I was driving home last night when it came on my shuffle — I’ve been going through all my music lately by song, alphabetical, A-Z. So I was on the letter I, and “Interrupted by Fireworks” came on, and in the way only music can do —
BAM. I’m under the covers in Japan, in my little bed that has the sheets I got from LOFT (not like Ann Taylor — like the most amazing six-floor home goods store you’ve ever seen in your entire life). The sheets are pink; the duvet cover is purple. Anyway, I’m in bed but it’s easily 6pm and I definitely haven’t gotten out of pajamas but I’ve had at least six cups of Blendy Coffee by now (the coffee that made me finally like coffee, even though it was mostly sugar), and the point of all of it is that I’m playing Final Fantasy VII.
I’ve been playing it for weeks because the secret is that I never actually beat it when I was sixteen, when I was playing it all the time on the living room floor, snacking on Cool Ranch Doritos and a 2-liter of Mountain Dew. Because someone, sometime, saved over my memory card when I was 80 hours in. It’s one of those things that can ruin your life at sixteen.
Now I’m 28 years-old, newly single and not wanting any specimen of male to come near me, and I live in this little apartment in Japan where I’ve hardly ever even locked the door (because who would come in anyway) and I’ve been working away at FF7 for weeks. I will beat in a couple of weeks, with a Gold Chocobo and the KOTR materia, and it will be worth it. And I will remember this night somewhere out there, in the future when I’m 32 and less than three weeks away from getting married — this feeling in this moment, with the Blendy Coffee and the FF7 and having absolutely nowhere to be and no one to answer to. The memory will sneak up on me as I pull into my own driveway where the person I love is waiting for me inside, and I will cry.
Cry for what? I don’t know. Music does that.
And suddenly, in my car last night, I remembered all of it — I remember getting off at Motomiya Station and making a right, walking down that long alley with the fence by the tracks, swinging another right and walking in the nice residential part of town, till the big traffic light and the 7-11 was across the street. Everyone who worked there came to know me — the older guy with the bum leg who gave me cold medicine when I was three days in and sick with the worst flu I’d ever had and could not speak a word of Japanese, and the girl with the chipmunk cheeks who assured me (“Oishii da YO”) that croquettes were delicious. If I passed the 7-11, I’d run into the back of the Board of Education building, with the statue of the naked woman who looked like she was washing her hair, even in winter when snow dusted the top of her head. Past that was the pole I hit with my bike on the way to work — the one that made me flip over the handlebars and snap a tendon in my left ring finger (which makes my 32 year-old self have difficulty taking my engagement ring on and off). Make that left past the pole and there is Lifebox, standing alone across from a rice field. (Why is the apartment building called Lifebox? In English? I’ll never know.)
I immediately bring to mind the night I walked slowly back from the station after a coffee date with Angela, listening to Robyn’s “Time Machine” over and over and over , and the snow was falling in that super soft, fluffy, gentle way that it rarely ever falls. I stood before Lifebox under the streetlamp and just watched and and watched it and watched it until I was so chilled to the bone that I had to take a hot shower and spend another half an hour blow drying my hair just to warm up.
I can remember my apartment down to the slightest detail — even the door handle is emblazoned in my mind. The little toaster where I made 7-11 pizzas with slices of avocado and red onion. The rusty kettle, the kerosene heater and the little orange-glowing heat lamp that sat next to my bed. The kotatsu, the pink shaggy rug (also from LOFT), all the Evangelion pictures on the wall, the little dark desk I never sat at, the TV I never turned on. The little red table in the bedroom with the tiny tubes of make up; the tatami mats and the dusty full-length mirror.
In my car, last night, 32 year-old me thought, What did I have to complain about? Why did I ever leave that life?
Well hold on, I thought, there’s that thing you do with nostalgia. And before I could reject my present life for any reason at all, I made myself remember that those introverted weeks, in the end, made me feel a little bit crazy. Once a whole ten days went by where I didn’t speak a single word, either in English or Japanese, to anyone. I remember the frustration that I, loquacious in nature, felt when I couldn’t adequately express myself…ever. I remember old women pushing past me in lines, freezing temperatures seeping into my apartment that caused me to see my own breath in the morning…inside.
I remember summers so hot that showers were null five minutes later; I remember coming home for lunch from school, stripping down to nothing and eating ice-cold pickles out of the fridge over the kitchen sink. I remember the impossibility of sorting my trash correctly; I remember really frightening-looking spiders on my balcony.
But oh, I also remember trips to the grocery store just so I could enjoy a walk somewhere, headphones in my ears, opening the shoji screen to watch that special soft snow fall, nights laughing with friends so much that it hurt, understanding through the eyes of my students that I actually was lovable, time spent with Angela revealing secrets so dark that my own crying stopped when I realized that she was crying, nights in cafés with her writing novels that I’d be embarrassed to ever have on my hard drive — all of that. I remember and treasure all of that.
Since the earthquake, since I left, I haven’t really allowed myself to treasure any of that — I’ve only carried the guilt that I left. And I sealed away all the good memories because they were painful. No — I sealed away all the good memories because I felt that I didn’t deserve them.
You deserve them, 32 year-old self who is getting married in less than three weeks says. You absolutely do.
I will go inside and tell my future husband all of this, and he will understand most of it (the parts he won’t are because I’m talking a mile a minute, not wanting to lose the feeling). He will tell me he’s felt the same way, he will try to hug me in the middle of me explaining it and I will say No, not because I don’t want him to but because I’ll lose it — I’ll lose it…and I don’t want to lose it…
…but I won’t lose it, because here I am, a day later, with it.