Author Archives: pk


On his way back from a tutoring gig in the far northern part of Edison, Mike decides to grab some groceries at the Stop & Shop on Inman Avenue. Mike remembers when it used to be called Grand Union about fifteen years ago. His mother had shopped there for weekly groceries and his family lived about a mile down the road. The shopping complex has changed considerably. The Great American Video Store, where Mike came monthly with his parents to rent videos, has been replaced by a pet store. The Hallmark gift store, where Mike used to pick up Valentine’s Day cards, has turned into a Walgreen’s. Burger King and Taco Bell seem to be in good shape, and the ever-resilient Golden Dragon Chinese Take-out Restaurant looks unchanged.

Knowing that an uphill bike ride awaits, Mike decides to pick up only what he needs for dinner. He is in the mood for chicken and remembers a recipe involving chicken breast, lemons, and mushrooms. He’s sure that butter also plays a part and picks up a box just in case there’s not enough at home. For a snack, he picks up a ripe banana and knows he’ll eat it as soon as he gets home.

It is in the poultry section that Mike notices a young woman carefully examining the packages of pork belly. She exhibits an intensity in reading the labels, presumably comparing prices or maybe even discerning the quality of the meat. Looking carefully at her profile from the corner of his eyes, Mike recognizes her. It’s his high school sweetheart, Laura Lin.

He is presented with a choice. Say hello or walk away. Mike instantly remembers the last time he saw her. It was in New York at a subway station. The F at 34th Street heading downtown. She was with some friends — another girl and a couple of guys — wearing makeup and dressed to go out. He was heading home from his office, tired and stressed out. At first he walked by without even paying attention. Then, as he waited and casually scanned the platform, he spotted her. The makeup on her face reminded him of the time they took the train together to New York as high school kids, nervously dining out on their own at a fusion restaurant near Union Square. Eight years later, they stood twenty feet apart, practically strangers. Mike was tempted to say hello, but he considered his appearance — wrinkled khakis, an old t-shirt, and unkempt hair — and was discouraged. On his back was a large backpack containing his laptop, notepads, and a book to read on the subway. He felt like a school boy heading home. He turned around and walked further away as to not be noticed by her.

This time around, they’re both alone and in no hurry to be elsewhere. Laura is wearing a white t-shirt, faded jeans, and orange flip flops. She has her hair in a tight ponytail. Mike has weighed several options and is sure that saying hello has the most upside.

Hi, Laura, he begins. She looks up, scans his face, and opens her eyes wide.

Oh. My. God, she says. Mike!

She steps forward to give him a hug, a quick and friendly embrace.

What are you doing here, she asks. Are you visiting?

No, I moved to Metuchen about half a year ago, he says. He goes on to quickly explain that he’s decided to switch up careers and focus on writing.

I always knew you’d be a writer, she says. He remembers the copy of Jack Kerouac’s Vanity of Duluoz that she had bought for him right before he went off to college. Inside, she had written: One day, I’ll be reading you’re semi-autobiographical novel. For at least the first year of college, he seriously believed that he would become a writer, in large part to Laura’s encouraging words.

Laura talks as they roll down the canned food aisle towards the checkout lines. She works in the finance department of Macy’s, which has a huge warehouse facility and operations office in South Edison. She lives with her chocolate lab Charlie in one of the townhouse developments off of Grove Avenue. She loves to cook and has been taking Baking and Pastry Arts classes at Middlesex Community College. She recently went to the Bahamas for a short vacation with some girlfriends and absolutely loved it. Mike both enjoys and is wary of Laura’s energetic aura. She talks quickly and incessantly. Mike realizes he has not said a word about himself since he mentioned his move to Metuchen.

He lets her go first at the checkout line, noting the abundance of greens, vegetables, meats, and fruits being passed through the scanner. He takes a good look at her as she puts away her groceries. She’s retained her figure from high school, still trim and athletic. Her face, a couple years away from thirty, looks smooth and youthful. Her tan reminds him of their summers together, when she would seize every moment to bask out in the sun. He could easily see himself attracted to her again, at least physically.

It takes almost no time for Mike’s items to be scanned and put away into his backpack. He walks out with Laura and says a couple of things about where he lives and how he rides his bike everywhere. Laura points to her car about a hundred feet away. A Toyota Camry from the late nineties.

It’s been nice seeing you, Mike, she says. We should meet up sometime and catch up some more.

That would be great, he says. But in his mind, he wonders if they can ever go beyond pleasantries. If not, there will be no reason to meet again.

There is no farewell hug, just a quick wave of the hand from both sides. She walks off to her car and he unlocks his bike. He begins the four or so miles back to his apartment. It’ll be a quick ride, in which he imagines himself joining her for dinner, playing with her dog, sharing her exquisitely prepared pork belly dish, finishing a bottle of wine, talking about their various failed relationships, and finally moving on to her bedroom, where they would show each other the things they’ve learned since they last shared the night together.


