Red Marks

Think about what we said, Jinah. We are not taking our son away from you; we only want you to live your life the way you should be.

I promised to be with him for the rest of my life.

Circumstances have changed, child. We will understand if–

I’m not giving him up.

. . . . .

i.

Dear Nana,

This is the third time in six months I’m writing a letter like this, and I’ve never really explained the reason behind it yet, have I? No, I thought I’d just write you letters when I felt like it, but really, I’ve decided to do it every time I feel like I’ve gone back time. I thought it would be good exercise, somehow, to write this down and read it over and over again . . . more for my sake than yours. Let’s call it a reconnaissance assignment of sorts.

Today’s episode brought me back to school. I know, my mind is probably wishing I could go back to college when things were fun and breezy. I don’t know how it happened, but I apparently skipped work all day. Because I was at school. Wandering around campus. I don’t know.

It was already dark out, and I remember waking up in the car because my phone was ringing and it was someone who told me I’d been calling their number all afternoon. I apologized and made an excuse of having the wrong number just to end it, but I realized afterwards that the number I’d apparently called was your old one . . . the one you used in college. And I was parked in front of your dorm. How stupid was I?

Anyway, I think that was still amazing, somehow. It’s like I had a younger me wandering our campus earlier, looking for you.

I told you I’d never forget you.

I’ll mark this day with a red pen, because I remembered you.

SJK

. . . . .

ii.

“His colleague brought him here today, said he suddenly fainted at the office,” the doctor told Nana, who had been wringing her hands all this time, waiting to be told she could see her husband already. “He’d suffered a mild concussion, but nothing life-threatening. I’d really suggest he quit his job as soon as possible, however. Does he still drive?”

“Yes. Sometimes.”

The doctor shook his head. “That’s not safe. An episode can happen anytime. He could put himself–and others, including you–at risk.”

“Can I see him now, please?”

. . . . .

She never thought there would be anything more heartbreaking than seeing her husband lying on a hospital bed, but he managed to top that by uttering a different name as he awoke.

Mina.

Mina was Joongki’s college ex-girlfriend. She’d met her several times during the course of their relationship, but really had no opinion about her (because no one asked). She does remember how utterly in love he was with her, for him to agonize over her so much he actively avoided relationships for two years after they’ve broken up.

Nana was his second girlfriend. Now his wife, and soon, mother of his child.

“Oppa, it’s me. Jinah.”

His eyelids fluttered open at the sound of her name, for a moment giving Nana a flicker of hope that he was waking up as his present self.

“Nana? What are you doing here?” He raised a hand to the light, and she quickly crossed the room to pull the curtains together.

He noticed her swollen belly.

“Holy shit. What–how–when did you get pregnant?” He’d tried sitting up as he asked this question, as if this matter was some kind of concern. She helped him up as well, telling him to take it easy. “Jesus. Did Kris do this?”

Kris. Her high school boyfriend. Joongki’s mind must have taken him back to that time in their lives when they never would have pictured themselves together as boyfriend-girlfriend, much less husband and wife.

She didn’t respond. Couldn’t, to be more exact. Her heart was hurting so much, she couldn’t find the right words to say.

“God, my head hurts.”

“Would you like a glass of water?”

“Yeah.”

Her hands trembled as she poured water into a glass. “Hey, take it easy. I’m not in a hurry,” he told her. When she looked up at him again, he was wearing a familiar smile on his face. It was one that he wore when he was being brotherly.

She handed him the glass.

“How many months?” he asked, and took a drink.

“Six.”

He spilled water on his lap. “Six? Jesus Christ.” His grip on the glass turned firm, and he sighed. “Is the father helping at all?”

“He is.”

“He should be, that motherfucker.”

Someday, Nana thought, she would probably narrate this exact scene to her husband and they’d both get a good laugh at it. They were good at finding things to laugh about, after all.

But not today.

“Come here, you,” he said, offering his arms for a hug, as though Nana needed comforting over the fact that she was going to be a mother. She gladly took it, holding him tightly and sobbing against his shoulder. “There, there. You’ll be all right.”

. . . . .

iii.

Dear Nana,

I woke up in the middle of the night and wondered who you are and why you’re sleeping beside me, but you have got to give me credit for not freaking out. Not a lot, at least.

It happens sometimes, and it scares me.

At first I’m scared because I don’t know where I am, or why I’m here, or why I’m sleeping beside you.

And then I remember–it’s like someone turned on the lights up there and I could see you and it’s so strange because I know who you are, so why was I even scared in the first place?

And then I’m scared again because what if the lights never opened?

But I remembered you today, and I kissed your hair, and I held you tight and whispered “I love you” in your ear. I remembered you–which means the red pen gets to be used today again.

SJK

. . . . .

iv.

He’d stopped working completely about two years after his diagnosis. The episodes weren’t frequent, but the medication did things to him. He would get sick a lot, lose appetite, lose weight. Sometimes, he would be irritable. Sometimes lethargic.

Nana would leave the baby at her in-laws while she worked during the day. Joongki would be left alone. He’d built himself a small working space at home, where he worked on photographs and stories he would periodically submit to a magazine editor. He still had a knack for it, so the projects came in regularly. There were times, however, when he’d make late submissions or miss them completely because he would forget.

Today he’d forgotten that his wife’s name was Nana.

He was in a good mood all morning, even making breakfast for her before she went to work. He’d twirled her around by the door, asked her what time she and the baby were coming home, and after kissing her goodbye, he said, “I love you, Mina.”

“I . . . love you too.”

. . . . .

Joongki paced in front of his work desk for the nth time that hour, feeling there was something wrong somewhere. Was it this project he was working on? No, that couldn’t be possible when everything seemed in place. Did he forget to call someone today? There was nothing on his schedule keeper that mentioned a phone call. Did his wife tell him to do something and couldn’t remember what it was?

Did Mina–

Mina?

Mina’s not my w–

He felt his throat dry all of a sudden. His head spun. A second later, he was holding on to his chair for support. Breathe. Joongki, breathe.

I love you, Mina.

. . . . .

It didn’t matter that he was disoriented as all hell. He bolted out the door the second he realized what he had done that morning. He ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And then he felt like his body was letting up. It was the tail end of winter, and Joongki had left the house in nothing but a pair of pajamas and socks, not caring about anything but getting to Nana and letting her know he’d made a grave mistake.

He felt someone grab him by the shoulder, and he spun around quickly, falling on his behind when his feet slipped under the ice.

“Joongki–what the hell are you doing out here wearing only that?”

“Have you seen my wife?”

“Of course I have.” It was Nana’s manager. He’d come down to the back of the restaurant to have a quick cigarette break. “She’s upstairs. Come in, boy. You’re going to die from the cold out here.”

. . . . .

v.

Dear Nana,

I write this as you sleep soundly tonight, as you rest your head and leave today behind. I write this wishing I could ease your pain, somehow, when I hold you and tell you that there is no one else in the world I love but you.

I love you. Please remember this. For me, for us. When the man you married is so far out of his mind he starts calling you by a different name, please, please remember that he’s merely swimming in a sea of memories, trying to find his way back to you.

I don’t know how much more difficult it’s going to be, but I want you to know that you and our child will always hold a part of me that not even this illness can erase. You are the red marks in my days, the marks that say I’ve won over the thieves trying to steal your memories away from me.

Please Nana, please believe me when I say a part of me will never ever forget who and what you are to me. A man simply does not forget his entire world just like that.

SJK

1662 words
#promptoftheday response to “red”
for pachi ❤

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