Shigeo

Do you have an iPad?” His voice is a ghost of gravel, softly echoing the strength it used to have. Ebony eyes look at me over the golden-wired rim of thick reading glasses.

“I do,” I nod. “But it’s pretty old, so I don’t use it very often.”

His shaky hands, weary after so many decades, set down his pencil and I’m struck by the meaning of my words. I hope he doesn’t catch the parallel and suddenly my chest tightens.


I don’t mean you
, my heart whispers, urging the words toward 80 years of love and despair seated on the other side of the table.

But he is already turning the next page, the topic forgotten, the meaning lost in translation and left tumbling in the washing drum of my mind.

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I. Am. Enough.

It’s something I have to remind myself of every day. It doesn’t matter how many likes I get on Instagram, or if that guy replies to my Snapchat. It doesn’t even matter that my ex called us soulmates, then proposed to another woman.

I’m awesome. I have an uncontrollable impulse to make faces at myself in the mirror. I get angry quickly but can never stay mad for more than two minutes. I can do a back flip and walk on my hands and say hello in seven languages. I’m often too honest for my own good. I feel equally comfortable in a miniskirt or running shorts, but my favorite outfit is jeans and a hoodie. I eat all the time. I’m always worried about the horses in battle scenes and I want to cuddle every dog I see. I can read in Japanese, and I’ve climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji in the middle of the night. I have this ridiculous need to stay friends with my exes, but I have no problem cutting off friends who stop being friendly. I will stand up for the people I love – to a fault – but also won’t hesitate to call them on their shit. I have two college degrees because just switching from one to the other felt like giving up. Sometimes I feel like I’m plain but other times I know that I’m beautiful, in my way and to myself, with no care to the thoughts of others because their opinions don’t matter and I am enough.

And it has taken me way too long to understand that.

Don’t Rock the Boat

I almost died.

That may or may not be true. What qualifies as “almost”?

I could have died. 

Possibly more accurate, but I could have died crossing the hundred-pedestrian crosswalk outside the train station this morning. “Could have” doesn’t quite cover the mind-numbing fear of, “This is it. I’m gonna die.

​My friend from a local university messaged me one day out of the blue: “Wanna go white water rafting with me this weekend?” 

Um. YES.

Being a total newbie, I didn’t realize you needed a trained professional for this kind of thing, so I imagined a couple of our friends in bikinis and swim trunks splashing around on a wild lazy river. Imagine my surprise when we showed up to a shed full of life jackets, helmets, and release forms.

We met early on a Sunday morning at Kisogawa station, where we were met by our guide, who would drive us the rest of the way to Gifu and Nagara River. It hadn’t rained in a while, and the river was a bit shallower than usual, but it was a beautiful day and the water was the absolute perfect temperature. We were one of the last rafting boats to leave the take-off point, and fishermen were already setting up for a day of fishing. This gave us the perfect audience for our first rapid- which also turned out to be the first time we completely flipped the raft. Fortunately, nothing was hurt but pride. There were a few more accidental individual tumbles into the water throughout the day, but we managed to stay upright for most of the rest of the day.

 Our guide taught us to “surf”, where we paddled upstream towards the white water and balanced the raft right on top of the big waves. We also did a bit of cliff-diving, the highest point I’d ever jumped off of. I even learned to kayak (holy arm workout) in one of the long, calm sections of water.

The last rapid, we were told, was the wildest and most dangerous. It was a long, rocky section of where, the place where most accidents happen. And since it was shallower than usual… “Just don’t fall in.” You’d think I’d recognize foreshadowing when I heard it. Our guide told us about a man he’d had to pull out of where he was hanging onto a giant rock, ankle touching knee in an ugly fracture. But that just doesn’t seem real in a story.

Our guide asked me if I wanted to paddle the kayak through the rapid, and because I’m both reckless and dangerously trusting, I said yes. He then suggested that his guide-in-training — not the strongest paddle in the boat — should go with me. I wasn’t as excited about that, as we had yet to kayak together, but the guide told me to hurry and jump in the kayak while it was still close to the raft, and I moved before I’d thought it through.

The raft went first, with the two of us paddling behind. (Really, the guide was paddling and I was sitting behind him with one of those half-paddles those hat actually really sucks for tandem kayaking.) In case you’ve never rafted before, standard procedure is that, when the raft tips up to an uneven tilt, you stay upright by leaning towards the higher side. Turns out, this is not the same in a kayak.

