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Red Plastic Portrait

Red Thread of Fate

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,  Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar...

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting by William Wordsworth

Chapter 1

“Kat, this class sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, make believe, wanna-be literature. Why do I want to take it, again?” I couldn’t stop whining.

 

“Because you are enrolled in a liberal arts program and it meets a pre-req for graduation. Plus, this is only 4 weeks of pain compared to taking one in a regular semester when it’s 12 weeks of pain. And, of course it’s Professor Kim teaching so it’s fine even if it’s gibberish.” Kat went on and on in her sing song voice. She was obviously in a very good mood.

“You and Prof. Kim… the dude’s like 27 years older than you and yet, you all just can’t leave the poor man be.”

 

“He doesn’t look that old… oooh…maybe he’s a vampire that doesn’t age. I wonder if he’d turn me?”

 

“Seriously woman… I need my head checked for hanging out with you... Plus, he comes out during daylight to teach so can’t be a vampire.”

 

“You are so behind on vampire lore… they can walk in sunlight now… like the Cullens or the day-lighters…”

 

“You are right… I’m soooooo behind on vampire lore.” I made a face and stuck out my tongue which Kat responded in kind before answering.

 

“Anyway, anytime Prof wants to turn me, I’d happily join his coven.”

 

Shaking my head, I completed class registration before leaving the dorm room to get to work. It was half way through the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Kat had stayed at school during the break because her step parents decided to attend a Christmas themed yoga retreat. I was there, along with most of the other international students, because going home for 3 weeks was beyond my budget. Now, just two weeks before the Winter session classes began, I needed to make every penny I could so I didn’t have to work as much during the school year. Waiting tables at Boone Tavern was however the only option during breaks and in the Winter session, unless you were a nursing student and wanted to work at the hospital. I wasn’t a nursing student. I wasn’t all that partial to seeing broken bones or really any kind of pain. My contributions to medicine will be from behind a microscope lens, one day. So, waiting tables it was for a month at least.

I met Prof Kim at Dinner that night. He was there with what looked like his extended family and sat in my section of the restaurant. I didn’t recognize him until Emma came over and asked to swap sections. Apparently, Emma was another vampire wanna-be. I gladly handed her my section and took her tables. Throughout dinner I couldn’t stop watching the Professor from afar though. He seemed ordinary enough but, in an exotic, unrealistically good-looking way. His mannerisms showed age but his appearance didn’t. Anyone would guess him to be maybe thirty-five and not past sixty. It was an ageless thirty-five at that. Like his eyes had seen too much to be that young but his skin cells didn't age.

Their party was one of the last to leave the restaurant that night. Since I had finished with my tables early, I was asked to help get their coats as they got ready to leave. Professor was the last in line.

 

“Thank you, Natalia.”

 

“You are welcome, Professor. Hope you and your family enjoyed the night out.”

 

“We did. It was very pleasant.” He smiled, paused and then continued. “I look forward to having you in class next semester.”

I smiled and waved them off, lost for words. He must’ve read my name from my name badge. But how he knew I had registered for his class was a puzzle. I had done it only today. Perhaps he got the roster immediately? But how he would know I’m the Natalia that registered and not one of the other twenty-five with the same name was still a mystery. Perhaps he is a vampire with mind reading abilities, after all…

I completely forgot the incident till first day of class. Winter semester is always more relaxing because it was only one class and it’s only four weeks till another break. Most Winter classes are designed to be fun since most professors only teach one class as well. Professor Kim’s classes are always packed. Winter session was no different. Surprisingly though, it wasn’t just female students. Our class was half and half. First day of class decides your seat for the rest of the semester. Given this is a pre-req and not one I cared to actually pay attention to, I chose third from back row. It still had to be an aisle seat. I don’t really like the sliding between the seats and desk thing very much. Kat and Emma, of course, were at the very front.

 

“Settle down children. It’s still January so it’s still cold and my old bones are still aching. That’s code for find a seat and don’t make noise… you are in General Studies 402. Yes, this meets your senior pre-req for divine design studies. We are not going to study any of the monotheistic religions however. If that’s your interests Prof. Soren is doing an excellent session on the Logical Misalignment across Modern Monotheism. I sat in it last Winter and I’m telling you it’s a fascinating topic… but if you are interested in the interpretation of divinity from a period a tad before monotheism was in vogue, you can stay with me a little longer. We are going to the far east, where I’m from, to a time when divinity was more like holding a job. But because there were hundreds of “gods” we are going to narrow our focus on one of the more interesting aspects of divine intervention – that of love and marriage! Yes, you heard me – this one’s going to actually be interesting! We are going to study the Matchmaker and his craft with the Red Thread of Fate for the next four weeks. Excited?”

 

It still sounded like a load of mumbo jumbo to me but then I wasn’t particularly religious and I’m routinely told I have a serious lack of imagination. I would’ve been so much happier taking a post-grad micro biology class than this. It’s the kind of world you couldn’t see with the naked eye that I was ready to believe in! But my family’s financial situation dictated that I go to school where an international student could get a full scholarship. That meant eight general studies requirements to complete undergraduate work. At least this is my senior pre-req. After this I can go do graduate work without anymore time wasted on liberal arts.

“Ok… so, to get started. We are going to do a survey. But first, you have to read a short introduction to the Matchmaker. This is one of the very old folktales that’s been passed over generations in parts of east Asia. In fact, I wrote this down myself some time ago, from an oral narration of a bard in a rural village in China. So, log into your student account and you’ll have a link to the story. Once you finish reading it, you’ll get the survey. Answer it and then we begin the journey to discover an interpretation of divine design.”

 

The story was simply titled.

The Original Red Thread of Fate’ narrated by Pinghua Xi, documented by Prof E. Kim.

(Part I) When animals could speak in human tongue, humans could see magic and gods walked the earth alongside us. At that time, the Red Thread of Fate was visible. It was a semi transparent bright red thread that seemed to be spun of moonbeams. It was attached to the left small finger for men and right small finger for women. The matchmaker himself would visit the family on the day when a child came of age (at puberty) to grant the child the sight to see the thread. Once attuned to the red thread after it became visible, the child could feel their fate-partner’s (i.e. Soulmate in western terms) thoughts through the thread. Some people immediately went looking for their fate-partner while others took their time. But invariably, everyone ended up with their chosen fate-partner at the end. There was no mistaking your fate.

