Chasing Life With You (Chapter 18)


Standing alone on the porch, I gazed out at the trees and the lake beyond. The waters were calm as usual, and the sun was just beginning to set, lighting the glittering surface on fire. Above, birds chirped and sang rhythmically. I drank in the peaceful scene.

The flow of time that summer had been intense – so much had happened. But every second had been worth it. I knew that now. There was still much more ahead, but I had learned the value of taking stock, of turning away from the future to enjoy the present and the past – and right now, there were much more important things on my mind. It was pointless to wonder what might happen next; time would not stop for me.

That being said, at the end of the month, I was planning to go home. Summer wouldn’t last, and besides, I had things to take care of. Re-evaluating my life, for one. Reconnecting with old friends. Learning to cook. Saving up for a guitar. For once, I had plans, actual plans – things I wanted to do, places I wanted to go, people I wanted to see – and not before it’s too late, but because they were long overdue. There was something new I was chasing now, and I refused to be stopped. For the first time in a long while, I was feeling inspired by an image of myself – and there was no one to ride that momentum forward but me.

Someone called my name from inside the house, bringing me out of my peaceful thoughts. Sighing lightly, I gave the lake a bit of a lingering glance. Part of me wanted to hike down to the shoreline – but now was not the time. I turned around and went into the kitchen.

Katsumi was sitting on the living room couch, one of his acoustics resting on his thigh. Tadashi was seated across from him. It was a full week since he’d returned home from the hospital, and he was feeling up to singing again. He looked up as I walked over and gave me a slow, gentle smile.

“Where’s Aliyah?” Katsumi asked, looking around.

“Hold on, I’m coming,” her voice called.

Footsteps pounded down the stairs, and then Aliyah joined us in the living room. She waved her phone at Tadashi, displaying a digital calendar. “I just called. You have therapy tomorrow, but I have a company meeting, so I can’t take you.”

“Thanks,” Tadashi replied softly. “Katsu will take me.”

Katsumi grinned. “Anyway, sit down. We’re ready to start.”

“Oh, okay.” She came over to sit beside me.

With little hesitation, Tadashi tapped out a slow beat and started to play. After a moment Katsumi joined in. I watched and listened as they began to sing, a combination of music and voices that I hadn’t heard in a long time, and I couldn’t help but smile.

What a wonderful thing, I thought to myself. I’m glad it’s not over yet.

It’s not over yet…

At least, they weren’t. And neither was I.


Chasing Life With You (Chapter 17)


We returned to the room together in a soft silence. Aliyah was sitting in the corner, doing work on her laptop. She looked up as we entered.

“Katsumi,” she said. “One of my acoustics is in the car. While you were gone I asked the nurse if it’s okay. She says no singing and no amplifying, but otherwise, if you want to play…”

He stared at her for a second, completely expressionless. “Oh… alright. Thank you.”

Aliyah moved to get up, but Katsumi raised his hand slightly to stop her. “Give me your keys and I’ll go get it,” he offered. He took the keys from her and vanished out the door without giving me a second glance.

Aliyah looked at me. “You two were gone for a while,” she said.

I sighed and went to sit next to her. “Yes.”

“Did something happen?”

“Yes. He cried, and then so did I.”

She nodded. “It’s hard.”

Is it hard? For you?”

I didn’t mean to be rude, even though the question apparently came out that way. But Aliyah didn’t seem to mind.

“Tadashi and I are good friends,” she said. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet. I’m trying not to think about it.”

“How long have you known him?”

“I met him a few months before he and Katsumi signed with my company. I was at a small local concert – just for personal pleasure, I wasn’t scouting or anything – and the two of them were one of the opening acts. Afterward, I bumped into Tadashi in the back parking lot. Katsumi had gone to speak with the stage manager, and Tadashi was by himself moving all their equipment out. I offered to give him a hand, and in exchange he tried to buy me a drink. At first I thought he was hitting on me, so I said no – I’m not interested. But eventually I realized he was just genuinely trying to be friendly and repay the favor. He gave me his phone number and we ended up meeting for coffee the next day. We started talking and became fast friends… He’s done a lot for me since then.”

I nodded. “He’s done a lot for me, too.”

Aliyah smiled. “It’s easy to be friends with Tadashi, I think. Show that you’re good-hearted, and he’ll move mountains for you. Katsumi is the same way, but he’s so much harder to get to know.”

