(Originally posted 26 Feb 2014 on tumblr)
What surprises Hyo-shin the most over the next few days is how angry he is. It’s an unrelenting, slow-burning resentment, like banked coals in his gut, and every inhale threatens to set him ablaze from the inside out.
He ought to be happy about his father’s impending promotion. He ought to at least be grateful that Korea will have yet another competent, uncompromising man as the attorney general. He ought to care about the speculative glances he gets at school when the news of his grandfather’s planned retirement breaks.
Instead, he is surly at the broadcasting club and in his study groups, and once he almost snaps at Hyun-joo when she takes him to task over a stupid math error.
By the time his fifth session with Jae-sung rolls around, Hyo-shin is in a foul mood. He fills out the survey by marking the first option on every question and then gets even more irritated when Jae-sung doesn’t even give the survey anything more than a quick glance.
Jae-sung starts, as usual, with easy questions that Hyo-shin knows are designed to try to help him relax. What does he think of the changing weather, if he has gone to the movies lately, how the broadcasting club is doing, and so on. Hyo-shin responds with short, sharp words and refuses to take any of the openings his therapist offers him.
After a few minutes, Jae-sung stops asking questions. Hyo-shin isn’t in the mood to ask any of his own, so the silence stretches long and heavy between them.
“I hope,” Jae-sung says eventually, “you are comfortable enough to tell me if I, or anyone else in this clinic, have done something to upset you.”
“And if you have?”
“Then I’ll apologize. If an apology is not sufficient, and you feel you cannot continue therapy here, I will provide you with recommendations for other therapists.”
Hyo-shin doesn’t bother to blunt the edges of his words. “Getting rid of me so quickly doesn’t seem like professional behavior.”
“You are not a project or a homework assignment or any other task I have to endure, complete, or check off,” Jae-sung says. “You are a young man in need of help, and it would be unprofessional and unethical of me to hold onto you if you cannot trust me to provide said help. I want you to live a better, happier life, Hyo-shin, and I will not sacrifice your future for my ego.”
Hyo-shin scoffs at the words, even though the sincerity in Jae-sung’s voice forces him to look away. “You’re welcome to that future. I don’t look forward to it.”
He waivers for a moment, aware that this simple question is a tactic to get him talking about things that have no simple answers. Some of them might not have any answers. The last time he tried to explain, in the private hospital, the therapist didn’t understand.
Jae-sung might not, either. But he did earn a small measure of trust by suggesting Hyo-shin get his medication changed. No, he earned that trust by what he didn’t say to Hyo-shin’s mother.
“I want—my grandfather’s the attorney general. Did you hear he’s retiring?”
“Vaguely. I don’t keep up with politics, honestly.”
“It’s not official yet, but my father will be taking his place. My father’s family—his uncles, his brothers—all of them are in law. Even some of the in-laws, those that aren’t doctors or politicians, that is.”
“So law is your family’s legacy?”
“I’m the oldest grandson,” Hyo-shin corrects him. “It’s my inheritance.”
In the silence that follows, he dares to look up at Jae-sung again. His therapist is leaning very slightly forward in his seat, brow furrowed thoughtfully. He doesn’t smile when their eyes meet, but he nods a little, almost to himself.
Hyo-shin lets out a slow, unsteady breath, releasing some of the heat in his chest along with it. “That future—I don’t want it.”
“What do you want?”
“It doesn’t matter.” He thinks of the broadcasting club, of the seniors dropping out one by one, casualties to their parents’ expectations. His father, hiring a private tutor without even informing him first. His mother, confiscating his video equipment. Jeguk, where the only thing that separates him from Chan-young or Joon-young is a larger bankbook and a pedigree that suffocates him.
“Your desires matter, Hyo-shin. This is your life, not your parents’.”
He actually laughs then, bitter and jagged. “It’s hardly mine when my parents control everything down to my medication.”
“What do you mean?”
How can he explain all the years of his life in a few sentences? The future that was mapped out for him before he could grasp the concept of how long a year was, the slow discovery that his parents’ desires for him were inevitabilities and not wishes, the gradual despair that settled in when he realized he would never be free to live his own life.
He chooses to focus on a single detail instead, because that is simpler. “My mother has my pills, and she makes me take them in front of her. She even checks to make sure I swallowed them.”
Jae-sung laces his fingers together. But instead of asking what Hyo-shin did to merit his mother’s action, he asks, “Would you take them on your own?”
“Yes. I’d do my best.” Anything to stop the humiliating ritual they established six weeks ago.
“Then I recommend you ask your mother to let you take care of it. You are old enough to handle this responsibility.”
It was a mistake to trust you. I won’t do it again.
Hyo-shin digs his fingers into the armrests, catches Jae-sung’s glance, and forces himself to relax his hands. He doesn’t quite manage it. “Do you really trust me to do that?”
“Yes,” Jae-sung says, without hesitation. “Your mother cannot force you to take your medication for forever. It is better that you learn to take it now because you want to manage your mental health rather than resent the entire process because you had no choice in the matter.”
The hope that wells up then is so invasive it is painful. Hyo-shin clamps down on it, refusing to let it take root because he already knows how that conversation with his mother will turn out. He can’t get rid of it entirely, but he compacts it, buries it deep, tries and fails to ignore that it was ever there.
It is only then that he recognizes this new frustrated hope as the anger lodged in his gut. But what was he hoping for that his grandfather’s news killed? He has no idea.
Jae-sung is watching him intently. Hyo-shin pulls himself back to the conversation he’s having now. “She won’t give the medication back to me. She doesn’t trust me anymore. If I ask, she’ll refuse.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to try?”
“No. I—” Hyo-shin pauses. He thinks back to what Jae-sung told him in their second session, and he changes his mind. “Would you tell her what you just told me?”
On his way back home, Hyo-shin finds himself the only person on the streets of his neighborhood. The fading autumn light stains the buildings and walls a rosy pink and casts deep shadows across hidden spaces. It is beautiful and haunting, and Hyo-shin pulls out his phone and starts recording whatever catches his eye: a cat pacing atop a narrow ledge, the swirl of fallen leaves along the sidewalk, the way the streetlights flicker on one at a time.
It would be better with his camera, but the phone is all he has now. He films all the way until his front gate and dismisses the notification that tells him he’s running low on memory.
His mother is in her study when he comes in. The doors are closed, and he can hear a muffled, one-sided conversation. Hyo-shin leaves his shoes at the entry and heads upstairs to get back to his homework.
Almost half an hour later, his mother knocks on his door. Just once—hard and forceful—before she lets herself in. Her mouth is set in the tight lines that mean she is furious, and she practically stalks over to his desk.
But she is carrying his medication.
“I will count your pills every day,” his mother says without preamble and in a tone that means she will not accept anything except acquiescence. “And if I have reason to suspect you have gone off your medication, I will take these back and find you a new therapist.”