This lasted until the Crow complained to his goddess. He felt it was unfair that much of its life is spent trying to attract a mate when humans didn’t have to. He made the case that the only reason humans were advancing at a faster pace than animals were solely because this distraction of finding a suitable mate was eliminated in their lives compared to the crow and other animals.

 

The goddess in turn called the Matchmaker and requested he either provide red thread to her crows or he dispose of the practice of tying humans with red thread. Vexed at being told how to do his craft the Matchmaker vowed to never let the Crows have any red thread. But he refused to give up binding humans either. Instead, he chose to leave the red thread invisible. He argued, that the claimed advantage humans had is no longer an advantage because now they have to find their fate-partner through their own efforts much like the crows. Only difference is that humans have a fate-partner while crows did not have a red thread tied partner.

Since then, the Matchmaker rarely visited human homes though he still walks among us. It is said, when he meets particularly strong minds that have unintentionally become attuned to the thoughts of their fate-partners through the invisible red thread he sometimes takes pity and opens their sight so they can find their way amid the confusion of today’s human life.

 

-The End-

 

The survey that followed had only two questions:

1.    Did the Matchmaker make the correct choice in making the red thread invisible?

A.    Yes, it’s good to have a soulmate

B.    No, he should’ve kept it visible

C.    It doesn’t matter

2.    Do you want to find your fate-partner/soulmate?

A.    Yes

B.    No

I chose C and B respectively. Like I said, it was all mumbo-jumbo, wanna-be fairytales as far as I was concerned. That said, the only thing that bothered me was how it said the red thread was a conduit for thoughts. In scientific terms we come across light, sound and matter transfer through different mediums all the time. Like communication of data through radio waves or transfer of electrons through copper wires. It wasn’t impossible that one’s thoughts, in the form of electrical signals, could transfer similarly. It happens within the human body using the nervous system, after all. If one person was the transmitter and the other the receiver tuned to the same frequency, then it could technically work through other mediums too. Perhaps the only complexity here is the two people would have to simultaneously be both a transmitter and receiver and always be tuned to the same frequency. Again, not impossible. Just complex.

“All right. Looks like you are all done with the survey. Let’s look at the results then. Oh, ho, ho… this is interesting, isn’t it now... For the first question it is overwhelmingly A – yes, the matchmaker made the right choice to keep the practice of soulmates. We just have one vote for C – that it doesn’t matter. And for the second question, almost all of you chose A – that you want to find your soulmate. But again, we have one vote for No… well, we are almost done with time today. So, tomorrow when you come in please come prepared to discuss your position for each question. I’m particularly interested in the one who voted differently. Because normally I have to play devil’s advocate in the class. But this time we might have a real voice to lead the discussion… Thank you for making it on time today children. Make sure you do the same tomorrow because I can guarantee that my old bones will still feel the cold and I’ll be grumpy then too.”

Rest of the day for me was work mostly. But the assignment kept swirling in my mind as I served and busted tables. Since my vote was the anomaly I knew I’ll be put on the spot tomorrow. Which meant I needed a better response than ‘it’s all make believe so I don’t care.’ The more I thought of it though, the more intriguing the concept of the thought transferring red string became. What scared me was not the fact that it was possible. What scared me is how sometimes I catch myself feeling things that are wholly disconnected from how my day is going and this fairytale offered a possible explanation. A highly unlikely, rather fantastic explanation but nonetheless an explanation. No true scientist ever forgot that once upon a time in the not-so-distant past most of what we consider science today was treated as magic and witchcraft. That left the annoying question in my mind about the premise of the red thread.

Class began on time next day. Apparently Prof. Kim was a stickler for punctuality. He also got to the discussion without much of a preamble.

 

“All right, so yesterday when I asked whether the Matchmaker made the right choice in leaving the red thread but making it invisible the vast majority of you said yes. Only one said it doesn’t matter. Now, before we turn to the person who chose C, let’s first hear from those of you who said it was the right choice. Why do you think it’s the right choice?... You all should know the rules in my class. I don’t care to call for hands. Instead, I expect you all to be grown-ups and speak while maintaining proper decorum. So, let’s hear it.”

 

Emma spoke first. “Well, if the Matchmaker had given up tying the red string all together then we won’t have soulmates. That would make things far worse than just not seeing it. So, it’s good that he continued to do his job and create soulmates.”

 

“But does he create soulmates? I thought his job was to just connect them so they can find each other easily.” One of the other students asked.

 

This made the discussion come alive. Everyone seemed to have an opinion of the matchmaker’s exact role and responsibilities.

 

Kat finally spoke up when the discussion came to a lull. “Well, either way, whether he chose the soulmates or just connected them, it doesn’t really matter. Because the point of the red thread was that we could find our soulmates easily and have a deeper bond with them. Him not letting the red thread go as the goddess asked for is a good thing because it still allows us to create that deeper bond.”

 

“Very interesting point Kat. Let's put a pin on the pro side and now, let’s turn to Natalia, who chose C… tell us, why do you think it doesn’t matter what the Matchmaker chose?”

“Because whatever he chose the outcome is the same. The red thread was meant to simplify human life so one of the more illusive, error prone decisions become easier. Once he took away our ability to see it, it’s no longer easy. If anything, because we are still tied to another person, we spend even more time looking for them than if we weren’t.”

“Why do you think you spend more time than if it didn’t exist? Is it because you believe Matchmaker makes soulmates?”

“I don’t know if he can make soulmates. I haven’t done any research to figure the lore around that. My reasoning was simpler. It seems the red thread had two properties. One was to be a visual cue. Second, was to sense each other's thoughts the way a transmitter and a receiver works. That second function can create a deeper appreciation for one another because you invariably see the world through the other person’s eyes. Sort of the perfect communication platform. But the way our brains work, without the visual cue helping to separate our thoughts from the thoughts of the other person you sense, you can get more muddled. Especially if you don’t know it’s another person’s thoughts and feelings. So, either you assume everything is your thoughts and then it’s like you are trying to live two lives, seeing the world through two sets of eyes, which means you feel like you have multiple personality disorder or something… Or on the other hand even if you are so attuned to the other person and realize it’s another person, then you keep sensing a part of someone inside you and then you miss the rest of them... like a part of you is missing. Either way this goes, you end up wasting a whole lot of time that could have been spent on doing more productive things like… I don’t know… medical research… but the point is it didn’t really matter what the Matchmaker did. The crow won. He figured out a way to make humans waste time.”

