I was a nine-year-old child living in Kyoto when I was hospitalized for nephritis. In my room for six patients of the children’s ward, a girl named Ayumi also suffered from nephritis and was next to my bed. She was so little, probably three or four years old, that her mother was allowed to stay in the ward on the makeshift couch beside her bed.
Ayumi’s mother studiously read thick medical books everyday to study kidney disease for Ayumi’s recovery while looking after Ayumi. She would ask millions of questions to an intern nurse and learned from her by taking detailed notes. For Ayumi’s medication, she went to get wafer papers and would divide a dose of powdered medicine into a couple of small wrapped doses three times a day so that Ayumi took it easily.
Next to her bed, I was struggling to swallow powdered medicine though I was nine, and often coughed up and blew powder all over my bed. My mother was hardly around. She visited me barely a few minutes before the visiting time was over and left immediately. She blamed her dash visit for her busy work as a farmer, but I doubted she cared. Looking at what Ayumi’s mother was doing for her, I was stunned by the difference between her mother and mine. Mine had never been attentive like hers even when I was a small child as far as I remembered.
The worst part of my hospitalized days was loneliness and hospital meals. As a nephritis patient, I was banned from taking in salt. My meals are salt-free and with minimum seasoning. I felt like eating sponge three times a day. The volume wasn’t enough either for me who was chubby. Because I persistently complained about the meals to my mother during the short visit, she brought me potato chips. Since potato chips were deemed as the biggest taboo for nephritis, she told me to hide under the bed and move the contents from its flashy package into a plastic bag. She continued to bring other salty snacks and I made a bag of my best mix under my bed. I was strolling about the hallway, carrying the plastic bag of snacks in one hand, munching in my mouth. In case I passed someone, I stopped munching and hid the bag behind my back. But one afternoon, Ayumi’s mother caught me. She asked me to show her the plastic bag. As I did, she said somewhat sadly, “It contains everything you can’t have.” I ignored her caution and kept snacking on what my mother brought. My mother enticed me to hide under my bed and let me eat a can of corned beef with a big topping of mayonnaise there. As a result, I stayed chubby in the hospital despite the controlled healthy meals.
One day, a younger girl who had been annoying all the time next to my bed on the opposite side of Ayumi enraged me. I was bashing her with a coloring book while yelling the biggest taboo word in the hospital this time, “Die! Die! Die!”, with full force. Impatient at my unprincipled behavior, Ayumi’s mother raised her voice toward me, “That’s enough, Hidemi! Clean up your act, already!” I thought she was a carping critic because I hadn’t realized evilness of my mother yet back then and had been such a nasty child who had totally accepted my mother’s bad influence.
Ayumi’s father came to visit her on his day off. I was taking powdered medicine on my bed that I had gotten used to swallowing without problems by then. He said to me smiling, “You have gotten the knack of it and no longer choked. Good for you!” I wondered how he had known that as I had rarely seen him here.
A family of caring. Not that I was familiar with.
The nearest grocery store from my home is a 25-minute walk away. That small local store carried a sale on eggs at one dollar for ten. I walked there with my partner to get them. Since my town is so small and rural, there are usually almost no pedestrians on the streets. Except that cars are passing by sparsely, I hardly see anybody. But on our way back home from the grocery store, I saw a woman standing by a field and watching wild flowers. It was rare to see someone on the street. As I was getting closer, I perceived her looking at me with her face filled with a big smile that was totally familiar to me. I knew her.
She used to be a resident in the apartment building where I live. We often came across and shared some time together at the communal spa in the building. She is much older than I am, but we somehow got along well and chatted heartily every time we saw each other at the spa. About six years ago, she moved out of the apartment to the different one in the same town. I unexpectedly felt so sad because I had regarded her as if part of my family unconsciously since we met and talked almost everyday. However, when I saw her for the last time and she tentatively hinted her suggestion to exchange contact information and invite me to her new place, I just chickened out and dodged a reply. I wavered tremendously but didn’t have courage to step into a new friendship. We parted without even asking each other’s names. The spa had become quiet ever since. Occasionally from nowhere, a thought about how she has been doing came up to my mind while I was taking a bath with no one to chat. I regretted my decision not to be friends with her. I missed her more than I had thought.
