I was out on an evening run when they arrived. And by they, I mean the last people I wanted to see right now.
The woman squinted at the dilapidated house in front of her. “Are you sure this is the right address? It looks awfully squalid.”
“And what is that hideous thing?” She pointed at the wooden bear outside the door. “That is the ugliest sculpture I have ever seen!”
“Hello? Can I help you?” Zell poked his head out.
“Yes, we’re looking for our son, Benjamin Kim.”
“Oh, you must be Benji’s parents!” Zell extended his hand. “I’m Zell, his roommate. Nice to meet you, Mr. Kim!”
“Please, call me Jun-soo. And this is my wife, Jane.”
“Welcome, come in!” Zell said, leading them inside. He caught a glimpse of Jun-soo’s shoes and muttered something to himself.
“Ah, I see where Benji gets his sense of fashion…”
Meanwhile, I had just gotten home. What were suitcases doing outside my house? I got closer and- oh no. Oh no. I recognized those bags.
There was a sinking pit in my stomach. “Mom? Dad? What are you doing here?”
“Benjamin!” My mother rose up. “Were you expecting us not to visit our only child? Especially since you never call us? You left so quickly, and now you’re living in this… this odumagjib? What are you doing here?”
I sighed. It was already starting. “I’ll show you,” I said. “Follow me out back.”
I showed them my workstation, and my dad leaned in excitedly to me.
“So, you brought your woodworking table, Benji?” he said. “That’s what you’re working on here?”
“Yeah!” I said. “I wanted to practice and learn how to-“
But my mother cut me off. “-Aissi! Is this what our son’s been doing? Making useless trinkets out of wood? What a waste of time!”
I gritted my teeth. “No, Mom, it’s not waste of time. I love doing it and I’m getting better-“
“Fine!” She scoffed. “Prove it. Build something decent for us, right now.”
And I was fuming, but she was right. I couldn’t become a professional woodworker if I was bad at it. So I got to work.
I built a little wooden horse, just like the one I had given Zell the other day.
My dad furrowed his brow and said politely, “That’s… lovely, son.”
My mother was staring impassively at the sculpture.
Then her face screwed up. “That’s garbage,” she scoffed. “A disaster! Who’s going to buy such an ugly sculpture? You need to find a real job, Benjamin.”
Zell suddenly sidled up behind me, concerned. “Are you ok? I heard yelling…”
But my mother was still harrying me. “Why don’t you move back in with us while you start a real career?” she said. “And then find a nice girl to settle down with?”
That’s when something snapped in me. Rage, boiling over like a pot of water left on the stove for too long.
“No, Mom!” I erupted. “I’m NOT moving back with you guys! And how many times do I have to tell you, I’m gay-“
My mother was unrelenting. “Well, maybe you just haven’t met the right girl yet! And you never will, living in this disgusting neighborhood-“
I was trembling in anger, with only my roommate’s hand on my back to steady me.
“-it doesn’t work like that, Mom! Michigetda!” I yelled. This was why I had wanted to leave home in the first place. “That’s it,” I said. “I want you guys out of my house first thing tomorrow morning!”
It was a tense night in our household. I tossed and turned all night.
I always thought that when I finally told my parents off for all the pain and anxiety they caused me, that I would feel proud or relieved. But I didn’t feel either of those things. I just felt miserable.
In the morning, I heard soft voices coming from downstairs.
“Look, Jane, what if we tried listening to what our son wants-“
“What son? We don’t have a son. We have an ungrateful brat who’s refusing our help. Jun-soo, we’re leaving. I’m calling a cab.”
By the time I came down, only Zell was left. He spoke softly. “Hey, roomie… how’re you doing?”
I took a deep breath and sat down.
“I don’t know what I’m doing, Zell,” I confessed to him. “I think my parents might disown me. What if they’re right that I’m a failure? I can’t do this all alone-“
“-that’s where you’re wrong, Benji,” Zell interrupted. “You’re not a failure, and you’re definitely not alone. You’ve got me now, too.”
And for a moment, I paused, silent.
Then I got up-
-and hugged my roommate.
“Anytime, roomie. Anytime.”
But I had a plan.
I was going to prove my parents wrong.
I was going to sell my sculptures at the flea market to prove that I could make a living as a woodworker.
And I almost got a customer, too, but then it turned out to be some guy booing me out of the flea market.
“Bruh, you suuuck! No one’s gonna buy any of your stuff!”
Mortified, I slunk out of there.
I walked straight home and went back to practicing.
I worked all day again, until my fingers were raw and bleeding, not even stopping to eat. Zell came out at night to do something in the backyard. I could hear him humming behind me.
“Wait, Benji, did you spend all day working again?” he said to me. “Slow down!”
“I can’t,” I said. “Not until my carvings are good enough.”
“What are you talking about? Your carvings look great!”
“That’s my trash pile,” I shook my head. “They suck so bad, I got booed out of the flea market today. I have to keep going until I’m better-“
“Benji, you need to snap out of this,” said Zell. “You’ve had a rough 24 hours, so I’m taking you out to the city tonight, no excuses!”
“But Zell, I’m not-” I was going to say no, but he flashed that irresistible smile over his shoulder.
And then I couldn’t say no.
Zell took me to a bar above the rooftops of the city. I had never seen anything like it.
“Wow, this is stunning!” I exhaled. “The view, the pool- and is that a karaoke machine?”
I practically ran over. “Zell, can we do Wee Bah Yoo? Please?”
Zell followed behind me. “Whatever you want, Benji, it’s your night!”
“You don’t even seem nervous this time-” he remarked.
“-not when we’re singing together,” I said, and I meant it. Zell broke into a grin right as the music swelled up.
“My roommate, everyone!” he shouted, gesturing towards me. “He’s got crippling anxiety and his parents might disown him, but LOOK. AT. HIM. GO!”
Maybe it was the music, or maybe it was the warm city air, but I started to feel like everything was going to be ok.
“Come float with me, Zell,” I said and slid into the pool, turning over and staring up into the heavens. I heard a soft splash as Zell joined me.
“Oh, this is nice,” he said softly.
And we just floated.
“Thanks for today.”
“Anytime, roomie. You know that.”
The sky was inky black with little pinpricks of light. I felt like a tiny speck floating in infinite space.
“What were you doing in the backyard today?”
“I was planting a tree.”
I closed my eyes and felt the water lapping in and out of my ears.
“You’re… on my leg.”
“Oh, sorry. Do you want me to move?”
“What? Oh, uh, n-no, it’s ok, you don’t have to move…”
“Ok good, because I’m really comfortable right now and I don’t want to.”