AUGUST 2005, SUMMER
The summertime—a three-month season people all over the world just couldn’t get enough of. A time when everything that made a person laugh or even cry was memorable. Maybe it was the blazing sun or the melting ice cream under the singeing heat that caused so much anticipation in children waiting for the excruciating school year to be out, waiting for those three months of peace together.
We all did. Day by day and month by month.
But sometimes, for the less fortunate, summer wasn’t always something you would want to remember.
* * *
I was only eight years old, just leaving the third grade. I was just—like everyone else—waiting.
To laugh in one of the parks downtown with my appa while he pushed me high on the swing. To hug my eomma after getting home from school and plant kisses on her fair-skinned cheeks. For me, even when I was this young, I was always waiting.
Waiting for my appa to stop coming home late from work, waiting for my eomma to look me in the eye when I accomplish something, waiting for the day I could call someone my best friend.
But some days, when I’d get impatient and the lonely hours at home were too heavy to keep on my back, I’d speak up. I’d wander around the house quietly and drag my feet on the floor. I’d hum in the paint-chipped halls of the house on my way to my appa, who sat comfortably in his recliner, staring at whatever detective show he liked watching.
When I was close enough, a campfire of courage burning in my belly, I’d tap my appa on the shoulder like a cat’s whisker grazing upon a stranger’s finger.
“Appa. . . Can I ask you something, please?” I’d take a cautious step back, gazing at my appa’s spine-chilling side profile, his growing, coarse, dark beard atop his defined jawline.
I knew not to disturb him when he came home from work; he’d be tired and dying to get some sort of peace, so I wouldn’t dare ask anything of him. But it was so, so quiet. Eomma seemed weaker as of late, her face wasn’t filled with joy, and her eyes didn’t glimmer like they did when I had finally learned to ride my bike, pushing the pedals as she grinned.
Now, she stayed in her room, sometimes not even responding when her name was called. She was drowning in the sheets and drifting so far that I couldn’t see her, even when I stood in the doorway
It had been long. So, so long since I had an unforgettable experience. It tapped and picked at my brain, buzzed in my fingertips whenever I gazed out of the window at the sweet summer sun. I wanted to go somewhere, to do something.
When my appa’s eyes peered back into mine and softened, I felt my heart throb with spirit.
“Go on ahead, Jungkook,” he encouraged, and my neck would stick out so I could say my proposal.
My hands folded behind me as I fiddled with a crumpled paper holding the words of my desire. When I pulled it in front of my eyes, the words stumbled on my tongue.
“I-I want. . . I—Can I. . . Can we do s-something today?” My appa blinked, a faint smile appearing on his lips. His arm reached out toward me, and his fingers stretched as he planted his hand on top of my head, ruffling my hair gently.
He laughed. “My son, it’s okay. . . No need to be afraid. It’s been really dull lately, hasn’t it?”
I nodded, and my appa snickered. “Alright then, go ahead and find your sandals. I’ll be out here waiting for you. I’ll let your eomma know we’re heading out.”
And he did.
I remember every second of the wait.
Skipping through the halls this time, passing my eomma in the bedroom down the hall to pick out shoes that were underneath my racecar bed.
I remember the drive.
Almost running a red light because my appa knew I wanted to get there fast.
I remember the arrival.
Walking along the sides of the large sign with trimmed bushes underneath that read ‘Sea Life Busan’ with a shark statue behind it.
I remember the fun.
Holding my appa’s hands as we traveled further into the aquarium, seeing the different kinds of marine life and exhibits, the colorful fins and habitats surrounding us at each turn. I ran through a tunnel with water held back by glass as I went on, fish swimming and thriving as we continued.
My appa loved starfish. He seemed to love all the different colors and shapes, sometimes comparing them to flowers my eomma had grown in the backyard of our home.
I remember our home, as well.
Roaring with excitement after getting back from the aquarium, thinking of describing the scales and fins to my eomma. I craved to see her wide eyes shine like the jewelry she always wore, wanted the clouds in her head to part so the sun could rise and spark the twinkling in her irises once more.
