My head throbs and my mind blurs as my body temperature reaches its peak. I trace the rim of the bottle with my index finger as I stare absentmindedly into the fireplace. The single sound of the crackling flames, which irradiate the shadowy room, seem to echo in my ears quite deafeningly. And yet, as I feast my eyes on the voracious fire from a distance, I'm inexplicably mesmerized by its weightless, ever-so-changing form. Almost as if I could just lean in and…
A breathless, guttural laugh escapes me in the form of a low rumble.
What ridiculous, half-baked thoughts are you conjuring up, this time, Kai? Pull it together.
After chiding myself, I bring the half-empty bottle eagerly to my lips, swinging my head back and downing every last cool drop that sizzles in striking contrast with my heated lips. The liquid glides down my throat smoother than water. I empty the bottle in one swig. For the second time tonight.
And for the second time tonight, the faded out rumbling of obnoxious laughter and chatter coming from the festivities outside does nothing but add to the static in my mind. The static that fades out into a rerun of when it all started—that is, the beginning of when it all ended. It's an arduous trip down Memory Lane, that of which I never paid for.
On this night of solitude, I wonder how many more years I'll lock myself in this room on Christmas Eve and think about that day. I wonder how much longer I'll fool the world and myself into thinking I'm just like the picture they draw themselves of me. I wonder how much longer I'll keep playing and losing at my own game. I wonder how much longer I'll keep biding my time idly.
At times like this, I wonder if a life after life is worth having or if I'd be better off vanishing into nonexistence like water vapor into thin air.
And there you go again, thinking those pitiful thoughts. You're making your mother turn in her grave.
I stare into the blazing light of the fire once more, as if I hadn't been fixed on it for the past five hours interrupted.
Why do I do this to myself? Year...after year… after year.
Something warm and wet grazes my cheek and falls, splattering on the small pill bottle I'm clutching in my hands. Then another falls, after another, after another. I touch my face in disbelief.
What is this, Kai? Are you crying? What's wrong with you?
But it's okay. I don't have any reason to hold it in because on this special night, I'm hidden from the world. Just tonight. Besides, the sleep will soon take my tears away…
“Forgive me, Mom, Dad,” I manage to eke in the smallest whisper that only dissolves in the overpowering sound of the crackles.
‘Forgive me’? All you have to say is ‘forgive me’? Is that all you know how to say?
I clutch my head with my free hand, gripping my hair tightly and gritting my teeth as the pounding in my temples worsens. The blizzard of hell has started, and there's no doubt that by the end of the night, I'll be six feet under the snow. This is what Christmas has become for me. Merry Christmas. I'll merrily drink to that.
You're pathetic, Kai. Really…
I simply ignore the voice in my head—the undermost part of my conscience—though it speaks the truth. I've no right to live like this. I've no right to live life like life itself isn't precious, even if I have an excuse to believe so.
Why am I still doing this?
That's right. Because there's no going back or moving forward from here. I may have a long journey ahead, but I've been cheated into a one-way ticket to Nowhere, Nothing.
The fire grows more intense, licking the marble mantle, being fueled by seemingly nothing. It has lost its mesmerizing charm, as now it just looks ferocious and terrifying. It begins to burn into my eyes, seeping in until it kindles and rekindles an old memory deep within me.
I can feel it. I can smell it, the thick smoke. I can see it all around with my small, inexperienced eyes. I can hear her screaming voice as she yells her final words through desperate sobs:
“Save him, please! Save my son! Just go! RUN!”
Through the heavy smoke, my eyes search frantically for her face among the falling debris. Her terrified eyes meet mine for the last time, and through the thunderous roar of the flames, I search for her voice.
“MOMMY! MOMMY, NO, PLEASE!”
Her cracked lips move weakly, but any words she might be speaking are inaudible. The last thing I see as a pair of arms take me away is her head falling limply over her lifeless, outstretched arms, and the flames closing in like curtains.
“NO! NOOO! NOOOOOOO!”
I scream with every last breath in my lungs. But nothing can be done. She is gone.
Is this all a bad dream? Someone tell me it's a dream.
Sweat pours down my face and my heart pounds in my chest, threatening to burst out of my ribcage at any moment. I find myself, once again, in the solitude of that dark room, clutching a chair in front of me for support as I stagger to the coffee table, my breathing labored and jagged.
What's the use anymore? It's 2 AM and I feel like crap. I want to sleep now…
As my shoulders shake from silent weeping, my jittery hands grab the bottle of sleeping pills and I struggle frustratedly with the cap. It comes off after much fumbling and the little white capsules rain down abruptly onto the floor. Vision blurring, I reach out and pop one in my mouth before feeling around for the last glass bottle.
Yeah, I'll wash it down. Let's just wash it all away now.
Setting the bottle down with a clank, I think of all the times I'd drank myself into oblivion. And how many times I've been scolded for it. And how many more times I've told them I just don't care anymore.
What do they know? Can they feel my pain? If I fell from 20 stories to the cold asphalt, would they feel my pain?
As my mind starts slipping away into that sweet oblivion—that sweet, sweet numbness—I hear and see the distant sound of the door bursting open, and a flood of light coming in from the hallway. Eyes struggling to adjust, I see the blurred silhouette of a man with a tall frame take form.
Min Jae’s frantic voice fills the silence.
“Kai, did something happen?! I heard you screaming…”
I turn drowsily to the direction of the voice, and Min Jae’s half-lit face contorted in pure worry brings a smile to my lips.
“Well, well, look who shows up now? Come to give me my present? Hey, you...you know…you look kinda funny with two heads.”
I throw my head back in a fit of weak and drunken laughter as he responds with an angry, “Kai, you idiot! Did you drink again?...Kai!”
And then I stumble. Everything around me spins and my legs give way to the cold floor underneath.
In those milliseconds between my knees buckling and the fall, I subconsciously come to a conclusion that the reason I'm like this is that I'm frustrated, because I'm just so misunderstood—but I'm solely the one to blame.
Why do I put up a front? Why can't I just be clear about what it is that I want? People know my pride. People know my past. And even fewer of those people know my demons.
But the one thing no one seems to figure out is that I'm not apathetic about it all like they're made to believe. It's that I'm simply waiting.
Waiting for someone to save me…from myself.
As my body hits the ground almost lifelessly, I hear him calling my name repeatedly, but each time sounds more garbled and distant until I can't hear anything at all.
Perhaps from the impact of my head slamming into the ground, or perhaps from my aching frustration, the last thing I remember is the feeling of the tears flowing freely from my eyes as I stare blankly at the ceiling.
And in the next moment, my world plunges into blackness.