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.

To Not Forget Each Other…

I stood at the entrance of the cemetery, reluctant to go in. Something in my mind was pulling me back, something… I couldn’t put a finger in it. I just lingered at the gate for a few minutes, staring inside at the neat rows of gravestones lined by shade-giving trees, and all the while wondering what I was doing there in the first place.

After some time a dark blue car pulled up to the curb behind me, startling me. I glanced over as a woman slightly older than me got out of the passenger’s seat. She wore a plain light gray shirt and black shorts that looked strangely exactly like the ones I’d wear while working out. Her straight black hair came down to her shoulders, and she didn’t have on accessories of any kind. She closed the door behind her and gave a little wave to the driver, and then the car sped off.

The woman turned toward the cemetery gate and saw me standing there looking at her. I blushed, embarrassed, and quickly looked away. After a moment’s hesitation she walked up to me and I turned to face her again as she spoke.

“Hello,” she said politely.

“Good afternoon,” I replied. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare…”

She shook her head. “That’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I’m Aiko, and you are…?”

“Haku.”

“Nice to meet you, Haku.”

I nodded uncertainly. “You too.”

“If I may ask, why are you just standing here? Is there something wrong with the gate? Is the cemetery closed today?”

“No, there’s nothing wrong with the gate, and it’s open, so you can go in. I’m just standing here because… well… I don’t really want to go in, you see.”

I blushed again as I tried to explain myself. I thought she would laugh at me, but she just nodded with understanding.

“That’s fair,” she said, giving me a little smile. “People generally don’t want to go into cemeteries.”

“Why are you here?” I asked, hoping the question wasn’t too rude.

“Because I can see spirits,” she answered simply. “I can see them and talk to them. So, every weekend, I’ll come here and talk to spirits whose friends and families haven’t visited them in a long time. Death can be quite lonely, you know. I think it’s sad. So I’ll just come here and chat with some of them and try to help them feel better.”

I thought about that for a moment. “Death is lonely,” I declared in agreement. “I’m glad you can see and talk to lonely spirits and help them out.”

She nodded. “It’s bad when people forget about the dead, don’t you think? I’ve been able to see spirits since I was really young, so I try not to forget all the spirits I’ve met since then… it’s hard sometimes, but for the spirits themselves it must be worse!”

“I imagine so,” I said. “You’re right.”

The woman smiled at me. “Take my hand, Haku. Let’s go in together, and we’ll do our best not to forget about each other afterwards. How’s that?”

For the first time all day I allowed myself to smile back at her. “Sounds good.”

I took her hand, and we entered the cemetery side-by-side.

Zuihitsu #4

Even in the dead of night I know that I am not alone. Across time and space, memories always keep me company.

For instance, the memory of a brief but eternal plane ride, the one that set the gears in motion for us to become closer than we’ve ever been. The plane ride that led to the great bridge, to the two of us standing together at the water’s edge, to the terrifyingly vulnerable confession, and everything after.

That’s a good one.

Or the memory of her face that night, flooded with genuine surprise and delight and embarrassment all at once. It takes on a soft, pensive look as four hands run over the piano keys in the background. For a moment it almost overflows with love, but it doesn’t, because love can’t overflow – it builds, expands, acting as its own container, its own master, the pace of its growth only restrained by the being it fills, but always on an endless journey towards infinity.

That’s another good one.

Sometimes, I am kept company by other people’s memories rather than my own. The memory of a broken childhood, of parents angry or never there, of social harassment and tears and pain and rage and above all a single, desperate, unspoken question, still perhaps unanswered, a question that a human being shouldn’t even have to ask.

This memory is not mine, but it may as well be, because when I lay awake at night this memory comes to me with the same depth of emotion as my own.

Memories are strange. They can evoke happiness, or suffering, or a million other indescribable things. They are not always reliable – they can change, become corrupted, or lost into the vast reaches of the universe, to be recovered someday, or not. They can be shared, or kept hidden, or they may be public in the first place. But in any case, it is memory that sustains life.

After all, memory keeps dead people alive, and it keeps living people alive along with them.

And which one am I?

Does it matter, in the end?

Aren’t Many Like Us

I remember that day. On an overnight island trip, we woke up early one silent, misty morning. We rose from our beds, exited our tents, and wandered the paths down to the beach – together. We walked, side by side, parallel to the shoreline, watching the waves crawl across the sand. We held hands. We found rare seashells. We embraced this quiet, powerful moment of communion, something that neither of us could put into words back then, something that many do not understand even now. It was a morning I will not forget.

I close my eyes and wonder why the image of this day comes so strongly to my mind. But the answer comes to me quickly: I probably wouldn’t be alive today, if you had not given me memories such as these.

I wasn’t the greatest friend to you, I know that. In middle school I was struggling with symptoms of depression that I couldn’t understand. I was too focused on myself, on my problems, to see yours. But still you held my hand. Still, you stood with your back to mine and promised we would face the world together. And we did – and we won.

We won, because we both made it out alive. And although we are divided now, separated by time and distance and situations over which we have little control, I know that if I ever need you again, you will come for me. And if you ever need me, I will come for you. Together we will stand, back-to-back, alone in the rain, until the storm subsides… until the world decides to let us free.

Because, as you told me so long ago, there aren’t many like us.

Memories, Hanging on a Thread

When I search through old pictures I find pictures of you. I find screenshots of our conversations from four years ago, conversations I don’t even remember having. I wonder at how your pictures ended up on my computer, because I’m not quite sure. But they immediately evoke feelings of another time, another place – the days when we were so, so close – and it’s not as if we aren’t close now, but things have changed.

Things have changed, and we can’t go back.

I miss you.

I miss talking to you for hours every day. I miss sending each other pictures of our lives. I miss our nightly discussions, debating great philosophical questions as they applied to us. I miss the camaraderie of the home we created, the place where people didn’t have to worry about being judged based on their age. I miss recognizing each other’s flaws, knowing which responsibilities you could take on and which ones I’d be better off taking. I miss the time when we had the power and the platform to make each other happy – every single day.

I hope I will meet you someday. If there’s this much undefinable nostalgia, I know I can’t just let you go.