Halcyon Blue


The day is clear when we bury him, not a single cloud in the sky. Only cruel sunshine and a much-too-warm March breeze. Then again, it never rains here, all the moisture blockaded by the mountains in the east, leaving only an open sky as far as the eye can see. High above the dusty ground, and blue, impossibly blue, like the ocean they’d never seen.

He’d loved this weather, though, pranced around under the wild blue yonder like the world was his and, now that we pause to recall the memories, to miss him a little harder, maybe it was.

He had a skill, Jung Yunho did, and that was to make anyone and everyone fall absolutely, irrevocably in love with him and whatever he did. With a smile that could rival the sun, it was hard not to, especially when he’d take your hand and lead you into his heart like he didn’t mind the intrusion. 

And maybe he didn’t, but no one will know now. It doesn’t matter anymore, not when the person is gone, buried under six feet of dry red clay. His family moved too, packed up in the middle of the night and left, the house standing empty since they’d never bothered to sell it. It looks somewhat forlorn standing in the neighborhood, shutters closed and lawn overgrown.

But it’s not like they’re coming back. It’s not like he’ll ever see.

When he died, Yunho left behind an entire community, a whole town of mourners and remembrances. Wreaths adorned his grave, his house, his locker, his desk—honestly, it got tiring after a while. His parents refused to answer the door, teachers removed his desk, and gradually, life settled. 

People moved on.

As people do, of course. After all, you can’t expect time to stand still and the sun to revolve around a dead person. Yunho wasn’t the center of the world, the universe isn’t going to stop and grieve. The world’s not going to end, not in the long run, but there are people, certain individual people, whose lives have since been plunged into endless darkness.

His family, for example, or his two best friends. Myself including.

Time moves on, a continuous flow in the grand scheme of things, but what can you do when you’re stuck in a whirlpool? What can you do when the grief drags you down, harder and faster until you’re no more than a single pile of flesh and bones lying on the riverbed, waiting for the world to erode your body?

It’s tempting to answer ‘nothing’, that it sure is, but deep down, in my heart, I know that there’s something to be done. Gather myself, reassemble my skeleton, cover my flesh, and kick. Struggle with all my might and break free of the spiraling emotions, rise to the surface and break free. Take a deep breath of fresh air and look towards the riverbank.

I know I’ll find him there, hand outstretched, the wind in his hair and a smile on his face. He’ll say ‘hey, what are you doing?’ and jump in to save me, take my hand and lead me back on track. I miss you, Yunho. You’ll never fail to capture my heart.



I’ve known him since the beginning, since we were both babies and squealing, wearing the same red jumper, when our moms first met in front of an ice cream shop. It was like fate, electricity sparking in the air as toddler-Yunho stopped crying to peer into the stroller and baby-me stopped screaming to look back at him.

Wide eyes met, deep brown and innocent, and then Yunho laughed, clapping his chubby baby hands. I responded happily, kicking my legs, and our mothers took this as a sign. Thus, we met as if it was written in the stars.

Victoria came later, after all the diaper mishaps and mindless tantrums, after Jihye and Jiyeon and Sooyeon were born and raised, after we’d already moved through daycare and pre-k and kindergarten and I was starting elementary school for the first time. She’d come into our lives then, shooting into the town like a meteorite and crashing into the dust, disturbing the peace of quiet contentment.

In a way, we really were the perfect friends. Our ages aligned like fate, early February of three consecutive years, and like the order of the days, our personalities aligned too. Victoria, the front-runner with her unstoppable passion for life; myself, lagging behind with a tendency to take things slow; and Yunho in between, the perfect blend of adventure and caution, simultaneously pulling us forward and pushing us back.

Well, it wasn’t like we minded, not really. We melded together like it was meant to be, the three of us in three different grades but learning in the same school and living in the same neighborhood. After school, we always walked home together, and Yunho, as the oldest, would try to teach us what he learned that day. Sometimes Victoria paid attention, but of course, first-grade-me didn’t need to know multiplication yet, so I spent most of those walks kicking at the rocks on the road.

I couldn’t help feeling left out, but as usual, Yunho noticed and pulled me back in, ruffling my hair like he wasn’t only two years older than me. Before I could duck away, Victoria squeezed in from the other side, long hair tickling my neck, and caught between the two of them, I had to surrender, unable to hold back a laugh. Yunho smelled like sugared strawberries, a combination of the real ones he packed for lunch every day and the artificial scents of his shampoo. Victoria, on the other hand, smelled like jasmine, a tribute to the faraway place she’d come from before, and me?

I smelled like the both of them.