“Tell me about yourself,” I said after a moment. “I know you’re their manager, but that’s all…”

She laughed. “What do you want to know? I’m in artist management. Spend a lot of time traveling. When I’m not, I live alone, the next town over. Unmarried, unattached. Used to have a cat. Dropped out of college to try to make it in the backstage of the music industry. My favorite color is purple. I don’t like tacos. My sister’s a hotshot lawyer, and I’m deathly afraid of heights. I had a concussion when I was 14 and lost my sense of smell. Movies can’t make me cry, but I can force my own tears in seconds. I don’t know, I’m running out of facts – is that enough for you?”

I was impressed. “How do you do that? If somebody asked me about myself, I could probably only come up with one or two things.”

“It just depends on how fast your brain works, and how well you interact with people. My mind runs like a professional sprinter. Focus on a topic and it’ll run itself to exhaustion – so to keep from getting exhausted, it jumps from one topic to the next, constantly. It’s how I distract myself from situations like this.” Aliyah waved her hands around at the hospital room. “Just don’t think about it. Think about something else. Do work.”

I contemplated this for a while. “Well,” I said slowly, turning to glance at Tadashi in the bed, “I can’t think of a good metaphor for my brain, but I just know that I’m not like that. I can’t just stop thinking about something. Earlier… I couldn’t stop thinking about what this whole situation would be like if Tadashi hadn’t called me here.”

She asked what I meant by that, and I explained the story of how this summer had come to be. “What if he hadn’t called me and made that offer?” I said. “I wouldn’t be sitting here in this hospital right now. I wouldn’t even know that anything had happened to him. If something… if something’s wrong with him, if he dies, or even if it wasn’t like this at all, but he got into a car accident… I would never know. Isn’t that… strange?”

Aliyah listened with care. “I don’t think it’s strange,” she said, “but it is hard to bear. People generally like to feel in control, but we intentionally forget that there are so many things we have absolutely no control over. Like injury, like illness, like death. That’s just how it is.”

Katsumi returned at that point, interrupting a conversation that had taken a sudden philosophical turn. He walked in with the guitar slung over his shoulder and a soft, sensitive look on his face.

“Welcome back,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said in reply. “I don’t know what I should play…”

“Play one of your songs,” Aliyah suggested. “Maybe he’ll wake up.”

Katsumi found a chair, pulled it up to Tadashi’s bed, and sat down with the instrument on his knees. It was a left-handed guitar, I noticed – which meant that Aliyah was probably left-handed, too. Not that it mattered. It’s funny, the mundane things that the mind latches onto to ground itself. I watched as Katsumi closed his eyes in thoughtful concentration.

“Okay,” he said after a moment. “Here I go…”

He started to play, slowly and quietly at first. The song was familiar – something off their first album, I thought, though I couldn’t remember the name of it. Katsumi bent slightly over the guitar, focused, his fingers starting to fly, and something about the scene nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Playing alone, voiceless, in a hospital room of all places, with Tadashi unconscious in the bed beside him, Katsumi didn’t look wild or crazy at all. He just looked forlorn.

Next to me, Aliyah started to cry. I put a hand on her shoulder. I empathized, but I was all cried out, and Katsumi was too. I stared at him as he played with hard eyes – Katsumi, the cross-handed black-haired musician, inseparable with the idea of Tadashi, with the idea of music, the man who allowed himself to feel everything

This is what this summer comes down to, I thought. This is what I came for, and this is what I’ll take away.


Midway through his fourth song, Katsumi abruptly stopped playing. Aliyah and I raised our heads to look at him, surprised. He gazed back at us with a tortured expression.

“We’re supposed to play this part in unison…”

“You can play something else,” I suggested softly.

Katsumi shook his head. “No… no more. I’m done.”


Chasing Life With You (Chapter 16)


Sometime in the late afternoon, their manager arrived at the hospital.

Her name was Aliyah. She was tall and broad-shouldered, athletic-looking, with dark blue-rimmed glasses and a tan messenger bag at her side. Her hair was black like Katsumi’s but slightly curly; she wore an off-white, generic brand-name T-shirt and jeans, and I caught an initial glimpse of a tattoo climbing up the back of her neck. She entered the room in a rush, halted almost immediately, and stared at Tadashi for a moment in the same exact way I had.

“Aliyah,” Katsumi said, getting up from his seat.

“Katsumi,” she replied. Her voice was low and hesitant, strained. “Are you okay?”

“No.” Katsu pointed to me. “This is Chas.”

We shook hands. The introductory small talk came and went with no one really paying attention to it. I remembered the plans I had made, to call Aliyah and ask her for permission to write publicly and properly about Katsumi’s and Tadashi’s music. None of that matters now, I thought. Not anymore… not until this is over.

