THE BEAUTY OF WINTER
I always loved winter. Winter was always the warmest season to me. Despite the chilling cold from the winds that felt as though the wind gods wanted to draw our souls away from us through the frosty puffs of breath that we take and the way the snow blistered our skin, I still felt that winter was the warmest season in the world. Because of him. Because of the way he smiled at me. The way he wore my scarves and clothes that I had painfully knitted for him. Because in the eight years that we were together, he would hold me close and rub the numbness away from my hands.
But all that changed when he changed. When the warmest summer nights turned colder than a blizzard, I knew. That he would no longer be my fire when I was cold. And I walked away, thinking that I could never find such warmth again, convinced that I would walk every season in the cold. Winter had become a permanent fixture in my life.
Those were the thoughts that surrounded me for the next two years of my life. To the world, I seemed happy and bright, constantly laughing, but nobody knew how my heart bled as I put on the façade. I became a master of masks, able to put on different sides of me whenever I had to. I kept myself to me, and only me. Until the next him came into my life.
He was someone that I would never have seen as a man; he was someone that I considered out of my league. He was a star that shone the brightest amongst all other stars, whereas I was the fallen star who could only flicker away in the dark nights. But he was chosen to become my partner in the new variety program that I had just signed on. And when I found out, I didn’t know what to expect or do. So I decided to do what I always did. Put on another mask.
But things never work out as we plan. And I knew, as the days passed, that my mask was slowly being stripped off in front of him. He could read me like a book. And there wasn’t anything that I could do about it.
Nothing at all.
And I asked myself that question. What do I do now?
I always hated winter. The way I had to wear layers and layers of clothing when I could spend those precious minutes catching up on my sleep. Especially the way the winds chapped at my lips, making me even more self conscious of them than I usually was. Winter was definitely the worst season in the world. The only good thing about winter is that she would wear proper clothes and cover herself up to my satisfaction, instead of her short skirts and mini tops that she would flaunt during the warmer months.
But when we drifted apart, winter no longer had that beauty about it. Winter was just cold. Harsh. Cruel. I hated winter with a vengeance.
It was summer when I agreed to come on the program. I figured that it would only be for a while, and I could leave once winter came, hopefully to the warmer countries that were being planned out for us. Or at least in Japan, where I had the warmth of my brothers as we drank and sang our hearts out in that little apartment of ours. Just thinking about it made me feel like taking that flight back to Japan instead of being here in Korea, all alone and going to meet someone I didn’t even know.
I remember walking out of the airport and peering through the windows, trying to figure out who my wife was. When she drove up to me in that red car. And I saw her. And thought, “Oh my god. It’s Hwang Bo Noona. What am I going to do??”
The early days were difficult for us both. I tried being the bright cheerful me when we first met, but he was stoic and blunt, so that mask failed. I then tried to play the older woman role that was expected of me, but his quirky remarks and attitude made me change my mind about that role. He honestly made me laugh, and it was strange but when I was with him, I wanted to be like him.
The very two things that I had denied myself from for so long.
She seemed like someone very private, but tried very hard to appear transparent. And that intrigued me, because she reminded me of me. I was someone like that too, someone who tried to keep my thoughts to myself as I didn’t want to expose myself to everyone. Which is contradictory I know, considering that I am a celebrity and the price to pay with the job is the way everything that happens to me is usually thrown out to the world to see.
She, however, seemed to do it because she had given up on something, using her pretenses as a means of escape. Even our conversations together never lasted more than two minutes, the moment she felt my gazes bore through her shield, she would break our eye contact and clam up, refusing me any entry into her private sphere.
But the more she hid away from me; my urge to find out more about her became stronger. Breaking her shell was now my new mission in this game that we were playing.
Before it stopped being a game to me.
I tried so hard to hold fort, but his slow chiseling crumbled my defences. The words he said during the different episodes we filmed together seemed to have a double meaning to everything else it was supposed to mean.
“Don’t hold your feelings in just because you are older.”
“I’d rather be here alone with you instead of with other people.”
“It feels like I’m always getting cheated by you.”
“I have never once won against Hwang Bu In.”
“I was unable to carry on without you.”
“Are you ashamed of me?”
Or am I simply just thinking too much?
As the months passed, and winter neared, I felt this strange feeling stirring within me. I wanted to stay here even if it meant that I’d have to bear through the dratted winter nights. When I saw the scarf that she knitted for me, I felt that winter was too far away; I wanted it to come tomorrow. When she suggested that I wear it in the sweltering heat, I readily agreed. Which was weird. Wanting winter to come. Me being willing enough to sweat buckets just for her.
