Next spring will be a spring without you. I have stayed up the past few nights pondering this thought (and you). It is a fact that I still have not come to accept. It doesn't seem right that the earth should remain spinning in your absence. Is this selfish of me?
You're so unfair. You came into my life like a beam of light and you made the world dazzle brilliantly. In your parting you took the light and colours with you, and I can no longer remember what the world used to look like before you. Now it's gray and dull and mute. You've never played fair.
I think of Christmas. We were together, down at the Central Street. If I close my eyes I can still feel it: the dry winter air, the chatter of the people, the shape of your shoulder under my arm. I think we both knew, that my arm was wrapped around you less out of affection and more out of the need to keep you from falling. (This doesn’t imply that I didn’t feel affectionate towards you though. I love you the most out of everything.) I could feel the spasms of cold that ran through your body under my arm.
Worried, I suggested we turn back and find someplace warm. You reached up and squeezed my hand. I knew you didn’t want to, but your hand was very very cold. I convinced myself that it was alright if you were out for only a little bit. Was I wrong to do that? I only wanted to spoil you a little more.
You were happy though. We took pictures under the trees lit up with fairy lights in the park. Your smile is now locked safely into a frame which I have given a permanent place to on my desk. I feel a little regretful that it didn't snow that day. The pictures would've been even more beautiful. You were beautiful.
When we returned to the hospital your cheeks were splashed with a feverish blush. I held your hand and you made me promise to sneak you out again for shrine visiting when New Year's day comes. I agreed. How could I ever say 'no' to you?
"I want to be the first person you see next year." You let out an uncharacteristic giggle. After all these years, you still manage to make my heart flutter.
"Of course, " I whispered, stroking your soft hair until I was sure you fell asleep. I kissed your forehead and pulled the sheets up. Gently, I slipped out of the room.
New Year's came, as did your illness. Burning a fever (which I am now sure was a result of that Christmas night), you slipped in and out of consciousness. Still, I guess I kept half of my promise. As the midnight bell chimed I held your hand and was happy. You were the first person I saw this year. The first person I touched, the first person I kissed. The person I leapt into the new year with.
When you woke a day later, they called me and I rushed back to the hospital from my family home. You waved shyly at me from the bed as I entered. I couldn’t suppress the explosion in my chest as I set the oranges down next to your bed. I remember bringing exactly seven oranges, which I bought from the store near the station. Remember Ito-kun? It’s his grandmother’s store.
“You were the first person I saw this year.”
Your eyes lit up. “Really?”
Then you looked down and seemed to cringe a little. “But you weren’t the first person I saw this year. Sorry.”
“It’s okay, we still have next year.” I had full confidence in my words. I thought that next year, we would for sure go shrine visiting together. The midnight bells will chime, and our hands interlocked, we will watch the first sunrise together. I laugh at this thought now. My confidence was completely baseless.
Gradually your condition took a turn for the worse. There were days where you would just sleep, and it was on those days that I felt especially sad. You slept peacefully as the days continued to pass. It seemed unfair that you should miss it all. It pained me to realize that even without you the sun would continue to rise, and the seasons would continue to change. I think what hurt me the most was that I would have to wake up and continue living.
We never spoke about your worsening health. Nobody wanted to acknowledge the possibility of your death, but no matter how we avoided it, it still hung like a cloud over our conversations. It seemed the more we avoided it, the more acutely I was aware. Still, we said nothing. Acknowledging that such a possibility exists would be like ascertaining that you would surely die.
Instead, we talked about the future and my work. You asked me how the unit was going, and I would tell you that we had laid down plans for a new tour, or that the tickets for the concert were sold out yet again. Sometimes Tori and Yuzuru would come over to visit, and on those days you insisted on walking to meet them. I did my best to support you, but on those days you could miraculously walk without a single stagger, and from the back you looked as healthy as could be. I liked hanging back and walking behind you as we went about the hospital grounds. I liked to think that you were healthy.
On your birthday we lay together on your bed, your head on my arm. I let you lie there even though I felt pinpricks shoot through my shoulder. We did nothing but lie there, blinking at the ceiling, your breath matching mine. I felt your life rising and falling within your body, and with its exhalation a little bit escaped. I watched the particles of your life slipping out of you and into the room, bumping against air molecules until they were sucked out through the air vents.
The doctor gave you at most a month more to live, but by benevolence of Death, you were still with us by February, sleeping days and days away. When you were conscious you coughed terribly, the dry hacking of an old ailing man. You tried to hide it from me, (though I did always know), not wanting me to worry. You always put on a strong front and brushed off your pain with a wave of the hand. I think that’s a part of you that I both love and hate.
I tried to tell myself that you stopped trying to swallow your coughs because you wanted to feel closer to me, that you wanted there to be no secrets. But really, I think you have just became too weak to battle with the cough. Reflecting upon it now, I realize that I have probably known this for a long time now. One of my flaws, I think, is that I cannot help but deny what I do not want to believe.
