The Stories of Yesterday
The first time I ran away from home, I was thirteen. I was gone for three hours tops until the local police located me in Nagoya, short of cash, sopping wet from the rain and with nowhere to go. In other words, I was not entirely ready to live it all on my own. Reasons for running away were rather trivial then, and there was not a hint of sensibility in leaving home at such a ridiculously young age. I did not even know how to do the laundry for myself. My father drew out a belt the moment I stepped inside the household and found out what I did, tongue-lashed me for the half-hour and hit me thrice on the ass. I was not the rebellious type exactly, but when my mother died shortly after my thirteenth birthday, a fuse blew and I was never the same again. Home was never the same than when I first remembered it. Mother's death broke dad and me, and somehow, nothing else was right again.
The second time I ran away from home, I was seventeen. I did not leave a note behind and just left. I just finished middle school and my father didn't mind my sudden disappearance. Perhaps he considered himself fortunate somehow, to be able to get rid of such a wearisome son like me. When I started to get into trouble, he quit caring, and that's when I left. I got into a public high school, kept my grades up with working out my schedule for a part time job at a local pet store close to where I lived. I was freeloading at a friend's apartment with my sleeping bag until I had enough money to rent a small space close to campus. When I was admitted to a public university in college, I did not worry much about tuition and kept a steady job for my books and allowance. I was majoring Social Science then, but took free electives from the Literature department on my second year. I majored Social Science because I wanted to teach. When I finished my degree, a year later, I found a job at a university and they took me in as a part time instructor while I finished my MA. That's when I met her.
Shizuru was my student in Psych 201, a Clinical Psychology course with much detail on mental illness and personality disorders. It was one of the subjects I loved to teach because of the subject itself, but truly because Shizuru was there, sitting quietly at the back row, completely ignoring my lectures and reading instead a thick novel under her desk. Oftentimes, I caught her napping amid my lectures, but I tried not to chew her out. Despite her blatant inattentiveness however, she topped my class with well-thrown and deeply thought-of arguments on our weekly debates, which made up mostly their grade, and juggled my exams quite better than anyone else. Needless to say, I was taken by her completely, and my admiration to this clever young lady, much to my dismay, turned out to be something much less than I expected.
I fell in love with her instead.
You fell in love with her instead. However, it was not anything you can actually be painfully aware of, like sun waking up in the east, or like time passing by like ocean waves washing the shore—never the same again like the first time. You fell inevitably and purposefully hard for her.
After which, I became more aware of her as a result. I tried my best though and made an effort to give her very little attention than the amount my thoughts and my heart already has. Finally, one semester waved its goodbye and Shizuru was out of my class list. Never again did she sign up for any more of my lectures. I tried to forget about her. I tried to wipe her out of my consciousness but my subconscious would not simply comply and it all seemed helpless.
Sadly, I could not forget about her.
So a year before I finished my MA and two years before she graduated, I told her I liked her more than how much was permissible. She was wide-eyed with surprise, flushed from embarrassment, and too stunned to utter a word. She blinked slowly, peering through the curtain of her lashes and sighed. She turned me down smoothly, with apologetic eyes and a sad frown as if she knew exactly what to do in such a spontaneous situation. After all, I was still a teacher and she was a student. Any romantic relationship between us was taboo. Then, she walked away quietly and I came to the conclusion that maybe she wasn't ready yet. I didn't ask why. Maybe partly, I was afraid to know but I took it well and went on my way.
Later, when I figured things were going fairly well between us, I told her I was willing to wait, no matter how long it took. She didn't say anything. A month after she graduated, I told her I loved her, more than I allowed myself to. I said I'd like to date her and see where it would take us. She retaliated by leaving for the States without another word. I have not heard from her since.
Most of my memories of Shizuru were kept in a safe box in my head, never been opened since the day she left. I suppressed myself from remembering, all the traces she made on my life drawing me to tears each time I recalled her smile, her face, her eyes. Often, I would ask myself why she had to turn me down thrice, why she never saw me as a potential lover, or at least saw my sincerity in trying to be a part of her life. She rejected me many times than I could have imagined I would ever be rejected by a girl, and not once have I seen any form of remorse, or anything that justified her blatant refusal of my feelings for her.