“Ah… interesting point… now, we’ll come back to this point about whether the Matchmaker can create soulmates or not later in the semester. There are really interesting folklore around that. But for today, let’s shift gears and go to the second question. Do you want to find your soulmate? Who wants to go first?”

 

Kat spoke first this time. “That’s easy. Everyone knows your soulmate is the most compatible person for you in every way, which means you’ll be happy if you find them and it’s like you’ll get your own fairytale.”

 

“Yeah, just think how good the sex would be?” Josh said to universal laughter and a few wolf whistles.

 

“Really? Does it say anywhere that if you find your soulmate you’ll have a fairytale life?... in fact, what exactly is a fairytale life?” Prof Kim was a bucket of cold water.

 

“Well, all fairytales end in… and they lived happily ever after… so living happily is kinda it.” One of the girls in a middle row spoke up.

“And what is happiness?” Prof Kim, again.

 

“Not having to listen to anyone”

 

“Living without worries or stress of needing money”

“Not having to work”

“Having enough money so I can become a beach bum”

“Being able to travel the world and do whatever I like”

The answers were almost endless. Professor let it run for a few minutes until the answers slowed down.

“In general, whoever said, living without money worries, sums it up it seems. So, you all chose you want a soulmate because that will let you live without worries like having to work? I suppose all your soulmates are trust fund babies then?” Professor spoke to general laughter. But there was less mirth and more introspection in the laughter this time. “Let’s ask our class anomaly here why she chose No, shall we? I’m willing to bet you all will learn something there!”

 

Right, no pressure… I muttered under my breath.

 

“Natalia… care to share with us why you chose no?”

 

“My logic follows the first answer still. The whole thing about Soulmates is a waste of time… you see, we are all given a relatively short life. like on average maybe seventy years now-a-days. We spend the first twenty to twenty-five of it just getting up to speed on what our ancestors have figured out about the world. That’s what we do in school and in residencies and apprenticeships, right? Then we enter the workforce and have maybe another thirty five years max to do something new and add to that collective human knowledge base. Then of that thirty-five years we sleep about one third away. Now we barely have twenty five years to actually do something useful, something that will last past our lifetime. I don’t want to waste any of it looking for some imaginary, perfect partner.”

“Ah… so your reasoning is there is better things to do with life than find your soulmate?”

 

“Well… plus, there’s no evidence soulmates exist. I mean, if you really look at the data on divorce rates and relationship lengths I’d argue there’s a vast amount of evidence to show that the concept of soulmates is a fallacy. Just look at the number of songs written on heartbreak versus happiness. If you take the ratio between those as a representative analogy to the number of people finding love, that’s like less than 1%.”

 

“Ok..., your second point Natalia is that love is a manufactured concept that has no basis in reality and chasing after soulmates is again a waste of time.”

 

I mutely nodded. It somehow felt like I was walking around popping everyone’s balloons and making them cry.

 

“But doesn’t her first answer say that it’s so hard to find love because the Crow won and we can’t see the red thread anymore? So, all this confusion is just because the Crow won?” Emma asked.

"Sure... if you believe in love and soulmates then yes, it's the Crow that messed it all up... or maybe there never was love or soulmates to begin with..." I responded

“Well, that was an excellent discussion in the class today. We now have a few questions we need to answer as we go along the rest of the semester. First, we really need to figure out what is a Soulmate – it can’t be a trust fund baby for everyone, it can’t be the ones you hook up for a few days, weeks or months either. So what is the defining quality of a soulmate, according to you? That is the first question I want you all to think about. So, that’s homework… second is, does the Matchmaker create your soulmate or is he just tying you together to make it easier to find each other. We’ll keep that for the next round… alright young ladies and gentlemen, time to go do something other than be in my class for the day. Out you go…”

The class shuffled out. Many introspective faces turned to look at me for a moment. Apparently, my popularity is not going anywhere good today. But then popularity wasn’t really my thing anyway…

 

“Natalia… come talk to me for a moment before you leave.” I was about to leave when the Professor called out.

 

“Yes, sir?”

 

“So, you don’t believe in love and therefore you don’t believe in soulmates and it’s all because you think the Matchmaker made the wrong choice?” His tone suggested I had personally insulted him, which made no sense.

“Well… I mean the Matchmaker probably did the best he could with the limited options he had. But yeah, he just created a larger burden on humans with his choice.”

 

“So, tell me, if you believed in love and soulmates, how would you define them?”

 

“I don’t know, I haven’t really spent any time thinking about it. They seem like existential crises that I can’t do much about…”

 

“Think now… let’s hear how your mind works…”

 

“Ummm… I’d say love is understanding, being supportive of the other person’s passions, being there when they need you, however they need you – physically, mentally, emotionally”

 

“Bravo… that’s a great start of a definition for love… so, why do you think it’s a fictional concept?”

 

“Mostly because humans always put themselves first. They are inherently programmed to take care of their needs before putting anyone else first… except maybe some moms…”

 

“I see… so love is a fallacy because everyone’s selfish. Are you?”

 

“Yeah… most of the time…”

 

“Well, you are at least self-aware… let’s explore your first answer as it relates to this revelation about selfishness. You said, the red thread confuses your thoughts with your soulmates to the point you can’t tell what is your need and what is there’s. right?”

As he spoke it clicked for me. “Oh… I see where you are going. Because their thoughts become so integrated into yours one can argue their needs become yours and so it can break the selfish streak and like make the two of you one unit where there needs and your needs no longer compete but co-exists – equal in importance… that’s an interesting way to overcome the selfishness trait. I’ll give you that.”

“Now, tell me, if there was someone out there who you could feel through the red thread and their thoughts become part of yours and yours become part of theirs, would you want to find them?”

 

“I mean that’s a no brainer, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t want someone who has your back all the time and puts you first unconditionally?”

 

“I’d say nobody but then you are the one who said you don’t want a soulmate” the glint in the Professor’s eye was unnerving at that point. He seemed somehow both omnipotent and victorious. “So, you want a soulmate now?”