“Sit down,” Katsumi invited. “You got here so quickly…”

“Naturally,” Aliyah said. She glanced over at Tadashi, then at me, then back to Katsumi. “How long has he been out?”

“Since this morning. Around 7:30.”

“And they don’t know why.”

“Not really, no.”

“At least it doesn’t look like he’s hurting,” I commented slowly.

Aliyah looked at me. “You’re Tadashi’s friend from back in middle school? Cheng-han, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“He’s told me about you before.”

I was surprised. “Really?”

“Yeah. If he talks about his childhood, he talks about you. Inevitably.”

“Oh.”

“I heard you’re a freelance writer.”

“Before… I was going to ask you if I could write about them and their music.”

Aliyah nodded. “When this is over, we’ll talk.”

“He’s a good writer,” Katsumi cut in.

I looked at him, startled. “What?”

“Chas is a good writer,” he restated simply.

“When have you ever read my writing?”

“We looked you up once. Me and Tama. It wasn’t so long ago.”

I considered that for a moment. “It’s kind of weird knowing that anybody can just look me up on the internet and read everything I’ve ever written… I hadn’t really thought about that until now.”

“Anyway,” Katsumi said, “Chas is a good writer and a good person, so you should let him write about us. That’s my two cents.”

Aliyah smiled. “You, on the other hand, can’t write for your life.”

Katsumi flushed at her teasing. “Hey! It’s not essays or newspaper articles, but I write great songs. I write music.” He started to go on, stopped himself, and deflated slightly. “…Tama’s the one who can’t write anything at all.”

In an instant he looked like he was about to cry again. Aliyah and I glanced at each other, both of us wondering what we should do, what we should say, but luckily, the problem was solved for us. Katsumi stood up abruptly and started heading for the door.

“I’m going for a smoke,” he announced.

“Okay,” Aliyah said. “I’ll stay here with him…”

Katsumi paused in the doorway and turned to look at me. “Chas. You coming?”

I choked down my surprise. “Yeah. Sure. Let’s go.”


The two of us found an empty bench in a park area across the street from the hospital. Katsumi passed me a cigarette, and we lit up and stood around smoking.

“I shouldn’t smoke,” Katsumi said after a long while. “It’s not good for the environment, and it’s not good for my voice.”

I made a small sound of acknowledgement. “So… you wrote all of your songs?”

“Yeah…” He sighed. “All the lyrics, almost all the music. You hear me say that, it sounds like Tama’s pretty useless.”

“…But you can’t do any of it without him.”

He swung to meet my gaze, his eyes bright and full. “No. I never could.”

We tapped out and discarded our cigarettes. Listening to short bird calls and the dull roar of city traffic, I thought quietly for a while. Both of us knew we should probably go back, but there was something I had to say, and Katsumi seemed to recognize that. He waited.

“You know, Katsumi…” I began. “I was mistaken about you.”

“How so?”

“I thought you were crazy. I thought you were so hard to figure out, so wild and complicated. I made up all of these explanations in my head, and all these ideas and metaphors for how to understand your personality – but they were all wrong. I see that now. You aren’t hard to figure out at all.”

Katsumi considered this. “Well, if you think so…”

I pushed on. “Over the past couple days, everything suddenly started to make sense to me. You aren’t complicated. You’re the exact opposite of complicated. You let yourself feel… everything. You think and feel and react genuinely to everything, and you don’t hold back. If you’re angry, you let yourself be angry. If you’re sad, you let yourself cry. If you’re not okay, you say that you’re not okay. It doesn’t matter where you are or who you’re with. You’re just you – always you – and that’s how you live. It’s not how most people live, which is why for the longest time I thought you were just unstable and crazy, but that doesn’t matter. It’s how you live, and that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?”

Gazing thoughtfully at the ground between us, he answered slowly, “…That’s right, Chas. That’s the bottom line.”

“Tell me something, Katsu. That day, a week or two ago, when you woke up screaming… what was your dream about?”

He looked at me with slight, wary surprise. “Why?”

I waved my hand to indicate the hospital. “It was this, wasn’t it? You dreamed about Tadashi?”

For a long moment he did not answer. I watched him, intent but at the same time uncertain if my intuition was correct.

“No,” he said at last. “No, the dream wasn’t about this… but it might as well have been.”

Before I knew it Katsumi was in my arms and crying, and as I embraced him fiercely I felt tears on my own face and I closed my eyes.


Chasing Life With You (Chapter 15)


I was eating breakfast alone the next morning when the call came.

Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I stared at the caller ID for a second. Katsumi Nakajima…

Weird, I thought. By the time I had woken up, the house had been empty. The pair often went out for walks or errands in the early mornings, so their absence alone wasn’t a surprise – but it was rare for them to call while they were away, and it was most unlike Katsumi to call me. I wondered if our talk the day before had anything to do with it.

