Packing Up and Staying

Woojin Kim
BFA PT 202

It’s so unbelievably hot. I imagine an egg that cooks in reverse. I picture my face on the yellow yolk while I think of that fable where the sun gets a traveler to take off his clothes by smiling at him really hard. Something about the power of persuasion.

It’s the season for dog soup, and I know a great spot in the neighbourhood. Do you want to go?
As always, I can’t tell if he’s joking. What’s that grin meant to convey? Convince? I say yes anyway.
You know what’s funny?
I say,
In English they call this time the dog days of summer. I think it has something to do with the stars though.
Oh yeah, it’s probably for Sirius, who follows Orion through the summer sky. It’s a funny coincidence because 伏 is also a man and a dog. Sounds like 福 but for the dog, it’s the least fortunate day of the year.
Of course, he knows everything.

We duck into a store. I feel the humid air precipitating on the cool glass as I hold the door open.
This is the time of year to buy a winter coat, he says.

I slide my bare arms through the sleeves and feel the plastic silk lining, turned icy in the air-conditioned room, slowly warm up as I look at myself in the mirror. It’s not quite my size—just barely too big.

You’ll grow into it, he says, Pretty soon you’ll be taller than me.

Staring at our reflection, myself a couple inches shorter than he, I like the thought of treating him as a stepping stone. Pretty soon I’ll be taller than you. I get too hot and I have to take the coat off.

He said he liked it and kept it with him. Every winter I would see it again and say, Hey, nice coat. It came with him whenever he visited, left with him too.

My mother said he must like it so much because his girlfriend likes it. He’s not like you, she said. He’s tasteless.

I took the coat with me to college. He feigned resistance at first but when I offered to leave it behind for him he insisted that I take it. I’ve heard it gets cold there in the winter. It’s actually the same as it is here. I remember turning away at the airport, wondering if I had ever seen him smile like that before. At the time I thought he was happy watching me leave, but now I think maybe he might’ve just been happy to see me go, and though he never said it, sometimes I like to imagine that maybe he wanted to tell me he was proud.

All of the clothes I left in that house got thrown away.
As with so much else, I thought I could just come back later to find it waiting for me.
Did I think?
I’ll never touch them again.
The shirt with the sun calendar
Shoes I couldn’t wear as much as I would’ve liked
Shoes I wore too much
Letters that left and came back
The straw-coloured photograph
The cheap little pen, older than me
On my way out I caught a glimpse of a jacket I had paid too much for.

It’s funny, I think, that a goodbye can never really be satisfying. Maybe it’d be easier if this really were it, but we both know that nothing dies. How could a thought be so terrifying and soothing? I remember as a kid wanting to be a ghost, so I could watch everyone forever. I don’t think I realized at the time how sad that would be, but I think I’d still like it. It’s not like any of it was ever mine to keep in the first place, anyway.

I keep seeing talk about how now is the time to find rest. Do I agree? The best time to buy a winter coat is in July. The best walks happen before and after the sun, and the best sleep right in between. Now, more than ever, we see the sand in which the lines are drawn. It’s all crumbling and sinking. The tide is coming in. Do we run for high ground or learn to swim? Deep breaths are preparation.

Some time ago I thought I could achieve my childhood dream of hermit monkhood by going the opposite way—by wading through the muck, neck-deep, instead of leaving it behind. ... The world is a nasty, vulgar place that I can’t help but fall in love with every day. If I really believe what I say, I need to make direct eye contact with the objects of my revulsion (love) and run toward them, arms wide open.

What is disgusting (beautiful)?

—The industrial revolution rebooted like a Disney IP, bringing the factory back into the home
—The highly developed, efficient supply chain of eyes and teeth, of outsourcing pain as price
—Living near the outskirts of a gated community whose walls grow outward and upward, powerless except to run my hands over the vacancies where once there were bricks
—Looking up at manicured trees reaching up into the sky, turning around to face a corrugated sea
—I resent the online and its suffocating inevitability, the same way (and for the same reasons) I resent those I love.
—I feel like a wily coyote–my eyes have been stretched out of their sockets, ears turned to klaxons. Can I do the same with my fingertips?

I’m too often too shy to say it, so maybe I never really have, but I think it goes a little something like this:

I love you so very much. Yes, you. Sometimes it’s hard to bear, and I feel my chest caving in, sucking into a black hole of unfathomable mass. It makes me wish I could explode it outwards, obliterate myself in a suicide bomb of love. Instead I just keep chugging along, cautiously sipping on a too-hot coffee.

Zoom kinda sucks because the thing it does best is remind you of what you’re missing. Letters are quite nice—I’m writing you one right now—and I think it’s because they don’t try to fill the gaps. I’ve been spending time inside wishing I could just close my computer, go outside and walk forever. Instead I’m rubbing my eyes and going for a swim. Will you join me? Or are you already out there?

Woojin Kim, The Sun Hangs Low in the Summer. It Sits on the Skin and Stays Out of Reach, 2020