The autumn wind blows crisp and clean as I walk through the cemetery. Normally when I do this, there are other people around visiting their friends and family members, but today I’m surprisingly alone. I don’t mind. Conversations flow more naturally that way.
My feet seem to find their own way, tracing the path I’ve walked countless times. Nothing seems to have changed since last year, but then, who am I to know? I cross the cemetery wondering what it would feel like to come here during the winter. The atmosphere would probably be different… winter would feel much heavier. Autumn is my favorite season because it sings of the passage of time and the transience of our existence. It’s a reminder to truly enjoy your life while you still have it, to hold your dear friends close to you while you still have them. Winter, on the other hand, brings a feeling of emptiness that naturally fills with sorrow, and that’s hard to bear.
I stop thinking about the seasons, because I’ve just reached his gravestone. I say in greeting, “Hello, it’s been a while…” and lay down the flowers I’ve brought.
“I wonder if it’s going to rain…”
I sit down in front of him. Making myself comfortable, I remove my jacket and put it over my crossed legs like a blanket, and then I reach into the pocket and take out my phone.
“I have something for you,” I say. “I recorded some music. I thought you might like to listen to it, since I don’t know if anyone plays music for you anymore. You said you like Tchaikovsky, if I remember right…”
I put on some Tchaikovsky, and we listen quietly for a while.
After a few songs I turn my phone off and start talking. “So much has happened in the past year… I mean, you probably know about it already, but I’ll tell you again myself.” I laugh a little.
“First things first, I got a job! I don’t enjoy it all that much, but the pay is decent, and it’s a good starting point for what I want to do in the future. What I’ve been thinking recently is that you should live in the present, but live for the future, right? It’s kind of subtle, but… if you live for the present, you get stuck there. And I didn’t want to be stuck, so I got a job. It’s so tiring… But this kind of thing is good, I think. It keeps me on my toes, and that’s important.
“After this… I think I’ll keep working at this place for a while, to make some money, and then I’ll start looking for something better. You know, job hunting is tiring, too! I hate interviews so much. How do they expect you to come up with a good, honest answer to all of their questions on the spot? I’m the kind of person to think about things very carefully for a long period of time, but you can’t do that during interviews or they’ll think you’re too slow or too dumb and not hire you. They just want someone who’s good at talking, at showing off how smart they are, or pretending to be smart. It’s rough… but I guess I’ll get better at it.”
I pause to take a drink out of my water bottle. The autumn wind blows gently through my hair, and I close my eyes for a moment, enjoying the feeling.
“Anyway,” I continue, “The other big thing was that I got a girlfriend. I think you’d really like her. She’s so nice, but not for no reason. Maybe you’ll misunderstand me, but there are some people out there who are overwhelmingly nice to everyone ‘just because’, and this can get them into a lot of trouble that they can’t comprehend. But my girlfriend is overwhelmingly nice to everyone because she understands that the world needs more kindness, more unconditional love, and she’s made it her mission to bring a smile to someone’s face every day. What I mean is, she’s incredibly intelligent about these kinds of things…”
I have a hard time finding the words to explain what I’m trying to say. “See, she thinks about what effect her words and actions have on other people, then she thinks about the state of the world and the flaws of humanity, and only after thinking about all this does she say, ‘I’m going to go out and be outrageously nice to all my fellow human beings, because they truly need it right now.’ And of course this gets her into a lot of trouble sometimes too, but she’s already thought about and measured the consequences of her kindness, and she’s accepted them in advance.
“It’s the same for any other feeling or emotion. She really thinks about it first, and I love that. We both agree that being angry just for the sake of being angry, or feeling guilty just for the sake of feeling guilty, isn’t a good way to live. There are people who just go out in the street swearing at each other and getting into brawls, and there are also people who toss around the word ‘love’ without really understanding what it means to love someone… she’s not like that at all. It’s wonderful because I feel like I can really trust her – she doesn’t hide, she doesn’t try to lie. If she’s angry at me, she’ll tell me. If I’m hurting her, she’ll tell me. And if she loves me, she’ll tell me. Being straightforward like this can make her come off as harsh or cruel sometimes, because other people aren’t used to living this way, but I really like it, and I want to live like her.”
I take another drink, momentarily lost in thoughts of my girlfriend. Suddenly a fierce wind kicks up. Some of the flowers I’ve placed get blown away from the rest of the bouquet. I scramble to my feet and chase after them.