You wanted to forget about her more than anything else. You wanted to forget how Shizuru looked like, how those ocean eyes were, how that smile swept you off your feet, how her laughter became your antidote to loneliness. But you knew, that no matter how many times you looked at her eyes or inhaled her perfume or touched her skin, she will never be Shizuru. All times you spent with her left a bitter aftertaste. And then, you retreat to blaming yourself for every misfortune that happened in your life, the death of your mother, your father's palpable distaste for you as a son, Shizuru's disappearance. You could never keep relationships, you said to yourself, and you scorned yourself for it. The more you held on to them, you realized, the more they escaped from your hand and you blamed yourself, blamed yourself for it all.
When Shizuru came back from the US, I heard the news from a mutual friend. Shizuru never kept in touch since her departure, but somehow, I managed to find her new address. Her home was not an hour away from my office so, a few days of plucking up the courage to see her again, I paid her a visit. I wanted to see her badly.
"Shizuru," I spoke her name gently. She seemed surprised, and I was quite taken aback myself, noting how much she's changed over the years. Right at that moment, I wanted time to stop and be able to hold her hand and kiss her mouth.
"Sensei." The emphasis on the honorific was not taken for granted.
"I want to talk," I told her. "Let me walk you out."
She hesitated for a moment before stepping out of her apartment to close the door. I led her to a nearby park where there were stone benches, hardly any people, and pigeon droppings on the brick-solid gates. We sat on a bench in front of a fountain, and we watched for a moment the water before I broke the silence.
"Why?" I asked her, and she knew how much that single word implicated a lot of things. I had long wanted to ask her why why why, of all the things she could have said and done to me, that leaving seemed to be a better option. I wanted to know why. Why?
"Did you know that a person with hemophilia could die in a single paper cut?" Shizuru asked after a moment of silence. She held out her hand and stretched her fingers over our heads. Her skin was translucent. It was so pale, you could almost see through her skin. I noticed a long, neat cut on the side of her wrist but I didn't say anything and waited for her to continue. "I knew you would ask and I would have to justify sooner or later why I had to reject you, and here's my answer: no matter how long you are willing to wait for me, or how many times you confess your love, there's very little chance I would say yes. I'm not the girl for you, sensei. I'm not the person you'll end up wanting to be with for the rest of your life." She paused for a moment, looked at me and continued.
"Ever since I was young, my mom always said I was special. I have always felt that way, or at least that's what I wanted to believe. I was never allowed to do things the other kids did at their age. I could not play outside or even ride a bike. I was always kept at home, with the warm company of books. The only wound I ever had was the paper cut I had recently and it awarded me a week-long stay at the hospital while waiting for blood. Since then, I was kept away from books. Even then, I never made so many friends. However, rather than thinking that this disease has taken everything away from me, I wanted to believe somehow, that life was precious, and that every breath is a second chance. I'm grateful to be alive. Time is running, and I had to live." I chewed on her words and tried to realize their meaning.
"Sensei, I don't want you to spend your entire life waiting for someone who will never come. Don't waste your time waiting for me anymore. I do appreciate your feelings for me, I really do. I've never been so glad my entire life. It's just that, I can never fully make you happy with my very little resources. You don't deserve as much."
"I know but I couldn't." My voice came out low. "I tried. Many times, to forget about you. I simply couldn't."
"Then, what do you suppose we do?" she asked while looking at me. I fixed my eyes on hers.
A week later, I came back to my hometown and paid my father a visit. It has been long since we last saw each other, and he barely recognized my face. I broke off my relationship with my girlfriend and decided it was not fair for either of us. We were fools of love. That, I knew as much. The pain was inevitable, but time would heal all wounds, and we would emerge as someone much stronger than our first scars.
My father lived alone in a small house in town. He was a farmer even now, and despite the years, he remained as good-looking as when I left the house. He was surprised to actually see his good-for-nothing son on his doorstep that afternoon, but he welcomed me in his little home just the same. Somehow, time seemed to have forgotten the distance that separated us both, and the wounds were healed almost, if not, completely. He stretched his arms and wrapped me in a bear hug.
"What brought you here?" he asked almost derisively but I tried to ignore his dry undertones.
"I'm in love, dad," was all I said when he let me go.
There was nothing you could have possibly done to save yourself from loving her. It felt as if you were in the eye of the hurricane. While all the surrounded you was chaos, her presence was peace that spread like a virus inside of you, consuming all of your senses.
"Are you getting married?" he asked, eyes fixed on mine and lips pursed tight.
"I am, actually." I breathed out loudly and stepped inside the house. There was a hint of smile playing on his lips as my father put one arm around my shoulder and led me to the drawing room where we talked 'til night fell.
That was the same night my tears fell.