 

“Sure… if he’s all that, yes”

 

In the next instant the Professor stepped forward and put his thumb on my forehead as if he was putting his thumbprint on me. The moment his finger touched my skin it felt like I was the start and the center of a sonic boom. I could feel the energy concentrated on my forehead for a split second and then it dissipated into the world in concentric circles. Soon as it was gone I could feel a tug on my right little finger. Looking down, I could see a red string that seemed to be made of shimmering light and shadow… it took me a moment to comprehend what it all meant.

“You are not a vampire… you are the Matchmaker”

 

“No, I’m not a vampire despite the campus gossip Natalia. And yes, you are right. I’m the Matchmaker that made the choice to make the red string invisible.”

 

“But I can see it now”

 

“Yes, like the story said, I sometimes give the sight back to a chosen few.”

 

“Why me? I didn’t really believe in any of it? Plus, I don’t have time to chase after someone who lives god knows where… I have to finish undergrad and then I have six more years of grad school to get through before I can even start working. I can’t get distracted.”

“The class is called Divine Design for a reason child. You yourself said the flaw in the human design is the self centered narcissm that prevents the world from connecting, caring and being something more. I didn’t realize when sight was taken away how it would impact the rest of the design.” He had a far away look as if he was thinking of something he regretted from long ago.

“But, why start with me?”

 

“It’s actually not you perse. It’s you and your soulmate together.”

 

“Who is it? What’s special about him?”

“Well, what’s special about him is the same thing that’s special about you… You both could feel the connection all along but you both chose bad in your first attempts to find each other and so gave up before you could find each other. The thing about those sensitive to the connection is even when they choose wrong they go all in because they intuitively know there’s something deeper out there. So when you fail you sometimes wall yourself off and never let anyone else in.”

 

“Huh…”

 

“Yes… you have to find him now and convince him to believe.”

 

“Wait up. So he can’t see the red thread?”

 

“No, I haven’t been able to reach him to open his sight. He’s a little hard to get to…”

 

“But you think I can?”

 

“Well, you chose him and he chose you long before this lifetime began. If there’s anyone he’s going to let in it’s going to be you. All I can say is, you won’t be able to follow the thread physically and get to him. He has too much security around him to do this the traditional way. So, you have to find a different way.” Professor looked almost apologetic at this point.

“Right, so the one person who didn’t want to waste time chasing after soulmates get’s landed with this assignment?”

 

“Like I said, you chose him and he chose you. I don’t choose your soulmates despite what anyone says. So, it’s the two of you that have to do it.”

 

“This is so confusing… where do I start?”

 

“In your dreams you’ll see him tonight. It’s how the sight works. Once you know him you’ll need to come up with a plan. I’ll say, your love for puzzles will pay off this time!”

 

I had one last question before stepping out of the lecture hall.

 

“Why is it important that we find each other? What if we just go like we are? Seems like we are both doing fine as is?”

 

“Because I need people to believe in love and soulmates again. I need humans to overcome the design flaw of selfishness… Your love story is the one that will make the masses believe in love again.”

 

“That seems a bit convoluted… how would our love story even be known to seven billion people?”

 

“You’ll know the answer when you figure out who he is…” His pause was heavy before he continued. “Natalia, you chose him and he chose you. You are perfect for each other. But… it won’t be easy. You’ll have to be strong and patient and never take ‘No’ because there will be quite a few challenges before your story is done. Just remember, he chose you too. He just needs to get to know you so he can recognize you and remember his choice.”

That night was much like any other. It was close to midnight when I finished the dinner shift and got back to the room. A quick wash and I was ready to crash. But the waking dream immediately hit me when I closed my eyes. It began with a pulse at the red thread where it was attached to my little finger followed by a flash that coalesced into a glowing form of a man with dark hair and kind, laughing eyes. He was seated on a sofa with his legs propped up on a coffee table. He had slightly nerdy glasses on and was reading some papers. At that moment, he looked up as if he’d felt someone there.

 

I could barely catch my breath when I saw his face. I’d never seen anyone more handsome in my life – not in the movies, not on magazine covers, definitely not in real life… not even definitions of prince charming in fairytales could do him justice but it was a simple, unpretentious type of beauty where his eyes spoke of sunshine filled mornings and his lips invited warm kisses… The instant attraction I felt surprised me and I pulled back. The snap back into my body woke me up and I sat up in bed.

 

“So, that’s who I am tied to with the red thread…?” I reflected. “I wonder if I find him this attractive because we are tied together or if everyone else finds him the same… I’m going to have to fight off a whole bunch of people if it’s the latter…”

While my inner voice made fun of it, a part of me was happier than I’ve ever been.

 

He felt familiar and I instantly knew the day he holds me the whole world will finally make sense.

Ch1

Chapter 2 -  Year Apart

“I’m done.”

I hadn’t meant to begin the conversation with the end. I had walked over to Professor Kim’s seminar with the hope that I could talk through the confusion and parse out reality from myth. He was the one that set me on the path I’m on. He’s the only person I know who understood the rules of the game and the implications of success and failure. But sitting at the back of the classroom filled with student voices debating pros and cons of yet another piece of mythology, everything had faded into white noise in my ears. The stabbing pain I’d woken up to this morning had taken over once again and I could feel my body freezing from that point somewhere in the middle of my chest. It was like an ice flower blooming from a tiny bud into a full blossom. Every petal it opened, another bit of me went cold. Despite the layers and layers of clothing I had put on before leaving my room, I could feel my muscles spasming where I sat. My fingertips were slowly turning blue as I lost sensitivity. I knew the symptoms well by now. My body was trying to collect the blood near the heart and keep essential functions going as if I had sustained a physical blow. But in a few more minutes I’ll struggle to breathe starting around that central point in my chest where the stabbing pain keep pulsing out. I’ll struggle to be coherent then. I will breakdown into a million tiny pieces. Knowing that is what is coming next is what made me sound like a belligerent child when the professor walked over to me after dismissing the class. He didn’t react immediately. Instead, he looked at me as if he could see through me into the pain that was close to spilling out and he understood.

 

“Let’s walk over to my office. You can sit more comfortably and tell me what’s going on.”

 

Walking made the ice recede. The coordination required for the act of walking seem to stop the body’s fight response and allow me to breathe again. Perhaps that was the professor’s intent after all. By the time we made our way to the office on the upper level of the building the stabbing pain had closed its petals and become a pulsing bud again.