When I bring the flowers back I take more care placing them so that they won’t get blown away again. They’re a colorful mixture, with splashes of dark blue, purple, and pink, his favorite colors. I’d picked them from the side of the road on my way here; it’s become a kind of annual tradition, for some reason.
I resume telling him about my girlfriend. “Really, I’d want you to meet her. She’s a musician like me. We play with each other sometimes. We’ll duet on the piano, or else she’ll be on guitar and I’ll sing. She’s just the greatest guitarist. I mean, if you ask me if she’s the most skilled guitarist in the world, I’d have to say no, of course not. But the way she plays is just absolutely beautiful. I recorded one of our duets, so you can listen and see what I mean.”
I pull up the audio file and let it play. Hearing the sound of my own voice makes me laugh – I’m definitely not made for professional singing. “Focus on her, not me,” I say half-jokingly. After the song ends I play a recording of one of my piano solos, and then one of her guitar solos.
“See, beautiful, right? And I’ve gotten better these past few years. It would be sad if I hadn’t… Thank you for encouraging me to keep playing, even when I was ridiculously bad at it. You were great at telling me to push forward and try harder and improve. I don’t know what kind of loser I’d be without you…”
I’m starting to get nostalgic, but more than nostalgia I feel full of regret. It usually happens like this. I won’t be sad at the beginning, but once I do something like putting on music, it’ll hit me all of a sudden and I’ll feel like I want to cry.
In my head I can imagine him saying, Stop crying, Haku, you cry too much…
“Maybe I should come here more often,” I say. “I really miss you. But I think once a year is good, right? Or twice… maybe I’ll come twice from now on. Whatever happens, I don’t want to forget you and everything you’ve done for me. It’s too important…”
I trail off, unsure of what to say next. For some reason, it’s harder to talk today than it has been the past few years. The thought that he might not want to speak with me anymore crosses my mind, and it hurts – violently.
“Maybe you don’t want me to come here anymore… that’s okay,” I say. “But I’m going to come anyway, because I know nobody else visits you like this, nobody else leaves you food and drinks and flowers, nobody else talks to you and plays music for you. I’m going to keep coming to see you because I know death can be lonely, especially like this. Listen, you don’t deserve to be forgotten. I won’t let that happen. And in order to not let that happen, I have to visit you at your grave, because I’m a stupid and forgetful human and I’m afraid that if I stop coming here I’ll forget you one day. So please let me continue to visit you.”
I pause, waiting for an answer. The wind blows gently, rustling the leaves of the trees and flowers nearby. I smile a little.
“It’s okay,” I say. “Doing this every year might make me sad, but I’d be even worse off without you.”
I’m able to talk better now. For some reason I start recounting old memories of the two of us, but not the kind of memories that have reason to make you nostalgic. They’re the weird, random ones that make you think, Why do I remember this stupid little incident in my life that has no meaning whatsoever? These kinds of memories are usually very funny to me, and even though I’m at a cemetery and it feels kind of rude, I allow myself to laugh. There’s freedom to that; there’s life. Even a cemetery needs life, right?
Anyway, I hope he is laughing, too…
Towards the end I tell him, “Thank you for everything. Now and always. I’ve been thinking about my life a lot recently, and I’ve concluded that even though it’s terribly hard, I have to continue living – for your sake, if not mine. It’s hard for me to explain what I mean by this, because there are many reasons why… For instance, I have to live so that I can do all the wonderful things that you didn’t get to do. And I have to make the world a better place, so that your next life will be a happier one.”
I take a drink and then stand up. “So, you don’t have to worry about me,” I tell him. “I’ll come back to see you next year – maybe even earlier than usual – and I’ll update you on everything that has happened. Look forward to it… And if anything happens between now and then and you’re feeling especially lonely, just tell me and I’ll come visit you again.”
I put my jacket on. “I hope you like the flowers,” I add. “I thought they were really pretty. Better than last time, right? Anyway, I have to go now. I have to get back in time for work. Take care of yourself, and I’ll take care of myself, too. See you.”
With that I turn and head home. My heart hurts, but I’m happy, and I hope he is too. I put my hands in my pockets and glance up at the sky as I walk. Something about it makes me smile.
It really does look like it’s going to rain…