And I saw her again after those years by this incredible coincidence. I jumped for joy to have bumped into her like this. Her big smile and loud laughter hadn’t changed a bit and she told me how she had been doing. After we chatted for a while, I sensed the time to say good-bye again was approaching. And I was swallowed by one single thought: Should we exchange contact information this time? I ran through a scenario in my head. If I asked her info here, she would expect me to get in touch later. Then if I got in touch with her, she would invite me to her place. Then if I went to see her, she would expect me to invite her back in my place next time. Then if we found little left to talk about, we would be distant gradually. Then if it broke off, I would regret my contact exchange of today retrospectively. While I was trying to see the future, she also tried to judge my feelings and tentatively brought up a plan to see each other again, like deja vu. The time to decide had come.
I had missed her. I had wanted to be friends with her. I made a wrong decision last time and this could be the second chance falling from the sky. On the other hand, I had too many bitter experiences about friendship and wanted to add no more. I felt harsh loneliness every time I lost friendship. The closer my friend and I were, the harder it was to be estranged. I tend to have high hopes and expect too much for someone I make friends with, that usually leads to painful disappointment when she or he doesn’t meet my expectation. I had had many friends and lost them. For me, getting along well isn’t enough to build friendship. I need to respect someone as a friend. People change. Once I can’t respect my friend any longer, my friendship is over. I also need to be accepted as who I am. That’s why most of my friends left me when I decided to become a musician. I wonder how I could ever start a new friendship as long as I know how I would feel when it ends. Disappointment would be huge this time all the more because I like her. I couldn’t bear the loneliness it would bring.
Since I was a child, I have struggled to escape from loneliness. I had searched for someone to get along, thought I found one, and realized I didn’t. Repeating the cycle had accumulated loneliness. I reached the point to afford no more loneliness long ago. But in the course of my life, I’ve got the solution. I think loneliness may be overestimated and it’s not so bad if you see it from a different perspective. Sometimes loneliness is freedom. Sometimes it’s self-esteem. It works for me to stop looking for the way not to be lonely, but accept to be lonely instead. To fend off loneliness, be lonely already.
I didn’t ask her contact information and neither did she mine after all. We said our good-byes without giving names again. We waved and resumed our ways in opposite directions. Immediately the blame on her crossed my mind that she should have pressed on our contact exchange. If she had cornered me and I had had no choice, I could have told. Why didn’t she simply ask me so that I could answer? No, I reconsidered, it was better as it went. I felt her kindness more than ever not to ask me and walked on with holding a lot of fresh eggs.
One day in my childhood, a family of stray cats appeared in the front yard of our house in Kyoto, Japan where I was born and grew up.
I was raised by my grandparents and my grandfather had cherished several hundreds of chrysanthemum pots in the yard in those days. The yard was practically a sea of chrysanthemums. For that reason, the apparent house rule existed, which was not to keep a dog. I had never had a pet.
The cats family stood in the middle of the ragged path between the front door and the gate. There were four cats, one was big and others were very small kittens. I was about six years old and standing probably ten feet away from them when I found them that day. While I had constantly talked with my staffed animals, I was quite foreign to live animals. I walked toward them slowly and carefully with full of curiosity and a twinkle in my eye. As I got closer, a mother cat and two kittens quickly ran away. But one kitten didn’t move. He stayed where he was and just stared at me. I reached right in front of him and crouched before him. He was a tortoiseshell cat with gray and brown marks on his fur. He fixed his gaze upon me and never left. We looked into each others eyes for a while. I tentatively stretched my arm and touched him. He didn’t so much as flinch and kept looking at my eyes. I sensed that I was chosen as a friend by this kitten since I had no human friends back then. I held him with my both hands and felt surprising warmth of his body. I brought him inside the house.