It was a unique flavor on my tongue when I opened my mouth to speak, perfumey up my nasal cavity but sweetness sliding down my throat, like cotton candy melting on my fingers. What’s that old saying? Sugar, spice, and everything nice. But they were both sugar, so would that make me the spice?

It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t fit at all.



Once he helped me fight a bully. Kids can be cruel, that we all knew, influenced by outside factors or a deep innate hatred. Sometimes there was no reason for it to start, and that was what happened to me. 

It was sixth grade, I remember. Yunho and I were at the same middle school, leaving Changmin behind. That’s not the point. The point is, I was targeted by the bullies for no reason, and though I tried to solve it on my own, Yunho found out anyway.

I remember the way his eyes hardened, fingers brushing over the pinch marks on my arms. It was winter at the time, I wore long sleeves, and the sky outside was a dull, about-to-snow gray. I didn’t know what he did, or how he found out who it was, but after that, no one bothered me again. When we walked home that day, alone because the elementary school let out earlier than us, he told me, ‘Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. I’ll be here behind you, so don’t worry about anything.’

He was wrong, I now know, but how I wish he wasn’t. How I wish he was still behind me, standing with his hands in his pockets, hair blowing across his forehead in the lashing winter wind, wearing nothing but a long-sleeved uniform shirt and flimsy uniform pants, knee-deep in the snow. I wish I could see his smile again, encouraging me to stand up on my own.

A part of me wished for things to stay like that, me and him together. It gave me a reason, a viable excuse, to pull him aside and share a secret laugh, our own little world. It burned at my heart, low and smoldering in the pit of my stomach, as I stood beside him and pretended not to care about the girls handing him love letters and candy. He’d always offer me the chocolates, taking the sweetest ones for himself, and I always took them, crushed the shiny sweets between my teeth, though it only fueled the flames at my organs.

The truth was, at some point, I even resented Changmin, for being able to interact with him without raising suspicion or teasing hollers. When he joined us the next year, we were once again the Three Musketeers, uniform jackets flowing in the wind as we walked, heads high, past the school gates. Underneath the clear blue sky, the oak trees shedding golden leaves all around, carpeting our feet as we came to rule.

Somehow, I was the odd one out, the only one wearing a skirt instead of pants. It never used to bother me before, but middle school was a hard time, the shaky transitional period between blissful naivety and the harsh truth of the world, and in a flash, I was no longer confident in myself. My skin, my weight, my face. All of this became points of sharp focus, and though my grades continued to soar, it was no longer the only option that defined me.

I was pretty. I curled my hair, straightened it, put it in a braid. I tried out my mother’s makeup, colored my lips pink and powdered my face pale. I pierced my ears, endured the pain of ripping a hole through my own flesh, and hoped that he would notice what I’d done. For him, for me.

For no reason at all.

To think back on those times, I wish I’d been just a bit more logical, a little less hotheaded. In theory, there was nothing wrong in doing what I did, but the intentions behind my actions, that’s what bothers me now. Changing myself for a boy… what must he have thought of me?

I don’t know. I never will. But I do know, he saved me from diving down that hole as well, catching my wrist one day to peer deep into my contact-lensed eyes. ‘I don’t like it,’ he’d said then with a scrunch of his nose, not seeming to notice the way I froze, heart dropping into the Arctic sea. ‘You looked better like yourself.’

You were right, Yunho. You always are.



When did I first realize that I was in love with him? It must have been high school, sophomore year, when he was in his senior year and I looked up at the night sky that seemed impossibly far away and stretched my hand into the void, trying to reach the stars.

Would they burn my fingertips, or would they feel cold to the touch? To my right, Victoria answered first. ‘Hot,’ she said, ever the realist. ‘Stars are made of hot gases.’

But to my left, Yunho laughed and put his hand over mine. ‘They can be whatever you want them to be, Changdol.’

Yunho always believed in the power of imagination. I imagine that he was much too caught up in the beauty of those glittering celestial pieces of former human souls that he never noticed the way my hand trembled underneath his. Everywhere he touched, my skin burned, fingers twitching with the urge and ache to hold his, to flip my hand over and link our fingers together. I wanted to kiss him, underneath the stars, pin him down and swallow his gasps of shock as I’d press my lips to his, tasting the crisp sweet-and-sour of fresh strawberries in his mouth.

It would never happen, I knew, and truth was, it never did. It was only a fever dream, a wild fantasy. I didn’t even need to look at him to know that he glowed, carving out a path of light in the darkest night. For me to follow, and Victoria as well. Even back then, I think he knew that we were both suffering, though not what from. He never looked at things on a surface level, no. Yunho dug, threw himself into the excavation site of our hearts and uncovered our deepest insecurities and tried to fix us.