Picking up, I drew out a slightly hesitant but unsuspecting, “Hello?”

“Tadashi’s in the hospital,” he said. His voice was charged and hoarse.

I was shocked still. “What?”

“The hospital in the city. Come now.”

“Wait, Katsumi, what happened?”

“We were just out for a walk earlier, kind of headed in toward town, and all of a sudden he said he couldn’t see anything anymore. He said his head really hurt, and then he collapsed and passed out. And I called the local doctor and she said I should take him to the hospital, so she drove to pick us up and now we’re at the hospital but he still isn’t waking up and they’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with him and you should come right now. Take my car.”

Before I could respond, he abruptly hung up.

I stood there for a minute with the phone in my hand, shocked and flustered. Tadashi… what?

Without really thinking about any of it, I left the remains of my breakfast on the table, grabbed my wallet and a jacket, and went into the garage. Take my car, he’d said. Tadashi’s keys were all hooked onto his wallet, so he always had them even if he wasn’t driving. Katsumi, simply because he drove less, just kept his car key at home. I found the key, got into the car, and started the engine.

The drive in to the city would take over an hour.


After much too long spent navigating city traffic and hospital guest policies, I finally reached my housemates in a hospital room on the third floor. When I walked in, Katsumi was hollering at a frustrated-looking nurse – and Tadashi was in the bed, still out cold.

Staring at him laying there like that, I vividly remembered a scene from eighth grade: Tadashi passed out in the bed of the school infirmary, bruised and bloodied from an unusually vicious bully. The school nurse had called me in, knowing we were friends, and asked me to sit there and keep him company because his parents would not come take him home. That situation had occurred many times, sometimes with the roles reversed, and now, the visual comparisons chilled me. But this time there were no bruises, no blood, no bullies – and this time, there was Katsumi.

Katsumi stopped yelling as soon as he noticed me enter the room. He stared at me for a moment, and his eyes, which had been full-blown wild before, seemed to calm. The nurse seized on this moment to make her escape.

“You came,” he said slowly.

“Of course I came,” I answered. “He’s my friend, too.”

“They don’t know what’s wrong with him,” he said. “Still waiting on some more test results, but basically they don’t know. They said I should just wait and watch and see if he wakes up.”

I nodded silently. There was nothing meaningful I could say to that.

He stared at me some more. “Chas… how do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“You don’t… show your emotions. Aren’t you scared?”

He looked like he was about to cry. I swallowed hard and met his gaze.

“Of course I’m scared, Katsu. But… I’ve been here before. Seeing Tadashi unconscious in a hospital bed isn’t new to me.”

“It’s not new to me, either.”

“Then… I don’t know.”

He nodded and looked away. I knew it was not the answer he had wanted – it really wasn’t an answer at all – but I couldn’t find the words.

I watched Tadashi breathing for a while and then spent some time wandering around the room. The patient information charted on the big whiteboard on the wall caught my eye – Katsumi was listed as his next-of-kin. Something in that struck me, hard. I went to sit next to Katsumi on the little sofa in the corner.

“Back in junior high,” I said. “It was just like this.”

“It was high school for me,” he said.

“Did he get bullied a lot then, too?”

“Not as much, I don’t think. Over school breaks his parents made him take self-defense classes. He really learned to fight, and most of the time people didn’t bother with him anymore. I thought the classes were stupid – putting the responsibility and the blame on the wrong person, teaching them violence, none of it is actually fixing the problem. It just fixed it for Tama… sometimes.”

“Sometimes?”

“Sometimes. Most of the time it was me ending up in the nurse’s office. People didn’t like Tadashi for his hair, for his looks. They didn’t like me because my parents were rich arrogant hotshots – and also because I got in their way whenever they were trying to be mean to Tama. They figured out that of the two of us, I was the easier target, because it was so easy for them to make me angry. Tama is cool and calculated. He’s smart, and he hates violence. But it was the simplest thing in the world for those bullies to knock me off my center.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“For what?” He closed his eyes, thinking for a while. “I just thought it was so ridiculous… beating up another human being, and for what? Because of his hair? Because of his parents? After I met Tama, I stopped cutting my hair. I came back to school the next year with my hair down to my shoulders, and before long we both ended up in the hospital with broken ribs. They could’ve killed us – over our hair. I couldn’t comprehend it. I still can’t.”

I nodded. “Your teachers never did anything?”

“Most of them turned a blind eye. Some of them blamed us for what was going on. Others just couldn’t be bothered.”