I thought about it as I walked to the convenience store. And before I knew it, I was searching for a pharmacy for her, wearing that ridiculous outfit, even asking the police for help with directions.
The smile on my face when I finally found one.
It hit me then.
I had fallen for her.
But what did she feel for me?
She seemed to care for me too, but as always, she played around with her words as she skirted around the both of us.
“Take these vitamins, three times a day.”
“You can count on me, twenty four seven. I’ll be cheering for you.”
“It’s okay to lose, take care of yourself first.”
“How will you live without me?”
And then there were those words that made me feel like I was nothing more than a dongsaeng.
“He’s younger than me, he’s the younger husband.”
Why are women so complicated?
I think, I think, I think…. I think I have brought this too far. I have allowed too much of myself to be exposed to him, and I regret letting my defences fall just like that. I have committed so much of myself to this program, to him… and now… it’s time to say goodbye. The happy moments that I spent with him, and the warmth that I felt during winter after such a long time, was finally cracking. I could feel the numbing cold creeping into my newly found happiness.
Which technically wasn’t mine. Because we’re nothing more than a program couple. Everything we shared was for the program. There wasn’t an ounce of truth in us.
And knowing that; broke my heart a thousand times more.
Before the end.
PD: You’ll be heading out to Jeju for your last episode together. It’s going to be the ‘We’ll end where we started’ theme for you guys.
The thought that this was our last time together broke my heart. I didn’t know what to expect from now onwards. We’d cut each other out of our lives, I’d go back to becoming his stranger and him, mine.
HJ: Sounds good to me, I’m fine with anything. It’d be a good holiday for me before I start slogging for the drama.
I smiled at her only to see her looking away in the distance, that look of hurt registered over her beautiful face. Did I say something wrong?
HB: Good for him? I guess this really tells me where I stand. I’m nothing but a noona whom he can have fun with while on holiday before walking our separate ways. Fine.
Walking towards the end.
HB: I think we should leave each other a message when we reach the peak of Halla San. It’d be cool to see what we think of each other, what words we would have for each other after having gone through so many months together. Just for memory’s sake. Y’know?
I need closure. And this is about as close as I am going to get to getting one.
Is this another one of her games? Where she says one thing and means another? Whatever it is, this is the closest chance that I am going to get to a real confession. And I need to make full use of this opportunity.
Unspoken words of the heart revealed.
HJ: You came to me when I was at my weakest points, like someone the Gods sent for me. In many ways, you were like my saviour. I just wanted you to know that.
HB: With you, even if there are no spoken words of love, I only need to use my heart to feel everything that you have to say.
HJ: You don’t have to act so strong, we all know that you’re not as strong as you seem to be. Be more true to yourself, laugh when you want to, cry when you feel like crying. It’s when you are honest with yourself that you are the most beautiful.
I walked down Mount Halla, deep in thought as he ran off without me. What did he mean by those words? Could I anticipate anything? Should I anticipate?
I have to speed down this dratted mountain so that I reach in time to show her what I truly feel.
No time to waste!
None at all!!
Hwang Bo reached their hostel only to find Hyun Joong lying on the bed, sleeping from the exhaustion of running down the mountain. Smiling, she pulled a blanket over him as she got ready to do the interviews.
Hyun Joong, you will always be the child you are at heart. Fearless of whatever’s lying ahead of you, unwilling to lose to any challenge. Thank you for teaching me to be like you. The times we spent together is enough for me to gather strength from our memories and to walk on, fearless and brave. I love you Hyun Joong. I really do.
She took one last look at his sleeping form before she closed the door behind her, tears falling from her face. She had given her heart to someone, knowing that it would not receive the same emotion that it gave out. But she didn’t regret it at all. It didn’t matter that he didn’t feel the same way for her…
She had finally met the love of her life…
Hyun Joong slowly opened his eyes and took a deep breath. Did his ears fail him or did she say that she loved him? A surge of strength rushing through his veins, he leapt out of bed and ran out the door as he saw her huddled by the wall, her body racking with her sobs.
HJ: Hye Jung!
She froze, before she felt his arms wrapping around her body.
HJ: I love you too. I really do. It was you that taught me how to be a better person. It was you that shone light into my life. It was you that let me know how wonderful love is. And it was you that allowed me to feel the warmth of winter. I really, really love you.
She turned to face him as he looked down at her. Pulling her close, he hugged her so hard her bones felt like they would break. Taking in a deep breath, she wrapped her arms around him, her body finally coming back to life. Smiling into his chest, she breathed in his scent as she felt the warmth course through her on that cold winter night. She had once more found her winter’s fire.
Only this time, she was sure that it would never extinguish.