I showed him to my grandmother and she promptly prepared a small dish of dried bonito. As I saw him nibbling it, I asked my grandmother if I could keep him with absolute certainty of no. Her unexpected reply was, “As long as it’s not a dog, your grandfather will allow if it’s kept inside.”
I got my first pet. I named him ‘Joe’ because he looked nothing else but ‘Joe’. I asked my grandmother for something like a collar now that he’s my pet. She scrambled and got me a bell and a red ribbon. I put them together and proudly presented to Joe’s neck. His quarters were decided at the entrance of the house, right behind the front door. I gave him some milk in the evening that day and talked to him into the night although I had been sometimes regarded as mute by others to whom I rarely spoke.
I thought Joe was as happy as I was. But after I went to bed, he began to cry. He didn’t call me though because he cried toward outside. Soon, I heard a cat meow outside too. It seemed his mother came to him. They meowed to each other with the front door between them. His fragile meows to the door continued till late at night. My grandmother suggested that I should release him because she couldn’t bear to see him miss his mother so much. I agreed that it was cruel to separate them. He wanted to be outside with his mother. I opened the front door and took him out. He swiftly scurried away. The time I had a pet lasted for less than 12 hours. The time I thought was liked by someone was laughably short.
A few days later, I felt I heard a bell ring. I went outside hurriedly and saw the yard. It was Joe. He huddled together with his family in the middle of the path, at the same spot where we first met. I called out, “Joe!” His mother and siblings ran away on my call, but Joe responded and turned to me. I was amazed that he had learned his name was Joe although our time together was so short. He remained there alone and gazed at me. This time, it looked to me as if he was smiling. At that moment I understood. He came back to see me. I felt an undoubtedly sure connection between us. I walked to him and held him in my arms. I took him into the house and told my grandmother that Joe came back. As she fixed a dish of dried bonito again, she told me not to repeat what we had done to him previously. While I was so happy to be reunited with him, I also knew I shouldn’t keep him. My happiness wasn’t the same as his. After I watched him eating his meal and talked with him briefly, I said goodbye to him. He left again.
In the next few weeks, I heard Joe’s bell on and off. I rushed outside every time, but didn’t see him. Since at least I was informed that he was around, I assumed that I could see him again sooner or later. Then, I made a finding one day at the foot of the bush beside the path in the yard. A red ribbon with a bell was laid on the ground. Joe had come to return it to me. The moment I saw it, I realized I would never see him again. And that was to be proved right. That was precisely how it ended.
I had a dream last night that my mother left me in a shopping mall to enjoy shopping just with my younger sister. The sensation I felt in the dream was so familiar that I recalled the similar experiences in my real life. Since I started junior high school, my parents and my sister had often gone out without me because my school was far from home and I came home late every day. As I got furious each time when they came back, they usually lied that they went out just for an errand. But I always knew they went shopping together or in a worse case, visited my favorite grandparents’ house without me. The main reason I could see through their deceit was because they bought something for my sister when going out, and I often found it later in her room, as the evidence. In my theory, parents should get something for a child they leave at home, but my parents do the opposite and get something for a child they are taking with them. And the luckier one who got into the car with my parents for fun was always my sister who came home much earlier from elementary school. I can’t count how many times I shouted a word ‘unfair’ to my parents. Sometimes, they even ate out just three of them and still pretended that they hadn’t had dinner yet. At dinnertime of those occasions, they had strangely little appetite while I was starving. My mother repeated, ‘It’s weird. I’m not hungry tonight’, and my sister followed suit. Only my father tried to eat his second dinner for the night, contorting with fullness. Their acts were so poor that anyone could tell they had already eaten. But no matter how hard I demanded, my mother kept lying. I can still feel some sort of desperate loneliness with these old memories…