But in doing so, I think he gave away too much of himself. Selfishly we took from him, more and more and more, tugging out the strings of his heart, the threads holding his seams together, until he collapsed, unable to give anymore.

When that happened, where were we? What did we do for him? How did we help?

Too late we realized what we had done, but regret will not bring him back. Nothing ever changes, and time flows linearly. Everyone who has ever said otherwise is wrong. Time travel is impossible, and we cannot return to a time already passed. The truth lays out bare in front of us, in the color of clear sky blue and flaming maple red, October wind combing harsh fingers through my hair as the tears dry cold on my cheeks.

It’s too late. I’m sorry. I still love you. I still love the way you talked, eyes lighting up as if the entire world was your playground; the way you ran into the rain, arms outstretched, embracing the wrath and mercy of nature; the way you kicked your shoes in the dust of the dry dirt road leading home, gaze sweeping longingly over the meadow on our right; the way you slung your backpack away, said it, and ran laughing into the waist-high grass as the sun shone down upon your hair, highlighting it with streaks of honey.

Your eyes, curving at the ends as you smiled at me for sassing my parents. Your back, unwavering as you stepped to the front, shielding me from the harsh words of the teachers on duty. Your shoulders, as you wrapped me in a hug that day in the rain, soaked to the bone but pressing my head down, saying it’s okay, Changdol, you can cry.

You. You. You.

It’s only ever been you.



I hated him once. It made no sense why, because we were best friends who grew up together. Hate is a strong word. I didn’t hate him, never did, couldn’t. But I was jealous.

He’d always had Yunho’s attention, from the first soft sound out of his mouth to the tiniest shift of his body. Maybe he himself wasn’t aware, but by god, was I. I watched the pretty crinkles form beside his eyes when he watched him read, noticed the way his fingers tapped out a soundless melody in the rhythm of his name.

I knew, then, that I never stood any chance. Not when he was so in love with Changmin.



I never knew what to make of Victoria. She was my best friend, and it was wrong to resent her, but still I did. She always had his attention, drew his gaze wherever she went and whatever she did, and I could only stand beside him and smile and nod.

She was so pretty, hair tumbling like a waterfall down her back, swaying slightly when she walked. I saw the way he looked at her, the corners of his lips tugging upwards, discreetly wiping his palms on his pants. I knew he liked her, and from my heart, I couldn’t fault him for it.

But I wanted to put my hands on his face, turn him around, and say, look at me. I’m in love with you too.



It’s an odd occurrence, that the first event to bring us back together after falling apart was his death. The day I came back home, it rained, sheets upon sheets of pelting raindrops striking painfully onto my skin. No one was there to greet me at the old bus station, no dazzling smile, no outstretched hand, no ‘hey, it’s been a while’. 

Nothing. No one. Blank.

It was as if a hole had been carved out of the town. Where there used to be traces of him, there are no longer. No figure leaning against the bike rack in front of the store, whistling as he scrolls through the news on his phone. No person squatting beside the community-funded stray-cat-feeder, running his fingers through mounds of soft fur. No Yunho, no him, nowhere.

Oh, I realized, heart lurching out of my chest as I gripped my umbrella a little bit tighter. He’d carved a hole out of me, too. Where there should be him in my life, there is no longer. No oversized flannel hanging off of his deceptively-thin frame, no messy just-out-of-bed hair sticking up to the heavens, no empty-framed glasses perched on his nose and no mischievous eyes peering out from above them.

He’s just gone.



When they place the urn into the ground, I suddenly remember something, a flash of a memory long-forgotten, deemed unimportant and placed into the archives of my brain. It was the first day of school, first grade for me, third grade for him.  Six-year-old me was scared, of what I don’t remember, probably everything. He held my hand, blocking the wind as it blew red dust into my eyes, and promised me that I’d be okay. He’d adjusted my backpack straps too, a small, casual action, but to me, back then and now, it makes me want to cry.

He’d been so good, so purely good, and I didn’t take the chance to appreciate him. I miss him, I miss him, I miss him I miss him I miss him. The pain contracts and explodes in my chest and I stumble, knees giving away as I fall. A pair of arms catches me before I hit the ground, and for a fleeting moment, I think it’s him again. Then the scent of jasmine fills the air, and I start, looking up by reflex.

She’s cut her hair short. It falls perfectly around her face, frames it and shows off her sharp features as long hair never had. She’s pretty, and if this had been any other time, I would have turned around and walked the other way. But this is Yunho’s funeral, and I at least owe it to him to be civil.

I swallow, look up into her eyes, and read an identical conflict there. Memories, fantasies, possibilities. Above us, the sky shines clear blue, and I can almost hear his voice in the wind.

“It’s been a while. How’ve you been?”

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