“And your parents.”

Katsumi looked at me. “Like I said… couldn’t be bothered.”

For a long time after that we just watched Tadashi sleeping. There was a strange feeling in the air – all the memories we had just brought back to life, mixing together with everything new. Part of me wanted to write, but I knew I couldn’t.

After all, if I couldn’t find the words to talk properly with Katsumi, I knew I’d never be able to find the words to talk to myself.


Chasing Life With You (Chapter 14)


I think that was probably the best birthday of my life. Back in my childhood, I had never really had the opportunity to celebrate things like birthdays, especially if they were my own – so for my old schoolmate, completely without prompting, to remember and to care… that meant much more to me than I was willing to admit. The surprise party, in the end, was a complete success.

As it turned out, my housemates had loosely planned out the whole rest of the day. First they brought out some board games and similar entertainment, and the three of us played together until lunch. Then, after a short meal of some extravagant takeout Katsumi had bought in the city, the two musicians put on a mini-concert for me in the living room. I was so overwhelmed by the whole affair that the oddly moving events of the early morning were entirely swept from my mind.

Lounging on the couch, I watched and listened for almost two whole hours as they filled the house with music. The songs they played were generally loud, upbeat and festive; some of them I’d heard before, but others were entirely new to me. During a long interlude they took turns soloing against each other in what resolved into an improvisatory jam session. I took it all in with a big, stupid smile on my face, enjoying every second of it. I knew I was incredibly lucky to be sharing space with them – and I could hardly believe that my summer had turned out this way.

After the concert we went back to gaming, and in a demonstration of my newly-gained skills of a twenty-five year-old, I kept up my continuous losing streak. It didn’t bother me, though. I had never been very competitive, and spending time with my housemates in this way was just too fun. Finally, at around four, Tadashi deliberately let me win one game and then left to start prepping my birthday dinner. Katsumi chatted with me as we cleaned up and put the board games away upstairs.

“Are you having a good time?” he started.

“For sure,” I replied. “Thanks so much. Today’s been great.”

“You know what, Chas, I was mistaken about you.” He glanced over his shoulder at me, his eyes flashing.

“What?”

“I always thought you weren’t a very fun person. But how you were today was nice.”

I was a bit surprised by this comment. “Really?”

He nodded. “I think you should be more genuine. You don’t say what you really mean or do what you really want or show your emotions most of the time. You spend most of the day browsing your computer doing pointless things, you dip your toes into new things like cooking and guitar but you don’t actively commit to them… you can’t even make up your mind about me. You live with me, but you don’t talk to me, and you don’t talk all that much to Tama either. We’re going to be here all summer. If you think games are fun and you want to play more, then say so. If you want to talk to me, then say so. If you want to play guitar, just walk into the studio and pick one up. You wait for us to invite you to do things, which I know is part of your consideration and natural reservation, but you also seem to wait for yourself. Honestly, you confuse me.”

I stared at him. He was right, of course – and I had no idea how to react.

“It’s just a thought,” he said, brushing a hand casually through his hair. “No big deal. I’m just saying, you never know what might happen tomorrow, so you should live today. Be genuine. Have a meaningful time. That’s how I live, me personally.”

“I’ll… I’ll think about it.”

Katsumi noticed how taken aback I was, and he loosened up a little. “Oh, nevermind, Chas. Listen, in a little while I’m gonna go help Tama in the kitchen, so you won’t be stuck with me for too long. Tell me what you did this morning.”

“Tadashi took me out kayaking,” I said.

“I figured. Did you like it?”

“Never been kayaking before today… it was good. Not really fun, I’d say. Tadashi put up quite an act.”

“How so?”

“He pretended like he was all depressed and stuff, like something was wrong. I thought he was really having a hard time. I guess he did that to lure me out and make sure I’d follow him – I was really relieved. I’d completely forgotten about it until you asked just now.”

“Tama’s not that good of an actor,” Katsumi remarked. Before I could process that he followed up with, “I was glad he managed to get you out before I got home.”

“How long have you guys been planning this whole thing?”

“Mmm… Tama mentioned your birthday to me early last week, I think. So we started planning around then.”

“Thank you, again. It means a lot to me.”

He shook his head. “It’s Tama you should thank.”

Dinner that night was a huge array of my favorite dishes, arranged basically buffet style. We would definitely have leftovers, I noted, but that was alright. Everything was delicious. After we finished eating, Katsumi took a big cake out of the fridge, and Tadashi lit up a full twenty-five short, colorful candles. Amid all the excitement, I forgot to make a wish. We sat together on the porch, devouring the cake while watching the sun set, each of us basking in the glow of the day-long celebration.

