I sat digging through the cardboard box that sits in the corner of my closet. The one with all the cards that no one knows I kept, the dried flowers, the too many journals to count. Maybe it’s because it was Christmas, or maybe it was just because the full moon was in Cancer like Chani said, but I sat there reading through old letters from you and our other high school friends. The words on those page made me smile and yet at the same time, sit through the pain of the emptiness lurching around inside me. Staring at your neatly written 2-page letter lying open next to my high school planner, I wondered at what point I had lost us. At what point I had become someone that you couldn’t recognize, at what point I had unknowingly plowed through our friendship with a blind pursuit of success. That planner has no empty space. Softball practice @ 2:30PM. Hospital volunteering @ 5-9PM. Lifeguard training over the weekend. Scholarship deadlines. Study group @ 10PM. Then I glanced over at your letter: I’m afraid that if you move to the U.S., I might forget how close were were and how much I cared about you. Let’s keep in touch so that that doesn’t happen! Then you listed the phone numbers that I never called / the emails I never sent. I felt a pang of guilt, looking at your neat handwriting and thoughtfully placed stickers along the edges of the stationary. Can you believe it? It was already eight years ago that we were friends.
Remember when we met up again couple weeks ago in Seoul? I barely recall it because it felt so unnatural. I had wanted to imagine that it was a movie; it didn’t feel like real life. I remember your look of sheer confusion. You didn’t seem to recognize me: “우리 주희 스타일이 좀 바뀐 것 같은데? 몰라보겠다.” And I realized then that you were also feeling like you were staring at a stranger you were supposed to know. We got small falafels from the stand, sat down and chatted about things that I knew nothing about. About your boyfriend in the military, something about 고무신, your job as a public school teacher in Seoul. Then when you said that everything from high school was just a blur, my heart sank, watching the only thread that tied us together unravel and unwind. We still got coffee afterwards though, because it would’ve been rude to just leave after 30-minutes. I got an iced latte, and you got an americano. I had always thought you drank your coffee with cream and sugar, but you drank it black. I remembered us from years ago, huddled over the coffee table, trying each other’s overly sweet drinks and groaning about the latest set of school assignments. But that was a long time ago, when we wore matching school uniforms and sported tacky-straight student bangs. A time that’s now just a blur.
Sipping on our coffee, I tried to ask you more questions about your life, but my Korean was too stiff to reply with funny comments or make you laugh, so we settled for formal news-like updates. You never asked why I never contacted you. But perhaps you had stopped asking that question a long time ago. You only kept repeating that it had been forever since we’d met. At moments that day, it felt like it had been never. We stood up, even though we didn’t finish our coffee, but time had already run too stale. You had left twice to go take a call from your friends, and I had kept repeating the same questions. It was time for us to leave. Then we took off, taking our separate trains back to our lives.
Something made me message you again this Christmas. I took photos of the letter I found and sent it to you. Look what I found while cleaning, and you replied with a polite message and a Merry Christmas. I asked how you were doing and if your boyfriend was out on break to visit — but you never replied. A small grey text popped up in your place: Read at 12:34PM. I beat myself up over the photos I had sent. Maybe it was awkward to have sent a letter filled with so many promises and wishes for the future, from a future where none of those things came true. Perhaps I should have just kept it buried underneath my other letters in that cardboard box of mine. After all, no one wants to hear from someone eight years too late.
I folded your letter up again and slipped it back into the envelope, before placing it on the recycle pile. But I hope that you don’t mind that I kept our sticker pictures — the one with you and SW hugging me from both sides and the other one with us making serious faces at the camera. At some point, we all had been important to each other. And the photos sit on my bulletin board, reminding me of how quickly I’m able to lose those important things, in this constant push for something called “success.”