It was a summer’s afternoon when Daniel Han was born to parents Saha and Jinyoung Han in a small town Ohio. The Han family had emigrated from Korea a couple of generations before and despite keeping their Korean roots afloat, their children were born and raised in America. Daniel was born the youngest of three siblings, the first son after raising two daughters. The Han family also had another secret they were keeping though, his parents weren’t ever in love with one another.
From a young age, Daniel was the apple of his father’s eye, always wanting a son he finally got to do all the activities he dreamed of doing with his younger kin. Daniel grew up loving sports and supporting teams in baseball, football and hockey. As soon as he was old enough he joined clubs in school which allowed him to play. It wasn’t just because it put a smile on his father’s face whenever he attended one of his games but because Daniel truly enjoyed the spirit of the games, from supporting teams, attending them in person and playing it himself, sports were something he was passionate about.
Entering school, he was a popular kid who quickly gravitated to like minded people, he was the kind of person who got along with everyone and anyone, always smiling at people in the halls and helping those who were in need. He liked to think he was a good person but he supposed he could be ignorant at times, as kids were. His confident nature however, often got him into trouble with teachers, because he often didn’t know when to let things go and would often get sent out of class for goofing off.
Often that would lead to Daniel’s parents being called into the school to discuss his behaviour, he would promise them he would get his act together but actually following through on those promises was much harder for him. Daniel was a restless person and he found it hard to sit still and listen, he always had something to say and something he wanted to do.
To help him learn to blow off some stream, his mother suggested he enroll in a Taekwondo class that would help to teach him self control and discipline. He took to the classes almost immediately and before long he was finding himself with a full schedule constantly, always moving here and there, from school, to football practice to his fighting classes, it left very little time for free time in Daniel’s life. He liked being busy and despite the fact that he was taking on so much his grades improved thanks to the increased focus that a routine brought him.
Despite being younger than his sisters, he got along well with them growing up, his eldest sister, Lia he was especially close with as he moved into his teenage years, she would always recommend him the best music and the two of them would use the tape deck to record them so they could play them on loop loudly. They enjoyed many things but there were two things they always shared, music and gaming.
He had fond memories or rocking around the room to scratchy music played at full volume or getting out the NES system so they could tuck in around the screen and play Mario or Zelda. Sometimes their middle sister, Karina would come join them too, though she was always the most detached from all of them, preferring to stay in her room and listen to kpop while practicing her make up. He was protective of his two sisters, despite being younger than them and he took interest in the things they did. Karina wanted to be a figure skater and she was good at it, he remembered fondly being brought along to her competitions by his parents, watching as she went soaring through the air like a bird.
And Lia, she wanted to be an astronaut. And it wasn’t one of those pipe dreams that kids had either, by the time that Daniel was moving into his teenage years, Lia had already gotten high grades in her physics classes and been accepted into a training academy for NASA. Despite the fact that his sisters were always excelling at their respective career choices, Daniel still managed to shine in his own way, doing well in both his Taekwondo competitions and also being chosen as the quarterback of his football team.
Despite their children excelling the way they always asked them to through, Daniel’s parents only became more and more estranged from one another with time. They would fight over everything, money, who had to give who to practice and what they thought was best for their children. It became difficult for Daniel to keep his focus when he knew every evening he would only come back to more yelling and fighting, or worse, the silence that came from knowing his father hadn’t come home that day and was drinking at the bar all night.
He was able to get through it by distracting himself, headphones became a necessary part of his life and so did his computer. He got into gaming, enjoying whiling hours away in his room, shooting at zombies or embarking in some crazy fantasy story. Sometimes Lia would come join him and watch whatever game he was playing that day while she talked about her day at the academy, they had become one another’s biggest fans and despite the difficulty they were going through, they pulled together to get through it.
It wasn’t all that surprising when their parents finally decided to get divorced, in fact, it was considered quite the welcome change for Daniel who was relieved he would finally be able to get some peace. His grades had been dropping in the time he’d had to endure the fighting. What came as a big surprise though was his father’s insistence that he wanted Daniel to come live with him while Lia and Karina would remain with their mother. Lia, who was old enough to live her own life, made the choice to move into a place of her own.