Every day I lived in fear of receiving the call from the hospital. I played it over and over in my head. It would begin with a woman’s voice, overflowing with the regret and grief that her job requires. It would go something like this.
“Hello, is this Mr Hibiki? Hibiki Wataru?”
I would answer that yes it was, and ask who it was and what did they need.
“(A slightly shaky voice)I’m really really sorry Mr Tenshouin passed away today while you were (sobs) away and could you please (cries in the background) come down to the hospital .. funeral .. death .. friends.”
And all sounds but the thumping of my heart will fall away. I will crumble to the floor like a paper doll, fold into myself seven times till I am nothing but a square piece of unfinished origami.
I was always bracing myself to be greeted by an empty room, like in tv shows. I would open the door and the windows would be open, white curtains tumbling in the spring breeze. Sunlight would flush into the room, spotlighting the neatly made, empty bed, the only remaining sign of your existence the blazer button burning in my pocket.
Thinking back, there was indeed a day when that happened. It was a Sunday, I think. In my arms I hugged a large paper bag of sliced baguettes, tightly so as to keep them warm. With my elbow I nudged the door open, but the room was empty. The windows were thrown wide open, the curtains still in the stagnant air. The sky was overcast, so the pitiful rays of sunlight that did manage to slip through the clouds were not enough to light up the room perfectly.
I set the bag down on the table and settled myself into the armchair. I had a copy of Hemingway in my bag, but somehow, I didn’t quite feel like flipping it open that day. The dense air sat heavy upon my shoulders, air that was weighed down by sickness and grief. I remained slumped into the chair, staring out the window. The dark clouds were overbearing, yet despite it all it didn’t rain at all. I thought of nothing, instead dozing in and out of dreamless sleep.
As the dim light began to slip away, I began to worry about where you were. I knew you didn’t have any tests that day. I had your schedule memorized perfectly. Still, I fumbled for my phone and found the document I already knew by heart. There were no surprises to be met.
I wanted to call your parents but I couldn’t. What if something really did happen? Did I really have the right to interrupt their grieving with my own? They didn’t know about our relationship, and even if they did they would surely disapprove.
My stomach twisted and turned. I was at a complete loss for what to do. I let my cold fingers hover over the phone sitting upon my thigh.
It was like God took pity on me that day. The door clicked open and you were there, singing a tune that sounded familiar. And suddenly you were shrieking with laughter because I had you in my arms and I was spinning you around and around. I fell to the ground with you on top of me, your arms around my neck and your lips upon mine. Suddenly I could breathe again, desperately taking in air despite the pressure on my throat.
We ate the cake you bought with Tori and Yuzuru. In the days that passed like snow, I had forgotten that it was my birthday.
After they left you embraced me, your warmth enveloping me in gentleness. My mouth travelled over all of you desperately, afraid that I might one day forget how you felt under me, how your body felt inside me. We lay together again after that, your head resting on my arm. The sheets radiated with warmth.
“How did I do?”, you asked me, your voice a trembling whisper. “Do you think they hate me? The students, I mean.”
How did you do? How could I judge that? Who was I to judge that?
“You did well, Eichi. You’ve worked hard.” Under the covers I had your hand in mine.
And so you passed, in the last few days of winter, when the snow has melted into dirty brown slush and rain begins to fall, when the first flowers peek through the remaining snow, pushing and grasping for sunlight. You passed right as the first birds returned from the south, singing whole symphonies in search of mates. You passed right as the world awakened from its slumber, and as it shrugged of its drowsiness you fell away with it.
You passed like a dream that the spring showers, in all its freshness, couldn’t wash away. Amongst all the bird call I cried but there was no reply, only the swinging emptiness that sweeps me under its tide.
I never did receive that phone call I had been bracing myself for.
While you took your last breath I was dreaming about sakura and a spring date. While you sunk deeper into the mattress I, piss drunk, slumped onto the sidewalk and vomited on Himegimi’s shoes. I was a piece of unfinished origami, even the princess and his butler could not help me.
I couldn’t bring myself to attend your funeral. I hope you don’t blame me, Eichi, but I might feel better if you did. I was afraid I would try to shake you awake, or else try to climb in with you…
This world holds me with the grip of a jailer; its disembodied fingers circle my wrists like shackles. Should I choose to look past the fingers into the darkness, I would find that the fingers grew from your hands. I would see your porcelain skin and blank eyes, looking at me and through me. You are not letting me die.
I am angry at you. I am angry at myself. There is not a thing in this world that I am not angry at.
Tomorrow, after I wake, I will go to your grave. I will take a train, then a bus, then walk along the road lined with plum trees. They will begin blooming tomorrow, the forecast says. They bloom too late, I say.
I will bring you flowers and hot tea, and we can drink together. I will cut my hair and put it into a box and bury it under the tombstone. I will sit with you until the sun sinks under the buildings, like I always did. Then I will stand up and stumble my way out of the park, following the sickly yellow light of the streetlamps. That’s when your absence will become permanent for me, I think.
But if I never fall asleep, then I will never wake, and tomorrow will never come. As long as I am awake today, you are alive.