 

“Ok, now tell me what you mean by ‘done’?” Professor asked indicating me to take a seat on the sofa at the far end of the room. His office always felt like a modern psychologist’s office than a college professor’s office.

“I’d like you to shut down the red thread please. Cut it off all together. I don’t want to know my soulmate anymore. I can’t effectively reach him to build a life. I’m terribly sorry to disappoint you but the whole ‘saving humanity’ you thought we were meant to do doesn’t seem to be in the cards.”

“Hmmm… why do you want to sever the red thread?”

“Like I said, I can’t really reach him.”

“You mean you can’t sense him?”

 

“Oh, I can sense him just fine. In fact, I can sense his emotions a little too well and almost predict his action before he does them... I wake up in the middle of the night when he’s excited about something, I find tears running down my face when he wakes up at first light looking for someone, I can feel everything from when he’s falling asleep to when he’s aroused. This is part of the problem. It’s like having another person inside my head whose day and night is opposite to me and has a life that is completely alien to me.” I hated the pain and the pleading even I could hear in my voice. I didn’t need anyone to pity me. Asking for help like this didn’t come naturally.

 

“But going into this, you knew this is what it would mean to activate the red thread. Remember how we talked through the purpose of the red thread?”

 

“Yes, but I can’t reach him.”

 

“You mean you can’t find him in real life? or that he doesn’t sense you the way you do him?”

 

“He can sense me sometimes I think, but not the way I can sense his every emotion. Or he’s just better at disregarding what he senses.”

 

“You can feel him clearly because I activated the red thread. I told you, I can’t reach him to activate his side. That is why you have to reach him. You are the only other person who can activate it.”

 

“How? You knew before any of this he lives in a cocoon. Short of abandoning my studies and my work and changing careers to his industry, there is nothing I can do to even stand in the same room as him. How am I supposed to reach him?” I could feel my temper rising the more I felt helpless.

 

“You don’t have to stand in front of him. For me to activate the red thread I need to touch a person. But a soulmate can activate it using any of the five human senses. Using all five together will fully align you and him but you can start with any one of them.”

 

“Well, I can’t reach him in the real world. I meet him only in dreams and then only if he and I are both asleep at the same time, which is rare given we live on opposite ends of the world. But even when we meet, I’m imaginary to him. A disembodied voice… just a figment of his imagination. I can feel him wanting me, even craving me but when he wakes up he fills that need with others… others in his real life.” my voice had dropped to a whisper by the end. I could feel the stabbing pain blooming again. It was indescribably sharp. I’ve never missed anyone like this. “Please make this stop.” I mumbled trying to stop the sob from escaping through my lips. I realized I had my palm pressing down on my chest as if that could stop the pain from spreading.

 

“Natalia… you have to tell me what is happening exactly. I’ve never seen two fate-partners not recognize each other when they have a way to connect. Once they recognize each other they’ll move heaven and earth to find each other. I know it’s been a while since I activated a red thread. But I don’t think that changes what Fate-partners are.”

 

“Seems the world has changed professor. Because he certainly doesn’t care to move anything to find me… or maybe you made a mistake. Maybe I’m not his soulmate. Maybe you tied the red thread to the wrong finger. There are so many who wants to be his.” This time I couldn’t contain the sob. Whether I am his soulmate or not, he had certainly become mine over the last year.

 

“Looking at you, the way you sense him, the way you are breaking down because you miss him… I’d say I didn’t make a mistake. Only soulmates feel pain of losing each other the way you are going through right now. I’ve seen it when they are separated. But it’s never by their choice they are separated. No one would choose this amount of suffering. Before you choose a fate-partner you learn this... That if you never find them on earth then you live a half-life, but if you find them and they are taken away from you then you live an empty life. A life so hollow you are only a walking, frozen, shell of a human. I look at you and I can see it happening. I’ve never seen one partner inflict that kind of pain on the other ever before. I can’t believe he is that cruel either. Because at best, he’s living a half-life himself. At worst, he’s turning into a shell too… that would be bad. Really, really bad.”

“I don’t think he feels the intensity of pain I do. I’d know if he did. There are enough around him to fill the half-life though.”

“That’s the third time you referenced others. There’s something there, isn’t it? Tell me what exactly happened?” The kindness in the professor’s voice was inviting but I still felt shame talking.

 

“It’s nothing really unusual in the current day. There’s just a lot of people around him that is happy to step into the void in whatever capacity he needs… I mean, most of the world is like this these days. It’s not like the old days when people believed in long term commitments or building a life together. We are a self-centered society. We address our immediate needs and move on. Only thing we build long term these days are our careers and that is an individual thing.”

“All the things you are pointing out are the reasons it was important you found him and he found you Natalia.”

 

“Yes, yes you mentioned the whole saving humanity thing… but I can’t reach him... Yes, I found him. But he’s never going to choose me. Especially now that I know him, I can give you point by point why he’d never choose me…" I started counting off with my fingers. "First, I’m not what he’s attracted to physically. Second, I’m not particularly helpful to his career, I live a very small life where my biggest aspiration is to make a difference from behind a microscope by pushing bio research forward. Third, I like peace and quite and little day to day things like waking up to birdsong and picking wild flowers, when I dream of vacations I think of glaciers and redwoods and all the wild and untamed natural places… none of these are things he’s looking for. His world is beauty queens and super models, jet setting from metropolis to metropolis setting the fashion world on fire, galas and benefits to save the world from splashy, big name problems… and wild nights filled with passion and no strings… that's his world... do you see why I’ll never be the one for him?”

“Do you honestly believe that is who he is? A playboy popinjay? Someone without a conscience?”

 

“No, he has a conscience. But he also has a plan for his life. It’s one he’s constructed with great care. Every step he takes is to realize that plan. I don’t fit in it. Someone like me has no place in it. I can’t help him further his goals. I think, once upon a time love had a place in the plan but he’s had his heart broken a few too many times that he no longer trusts it. That part of his life is now simply about filling a physical need. There are more than enough with far more experience than I have waiting in line to offer that physical comfort… trust me, when I say I have nothing to offer I’m saying that because I know him better than anyone else.”

“So, your answer is sever the red thread because it serves no purpose?”