“I’m so tired,” Tadashi commented after a while.

“Sleep early tonight,” Katsumi replied.

“I think I will. Is that okay, Chas?”

I looked across the table at him. “‘Course. I’m exhausted, too. Thank you guys again. I haven’t had this much fun in forever, and I used to never celebrate my birthday… I’m really not used to it.”

“Birthdays are important,” Tadashi said. He smiled at me, and I smiled back.

“If you’re sleeping soon, I’m gonna go shower,” Katsumi announced, getting up from his chair.

We ended up showering one after another, and as a result we were all in bed by nine. Lacking any energy to write, I crashed into my sheets and fell asleep almost immediately. Perfect days, after all, never last. And I had no idea what the next day would bring.


Synchronicity (Part 10)

11:06

As the bus left another town behind and started heading into the mountain pass, Chie rubbed her eyes slightly. It was dark, and she was tired – but the endpoint of the route would be coming up in less than half an hour, and after that she’d be able to head to a motel and crash. Normally she was able to catch small naps during the many rest-stop breaks, but what sleep she had gotten had been too light and shallow to be of particular value. Too excited about the engagement, maybe.

Chie just wanted to go home. And home, even for a veteran driver like her, was not this bus. The bus was not a home for anyone – it was just an impartial container moving from here to there and there to here, a vacuum being continually filled and emptied, its occupants getting on and off like waves washing in and out of the shore. In the short term a beach looks unchanged despite the force of these steady waves, but in the long term the effects of longshore flow and erosion can be seen; in the same way, the bus would eventually get dirty and break down, and people would try to fix it by cleaning it, upgrading its mechanical parts, and adding new technology just as they try to fix beaches by building groins and seawalls and trucking in sand… but in the end, for both, the decay was unavoidable. Humans are arrogant, Chie concluded, to think they can fix anything without facing consequences.

As she pondered all of this, in part as a method of staying awake, she gave a cursory glance in the rearview mirror. The few passengers who remained appeared to be asleep. She sighed deeply. For sure, she loved her job and wouldn’t settle for anything less, but sometimes she wished it was less mindless, more personal, less alienating. She never got to know the real lives of her passengers, even though she truly cared about them. A brief conversation here, a “good morning” there – that was about the extent of her interactions with them, and it was mandated to be that way. Nothing would change if she was suddenly removed from the equation. Her passengers would still get on and off, same bus, same route, same times, with just a different person at the wheel, and that didn’t matter. Her work was largely unskilled, and she knew that even her experience and seniority, in a time of financial crisis, would not prevent her from being replaced with a desperate person willing to be paid less to do her job. That’s just how it was – and for her, how it would always be. The decay was unavoidable.

At 11:06pm on a Tuesday night, a wrong-way driver speeding through the mountain pass slammed their car into the front of the bus. Chie saw it coming. The drop-off on her right, another oncoming car on her left, she did nothing but step on the brake. Both drivers and all passengers died. In this, too, the decay was unavoidable. Beyond the grave she would be condemned for lack of action, for supposedly killing all her passengers, for the crime of knowing something was going to happen beforehand and just letting it happen. But that’s how it was. On the last stretch of the route, with everything around her rushing towards an undefinable conclusion, Chie had been moving unavoidably towards the accident, and she could not have stopped that the way she could not have stopped time, for time flows apathetically in one single direction – at least in the here and now in which she had lived. So, in the end, they never made it. Like a tsunami ravaging a coastline, the bus itself was abruptly cleaned out and destroyed –

And tomorrow, it would be made anew.

Synchronicity (Part 9)

1:03

Hira sat down in the frontmost seat with a stomachful of anxiety weighing him down. Working through a simple breathing exercise, he stared silently at the back of the driver’s head as the bus got going. In, out… in, out. Everything’s going to be okay.

He did not believe it.

In his professional life, Hira was a clinical therapist. He worked mainly with individuals suffering from depression and anxiety disorders, which were steadily on the rise. In his personal life, he was a single father working hard to make ends meet for his daughter. Things were not going too well on that front. They never seemed to. And now, for the first real meaningful time, Hira was going to therapy as the patient.

Doctors of medicine study for years and practice for longer, and even they end up in urgent cares, emergency rooms, and hospital ICUs, dying just like the countless people they’d spent their lifetimes trying to save. Hira saw therapists as being the same way. He had spent years studying in psychology, sociology, and related fields. He knew what was wrong with him the same way a neuroscientist could understand exactly what was happening in their brain as they suffered a stroke. Surgeons can die in surgery, and therapists can commit suicide. One of life’s great ironies, maybe – or just a testament to human arrogance. Hira closed his eyes and tried to stop thinking about it.

