I sense the storm coming an hour before it hits. The sky has been clear all day, and it doesn’t look like the weather will change, but I know it will. I lay on my bed, listening to raging music through my headphones, waiting for the rain to come. Fear, anger, and grief course through my body in alternating currents, both meeting and overpowering the passion of the tenor vocalist. I lay there with my eyes closed, listening and breathing hard, struggling not to let the tears overtake me. There’s no reason to cry right now, but I feel like I will.
The sound of my name comes abruptly out of nowhere. “Haku!”
I sit up quickly, tear my headphones out of my ears, and wipe my face on my sleeve. “Hi,” I reply, clearing my throat.
They look at me curiously before going over to sit in my chair. I hadn’t heard the rain start, but with the music silenced the raging of the storm is shockingly loud. I walk over to close the window I don’t remember having opened, and my hair gets slightly wet in the process.
“What’s up?” they ask me.
“Nothing,” I say. “I was just thinking.” I go back to my bed, take the winter blanket off, and sit with it draped over my knees on the floor.
“What were you thinking about?”
“Death,” I say casually. “I was thinking about how people die.”
“Everybody dies,” they say.
“Yeah, I know, but some people die for no good reason. Some people die for no reason at all. And some people die because they want to die, and other people don’t want to die but they’re forced to die anyway.”
I shut my mouth and stare at them, waiting for a response. They close their amber eyes, pondering my statements for a long time. The gentle pattering of the rain fills our silence.
Finally they say, “What about you?”
“What about me?” I ask, surprised.
“Do you want to die?”
“Me?” I choke trying to find a good answer. “I mean, sometimes, yeah. At least I know for sure that I don’t want to not die. That’d be even worse than living.”
“Life sucks,” they admit. “Especially eternal life. But is death better?”
“It’s easier,” I say.
They nod in agreement. “So – what do you think will happen when you die?”
“I have no idea,” I reply honestly.
“Well, you know a lot of dead people, right?” they say. “Do you think you’ll get to see them again?”
The question strikes me. I sit for a while, thinking about it, while the storm rages around us. “I’d like to believe that,” I say.
“You’d give anything to see some of them again, right?”
I nod slowly. “Yeah.”
“It’s hard to live without them,” they say sympathetically.
Lightning flashes outside my window, and within a second I can feel tears spilling onto my face. “It’s so stupid,” I say. “He never said goodbye.”
They come over and sit next to me, laying a gentle hand on my shoulder as I cry. “It’s hard,” they say softly into my ear. “Whether you knew or not.”
“I knew,” I whisper hollowly. “I knew. He was rushing towards death, and I was waiting for him to die. Isn’t that… isn’t that so wrong?”
“Nobody could have saved him,” they say. “It’s not your fault.”
“But we could have saved him,” I insist, reaching up to wipe my face. “If people cared more, he’d still be alive. If people took him seriously, if they paid attention, if they…” I trail off into a thundering sob. I’m embarrassed to really cry in front of someone, but it’s too late now.
“You care about people too much,” they say gently as they stroke my hair. “You say you hate humanity, but admit it – somehow, at the same time, you love humans. You love them too deeply, so when they make mistakes, when they give up, when they die, you hurt. You hurt a lot.”
I choke down another sob and shake my head. “Of course I hurt. What’s the alternative?”
“You could choose not to love,” they say.
“That’s stupid,” I say, suddenly wildly angry amidst my tears. “What kind of life is that?”
“You could also choose death.”
“That’s stupid too,” I snap, surprisingly incensed by the thought. “His death destroyed us all. It destroyed me. I’m not putting my friends and family through that kind of pain.”
They smile at me gently, amber eyes sparkling. “Exactly. So you’ll live, and you’ll love, and you’ll hurt, but for now, that’s okay. Right?”
My tears have stopped. I sit in silent awe for a moment, wondering what it was they said that got me to this startling conclusion. “I guess,” I say. Part of me feels defeated, but my heart is singing only emptiness and acceptance.
“Well, that’s all there is to it, then.” They rise to their feet and go to look out the window. “The storm is letting off already. I should probably go.”
“Okay.” I remain where I am on the floor, too tired to stand.
They look down at me, grounding me. “See you later, Haku,” they say.
“Later,” I reply.
They stand there, grinning at me awkwardly. “Um.”
“Oh… sorry.” I haul myself to my feet and go over to open the window, struggling against the old, partially-broken sliding mechanism. And as soon as I’ve won the fight, I’m alone.
I pause, breathing in the misty air, readjusting. Then I smile, put my headphones back in, and turn on the music.