“Yes. Please break it off. He’s figured out how to make the half-life work for himself. I, on the other hand don’t know how to function day to day anymore to even fulfill the small life I wanted before all these grand ideas... I can’t see him every time I close my eyes, dream of holding him just to find out he’s in someone else’s arms in the real world. It kills me when I can hear his thoughts and feel his emotions when he’s with those women. His excitement, his pleasure and then the tiny thread of disappointment at the end. How he tries to bury the knowledge that it's not enough... I don’t want to feel pity for the women who want to be the one for him either. I don’t want to understand them anymore than I want to understand his need and his action. I just want the pain to stop… so, yes, please break the red thread. Please… let me go back to being the old me. I just want to wake up normal again… no more fairytales and soulmates” somewhere in the middle of that, tears had started leaking down the sides of my face. I don’t cry in front of people. But professor didn’t feel like people and I had no control over the tears anyway.

“Natalia, I’m sorry. I didn’t expect this. If I had, I never would’ve activated the red thread… but, I can’t sever it or deactivate it. It doesn’t work that way. The thing is, you and him chose to be bound by the red thread long before you were born into this world. I had nothing to do with that decision. Once you choose it no one else can break it. Only thing I have power over is to activate it. I’ve tried before to deactivate it when people lose their partners but it never worked.”

 

“So, I’m going to live hearing him every day? I’m going to know his every mood and every feeling? For the rest of my life?” it was too much of a let down to immediately grasp. “I don’t know about saving humanity, I can’t even save myself then.”

 

“Before you jump to that, there are two things… first, I can’t deactivate it but there are some ways to manage the intensity. I’ve tried this only once before but we can try a damping technique to mute the signal a little bit. Then, unless he actively reaches out to you, you should be able to manage the intensity of the readings… Second, your job was never to save the world on your own Natalia. Your part was to save him. I know you think he’s got it all mapped out and his life is under control. But you see him from the way he allows himself to see himself. Being the Matchmaker I see him for who he is and you for who you are. Trust me when I tell you… your job was only to save him.”

 

I wasn’t sure I understood all that was meant by saving him. Even half frozen, I could feel something inside me respond to the professor’s words. It felt like an old memory trying to wake up. For the briefest moment I could smell his aftershave and bananas, the two scents I always associated with him since I didn’t use either.

“Now, if you like I can show you the damping technique and help you practice it.” The professor offered.

Chapter 3 - Meaning of brave

“Kat… where are my hiking boots? I need to pack them for the trip.”

 

“In the coat closet. I left it there after the hike last weekend.”

 

This is the only bad thing about living with Kat. She never cleaned anything after borrowing stuff. That and the fact that she could fit into my shoes. My shoes are five and a half US size. Most people pass that size at about twelve years, along with my height of just a smidgen over five feet. Of course, I had to go and find the one other adult in my generation with my shoe size for a roommate.

 

“How many times have I told you, you can’t leave them with mud on it, Kat… now I have to clean them before I can pack.”

 

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’ll remember next time.” Kat made her doe eyes and followed me to the closet. “Here, I’ll clean them up.”

 

By the time she walked back over with the clean pair to the living room where the open suitcase was, I was done with most of the packing. Only shoes and electronics were left. I reached over to add the hiking boots to the shoe bag before zipping it up and packing it in.

 

“Is that all you are taking?” Kat asked with raised eyebrows. “Aren’t you there for like two weeks?”

 

“Yeah, but the place has a washer and dryer. So, I’m packing enough for a handful of days only. Plus, I’m not going out or anything else fancy. It’s mostly going to be lounging around the house.”

 

“I thought you were going to meet him? You are not going to meet him in gym clothes, are you?”

 

“What possible difference will it make what I’m wearing? It’s not like he’s going to fall in love with me because I’m wearing some fancy Barbie outfit, is he?” I didn’t mean to snap. But the year-long build up of stress was finally getting to me. I had planned the trip with rosy dreams at first but hope is a hard thing to hang on.  

 

“Oh… is this about the Barbie doll woman he was dating? Are you still hung up on that? I thought she was just one of many in his dating app…”

 

I couldn’t stop the sigh from escaping before I answered. Kat always got to the heart of my worries without any preamble. It was my fault for using the wrong word and giving her an in.

 

“He’s still with her and no she’s not just some woman he’s dating anymore. She’s made it clear she wants more and he’s slowly giving-in. I'd say within the year it will be out in the public... She kinda checks all his criteria for a wife" I trailed off. I cold feel my voice getting ready to break.

 

"What criteria? the Barbie doll thing with porcelain skin and zero percent fat?"  Kat was just annoyed.

 

"Don't be like that, Kat. She has to manage her looks to be marketable in her career. I'm sure her looks doesn't hurt. Though he's dated far more beautiful women. But she's the only one he’s dated for more than two years now. Since Professor Kim opened the red thread she’s been there. It was on and off at the beginning. He almost walked away last year but since they started again, it’s been steady. He hasn’t dated anyone else for over six months now. It's time I accept they are in a committed relationship.”

 

“Ok… so why you going to see him then? You are not the kind to get in the middle of a steady relationship, Natalia. If he’s with her, what are you doing, going to see him? You’ll never forgive yourself if you think you broke them up.” 

 

I hate Kat for asking the hard questions. I hate her for making me relive the pain of everything I push to the edges in order to make it through the day. But I love her for not backing down and holding me to my standards. She knows me in a way most others don’t. Her question is valid. I’m insane to do this… I sat on the floor, next to the open suitcase, before answering her. I needed the solidity of the ground under me.

“Professor Kim can’t put the Red Thread back to sleep. I asked him already. He did his best. It didn’t work…  I tried to walk away on my own. Multiple times. I tried to just be his friend once. I tried to stop talking to him altogether twice... I do want him to be happy… Reach all the dreams he has… Be all the things he wants to be... If she’s going to help him, then yes, I want him to have her too… I want him to have everything that makes him happy... But I don’t know how to let go. I can’t as long as I can sense him there. Even when it hurts to hold on, I'm not brave enough to let go... I need him like I need oxygen to breathe. It’s not a choice, Kat. Loving him is a reflex. Something written into my DNA that I can’t break free.” As small as my voice sounded, it never broke. I’d had this conversation with myself a thousand times. This just happened to be the first time I was saying it out loud.

 

“Nat, it doesn’t make sense. How can you be like this about someone you’ve never met or spoken to or even texted with? I know what we learned about the Red Thread. But you yourself said it’s just a bunch of mambo-jumbo. There’s no scientific basis to any of it and you are a scientist, for crying out loud. You don’t believe anything without ten research papers to support them. How are you like this??” 

