Xiao had died.
Life so fragile, a moment careless, and it was gone.
I should’ve been aware that something hadn’t been right. Many hidden factors began to come out after the incident, one after the other, and only then did we realize that things had long gone wrong.
But why an absolute need to die?
What was it that made him so desperate?
I closed my eyes, he continued to smile at me. I was sitting by myself, could even hear his guitar. I felt that in the next moment, he would stand up, would walk over to stand in front of me, would say:
You’re scared, aren’t you?
What are you playing at? I asked him, my voice loud, “I knew you were okay!
He innocently laughed, don’t worry too much. It’s fun.
Fun? I was angry, then why don’t you just go die for real!
I really did die. Xiao said, endlessly pained, I couldn’t, couldn’t hold on anymore.
But you and Ouyang have to be happy.
Happy your ass!*
* raws have “happy your head”, but in english, “happy your head” doesn’t have that fxck you feel to it
The Xiao that laid in the morgue, looked just like a child sound asleep.
I bent down, stared at him, as if I was peering at some strange animal.
This lifeless body still wore Xiao’s face.
The words I spoke weren’t very imaginative:
Get up already! Don’t sleep anymore.
Ouyang pulled me outside after that.
My poor Ouyang, how badly did I want to comfort you, but I didn’t have the strength. I could only watch you, watch you just smoking away like a machine. I hated cigarettes, but right then, I’d rather be choked to death.
I felt like the three of us had sat in a worn-down train, and upon reaching a station, Xiao just waved his hands and got off, while we could only endure on, our destination still so far away.
This wasn’t the youth I’d wanted.
At least there shouldn’t have been this type of death and remorse.
Ouyang and I cleaned up Xiao’s mementos. His guitar, his books, his computer, his clothing, and also the stack of records he’d collected. There was so much stuff that it piled all over Ouyang’s desk.
He’d liked X-Japan, just as I also liked them. On those countless days spent sitting there quiet, lost in thought, we would listen, each with a side of the earphones, the songs all from X-Japan.
I’d once accompanied him to buy stuff. It was raining, the bus kept starting and stopping, Endless Rain played again and again in the earphones.
When the song played to where TOSHI shouted himself hoarse in Forever Love, he said, see, after complying for thirty years*, in the end, you’d still throw down those who’d needed you the most, just for your own life.
* thirty years probably meant how long YOSHIKI and TOSHI had been together; from forming a different band when they were 11 years old, to when X-Japan officially split in 1992 (a total of nearly 30 years); as for “throw down those who etc”, this probably refers to the official announcement that TOSHI (main vocals) was leaving as the band as it no longer satisfied him (some articles say something about a cult)
I said: YOSHIKI still got on well without TOSHI, and TOSHI didn’t get on that well when with YOSHIKI, might as well just split up. Many feelings aren’t as unable to be given up as you’d imagined.
He said, you’re really…..
Very indifferent. I continued for him, and laughed.
Now that I think of it, it must’ve been my words that let him realize something, but that wasn’t what I wished for.
That time, I knew that deep down, he was conflicted, was in pain, I knew he loved to bash his head against a brick wall*, but I didn’t think he wouldn’t be able to figure things out.
* 鑽牛角尖 idiom; to be penetrated/pierced by a bull’s horn; to bash one’s head against a brick wall; to waste time on an insoluble or insignificant problem
It didn’t make sense. There wasn’t anything the least bit worthy of his suicide!
Such a happy person, such good prospects, a blessed family, friends that loved him, and he actually let go of everything.
This heartless person!
I was unable to understand, and thus began to hate. It was hate that made me pull myself together, to face his death.
Dead, never to again speak, never to again meet.
What’s the use of smiling at me, I still hate you.
It was me who made you and Ouyang fall into hell!
Xiao had actually left a last testament – if that note could be counted as a last testament. He’d written it on a page of paper ripped from a notebook.
“You guys will be happy, right?”
I inherited Xiao’s hundreds of CDs. These included all the official singles and albums of X and X-Japan that he went to great lengths to buy.
And also all of HIDE’s songs.
The head of his bed was stuck full with posters of that person with dyed red hair.* Their expressions so similar: so innocent…..
* red hair –> should be HIDE
Ouyang helped me move the disks over to my dorm. After we finished, I gave him some water to drink.
