ch. 37, fall into me
the edgy girl is back in korea, but her past is cringe-worthy. she makes it through the nights somehow…
Vivi rests her head on a pillow, her lips exceptionally puffy. By her nightstand, the low chime of 2NE1 is audible. Their latest mini-album.
She sighs as the last song spins to an end on her CD player and it reboots to the beginning. The bass growls on through her surround sound speakers.
Stretching a thin arm across the stand, she turns the volume down so low that it’s a bare vibration, humming on in the distance.
Like this, she thinks, she could fall right asleep. Her lids blink again and again and she’s so close, she thinks, but something’s keeping her from the edge.
Just as she’s about to fade, her conscious lingers and her eyes snap wide open.
It’s the day after tomorrow.
The thought alone makes her tremble, her fingers curling beneath the sheets.
A line struck through the calendar in black marker.
The day she flew back, alone on the airplane, shivering from a cold that wasn’t physical, pained by phantoms that no one else could see. Exhausted, she had landed in Seoul, a thousand kilometers from home.
Her father, in withered form, had taken bus after to bus to see her. She had insisted he didn’t have to, but when she saw the look in his eyes, she realized why he had felt he had to.
“She’s gone, Eunbin,” he rasped, and she started, from hearing her old name, the one she had cast aside.
She didn’t feel like Vivi in that moment, maybe a mere shell, or some tortured wraith, twisting along the sidelines.
Her fingers ached from carrying her suitcase so much and she dropped it down the sidewalk, not seeing the point.
“Ama?” She wondered. Her mother’s tattered face floated up to her from her memories. Unable to stand on her own, unable to go to the bathroom, either. Vivi—no, Eunbin had known the end was coming but she had always assumed she could make it back in time, and they had, perhaps, even years left to spend together. How wrong to make such an easy assumption, she thought hollowly.
Well, Vivi had returned to Korea, alive, if perhaps, a bit out of things. Eunbin was dead, strangled in the epic fight for dominance.
After all, in Los Angeles, a knife had been held to her throat, and the only way to win had been to run into it on purpose, with eyes wide open.
Only through that scheme, where she bet on her own cunning, had she been able to procure the money she needed to pay for her mother’s medical expenses. And while she had taken the painstaking efforts, the hospital loan has expired, her father said to her, except leaving out the part about the painstaking efforts.
His gaze was accusatory and it made Vivi want to bolt from the spot.
His only daughter, and she had been nowhere to be found. The note Eunbin had left was entirely confusing and a bit infuriating to read, he told her, his hands shaking uncontrollably as they sat by the bus stop. She held her dirtied suitcase right side up, knowing better than to interrupt. Rather than feel apologetic, however, she felt a calm anger thudding through her veins, keeping exhaustion at bay for the moment, and quieting her nerves.
What did she have to show for her months-long absence? Had she shamed the family?
The words he spoke seemed to belong to a world she had no place in. They were honor-bound, prideful words, spoken to a woman who no longer knew honor. It wasn’t that she disliked the old system, but that she had, some time ago, been displaced out of it and had found no way to reenter.
She therefore, had no reply for him.
He wasn’t satisfied, and he would have teared into her, but the bus arrived then, disrupting the intimacy of their fight. His fight and her quiet.
The memory fades from her now, but Vivi is struck by how they didn’t mourn her. As father and daughter sat beside each other at the bench stop, and then on the numerous buses on the way back to the village, the rigid tension etched in her father’s shoulders and the lines of his face seemed to be forces against her, and she the main problem at hand.
Her mother’s death had been inevitable and neither of her family members had the capacity to mourn her properly then.
Vivi doesn’t like to make excuses, but it’s all she can think of when her thoughts turn back to that day, three years ago. She sighs again, realizing sleep won’t come to her.
It’s miserably dark outside, with the moon submerged by clouds. But she tugs on her sheer platform heels that she saves for after-hours and shrugs on a black fur coat.
Her appearance is considered strange, even as she wanders down the fashionable streets of Myeongdong. Sometimes strangers snap photos of her, but Vivi ignores them. Better to dress unapologetically than to wear the same old coats and boots everyone else likes.
