Chapter 25: Chapter 25.
Woojin heard the elevator door opening in the distance. He was packing his briefcase. Jihoon did help with his heavy workload, but there was so much to do because of the upcoming holiday.
Deadlines were approaching fast. He had to finish all of his reports and finish working on the schedules for the clients. Woojin had been wondering all day if he would have to come to work this weekend, but in the end, he worked past 10 PM and finished the data entry.
He sighed deeply. He closed all the files and when he turned off the computer and the monitor, the office was finally filled with silence. He thought slowly that he should get a frozen meal from the convenience store on his way home.
Recently, he had been suffering from dizziness whenever he stood up. It must’ve been because he wasn’t eating enough and not sleeping well. Woojin grabbed his forehead and breathed slowly.
“Assistant Manager Woojin.”
At first, Woojin thought he must be hallucinating. He slowly turned around to find Shin, who said to him, “What are you doing here at this hour? I told you not to work so hard. How come you still haven’t gone home yet?”
Woojin realized that he was mistaken. He thought that he would be fine with never seeing Shin’s face again, but he was clearly wrong. As soon as their eyes met, Woojin’s heart began to burn and fall at the same time. He was afraid his feelings might show on his face, so Woojin covered his face with his hands. His hands trembled. Woojin didn’t want Shin to see his expression, but he also wanted to see Shin’s face. It was a dilemma.
Shin walked towards him and reached out.
“Are you ok?”
“Assistant Manager, are you sick?”
Woojin always thought he shouldn’t be greedy. He should forget about desires and needs.
No emotions. No expressions. He left no traces of himself in the world as time passed.
Woojin stayed still as Shin placed his hands on Woojin’s face. Their eyes met again and Woojin opened his mouth. He whispered, “That day…”
“I told you to just go.”
“… I’m sorry.”
Woojin also wanted to add, ‘I was afraid I might never get to see you again.’
But he never said it out loud.
Yoonil, Woojin’s doctor, advised him, “I know it’s hard as autumn approaches…”
“But please try to slowly wean off the sleeping pills.”
“And don’t forget to eat. Your mom calls me every week to check on you.”
Woojin looked at Yoonil and rubbed his face with his long thin fingers. It was five years ago when Woojin’s mother asked him to go see a psychiatrist. Woojin survived, barely, in his college years, but the things that happened to him haunted him to a point that he began to feel physical pain whenever he had to meet with people for work.
Yoonil was a little over 40 and a psychiatrist. He had known Woojin for 10 years now. Yoonil studied in Germany and came back to Korea to open his own clinic.
Woojin’s mother and Yoonil first met in Germany. It was almost impossible to find a psychiatrist who spoke Korean in Germany, and Woojin’s mother felt lucky to have found Yoonil. She still found it very hard to speak German.
When Woojin stood up from the dark-colored canvas sofa, Yoonil closed his chart and picked up a file. All of Yoonil’s movements were very precise and efficient. With his slim finger, he pressed the button on his recording machine.
“We will continue the photovoice treatment, which we started last month. I will be showing you three photos. All you have to do is tell me anything about them. What the photos reminds you of, any relevant memories, and so on.”
Yoonil’s voice sounded monotonous and robotic. Woojin nodded quietly. The treatment began three months ago, and it involved a lot of talking on Woojin’s part, which he found very difficult. After the recording started, Yoonil stated the date and placed three photos on the table in front of Woojin.
“Now, what does this remind you of?”
The first photo was a house. A house with a large garden, a thick door, and three puppies.
When Yoonil didn’t say anything, it meant that Woojin had to continue to talk.
“I’m not asking you to give me words. Please say what you are thinking in a sentence.”
When Yoonil explained patiently, Woojin said to him, “Three puppies are barking at the door.”
“Because there is a stranger and a strange car on the other side.”
“And where are you in this, Woojin?”
“Alright. Now, let’s go on to the next photo.”
The picture was of a woman with round eyebrows and long black hair that reached her shoulders. Her face was hidden, and she was wearing a black outfit.
Woojin suddenly felt his fingers becoming icy cold. He began to pant breathlessly. His lungs felt like they were shrinking, so Woojin grabbed his chest.
He felt something breaking inside of him. His head filled with images of blood, vomit, guns, and knives. His heart felt like it was being stabbed; his hands began to tremble. It was the same every time. He closed his eyes, then opened his mouth and stated, “A woman.”
“A person without a face.”
“I need to run away. Escape.”
Woojin’s voice sounded strangled as he continued, “It hurts.”
“I-I can’t breathe…”
“Should we stop?”
Yoonil sighed and covered the photo. Quickly, he replaced it with another photo.
It was of a school. A school made of red bricks. The building seemed to shine against the blue sky.
Woojin was now laying down on the sofa with his eyes closed. He kept touching his forehead as if he was having a headache. Yoonil handed him a cup of warm water. Woojin opened his eyes and stared at it. He didn’t want to drink it, and thankfully, his headache subsided. The pain, panic, as well as the memory disappeared also.
It always did.
Yoonil stated for the machine, “This is the 20th recording.”
“Now, what do you think of this picture?”
Woojin had the copies of all the recordings of his sessions, but he never listened to them.
Whenever he tried to remember, he couldn’t breathe and quickly enough, the memory disappeared. Yoonil told Woojin that it was because Woojin subconsciously didn’t want to remember. His body was reacting this way to forget. But Woojin knew the truth. It wasn’t a matter of consciousness and subconsciousness.
“Could you please look at the next picture?”
Woojin looked down at it. The photo was of a school under the bright sun.
Woojin reached down to touch the photo. It was almost like he could feel the rough bricks against his fingers.
“… Mr. Woojin Choi?”
“What would you like to say about this photo?”
Yoonil seemed to have a slightly different expression now. Woojin touched the corner of the photo and surprisingly, the residual pain left his body. Woojin now could feel… water.
He took a deep breath and answered, “Swimming pool.”