfort in the action as he does in the words before him, and he shuts the book momentarily.
The kids have been gracious over the past few months. Any traces of what had been shown on broadcast has been swept away by nights and days of sharing a home, but Hongseok knows that the slightest bit of enmity might still linger. Bobby shows the least of that, with his overabundant smiles and zealous embraces.
“You’re always reading this,” says Bobby.
“I am,” says Hongseok. His fingers rub careful meridians into the red cover of the book.
Bobby says nothing. Then, “You should have come back to Seoul sooner.”
“I know,” says Hongseok. The delayed pursuit of a dream does nobody favours. Especially the dreamer himself.
“Tell me about this book,” says Bobby, the only sentence he manages right before the others call for everyone to bring their things to the living room, to share a room for the last night they’ll spend together as a group of nine.
Hongseok never gets to tell him about the book. But if he had managed, he would have just said one word: you.
Love works in mysterious ways, he supposes, fashioning itself after the wants instead of the needs. Too big to exist, too subtle to be noticed. Hongseok spends his days craving what is onstage, and his nights craving what is offstage. Neither of them are in his reach, but still he yearns anyway.
It is the next morning, when their bags are packed, when he has one foot on the sidewalk and the other on the sidestep of the door of the car, that he realises with full force borne down upon him.
He’s not coming back.
One of the pages he has bookmarked in the novel that he now has stowed away in his bag bears a paragraph that he can recall with perfect clarity, after years of rereading.
Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone there who can understand what we are saying, in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.
He is not loved. Not yet. The stage does not love him as much as it loves the boys standing before him, their tears choked back by the force of their own smiles. One day, Hongseok believes, he will exist before the world, and they will love him as they see fit, but love him for who he is.
Grandiose dreams, probably. A little egotistical, perhaps. It doesn’t matter. He will make the words happen. He will be alive, some day. They will see him. They all will.
They won’t see the aftereffect of editing, they won’t see the product of a company bent to conform to a genre that has never suited him anyway. They will see him.
They all will.
Maybe it is the wind that gently sweeps back the hair at the nape of his neck, a comforting caress as a farewell. Maybe it is Bobby, sliding his arms around Hongseok and resting a hand on the back of his head and slotting himself into his space like he has always belonged there. Maybe he has always belonged there.
But Hongseok has always allowed his mind to triumph over his feelings. Perhaps this is why he had taken so long to realise that where he wanted to be was in front of a thundering crowd, and not in front of a hushed boardroom.
“I’ll see you soon,” is the promise he makes, never fake. Hongseok chooses to believe the words as the car drives away, him and Junhwe in tow, sitting in silence as they head out.
The months have not been kind to him, but neither have they been unkind, in the sense that he has gained so much more than he has lost. The finality of the impending decision does not scare him. He’s made his peace with the fact that he won’t be part of the group after all.
But it hasn’t ended here.
Hongseok runs a thumb over the screen of his phone, and glances out the window.
It’s been a while, he imagines saying to his family, I’ve missed you.
written after too many repeats of toy's 피아노 instrumental from the de capo album, as well as ali's rendition of 이미자's 울어라 열풍아 from immortal songs 2. the book mentioned repeatedly in this is alain de botton's essays in love (korean title: 왜 나는 너를 사랑하는가), seen in a mix and match cut as hongseok's most treasured item. the murakami quote is from what i talk about when i talk about running. title also from the 이미자 cover by ali.
honestly, this is fiction. how the hell would i know what he's feeling anyway. this is probably just projection of the most extreme kind. but cathartic, anyway. and i like hongseok/bobby as an idea okay. they were cute together. sighs. were.