For Daniel though, it meant leaving behind his team and his friends and transferring to a new school just before senior year. He was begrudged to do so and fought with his father to it, to no avail. Eventually he was defeated and was forced to pack up his things and the life he knew to start over in a new city. It was evident in the way Daniel behaved after that though, that it was the wrong choice to move him, he quit Taekwondo and while he did try out for the football team he didn’t have the pull to be able to play an important role.
Still he showed up to games every weekend and most weeks Lia would drive down from the academy to watch his games. Football still held a special place in his heart even if he was beginning to resent the person who had gotten him into it in the first place. A few months into the school year he met the girl who would become his later girlfriend, Serena King, the two of them hit off almost immediately and quickly went to spending all their time together. Serena was smart and kind, the kind of girl who everyone doted on and he felt lucky to be in her orbit.
The school year continued to roll by, Daniel worked to get his grades up and even had a college scout interested in him when they came to see a few of his games. Whenever he looked into the stands he would see Serena there, wearing his jersey, her face painted with his number on her cheek. He felt like he was on top of the world. Daniel spent as much time as he could away from home, often going out to parties and hanging out with friends, on the weekends they would drive down the beach and light a campfire, sitting around it and telling stories. He missed his friends from back home but with time the sting faded a little.
Things seemed to finally be turning around by the end of the school year, Daniel applied to several colleges and got acceptances, though his eyes were still on Evermore University in Colorado, who were renowned for their football scholarships and a scout had taken a special interest in him. His eyes practically lit up when he came home that evening to see an envelope with the logo on it. He opened it quickly and celebrated knowing he would be able to go to college on a scholarship and be finally able to get away from the miserable place he currently called home.
Finals came around and so did prom, Daniel took Serena and the two of them had a magical time together. Graduation wasn’t too much further down the line, he was excited to finally start to reach towards his future. Crossing the stage he saw so many people he cared for in the crowd, his mother who had always cared for him, his sister Karina with a proud smile on her face. Even his father who, despite Daniel feeling estranged from him lately, had always provided for him. There was just one person missing in the crowd, Lia.
It would be hours later when they would get a call from the hospital, informing them that his sister had been in an accident on the highway on the way to the ceremony. He felt crushed the moment he heard the news but there wasn’t time to process it because before he knew it, they were on the way to the hospital to be there with her. There was nothing the doctors could do to treat her injuries though and just a few hours after entering intensive care, Lia passed away.
Everything hurt. He didn’t know how to process his own thoughts in the days after the accident and through to the funeral. He had lost the person who honestly knew him best in the world, it crushed him to know everything he held dear about their relationship was now a memory. Memories he would treasure forever, but memories that were so painful because they were a reminder that she was never coming back. His whole family felt shattered by the loss and instead of pulling them closer, it caused them to fracture, Daniel especially who felt like he didn’t have anyone to turn to.
A few weeks later Daniel sent in a request to defer his application to university and he recoiled into himself, he turned to partying to mask his pain. Serena tried to comfort him but he soon realized he was holding her back, she kept talking about staying behind here to be with him but he couldn’t allow her to do that. He told her that he needed space and set her free. Come September she was packing her things and heading off to university, he knew she was waiting on him to change his mind but it was for the better.
The next year or so felt like it dragged along, Daniel got into smoking weed and drinking at parties most nights. Sex and alcohol felt like they provided a small relief to the pain he was feeling in his chest. He decided to get a part-time job working as a barista to keep his partying lifestyle was afloat. By the time a year rolled around he still didn’t feel like returning to studying, or doing anything his father kept bothering him to do. He was angry at the world and felt like he didn’t deserve a dream or a future of Lia never got one. He even held some resentment to himself knowing she was driving to his graduation the day she died.
He felt lost. He had lost the motivation that kept him going in life and he didn’t know how to fix it, he didn’t know how to dull the ache he was feeling in his chest. In the end, it came down to a threat from his father, saying that if Daniel didn’t go to college then he was going to need to find a path of his own. Begrudgingly, he decided to take the scholarship offer and was packing his bags ready to head to Evermore University. Despite the fact he still felt fractured inside, Daniel put on a smile the moment he walked into the dorms, the world might have kicked him but he’d be damned if he let people see him weak.