In the very first bump, we were still working on straightening out and hit it at an angle. The kayak tilted, and my guide leaned hard to one side. Trying to be as helpful as possible, I leaned with him. Which was when I realized he wasn’t leaning. He was falling. And the whole kayak was going with him.

We tipped, and I splashed into the rushing water with three separate thoughts screaming for attention in my head. The first was an articulate, HOLY SHIT. The second: Get into safe position, feet up, pointing downstream, please dear god do not skin yourself on the rocks. The third: Get. The fuck. Back in the boat. 

We were near the side of the river, several boulders bordering the water. I considered trying to push off them with my legs, but instead foolishly scrambled for purchase along their slippery sides, water slamming me against them. The kayak came hurtling towards me, shoving me under, the dark bottom shutting all light out of my sight. I was slammed against the rocks underwater, hands reaching for anything to hold onto, my mind both fighting for survival and already accepting that I would never resurface.

When I managed to come up for air, I grabbed onto the kayak, trying to flip it right side up while staying in the feet up position, terrified of everything I couldn’t see in the water beneath me. I was either not strong enough or didn’t have the technique to flip the kayak over myself, and the guide was several meters downstream. I could see more rocks ahead, bordering the river as it turned a sharp left. The guide was pushed into the boat, and I lunged for the biggest rock with all that I had in me, clinging to it like the lifesaver that it was. (Or seemed to be. At that point, I was out of the rapids, but my survival-mode brain didn’t allow me to let go of that rock for at least a full minute.)

The main guide had managed to grab the kayak and flip it over, and in the mostly-calm post-rapid water, he paddled over to me, face a mixture of terror and the mask of calm he was trying to show me.

He reached out to me with a hand, but I was hesitant to let go of my new best friend. “Are you okay?” He asked.

Good question.

Urban Depression

The river is green. It smells like rotten eggs, pushing leftovers towards the ocean. Sulpher, I’m told, but what does that even mean? Why do bad eggs and dirty rivers smell the same?

I’d chosen the river as a reference point, something somewhat natural to walk next to, but you can’t walk next to it. So I walk on the dusty, red brick sidewalk, knowing the water is somewhere to my left, separated from me by apartment buildings and small businesses. 

I brought the camera, though I’m not sure why. There’s nothing to photograph here. Nothing that isn’t hard gray rising skyward, or a spare tree planted to take away from the sharpness of the steel.

My arms ache from rock climbing yesterday, and my hamstrings are tight from the workout I did in my living room. I want to run, but not here. Not on this damn concrete.

The Gardener of the Lane

via Daily Prompt: Blossom

“I saw a princess,” the little girl sings as she skips through the large silver gate, followed by her chuckling father. “I saw a princess!” She twirls and giggles, round cheeks glowing with excitement.

“Come on, honey,” her dad says, nodding to me, then reaching for her hand. I nod back, but he’s already looking away, moving towards the nearly-empty car park. The Lane had officially closed thirty minutes ago, but it always takes a while for stragglers to clear out. In this kind of place, people tend to take their time.

I smile, the girl’s voice still echoing in the stillness. Turning, I start through the gate, then pause. An old man is hobbling towards me, wiping his eyes with a blue handkerchief. “Sir,” I ask. “Are you all right?”

He smiles up at me, a teary grin, waving the handkerchief in the air. “Oh, son,” he replies. “I’m more than all right.” He takes my hand in his large, leathery one, and shakes it. “Thank you. Bless you, and thank you.” With a sniff, he explains, “I saw my Mary again.”

I smile, returning the handshake. “She’ll always be here. I’ll watch out for her.” He gives my hand a final pat, then continues his shuffled steps out of the Lane, raising a shaky hand for the last taxi still hanging around.

I shift my pack on my shoulder and step through the gateway. No matter how long I work here, every time I enter the garden, it’s always a bit of a shock. The wind is what gets you first, whispering to you as it passes. Calling, teasing. It swirls around me, hugging close like an old friend. Next to the gate is Today, the buds just barely peeping through the ground in every color imaginable. The farther you go down the Lane, the the taller the plants become, until off in the distance you see giant, multi-colored trees and massive bushes whose roots dig down unimaginably deep. I never have time to go out that far, but I always wonder. I hum as I take a step into Last Week, tiny blossoms only an inch or so tall on both sides of the dirt path, each petal a kaleidescope of swirling clouds. I force my eyes away from the darkest of the petals – there’s nothing I can do for them yet – and I continue on to where I’d stopped the night before, several years ago.