Even inside the bus, the afternoon sun beat down strongly through the windows, and it seemed like everyone was feeling the heat. Hira emptied his water bottle within the first ten minutes of the ride. He scooted onto the edge of the aisle seat and covered his bare legs with his cardigan. It did not improve his mood. But his stop was coming up, he told himself, and soon he’d be able to get inside a building, properly shaded and away from it all…

Hira was prone to running away from his problems. He was not an English major, but he knew the sun in this case was a symbol, perhaps even a metaphor, with him at the center. There were too many things he needed to do, too many places he needed to go, and nowadays he constantly felt like crying.

Well, he thought, life is wonderful. And now I’m going to therapy.

Chasing Life With You (Chapter 13)


The day after that terror-inducing night ride might have become the last day I saw Tadashi alive, had things the rest of the summer not gone right.

I woke up to an apparently normal morning. The sun was shining, birds were chirping outside my window, and I was feeling very, very glad to be alive. I sat up in bed, indulging in the clean air and waking up my brain. For a moment I held my breath and listened to the world around me. The rest of the house was silent, and I assumed Tadashi and Katsumi hadn’t gotten up yet. I checked my phone for the time – 7:43 – and began to plan out my day. First I’d wash up and change, then I’d go downstairs and do some work; at some point my housemates would come down and we’d have breakfast. Then I’d ask for my third guitar lesson, if Tadashi was free. After lunch I’d call Tadashi and Katsumi’s manager asking for permission to write some articles on them. Normally, magazines and other employers would tell me what to write, but I occasionally got to propose topics myself, and I wanted this new life of mine to be one of them. If all went well, I’d be able to start some kind of writing project this afternoon. Then I’d lounge around and maybe watch a movie or something before dinner, and afterwards I’d pitch in on some house chores.

I didn’t use to preemptively plan out my days like this. It was just one example of the small ways in which my life had begun to change. I thought about that for a minute before tossing off the covers and getting out of bed.

As it turned out, Tadashi was already up, wrecking my schedule from the get-go. I found him sitting at the kitchen counter, brooding over a piece of toast and a bowl of soup leftover from the previous night’s dinner. He saw me come down the stairs and his eyes lit up a little, but his usual gentle smile was notably absent.

“Hey,” I said to him casually.

“Morning,” he replied.

“I like that shirt.”

He looked down at the bluish-grey button-up he was wearing. “Oh. Thanks.”

I stared at him for a second before turning to rummage through the fridge. He didn’t seem to be up for a conversation; I couldn’t tell what was wrong with him. Probably not the day for a lesson, I thought to myself as I scoured the shelves for something that didn’t need to be cooked. Remarkably, Tadashi didn’t offer to make anything for me. I settled for some microwaveable leftovers and pulled up a chair to sit beside him.

“So,” I started, “not eating outside today?”

He shook his head slightly. “Nah.”

“Everything okay?”

“No,” he replied. He downed the rest of his soup, set the bowl down with surprising force, and added, “But it’ll be fine.”

I considered that for a moment. “Katsu up yet?”

“He went to the market.”

We sat in silence for a while after that, each of us working through our own breakfast. Then Tadashi glanced over and said, “Hey, can you do something for me?”

“What’s that?”

“Let’s go kayaking.”

I was taken aback. “Huh? You want me to go kayaking with you?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, sure.” I stared at him, but he wouldn’t meet my gaze. “Now?”

“Yeah.”

“Uh… okay. Let’s go.”

Tadashi nodded, stood up, and grabbed his jacket from the living room. He headed out briskly without another word, and I followed, half-stunned into silence. As I trailed my friend through the woods, the early-morning sunlight splashed against his figure and gave his long blond hair a near-golden glow; I drank in this image without hardly noticing it, so occupied as I was with trying to process this strange morning.

We reached the lake after a few minutes without any words having passed between us. Abruptly Tadashi turned left and started walking parallel to the shoreline, and again I followed in silence. Some ten minutes of this adventure took us to a little wooden dock and a beachy area where a single blue-and-white canoe lay flipped over on the sand.

I stood around watching as Tadashi prepped the canoe. “So, uh… where do I sit?”

He glanced at me. “In the back.”

“Okay.”

“I’m smaller,” he said.

“Oh.”

“I’m gonna sit in it, and then you walk it a little farther into the water and then you sit down in back.”

“Alright.”