 

Kat was just trying to be helpful. She’s the only one that had seen me in the mornings with bags under my eyes and dried up tear stains on the sides. She’d hand me a cup of Chamomile tea and do my makeup without a word on those days. I know she never asked these questions before because she didn’t know how to help. But she’s struggled with all this along with me. I agree with her. It was insanity to even believe in soulmates, much less think you can find them. 

 

“Thing is, I’ve spoken to him for almost two years now. You are right, it’s not in any ordinary way. I know that makes everything I say and do seem silly and stupid and insane. A mere flight of fancy, as you say. But whether its common or not, whether anyone else can validate it or not, it is what it is... The funny thing is, like Professor said, because of the red thread our conversations are at a deeper level than anything I've had with anyone else... I’m probably the only one he can’t lie to either. Given his public life, he keeps himself compartmentalized. Showing each audience only what they need to know. Sometimes he tries it with me too. Especially when he thinks something might hurt me. But it actually hurts more when he tries to put up boundaries and hide stuff. It becomes an extra strain on the red thread and it physically hurts.”

 

“Let me guess, he tried to hide about this Barbie doll wanna-be?” Kat made a face, rolling her eyes. It always brought out a smile in me, even when tears were threatening.

 

“Yeah, especially about her… but it was my fault. I told him it hurt every time I saw him lying in her arms and her claiming him over and over. He thought if he hid the dates, he could spare me that pain. It made things worse though. Ended up, I wasn't prepared when they were together and the shock would make my world go off kilter. It was like a punch you didn't see coming because you didn't know you were in the boxing ring. It disorients you so much that you walk around dazed for a few days... but after a while, I realized there were little tells in his behavior before the dates. They help me to prepare now.”

 

“So, he doesn’t believe in the red thread?... meaning he can’t ‘sense’ you?”

 

“No, I don’t think he does. I mean, if he could sense the way I feel every time he’s with her, there’s no way he’d enjoy being with her. It would ruin the 'mood', I'm sure... It’s the one thing I’m actually grateful for right now. I don’t want him to hurt like that. I don’t want him to know what it is like to miss someone or want someone so much that it’s physically unbearable… I’d rather he live his life ignorant of the kind of pain only red thread brings.”

 

“Hold on… if you want him to be ignorant of you and you don’t want to activate the red thread in him, then why are you going on this trip, again?? Because if you can ‘sense’ him and you can’t let go, then what’s the solution other than to activate his side of the red thread?”

 

“Professor and I had one other idea. I’m going to try it… though, most probably, you won’t like it Kat”

 

“Oh… that sounds like something even more messed up than the red thread.” Kat’s gaze sharpened along with her voice. She watched me for a moment before shaking her head. “You know what, before telling me yours and Prof’s next stupid plan, first tell me exactly what it means to ‘sense’ him like you say? this whole thing about an unexpected punch just sounds brutal.”

 

“No, no, it's not always like that. Most of the time it's a wonderful feeling of belonging I've never felt before... Have I really never explained it to you? It’s a lot like how the Professor explained during class. It’s like you have another person beside you that you share thoughts and routines and feelings with but without having to say a word out loud.”

 

“Right… but you pointed out even then that it sounds an awful lot like multiple-personality disorder because there's nobody beside you. They are just inside your head. How do you know it’s not multiple-personality?”

 

“I suppose I can’t exactly prove it’s not. Except, I don’t take on his personality or think I'm him just because I can sense him. I guess that’s the difference? Over time, I’ve learned to tell when it’s not one of my thoughts or feelings. Like, when I feel my heart racing suddenly while putting a dinner order in the computer or when I suddenly feel uncontrollably sleepy while driving in the middle of the day. It’s things that don’t fit in the context of my life at that moment. At the beginning, it actually helped that we live in two different time zones. Things he did were opposite of what I was doing at any time of the day. If we had been in the same place, it might've been harder to tell apart his thoughts from mine. But once I realized it was his, then I knew what it felt like to sense him.”

 

“Hmmm… so timing was part of why it was extra hard when he was with her? I’m guessing most of the dates were in the middle of your day because that was his night?” 

 

“Oh, you have no idea… one day I had an exam at one in the afternoon. She had called him over the day before but because he knew by then I felt it when they were together, he told her to meet a day later. But the coming date was all that was in his mind that night, it was like a flashing neon light inside my head… I was so distracted at the exam, for the first time I got a B.”

 

“Are you for real?? That’s what happened with the last Spanish exam? I thought for once I was better at something than you…” 

 

“Funny… very, very funny”

 

“So, that’s it then? It does seem distracting, just like you argued at the class.”

 

“No… that’s not really all of it… the distracting part is not the norm actually. When he’s not with her, it doesn’t hurt or distract…. In fact, normally there’s a comfort in the red thread. Since it was activated, I’ve never felt lonely. There’s a quiet strength and calm in the knowledge that he’s there at the other end of it… I can stand alone anywhere in the world, without feeling lonely… I don’t know whether I can explain it very well, Kat… but it’s like having a second heartbeat inside you, beating to a rhythm that compliments your own… on most days, when he’s asleep, there's silence for a few hours, and then I can feel a beat just below my throat, at the top of my chest. At first it's faint. I think it's when he’s just waking up but haven't opened his eyes yet. Then the beat gathers strength and the intensity increases, which seems like all his thoughts from the day before surfacing to the top of his conscious mind to remind him where he stopped before falling asleep. The gathering intensity doesn’t last more than a few seconds. A couple minutes at most. Then the beat becomes steady and strong. That's when I think he’s opened his eyes, taken a big breath, decided what the day will be and is ready to roll out of bed. Once it reaches that steady state, the 'beat' kind of merges with mine and he becomes part of me. A steady presence beside me. Calm and comforting. Then I can go about my day without being distracted by the beat. From that point on, when he’s a part of me, his thoughts are just like the rest of the different thoughts we juggle inside our heads at the same time. Think of it like a good orchestra where all the instruments do their own thing but is in harmony. It's only when his excitement sky rockets and the intensity of that 'beat' suddenly increases that I notice it again. That or when my world quiets down, like at night, and my thoughts turn to him, I can sometimes find the 'beat' again and separate it and listen to it. It’s a soothing, constant melody when he's going about his day. But I always miss him more when I hear his beat by itself. That’s when my arms start to ache like it has ghost memories of holding him…that's when I cry myself to sleep because I miss him so much... Though, there are days when I can't find him too. Those days I can clearly feel the vacant space and the missing beat. It's a different sense of missing him. I just feel lost in those days.”