Flashing lights catch my eyes on both sides of the path, stems a moving rush of silver, light passing like cars on a highway. They push out of the ground, leading to roses, lilies, dandelions, and thousands more I can never hope to remember the names of. Each one tells it’s own story, and I consider stopping to look closer at a few of the pulsing white ones, but I have a job to do.

I reach Five Years Ago, and my eyes spot something in the distance. As tall as the saplings around it, but black on top, and blue on the bottom. Another straggler. I consider setting down my pack, but decide against it, somehow feeling that I’ll need it.

An ivy vine reaches out to caress my wrist and I gasp at the ice that immediately washes over my skin. The garden is replaced by soft while all around, small flakes falling, one tickling as it lands on my nose. I hear laughter behind me and whip around, suddenly caught in the chest by a ball of white that explodes as it hits me. I blink rapidly and the snowball fight fades. Lucky a good one caught me. I reach into my pocket and pull on my thick gloves so other vines, not all as icy sweet as the first, can’t reach me.

It takes me a good ten minutes to come withing speaking distance of the lone figure. He’s a young man standing by a dark, thunderstorm-purple rosebush. I pause, then sigh and steel myself. “Excuse me, young man,” I call, walking closer. “We’re closed now.”

He looks up, lips tight, brow furrowed in despair and my chest tightens. Loosening his fists, he shows me palms dotted with blood. “I-” he clears his throat. “I was trying to pull it.” Our eyes both move to the roses. The petals flutter in the breeze, but I try to not look too closely. I don’t want see what he so desperately wants to remove.

I shake my head. “You can’t pull it,” I tell him gently. “Those roots are,” I glance around for when we are. “Fifteen years deep.”

He takes a shaky breath. “Fifteen years. Yeah, I know.”

I touch his shoulder gently. “I can’t pull it. And I can’t cut off the blossoms. But I can trim it. I can make it smaller, less vivid.”

“You can do that?” He asks.

“Well,” I give him a gentle smile. “I’m the gardener, after all.” He nods, and I take out the shears, then poke around the rose bush. The flower in question dances, like it’s aware of what I’m about to do. I raise the shears to a leaf just below the blossom. As I cut, I can hear the young man’s sharp intake of breath. I continue, working slowly but deliberately, making sure I get all of the leaves. Next, I pull out a small knife, and I go to work on the thorns, shaving them off one by one. The young man’s relief is almost touchable. After a few minutes, I’m finished. I turn to him again, and there are tears gliding silently down his cheeks.

“Thank you,” he whispers.

Hesitantly, I reach out and pat him on the shoulder. “You’re welcome. Now, you head on home, okay?” He nods. “And next time you come, don’t come back to this one. I’ll look out for it. Find one of yours in a brighter shade. Those are the ones you want to remember.”

Wiping his cheeks, he takes a few steps towards the gate just barely visible in the distance, then pauses and turns back, waiting for me.

“Go on,” I tell him. “I have the rest of Memory Lane to work on.”

 

Inspired by a pair of prompts: What if memory lane were a real place? by Promptarium, and Blossom by The Daily Post.

 

 

 

Stepping off my own beaten path

Today, I took a new path. I blazed a trail into the unknown and learned a very valuable lesson along the way: don’t leave your apartment without your keys. Because your boyfriend will leave and lock the door behind him.

As a result, I ended my workday at 4 o’clock, daydreamed about being home and on my couch in the A/C, and made it all the way to just outside my apartment building when I realized I didn’t have a key to get in, and R wouldn’t be home for six hours.

Fortunately, his work is only about a thirty-minute mixture of walking and riding the train away. In a direction I’ve never had reason to go before.

Now, you might think that living in a foreign country always feels… foreign. Or maybe you think that after a short while it all becomes commonplace. Both of those are true. The train ride to work for me feels as familiar as it does to any other commuter. Walking around my local park or supermarket is as normal as wandering around the small town I grew up in. But as soon as I step off the path that I travel every day, that’s when I re-enter the foreign country and remember, HOLY CRAP I LIVE IN JAPAN.

So taking that new train to that new city, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But it was enough to shake me up a little and remind me that there’s so much more out there that I haven’t seen, even as close as a ten-minute train ride away.

Which makes me wonder, how much did I miss when I was living back in Kansas? How many fascinating places did I not go because it all felt so normal to me? It doesn’t feel so normal from a thousand miles away.

A quick reminder that it’s always good to step outside your comfort zone.

 

Japanese phrase of the day: ぬるまゆにつかる

“neh-roo-mah-yoo nee tsu-ka-roo” – to avoid a challenge (stay in your comfort zone)