We got out onto the lake without a problem. Breathing deeply and still slightly wary of the whole situation, I stared at Tadashi from behind, matching my paddling to his strong, steady strokes. We headed out into deeper waters and then angled towards the opposite shore – I wondered if Tadashi had a particular destination in mind. Soon he cut in directly toward a small, sandy, unremarkable area, jumped out into the gentle waves, and hauled our kayak out of the water.

I stood up cautiously and stepped onto the sand. “What are we doing?”

“What time is it?”

I checked my phone. “Almost 8:45… there’s no service out here.”

“Too far from the house.”

Tadashi found a nice spot on the sand and lay down there on his back. I went to stand next to him.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Lay down, Chas.”

I settled in beside him, putting my head back so that I was gazing up at the sky.

“We used to do this when we were kids,” Tadashi started slowly.

“Watching the clouds?”

“Yeah. And stargazing at night.”

“I don’t remember too well.”

“One time… after somebody had hit me. I was on the ground, and you came over and for some reason you lay down next to me, and you said something about about how you’d never appreciated looking at the sky like that before. You were trying to not embarrass me. That’s how it started.”

“…Really? I did that?”

He sighed – slow, quiet, and empty. “You’ve changed, Chas…”

I froze at that statement. “Well… everybody changes. That’s life.”

“That’s life.”

We lay around for a while without talking. I stared up above as puffy white clouds came and left, and something in the scene profoundly moved me. At some point I closed my eyes and thought, when we get home, I need to write this all down…

I never got the chance, for by the time we got back to the house, the whole first floor was decked out in party decorations and Katsumi was screaming happy birthday.


Synchronicity (Part 8)

8:03

They stood at the bus stop, silent and still, taking in the sights and sounds of the morning. Mornings were beautiful for some but not for others – that’s how it was for everything. For the two of them, at least, this morning was glorious.

The bus rolled up at 8:03.

“Who is it?” Sarrah asked. “Can’t see.”

Tim peered through the glass. “Oh, it’s her, it’s her…”

The door opened, and the bus driver got out of her seat and came to stand at the entrance.

“Good morning,” the driver said amiably.

“Sure is,” Tim replied with his usual cheer.

The driver fished in her pocket. “Thanks for helping me with that thing the other day… here, let me pay you back.” She extended her arm and dropped a ten dollar bill and a pile of quarters into Tim’s hand.

Sarrah smiled widely. “It was no problem.”

“Come on in.”

The driver returned to her seat. Tim boarded after her and started feeding the quarters into the payment slot; Sarrah wandered off towards the empty rows in the back.

“Here,” she decided aloud. She let down her huge pack next to the window and sat down in the neighboring aisle seat. Tim, when he had finished paying their fare, did the same across from her.

“Air conditioning is glorious,” Tim murmured softly.

Sarrah sighed. “I hope it rains.”

“You were just saying you wished it wouldn’t rain!”

“Yeah, but now we’re on a bus, so now it’s allowed to rain.”

“I don’t think it’s going to rain. There’s no clouds.”

“Whatever. It can still rain.”

Their bantering went on and on, a steady, soft chatter, and anyone witnessing it would have been hard-pressed to believe that there existed anyone happier.

Synchronicity (Part 7)

11:05

Xueying sat down in the second row without even registering that she had boarded the bus. Just another work day, or so it seemed – and the commute by now was nothing but routine. The motions of walking, boarding, and sitting were all performed completely mindlessly. It was only when the ride began that Xueying seemed to snap out of this haze.

Today, she opened her bag and pulled out a book. It was a three-hundred-page coming-of-age novel set in the snowy countryside, and it had been recommended to her by her adult son. Xueying opened to the bookmarked page, settled back, and started to read. She was lucky that motion sickness did not plague her.

As Henry walked along the winding path that led down to the river, he was barely able to see his feet beneath him, buried as they were in the blinding white…

Her son did not often recommend books to her. Xueying was determined to find out why – why this particular book, why now, why to his mother. She would read it from cover to cover, multiple times if she had to. She knew there was some deeper meaning behind it. Her son was wise and sensitive to such things. He would not hand her a book out of the blue without reason.

Just as Xueying was finishing another chapter, her phone buzzed in her pocket. She marked the page, set the book down on her lap, and went to check the message. It was a younger coworker, asking for advice on their current engineering project. Xueying thought about it for a few minutes while staring expressionlessly out the window.

Henry turned around. “You’re late,” he said casually. “Sometimes being prompt isn’t a good thing,” his friend replied. “But you know, if you ever”…

Xueying answered her coworker’s question, put her phone away, and went back to the book.

Thirty or so minutes remained on the commute – there would be plenty of time to finish.