 

“What does that mean? If you are connected by the red thread, how can it go missing??” Kat had leaned in to listen to me as I explained. I could see the confusion in her eyes now. I didn’t think she'd approve of what I was going to say next.

 

“That’s what made the Professor think there might be a way to break the red thread.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“It looks like he can block the red thread at times. But it’s obviously not when he wants to keep something away from me. If that was the case, he’d hide his time with Barbie, right?”

 

“Right… “

 

“Professor thinks it’s the things he’s indifferent about. Things that don’t bring out an intense feeling from him. Essentially, things that bore him and he doesn’t really care to spend time thinking about… he doesn’t waste his energy to feed those into the red thread. So, I don’t sense anything during that time.”

 

“Hold on… let me see if I got this right… are you saying if you can convince him to be indifferent towards you, then you can break the red thread?”

 

“Or at least, make it dormant…” I couldn't raise my eyes to look at Kat. I knew she'd be furious. I was ashamed knowing she was right to be furious. She'd take this to mean I was being a coward.

 

“So, is the plan that you are going to go ahead and show him how boring you are and he’ll lose interest??”

 

“You have to agree, Kat, I am kinda boring. Especially compared to his life. Right now, he finds me interesting because as far as he can tell, I’m a voice in his dreams. The magic that binds us is interesting and exciting to him, because it is unusual. But when I stand in front of him, in all my glorious "ordinary-ness", he’s not going to spare a second thought.”

 

“That’s the plan then? So, will you meet him at the airport? Is that where you plan to unveil this plan to demonstrate your "ordinary-ness"?”

“Wish it was that simple. Then I can just get on the next flight and come back... no, his flight gets there two hours before mine. He’ll be heading out long before I get through baggage claim.”

 

“So, tell him to wait for you.”

 

“I doubt he will. He’s not going to listen to a voice in a dream to wait in an airport for two hours after that long of a flight. I keep telling you, he doesn’t believe in the red thread quite the same way. No, I’m going to have to find him once there.”

 

“Yeah, you are going to find him and stand in front of him and show him how boring you are… I got it. Sounds like a fool-proof plan!!”

 

“Kat… what else can I do? I can’t let him go and I can’t hold on to him… like you said, I’m not the type to break up a steady relationship. He deserves the chance to be happy with the one he's chosen. Only way to let him have all he wants is to let him block the red thread and forget me.”

 

“You think you can take it then?... what was it that you said?... that you can feel the vacant space and the missing beat?... that you are lost without him?.. you going to be ok living a half-life like the Professor used to say?”

 

“World was empty before him too, Kat. But I’m hoping, now that I know he’s out there, living the life of his choice and reaching for his dreams, I can find peace knowing he’s happy… I don’t expect it’ll be easy. But tell me, what else can I do?…” 

 

Tears that were threatening till then, finally broke free. Kat came over and hugged me and patted my back like she had done numerous nights when she found me curled up in the couch crying to the pillow...

 

I don't want to cry anymore. 

 

Through all this, I still hadn’t told her the things that scared me the most… that he wouldn’t recognize me, even when I stood in front of him… and seeing disappointment in his eyes when he finally does…

Chapter 4 - Facing lies

Kat was sitting on the floor in front of Professor Kim's office waiting. She had dropped Nat off at the airport earlier in the morning, in time for her 9am flight. The haunted look of anger in Kat's eyes were warning enough to keep everyone at bay. It was clear she was ready to pick a fight.

"Good morning Katherine. You are here early. Please come in." To the casual passer-by it would've looked like Professor Kim was expecting Kat. 

"You knew I was coming?" Kat's suspicion only made her voice sound angrier.

"I knew Natalia was flying out today. I figured you would've dropped her off this morning. Did everything go well with the flight?"

"Flight is fine. I'm not here to talk about her flight."

"What exactly do you want to talk about Katherine?" 

"Why you are sending her to him... do you really think this will break the red thread and she'll be free? or is this another ploy to make your 'saving the world' BS happen?" Kat was ready to lose it with the Professor. No one watching them now would guess Kat was once smitten with the Professor.

"From what Natalia has said so far, I don't think my ploy, as you put it, can be achieved with her anymore. She might be his soulmate but he doesn't seem to need her or want her."

"So you think he can break this unbreakable bond of yours then?"

"I don't know. I've never seen it being done before. But I've never seen another with the same destiny as him in my entire time being the Matchmaker either. If anyone can do it, he might be the one." Professor paused in thought for a moment before shrugging his shoulders as if to rid himself of responsibility. "But it was Natalia who found the way. She's the one that figured out how he gets when bored. It is her hypothesis that if he lost interest then the red thread will go dormant for good."

"...and you are ok giving up your plan in order to save Natalia's sanity?" 

"If what Natalia said about his upcoming engagement is true, then things will be fine. His role is to remind humans how to love and trust each other again. Show them that love overcomes every hurdle and makes you stronger. Him and his other love interest seems to be compatible enough to make it happen." 

"Oh... I see... so, Nat no longer matter in your scheme! You activated the red thread and stripped bare my kind-hearted, intelligent friend. I watched her over the last two years waste away, loving a ghost that never took her seriously and never cared an iota for her happiness. She was just entertainment for him. A curiosity to break the monotony of his life... but for you, she's even less. She's just collateral damage in whatever game you play." Kat's eyes glowed with a light that was both anger and disappointment at the same time.

Professor Kim opened his office door to show Kat out. Before closing the door behind her, he reminded her gravely, "It is not a game, Katherine. This is war. The only one that matters and yes, I take my job very seriously because losing is not an option."

Perhaps Kat's anger would've melted if she had stayed long enough to hear the Professor after he closed the door. "All humans are my wards, Katherine. They all have a piece of my heart. I know Natalia will never again love if he's able to block the red thread. Because they share two halves of the same soul. She's seen sunlight in the purest form and heard the phoenix song in its sweetest. Without him her world will always stay empty. I don't understand how his is not without her..."

next, Ch 5 - the Crow

Ch2
Ch 3
Ch 4
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