Chapter 3 - When the last leaf fell

In June of 1990, great news arrived early morning when Mrs. Lee announced a new addition to the family.  

"It's so surreal," Mrs. Lee said.  

Suho, at 11, promised that he would be the best brother to his younger sibling.  

During those times, the family was already settled with Suho in middle school and his college financially secured. 

They have a business that’s thriving on the first floor of their house. Haneul Lee was busy with his schedule and often stayed in Seoul.   

Everything was going perfect until, in September of 1990, the news shocked the entire family. 

Mrs. Lee was in her second term with their baby, still working and trying to balance being a mom, a spouse, and a businesswoman. 

Haneul’s manager called her out of the blue asking her to go to Seoul immediately.  

Mrs. Lee wasn’t the type who would abandon everything all of a sudden.  

The next thing Suho knew was his aunt, Mrs. Lee’s younger sister, moved to their house and his mom packed a few clothes to Seoul.  

He didn’t understand what was happening nor did anyone try to explain it to him. He was in the last year of middle school and had been looking forward to junior high where he’ll be officially called a teen.  

The immediate change in his family, although bothered him, was nothing he really wanted to dive into.  

Reasoning out that if it was utterly serious then his parents should have talked it out with him.  

It was a month after when autumn foliage had swept the entire landscape that Suho was finally summoned to Seoul. 

His aunt was quiet the entire three-hour drive from Daegu to Seoul.  

His father’s manager even picked them up personally, handing Suho a new plane his father bought from his recent trip.  

He was excited to finally see his father and mother after one month and having to ditch class at that. But he was not prepared for what he saw when he arrived in Seoul. 

“Your father has pancreatic cancer and he’s at stage 4,” his mother, Mrs. Lee, said upon his arrival at the hospital where his father was confined.  

"It spread out so fast and they weren’t able to detect it before it blew up. They said there’s less than 50% of him surviving.”  

“But we have decided to do everything for him. Even if it’s fighting for the 10% chance for his survival,” Suho’s mom whimpered.  

At that point, he had to be admitted, go through chemotherapy, and several surgeries to add years to his life. 

“We won’t give in without a fight,” his mom added. 

At that moment, Suho felt his knees weakened, his heart stopped, and water-filled his eyes. 

He clutched at his chest trying to pull out the heavyweight on his chest, fighting hard to keep himself from crying. “A man doesn’t cry,” was what his old man said and he wanted to stand by it. 

But the reality of his father’s sickness hit him on the face real hard, he can barely breathe. 

And that there was nothing he could do, nor nothing that he could change.   

Mrs. Lee stayed with the doctor while Suho left with his aunt to see his dad.  

Haneul was placed in a special chamber in the Intensive Care Unit where only a handful of people were allowed to enter.  

Suho watched behind the huge glass window that showed the entirety of his father’s room. He held onto his aunt’s hands, clutching it tightly as he stepped closer to the room.  

At the sight of his father lying lifeless on bed and tubes connected from everywhere, Suho felt his world caving in. 

Tears started to fall, his knees weakened, and fell right on the floor. 

He placed his head in between his knees and allowed all his welled-up emotions flow freely. 

Nothing mattered at that point for him.  

For he can’t bear to see the superhero of his life, lying hopeless and helpless on the hospital bed.  

“Here, drink this.” a soft voice interrupted him in his sorrow.  

Suho looked up, beaming in front of him was a young girl with an angelic face and a smile handing him one banana milk. Suho took the milk and she dashed off in a blink of an eye.  

He felt a wave of peace for that brief moment. 

“Suho, let’s go to your dad.” his aunt suggested.  

As he stood up, he saw a herd of doctors and nurses running towards the ICU. Everyone was clamoring around his dad.  

Suho’s heart sank, his stomach churned.  

The next thing Suho knew, he was lying on the hospital bed with his mom seated next to him.  

He studied her face.  

Despite the dark circles under her eyes and dry skin, he can still see her charm and beauty. His eyes led to the window where he could see a long line of trees in the garden next to a body of water.  

No longer were the leaves green.  

They have transformed to oranges and browns.  

When the wind blew, some of the leaves flew away with it, as if letting nature take its course. The wind didn’t seem to mind even if the trees went bare leaving no trace of life behind.  

It was a truth he can’t run from but would rather live in a lie that’ll shelter his heart.  

It was the last time Suho saw his father.  

In November, they had to fly him to America to gamble every chance they have to add years to his life. 

Suho was left in the care of his aunt.  

And his friends pitched in to offer him company every so often.  

January 1991 

Haneul Lee was brought back home, worse than before.  

They told him to expect the worst but still hope for the best.  

He didn’t understand any of what they said.  

The only thing he knew was winter had enveloped his heart leaving it frozen and dull.  

In the middle of the harsh winter, Murphy's Law took effect.  

Suho was called to the principal's office, Mr. Kang. He was a self-devout fan of his father who claimed to have mentored him in his younger years.  

And was utterly devastated at the news of the legend contracting cancer at such a young age. Haneul Lee was only 36 years old.  

Suho stepped in, his face emotionless but palms clutched to a fist.  

He knew what was coming but couldn’t bear to hear it from anyone.  

Mr. Kang stood next to him, held his shoulders, and pulled him in his arms crying.  

That was all it took for Suho to finally confirm what could have been his worst nightmare.  

And he can’t take it.  

For him, it was just a lie and he was dreaming.  


Amidst the slippery white blanket of snow on the street, Suho pedaled his bicycle twice as hard in his life, running away from Mr. Kang, from the news, and all the lies he tried to hold on to. 

He screeched to a halt in front of their house, skidding at the pavement, and ran inside the dark empty house. 

His eyes blinded with tears, he locked himself inside his father’s office, clutching at the first basketball jersey his father wore, memorabilia.  

“No, No... it’s not true,” whispering between tears.  

His aunt and friends came over knocking at the door.  

They could hear his whimper but no one would answer back. At lunchtime, they left food outside the door where all that they could hear was a video playing inside.  

Behind the closed doors, Suho created a world of his own away from the harsh reality of the outside world.  

He was on a marathon spree of all the videos his father took ever since he was born.  

“Appa, appa...” 

His soothing voice behind the video made him believe he’s still there and was only sleeping somewhere like he always does.  

He replayed the video where he and his father made dozens of paper planes with the names of the places he visited while he was gone, hanging them in the ceiling.  

All those enough to calm down his weary soul shutting up everything else.  

Later that afternoon, the news broke off to the rest of the country.  

The entire village flooded their house with sympathy, leaving flowers and lighting candles next to their house.  

It was late at night when Suho finally came out of the room, all pale and aghast.  

His friends and aunt had been waiting for him outside, two of them already sleeping on the couch. He saw the news on TV of fans and reporters standing outside of the mourning site.  

Even the pile of flowers in front of their house. His face blanks but his eyes full of despair and longing. He went straight to the hospital as expected from the chief mourner. 

At the funeral site, Suho stood next to his mom, wearing a black suit with a hemp armband, acknowledging everyone who paid tribute.  

Oblivious to the vast crowd that was waiting to pay homage to his father.   

For Suho, none of those mattered.  

After a few weeks, he knew the famous basketball legend will be forgotten but not for the family he has left behind. 

On his grave, Suho promised to continue his legacy, even without his mom's approval.   

The world stopped at that moment.  

When everyone was gone, all that was left was Mrs. Lee and Suho.   

He looked intently at his mom for the first time since the last time he saw his dad in the hospital.  

With an 8-month old baby in her stomach, Suho going to middle school, business to handle plus her husband passing away, Mrs. Lee was at her breaking point.

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