Back when Mike worked with Julia and ran a business together, they always kept a few bottles of cheap champagne in the fridge. These came in handy whenever they landed a new client or finished a big project. They would gather the junior designers — this was before anyone was laid off — and pass the bottle around, topping off the flutes. Champagne was good for morale.

Mike stops at a wine store on Main St. and walks in. The owner is Korean, so Mike says hello in Korean with a quick bow. The owner, friendly and in his fifties, smiles and says hello. The store is small and stocked with only the big name estates. Mike misses the wine store he used to frequent in Brooklyn, only a few blocks from where he and Olivia lived together. It was a hip and bustling store run by knowledgeable staff, stocked with all kinds of funky and interesting wines from independent vineyards. There, you could find quality wines for under ten dollars. Unable to decide, Mike picks up a chilled Yellow Tail Chardonnay. The owner makes small talk and asks where he lives.

I live in that apartment down the street, Mike says, struggling with his Korean. The owner also asks what he does for a living.

I write, Mike says, feeling embarrassed in having to say this. I’m trying to write a novel. Mike isn’t sure if he’s said it correctly. So-sul. The store owner seems to understand. He nods and rings up the wine. No tax is charged. Mike thanks him and walks home.

It’s seven dollars for the bottle. Mike would have flinched just a month ago. But times are better now. Through Sammy and his well-connected mother, Mike has found a small base of students to tutor in writing. At $25 an hour, the pay covers rent and pays the bills. Mike’s also mowed a few lawns, earning $15, $20 here and there. These labors afford him small luxuries like this bottle of wine.

Mike is disappointed to realize that he does not own any wine glasses. He’s relieved to find that he has a corkscrew to open the bottle. He uses his coffee mug and pours generously. Out of habit, he digs his nose into the mug and sniffs before taking a sip. It’ll do.

He tilts the mug towards himself. The straw yellow color of the wine looks darker inside the mug. One could mistake it for green tea. Mike quickly finishes and pours again.


Mike sips coffee and tries to jot down memories that come to mind. It’s an exercise he likes to do from time to time, especially when he isn’t making progress on his story.

As vast and powerful as the human mind may seem, it is not an efficient device for recording and storing memories. Mike knows that the notes that he jots down are, at best, simple snippets describing the most superficial aspects of his past. These snippets, however, have the ability to trigger certain feelings, and Mike, unsure why, values this.

On this sunny morning, Mike recalls the first day he showed up to summer camp in elementary school. He must have been third going on to fourth grade. The camp counselors, mostly high school students, gave out bright red t-shirts with white lettering on the front. He remembers seeing his friends Joe and Tommy, both wearing their new t-shirts, talking about something exciting that will happen later in the day. Amid the sunshine and bustle of activity that floats in his mind, there is an acute sense of feeling left out. Was he not a part of the summer camp?

It’s entirely possible. Mike remembers living only a couple of blocks from his school, where the camp was taking place. He would often wake up early to walk around the neighborhood and to hang out in the playground, where he loved to dangle from the monkey bars and navigate the jungle gym. He could have been out on one of his walks, unaware that there was such a thing as summer camp. He might have been surprised, and even pleased, to see his friends, but this feeling would have dissipated immediately, replaced by the envy of someone excluded. There may have been a feeling of resentment towards his parents for their failure to sign him up. Mike even thinks there may have been an awkward moment, when a counselor, seeing Mike without his red shirt on, approaches him and asks why he hasn’t checked in yet. Mike hears himself, embarrassed and nervous, telling the counselor that he’s not signed up.

The emotions feel real, and it hurts Mike to recollect. But he isn’t sure any of this really happened. Did he come home and complain to his parents? Maybe even shed a tear? He remembers that he was quick to cry and always full of self-pity as a kid. Or he could be wrong about everything. He might have attended camp but the feeling of being excluded may have been something else. The inability to fit in or being placed in a group with mean kids; it may have been as simple as finding out that his friends went to the swimming pool without him.

Human memory is unreliable, Mike thinks. There are many details that come to mind – the yellow and green paint of the playground, the open fields nearby, the red wall behind the school with the fallout shelter sign, the faculty parking lot, the streets lined with dogwood – but he knows they are not all from the same day or even the same year. What he sees in his mind are composites formed from various fragments that have remained with him through the years. Some memories may have come much more recently from an unrelated source. He cannot bet his life on the color of the jungle gym, but he’s somehow sure that it was mostly green.

If this is the nature of the mind, and if so much of what he feels is a result of speculation and uncertainty, how does he go about understanding what really happened between him and Olivia? Some memories are still fresh, but others become dimmer each day, selectively relegated by the brain to make room for new memories. He begins to believe that there is no way to completely understand. The emotions that felt so powerful and raw at the time have subsided and taken on different shades. There are only snippets now. The tear streaks on her cheeks, the lack of eye contact, and the piles of unwashed dishes.