You dreamt of her that night. No, it was not a dream; rather it was ethereal yet real. Unlike in dreams, you could touch her delicately soft skin, feel the warmth it radiates. You could hear her soft voice like music in your ears. You could listen to the rhythmic beating of her heart like a symphony.
The next morning, I said goodbye to my father and left with a promise to visit him again soon. That same day, I passed through a small town very close to ours and stayed awhile for a cup of coffee to wake myself up before I headed back to the road. Barely a minute later, I noticed her. At first I thought it wasn't Shizuru, but the girl wore the same dress as hers that was familiar to me, had the same hair length that was tied back in a braid like Shizuru wore hers, and had the same smile when she stopped for a moment to talk to a little boy. The difference was that she was riding a bicycle, one that she was not allowed to do. When she began to leave, I stood up, took my coat and left the café to run after her. She stopped pedaling when she heard her name and turned to look at me. It was Shizuru.
"Sensei," the girl the same voice as Shizuru's. This time, I was certain it was her, only younger. I remembered the young girl from time immemorial, the same girl I fell for, inside that lecture hall of ours, that same young girl sitting on the back row with a thick novel under her desk while intentionally ignoring my lectures. I looked around and there was no other person in sight. The boy from before had disappeared. "What are you doing here?"
"I should ask," I told her with a smile. "What on earth are you doing here with a bike?"
She bit her lip thoughtfully before answering. "Feeling the wind and enjoying the scenery."
"… Feeling the wind… and enjoying the scenery?" There was something funny about this situation, but I tried to compose myself and give her a watchful look, as if saying I was about to arrest her for breaking the rules. "That sounds fairly suspicious. What if you get hurt?"
"I'm not going to. Nobody is going to get hurt in this place. We're safe here."
I tried to understand where she was getting at. I was unable to, but somehow, I understood what she meant. Somehow, I understood but not entirely. What she said made sense at some point, but I could not put it into words.
"Come on," I said. "Let's leave. Let's go back together. I'll strap the bike on the roof."
"I can't leave," she told me, hands firmly gripping the handle of her bicycle. "I'm bound to stay here from now on. I'm not allowed to leave anymore. You should be able to get away though. Wherever you are headed, you'll find the right door. It isn't closed yet and you're not bound in this place, within this time."
"I want to stay."
She shook her head and reached over to touch my cheek. Her hands were warm, despite the chilly autumn wind. "I want you to leave this place, go back to where your life is and build the pieces back together there. Things will all fall into place eventually and soon, you will understand. I must stay here and you, you must go back."
Then, gently she pushed my way back to the car. Hesitantly, I got in, gripped the steering wheel tightly when Shizuru shut the door. I looked at her through the window and she had a smile on her face. I tried to decide against leaving, but understood that it was the thing to do and started the car. My car began to move and the last I saw was her hand waving me farewell, and that smile. That smile.
Tears streamed down my cheeks.
I arrived a little past noon, and it was Shizuru's mother that said the news. My eyes were dry now, but hers were still red, but she was surprisingly calm. She was a strong woman, just like Shizuru, and her face told me she would overcome. She would. I just knew it.
Shizuru died on her sleep last night. Her mother found her asleep on her desk, head on the surface of the table and her hair on her face. She slept there and never woke up again. Her heart stopped when she was asleep and Shizuru never woke up again.
"She left a letter for you on her desk," Shizuru's mother said. "Her room is upstairs."
I sighed softly, without another word, before I turned away. Mother put a hand on my arm and said, "You knew, didn't you? You knew Shizuru would leave sooner than we expected, didn't you?"
"I did," I whispered. "Somehow, I did."
Soon, I reached the landing, opened Shizuru's door and what greeted me was the pungent whiff of her scent. Shizuru always smelled like a woman from my past, a quaint scent that stirred very precious memories from my childhood. The bed was made and the walls were adorned with Polaroid photographs pinned beside her bed. Her desk was pushed to one side of the room. Her wooden chair was tucked beneath the table and I stepped in closer. The letter was addressed to me, and I recognized her handwriting from the many essays she wrote on my exams. I sat on the chair and tore open the envelope.
16 October 2011
She was wrong when she said you wouldn't be happy if you were with me. I knew you would be, if we were together, and I wasn't simply speculating. I was sure of it.
Rinko arranged to meet me that afternoon you left for home. I knew she and I would have to talk sooner or later, but I was surprised that she asked for it sooner than I expected. She bought me coffee and a piece of cake, asked about us and learned that I accepted your proposal before you broke it off with her. And that's when she said we would never be happy together. I did agree with her somehow, but you know, Keisuke, she was wrong in many ways.
