Juheon Rhee

If There Were a Time Machine

I’m sixteen again, addicted to adrenaline. You rest your hand on the bruise on my cheek. Dotted-blue with a wave of violet. Descriptions create a fantasy sunset—golden ambrosia of the pigmentation of my eye melting into a blue extension down to the crack that finds my mouth. Reality is ugly. My eyes hardly open from the swelling, and you are not a romantic. We probably smell like vomit.

If there were a time machine, I’m twelve, and my father is a neanderthal. He screams at a sea he will never understand, and the waves collapse before his sandals—mouths reaching to bite, eat, consume.

If there were a time machine, I would go back to a night full of fireflies. Night on a Shakespearean terrace. Bark on trees bristling, voices are liquid in my memory. I reach to cup it, only for it to slither out of the ripples of my hand. Above us, a full moon. You tell me if you could have any superpower, you would choose to fly. I agree, even if I would rather read your mind. You want to fly in this night sky. Reach for the blonde moon we convince ourselves is possible. You suddenly stand up and stare down at my eyes. You look scary, and your eyes are black holes against the shadow of a night. You reach out to brush my hair through your fingers, rid the golden shine with a human warmth. I shudder. You don’t notice.

I learn love from a friend who will come to despise me in two weeks. I learn empathy from a boy who will kiss me but doesn’t want to be seen with me. I learn to run from desperation, and learn desperation through a longing. I learn to become human through breaking. I learn to hope through insomnia, and cure my insomnia through depression. Sometimes, I walk at night alone, and learn thrill through strange men who do not want me. I learn when time chokes my neck and forces me to watch. The seven-year-old me, unable to cry when her father tells her her mother has cancer. The nine-year-old me, who can’t help laughing when a group of girls bully her. Her mother wants to believe this is a defense mechanism, almost to a sadistic extent. The twelve-year-old me, who tries to drown herself in a public pool, only to learn she will never have pure, unadulterated control over her body. The fifteen-year-old me, who manages to hide her broken finger for a whole month, and successfully disfigures herself permanently. The seventeen-year-old me, a true coward, who will tell you everything but the naked truth, soft and brutal, humane and monstrous.

If there were a time machine, I would go back to the moment of my birth. Experience the pain of being pushed out of my mother’s uterus, my soft head contracting to release me into a world already bought and sold.

Today, I sit in a coffee shop, writing poetry I can’t understand myself. But my editor calls it ethereal and loves it just fine. Behind me, two beautiful girls order a croissant and joke about boys who adore them, or want to fuck them. Maybe both. In front of me, an artist draws a caricature of Jesus Christ. Long hair swept across his cheek like an animal’s claw. If there were a time machine, I wonder if I would still be here today.

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Juheon Rhee (she/her) is a seventeen-year-old writer residing in Manila. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Indolent Books, 580 Split, Lunch Ticket, and Cleaver Magazine among others. She has also received nominations for her works, such as the nomination for Best of the Net.