My three years with Jonghyun

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Katerina Pappas

The first thing I noticed about the K-pop group SHINee was their hair, funnily enough. I first noticed the dyed, borderline orange hair of their youngest member, Taemin, in their music video “Hello”. My focus then moved on to the monochromatic outfits that each member wore, everyone sporting a different color. I was interested, albeit a little weirded out. Their monochrome outfits and leopard print pants were an eye sore, but they were something I could not help but stare at.

I watched this video on Feb. 23, 2015 marking the beginning of the ongoing three year infatuation with this group. Being a fan of them brought me such indescribable happiness. They were able to make my days brighter, to make me laugh when it was hard to even crack a smile; they were a source of comfort that I feel I would never be able to repay them for.

The first Monday of my winter break, Dec. 18 2017, I woke up to a headline I never thought I would have to read for the next 60 years — “SHINee’s Jonghyun passes away.” Those four words started to become something that would continue to haunt me. Every time I go online, I’m reminded that those words are not just a bad dream I had one night. They’re real. It gets even worse when YouTube recommends me videos of his funeral, reminding me that he really is gone. It’s a jarring feeling, like how it feels when you’re pushed on your back and the breath gets ripped out of your lungs for a quick second.

It doesn’t always have to be like this though. I don’t have to always be in this spiral of pain fueled by constant reminders. While Jonghyun’s physical presence is gone from the world, he left so much for people to remember him by — almost 10 years of music, variety show appearances, his radio show and his book that still hasn’t been fully translated. There are so many memories that I can look back on whenever I feel upset or lonely because he is not here. Not only me, but to fans across the world as well, shown through an account that memorializes Jonghyun as well as the little moments throughout his life. It is called “Jonghyun on this Day” on twitter.

After the news broke, it was hard to even think about the group, let alone watch their old videos and listen to their music. Every video that came up on my explore feed, I would scroll past. It hurt to notice the fact I could never see this in real life again. I would never see comeback news about Jonghyun in the years to come.

About a week or two after he died, I attempted to pick my spirits back up by listening to one of my favorite songs by the group, “Best Place”, from their first full album. I tried to start small to prevent me from completely breaking down and cutting the group out of my life for good. In a way, it worked, because I found myself being happy by the song rather than grieving completely.

Trying to get back into the groove of things, I looked through Twitter for remembrance threads of not only Jonghyun but his moments with the other members in the group as well. There was some kind of comfort that came with the threads, with the knowledge that while the whole fandom knew what situation we were in, we still decided to remember his distinct personality.

Jonghyun was a unique character — his little quirks, the way he smiled so wide it looked like his face would split in half, the way he looked small in literally every outfit he wore (and his grievances about his height). It was fun to observe his life over the three years that I knew him. To listen to his radio show every morning over the summers as a comfort, I never really understood what he was saying but his voice was comfort enough to get my day started. Anything he said, it felt like he was cheering me on, like he was there for me, telling me that I can get through the day without saying it directly. Being without him doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel complete and it’ll take a while to get over that.

But sometimes when I try to look back at the memories, there are times when I am just thrown into another loop, going back to square one. I see videos of his funeral in my recommended on Youtube, a harsh reminder that he really is gone.

Those grim little reminders are hard to deal with, as the wound is still cut deep. It’s hard to cope but little by little, I think I will be ok. It’s hard to know that he’s gone, that he left us at such a young age, but knowing his legacy will live on through videos, his music and his writing is just enough for me to start moving on. I don’t think I will move on anytime this year, but it will happen eventually.