I saw it in your eyes that afternoon when we met again, and I knew—I simply knew—that all of it was real. You were real. All my life, I've been told never to trust people too much. They were bound to hurt me sooner or later. I was very sick and I was kept away from people because of my disease. My heart was very weak too, so I was always at home, watching the other kids from my bedroom window as they play. I never understood why I had to be different, but like I said, my mother always said I was special and was made for better, far greater things than the other kids. I always believed that, and knew that I really was, after all made for so much more. I did not, however, realize this until just recently.
When you first confessed your love to me, I rejected you because I didn't know what to do. I was at war against myself, and I was unsure of what to say. I've always turned down the boys that came to me, but it was harder when it was you. I had to fight the urge imagine some form of bond between us, and I had to sever our ties sooner before it complicated things. Then your arrogant, large head was too stubborn and persistent to break down that tall brick wall that I've built around myself and surprisingly, you were successful in stripping me down naked like a child, exposed to the world. When I left for the States, I was trying to escape from you then but later, I realized all attempts were futile and soon, I gave up running away and went back to Japan. I decided that if I were to die, I'd rather die home. At that moment, I knew death was very close. Then, you showed up at my doorstep that afternoon and blew me away with that uncanny proposal of yours. What a guy!
I guess what I wanted to tell you is thank you, Keisuke for never giving up on me. I guess you were that special place I was bound for, that far greater place you held on your hand is the very same place I was made for. You gave me love more that I deserved and I am grateful for that. Thank you, Keisuke. Thank you, because I saw on your eyes the happiness of being in my company. For once, I saw raw and unadulterated happiness in your eyes, and not the look of pity and death looming near that I was used to seeing. I want to remember that. And I want you to remember me too. Keep your memories of me safely on a treasure box in your heart and in your head. If you remember me, I can endure anything.
You should know that I am not staying very long. I know it will make you very sad and I feel somewhat remorseful of leaving without saying goodbye. Time will heal all wounds, trust me. And in time, you will come out as someone stronger than your first scar.
When I finished, my eyes were damp. I read the letter again, and again, until I almost memorized every line. I brushed my fingers on Shizuru's neat handwriting and closed my eyes. I could almost picture her speaking to me the same words on her letter, with her soft voice and her warm smile. I couldn't remember how long has it been since I cried like this. The tears wouldn't stop so I let them be.
Finally, when the tears have gone, the grief remained but I stood up, folded the letter and tucked it safely on my pocket. I opened Shizuru's drawer to find her sketches there, compiled neatly and the slightly yellowed pages were bound by a red string. I took the bundle out and untied the ribbon to flip through the sheets. And on the pages, I saw my own face sketched on pencil by Shizuru's own hands. I looked through all of them, her signatures dated many years before, and I remembered so vividly a lecture hall so far away, and my old self looking very geeky on my first day of teaching when I was practically in a verbal spar with the blackboard. It was the very day Shizuru caught my attention, and that day marked the beginning of a love we both were aware of but was never unearthed.
It was a love that was never unearthed. You both held it in your hands, but it was gone the moment you realized it was there. Time. What was the essence of time and its relevance with love when you were not in the same place anymore, when you were not even in the same dimension any longer? You thought of the day when you saw her in that small village while she rode her bike, when her hands were warm despite the chill of a looming wintry season. You thought about that with a plan to go back, hoping that the door still waited for your arrival and Shizuru anticipating you would change your mind and go back instead so you could finally, finally be together. You closed your eyes solemnly and put your hand over your chest, feeling the faint beating of your heart beneath your ribs. You closed your eyes to picture the girl you loved, to picture both of you together—a memory not taken out of reality but from somewhere so distant, where you could be safe, and your love could happen.
Time will heal all wounds. The words were familiar to me, as if they were from my own, but I could not remember exactly. Have I told that to myself? How would one be healed, if the wounds deeply penetrated the soul? Time. I lost so much time when I threw away all those years when Shizuru was gone. Time itself became a wound beyond repair.
But there is tomorrow and today. Tomorrow has a promise still, a promise of completion, and of restoration of the scars from yesterday. And today—today was precious, and it offers an opportunity to stand firm even through the battle scars.
I stepped in closer to the windows and pulled them open. The wind was cold against my face, but I could feel my blood rushing through my veins—hot, red blood.
I remembered Shizuru, and hers were the most precious memories I possessed. I remembered her, and I knew I could endure anything. Time would work out for us.
Consideration/s: Originally posted on Wattpad 06 February 2012.