She turns the corner, and the streets are flooded with artificial light. She thinks back to two hundred years ago, no, even fifty years ago, and she sees through the flashy lights. Her rural hometown is pitch-black at night, and she can recall a hundred biking trips she took in the darkness, praying nothing would happen to her.
Now she can’t be certain she doesn’t want something to happen. Her eyes graze her own pearly white nails and more than ample cleavage that her perfect posture thrusts forward.
She doesn’t mean she actually wants something bad to happen—just for her to break out of the usual. She’s been singing song after song, singing until her lungs go blind, if that could happen, waiting for the album to crystallize into perfection.
But the Korean public isn’t ready for her, she’s told endlessly, until there’s nothing left for her to do but to run to the bathroom, lock the thick, steel door, and scream.
She’s addicted to screaming. In wild fields, as a kid, her favorite thing to do would be to run into those tall reeds and shout the numbers, all the way up to 100. Because those were words, no one would mistake for a wild animal and grabbing their hunting gun.
Later, when she desperately chased her fortune in America and was abducted, she had less opportunities to scream. None, in fact. That was a dark patch of months in her life where she had to keep her voice down in the lowest of whispers at the latest hours of the night.
Now, Vivi is free to scream as much as she pleases, but it’s a guilty pleasure she only allows herself sometimes, knowing the limitations of her voice.
Her greatest dream is dominate the world’s stage, and let out a pig squeal while she’s on there. But that dream seems eons away from her.
Tonight, she climbs up the fire escape in the back alley so similar to the one where she had her first kiss, and felt the first stirrings of affection she almost mistook for love, and reaches the second level of the cosmetics store across from her apartment.
The cold wind is upon her when she arises from her climb, stinging her cheeks with its force. She smiles and leans into it, her nails like talons clutching the edge of the roof.
Arms outstretched in the air, she can almost feel the bullets turning away under her fingertips, and the cool California breeze caressing her hands.
She squeezes her eyes shut, willing herself to believe.
Turn the corner, and the dream is yours, she bellows, letting the words rain out of her mouth, distorted by the strong winds. The dream is yours, she repeats.
Those were the same words she had thought again and again when her father berated her, when her hands slipped closer to the stacks of money she had in her purse but she kept the bag shut.
Now her father is dead, too, and so is he. It’s just her in this world. She’s all she’s got.
A shudder runs through her as she recalls how pathetic her father looked, legs bowed as she moved the rest of her belongings out of the house. She was going to Seoul on the money she had made for the family.
What she had thought she owed them, was really what she owed herself.
How could she give him what he had failed to earn for her? She said nothing to him, however, merely just leaving his life without another trace.
It took a violent effort, but she had gotten her own little place and her own little career. America had taught her how to use her body, and not to be ashamed for it, either. It was an invaluable lesson she couldn’t have gotten in Korea.
Vivi has a list of grievances for America, but sexual freedom isn’t on there.
She estimates it would have taken a decade before she could have done what she did manipulating Seung Pyo without guilt if she had never gone abroad. And in a decade, she would be older and he might have little interest in her widening figure.
She laughs, the sound a bitter, jarring sound in the washed-out dark. What she lacked in guilt, she more than made up for in acrid feeling.
When the chill has spread past her furs, Vivi slides herself back down the ladder. Her grip on the stairs tightens as she loses one of her heels into the alley.
“Hey, baby,” a drunk purrs at her, startling her out of her solitude.
Her other heel is positioned just above his head, and she wants nothing more than to drop it over his head but she resists.
“Let’s fuck,” she declares, “But I just need my shoe back.”
It takes a delayed second, but the drunk finally registers her words and hands her the shoe, stumbling against the wall for support.
Fighting against cursing the man, knowing that her upper body strength has a limit, Vivi replaces her shoe and climbs down easily.
“Follow me,” she gestures to the drunk, and he slumps closer. She avoids his embrace and runs past him, motioning for him to follow.
She leads him into the cosmetics store, blinking rapidly to adjust her eyes to the bright lights, and loses him in the skin creams section, where he makes the other women shriek. Some of their boyfriends are there to protect them though. Vivi tries not to stare too hard in envy.
Without the drunk noticing, she slips carefully out of the store and back into the safety of her apartment without further incident.
Her survival instinct is still very much intact, she muses, as she drops her coat on a chair and falls into her bed.