"You know what — if you'd met me before this, you wouldn't have come to like me," he once said. I didn't care much back then, because the past already passed and his current self was quite bearable. But it had been five years and, in the tedious afternoon of packing, I happened to find a box in which his old stuff was kept all along. It was then that our conversation was being replayed, like my finger carelessly pressed the button that I should not have. "It doesn't matter," I said to him, "I like you now. Nothing is gonna change that." How naive I was, how optimistic. He smiled and chuckled a little bit. "You don't know me," said he, as if to himself, and we never discussed it further after that. Not until now when I looked at a stack of notebooks which were his diaries, his photo albums, a set of old records, new books that no one read, and scrappy sketch papers. He left all of them for me — evidence of our brief encounter, remains of his existence on earth, souvenirs that I didn't and never ask for. I couldn't throw the box away or come to lay my hand over it. I long for him in the impossible, future sense and yet his past was here before me, left unopened.
For the first time, I went through pages after pages of his teenage angst and confusion scribbled in cursive. His self-reflection, pride and humiliation, confidence and insecurity, elation and melancholy, friendship and loneliness, secrets and fear, all were too grand for words to carry but also too much. I learned that he who talked and he who wrote were not quite the same person. And both became strangers to me. I looked at a boy with goofy look in a photograph and a cocky young man with a cigarette between his lips, hair ruffled — and then conjured in my mind the picture of the man who had sad brown eyes that didn't go with his wide smile. Who are you? I put his record in the player and recalled the tunes he used to hum when cooking. He was fond of classical pieces, to my surprise. I remembered him once mention breaking the room's narrow wall to bring the piano in. My eyes also traced the notes he made in these huge paperback novels, trying to decipher his small handwriting as well as his thoughts. It feels like I was recreating him from bits to bits, chasing the shadow, and mapping out his life that I never know. "We didn't meet each other too late," he concluded, "it is the right time." But that's bullshit. I wanted to know him, as a whole, not in parts and fragments. I wished I could say back then that I'll take the risk, so tell me more. Tell me everything about you. Because, yes, we didn't find one another too late. Now was too late.
I put everything back into the box. It was past midnight and I found myself feeling restless. I just realized how I miss his presence, a sweet nuisance to a bitter peace. Then the wall I had built since that day collapsed and, with my wounded pride, I cried. For the first time in almost thirty years, I cried myself to sleep like a baby.
In the morning my sister woke me up, shaking my arm gently. The truck was coming in an hour. Nothing to worry, everything is in order. "Are you okay?" She asked, frowning at me like her mother always did. I nodded.
When the moving process was almost done, one staff pointed at the only box that sat still near me. "What's about that, sir?" The young man asked.
I hesitated. There was an awkward pause between us, until I said, "never mind" and carried the box downstairs myself. The air got chill and I was reminded at once that the fall was coming again. Too soon, I thought. Looking ahead, my sister was ready in her car and lowered the window to call me in. This was the final moment. Everything must have come to an end. So I put the box down beside the trash bin and walked away. Never looked back, never returned.