happiness

“Happy birthday, Haku,” she said.

I watched her, soft and silent. She gazed at me with full and gleaming eyes, soft hazel shaded gray, and I was so touched I wanted to cry.

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” she said, “and I almost thought that I wouldn’t make it tonight, either. Things have been crazy…”

She paused, blinked, and inhaled. Then she started to talk again, low and slow and steady. She told me about her job, her classes, all the things she had been up to since we’d last met, and I listened with quiet attention. Her staying busy did not surprise me — she had always been that kind of person. I was a little concerned that she would get in over her head and burn out, but for the moment she seemed to be doing well. More than anything, she said, she was happy. And that was what mattered most to me.

“I’ll try to come again,” she said, “but I don’t really know when, my schedule is so hectic now… but listen. I’m graduating in the fall, and my boss says I’m due for a promotion, and there’s this program I want to apply for… you see? I’m happy. Really happy, things have been great and it looks like it’ll continue this way… We have so much to look forward to.”

We have so much to look forward to. Something in that statement profoundly moved me. After all that had happened, and considering how terrible her situation still was, the fact that she could still say she was happy, still say she was looking forward to the future…

Around us, the sky darkened and the salty wind began to blow the day’s fallen leaves off the grasses. The air was thick and polluted, the stars nearly invisible, but she didn’t seem to mind, and neither did I. Our meeting had been long overdue — and together, in spite of everything, we had so much to look forward to.

“Happy birthday,” she’d said. Another year, come and gone. She left the cemetery at midnight, the moment when it became not my birthday but hers, and as I looked after her I felt at peace. 

Things were going to be okay. They just had to be.

the things i still remember

“Wait for me,” he’d said that day…

I still remember his eyes. Amber-colored, soft and gentle. They lit up at the edges when he smiled, and then narrowed and seemed to draw forward when he was being intense, thoughtful, or serious. He’d gazed at me with those narrow eyes that day – the day he left, the day we both made promises we could not keep, knowing that he would not be coming back.

I remember his hair. Long, compared to most boys back then. Slightly ruffled, thick, and dyed in all the colors I never dared. I’d admired him for his hair, something that sounds stupid now. Sometimes, when I dream, strangers with unknown faces show up framed in his hair.

I remember the way he talked. When we talked about life and death, suffering and the universe, it was slow, thoughtful, heartfelt. When he talked about music it was different – open and passionate, and rising steadily in volume, although he wouldn’t notice it. He’d talked about music a lot, and I’d listened, letting him share this part of his heart.

These are the things I still remember. Now, after all these years, they are outnumbered by the things I do not.

For some time I thought I would just let this happen, this slow deterioration of memory. But today, for some reason, I want to fight it. And so I will start by writing these lists of the things I still remember. He had talked about writing a lot back then, whenever he’d talked about composing music. “You have to write it down,” he’d say. “Take what’s in your heart and what’s in your head, and find a way to articulate it on paper. Then later you can look at it and think about it and still remember.”

I wish I could find a way to articulate the things I now forget.

Ella

“Listen,” he murmured softly. “I want to thank you.”

“There is nothing,” the younger man replied. “It is what we are meant to do.”

“This is… wonderful.”

They sat for a while in a soft silence, feet dangling over the edges of the rocks, gazing out at the rocking sea. The waning crescent moon hovered high above in the misty, slightly overcast sky. The air was crisp, the view was beautiful, and the younger man was content. And Haku was dying.

It was in their custom to ensure that a dying person’s desired last sight was met. If that could not be achieved, any universally beautiful scene would suffice.

“Listen,” Haku said slowly. “Is there anyone… anyone you want me to see?”

The younger man thought about it. “Will you visit my sister?”

He nodded. “I will visit your sister.”

“I don’t get to see her so often now…”

“Is there anyone else?”

“Make sure you go see Ella.”

Haku did not reply.

“Go see Ella,” the younger man maintained. “She’s probably lonely. It’s… the least you could do.”

“… I will see her.”

At this slightly reluctant agreement, the younger man relaxed. He turned his face toward the sea and sighed. Haku lay more heavily against his shoulder, and he wrapped an arm around the man to better hold him up.

“Does it hurt?” he asked.

“No… it does not hurt.”

He could not tell if that was true or not, but he accepted the words regardless. Even people who are on the brink of death can have valid reasons to lie.

“Do you think…” Haku began. He shut his mouth and closed his eyes for a moment. “Do you think Ella died like this?”

“I suppose so. I can’t imagine anything else.”

“She was staring at the sea… like this?”

“I’m sure someone brought her.”

“I… keep thinking about it…”

His voice faded off into the rocking of the sea. The younger man held him, soft and silent. Haku would not last the night. It was unbeknownst to them then, but the younger man would not either. Below them the waves crashed and fled in a steady rhythm, and the waning moon above continued to shine. It was a scene that could not be captured, in images or in words. But it needed no capturing.

Their feelings in the moment were enough.

Kindness

The little girl sat beneath the tree and cried.

The tree was beautiful, tall and expansive and glorious, piercing the blanket of the sky with its numerous branches. It was also dead. It wasn’t just a lose-your-leaves-in-winter, plant-hibernation kind of dead; it was actually, truly dead. There was no more life to be found within its armored body.

It wasn’t the tree for whom the little girl was crying for, but it may as well have been. And as she poured out her grief beneath its stone-cold frame, the other children in the schoolyard ignored her. Not that it mattered – they wouldn’t have understood even if they tried. But she still wished that for once in her life, someone would at least play the part. And finally, after some ten or fifteen minutes of her quiet sobs, someone did.

A boy a few grades higher than her approached with obvious hesitation. She didn’t look at him, absorbed as she was in her whirlpool of sorrow, but he didn’t let the lack of recognition stop him. He walked onward until he too was standing beneath the dead tree, just a foot or so away from the girl.

“Haku,” he said slowly. “What’s wrong?”

The little girl shook her head and continued to cry. He bit his lip and frowned a little.

“Do you want me to get the teacher?” he asked.

Another shake of the head.

“I’m just going to sit next to you,” the boy said. “Okay?”

She didn’t respond, but she didn’t shake her head, either, so he took that as a yes. He sat down beside her and silently stayed with her as she cried, and that simple, loving action meant the world.

If only, she thought.

If only more people would be like this.