I remember the hallway.
Racing to her room, my appa setting up the kitchen table for dinner. The sound of the sink’s water soothed me as I crept toward the bedroom door.
I remember the bedroom.
Its bitingly cold atmosphere prickling my skin with goosebumps as I eased to the empty bed where my eomma had left the sheets in disarray. I searched around the room with my eyes, scaling from top to bottom until they lay on the closed door of the bathroom.
I remember the bathroom.
Inching my way to the wooden door, my hand resting on the knob carefully with a weak grip. I pressed my small ear to the wood, my breathing slowed so I could hear anything coming from the other side.
I pulled back, frustrated with the silence, my hands and heart telling me to discover. I twisted the knob, the blood rushing in my veins hot once I pushed through.
I remember when everything became nothing.
A choked breath settled in my throat as my stomach churned from the sight. My eomma’s limp hand hung over the side of the bathtub, her fingers and body motionless. The yellow bottle of medication was spilled on the ground before me.
I heard nothing.
My legs grew painfully weak, my joints becoming licorice as I dropped on my knees, my eyes itching with tears as I scooted toward the bathtub. My heart wasn’t beating the same; I could barely feel it. I picked up my mother’s hand, admiring her veins void of the life I had hoped to see. It was cold as my fingers grazed her lifeless arm.
I felt nothing.
My lungs were dry, burned from shrieking for my eomma. My arms plunged into the surface of the bathtub’s cloudy water, and my hands asked for something to grasp onto, something to tell them they’re here forever.
But there was nothing.
“Eomma—Eomma! E-Eomma! Please, please, please, don’t leave me! Please! I love you. . . I—Appa loves you! Please! Please don’t go away!” I wanted to hear her voice. I wanted to see her eyes. I wanted to feel her blissful warmth.
But she was drifting, drowning in the bathtub that had taken her last breath, her last efforts.
My fingers curled helplessly around my eomma’s soaked shirt. Heavy and drenched, I attempted to pull her to the surface to view her pale, life-stricken face.
Her eyes didn’t open. Her heart didn’t beat. I heard nothing.
A sob rolled out of my mouth, covering my throat in flames and thorns as I yelled ear-splittingly high. “No! No, no, no! Eomma. . . Come back! Open your eyes and look at me! Please! I need you to hug me! I need you—I need you to—I need you! I promise we won’t leave you home alone again; I promise. I promise we’ll take you with us! So you can see the—see the stars. . . The starfish that look like flowers. . . Please!”
I shook my eomma’s body with hands that could barely hold her upright. Her limbs felt like hundreds of weights as I pulled her to my chest, the front of my shirt drenched with the tub’s water.
I remember the footsteps.
The crescendoing of my appa’s footsteps hitting the backs of my ears. I squeezed my eomma’s head to my chest as I rocked back and forth on my knees, my fingers carding in her brown stands. Searing tears flooded my cheeks like lava on the earth’s surface. So unforgiving as it scorched my face and ran off my chin into my eomma’s hair.
My appa’s shouts startled me, and his large hands gripped my shoulder. “Jungkook! Jung—step away, step away!”
I shook my head as I loosened my grip on my eomma.
She was gone. She was empty. She was drowned. She was everything.
And I did nothing. I couldn’t do anything.
In my home, there was always silence, with nothing there to fill in the gaps, nothing to pass the time.
Even during the summertime, when pools were open to jump and swim in, my life had already sunk. So early, so fast.
In that time of sinking, I sat inside and learned to loathe the silence.
Because you never truly know where it will lead you.
Sapphire L.J. is an author on Wattpad. You may find her work at Sapplynn. “Two Skies,” in addition to her other heartwarming romances, features her strong message about mental health, trauma, and love beautifully intertwining. This is an excerpt taken from “Two Skies” by Sapphire L.J. with permission. Read the full story here.