Ouyang pointed at that stack of disks and said, “He’d never put away his stuff, I was always yelling at him to clean up a bit, he would say tomorrow, tomorrow, so I could only help him clean. I told him at that time that, if there comes a day we part, I’ll still help you clean your stuff once more before I leave….in the end, it was he who left first….”
His throat was hoarse to the point of being scary, his eyes were red. Extremely afraid he would begin to cry in front of me, I immediately looked for something to do, and so rummaged through the disks, pulled one out, placed it into the CD drive.
By the time the piano from the intro rang out, it was already too late for me to regret.
Forever Love……I shouldn’t have played this song. But Ouyang and I were both sitting on the floor tired, with nary the strength to change it.
During the marvelous guitar solo, I saw Xiao sit down next to me, wearing the same clothes he’d worn on that evening.
“I haven’t heard you play some decent guitar yet!” I said, “Why’d you have to leave in such a hurry?”
But he said, “Don’t be like that, I feel bad.”
Who was it that felt bad? It was all your fault!
Ouyang pulled me over into a hug as I began to cry.
That was the third day after Xiao had died, that was the first time I shed tears.
Once I begin remembering Xiao, I would also begin missing Ouyang. I’d left that sorrowful place, but he still stayed there for graduate school. Over there, everywhere held traces of us. The pavilion we’d ate lunch at, the library we’d studied at, the kiosk we’d stop at when we cut class, also the roof terrace where Xiao loved to go see the sunset, the old house of the relative where I’d dragged them to accompany me for my birthday*, and also, the dormitory Xiao had stayed at when he left this world.
* 陪我寫過生的 literally “accompany me to write birthday” or “accompany me to write before birth”……this was so confusing; there might be a typo, or it might be just me, (i’ll fix this if i ever figure it out)
I’d yet to call back to China ever since I’d arrived in Japan, I was afraid. I didn’t dare listen to Ouyang’s voice, I feared he would talk and talk and end up talking about stuff I didn’t want to hear. Those words all reasonable and fair, but yet had led Xiao to leave us. There were many things it wasn’t that I didn’t understand.*
* basically, “there were many things I understood”, but with more emphasis on the narrator pretending she “didn’t understand”. And yes, double negative, an example of poor grammar
Ouyang had told me, once, that the room in the dorm was now left empty, some students had reported they heard the sound of the guitar late at night. Everyone had turned the news into a joke.
“What a load of crap!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah,” Ouyang said, “Definitely a psychogenic cause.”
Then we conscientiously changed the subject. I talked about Yasutomo, talked about father, talked about study, but I didn’t bring up Kaga.
He asked, have you met the right person yet?
No, I said, then I would feel sorry for Xiao.
Stupid! Ouyang said. Then went offline.
I looked at the computer in dismay. It’d been half an year since Xiao had left, many people had already forgotten about him. New students would enter the school, what they’d hear would be the ghost stories about him, as the former classmates were also unwilling to bring him up anymore. The two friends he’d loved the most were all over the country, and depended on a flimsy thin Ethernet cable to keep his thoughts alive.
What was he doing now, I wondered. Was he watching us, or had he long been reincarnated?
No matter how many times I’d seen his mirage, he was dead after all, had already been turned into ashes!
But I’d never felt that after he’d died, his thoughts would as well. He had to have known, had to have known that we’d struggle amidst the pain of his death and the helplessness of reality.
In the dead of the night, I’d listen again and again to his favorite Forever Love, wishing to remember every bit that’d been, along with his gradually blurry face.
How could I ever forget you?
Haruki Murakami wrote: “Death is not the opposite of life but a part of it. “
Your death has already thoroughly assimilated into my life. In the morning rays I see after I wake, in the idle voice of the cassette player during afternoons, in the folds of the laundry, in the creak just as I climb into bed, even the mug of tea still steaming with heat; they were all things that made me think of you. No matter if I was asleep or awake, a part of my hundred million neurons would always remind me, of your death.
Did that transparent soul of yours step over the rose garden I’d angrily thrown down*, had it noticed the curse of the thoughts I’d carved on the fallen leaves?
* 怒放 over here is made of two words 怒 anger/fury 放 to place; this phrase can be taken two ways: (1) the words together mean “angrily blooming” = “in full bloom”, (2) the words apart mean “to place something down during a fit of anger”; both definitions make sense
Far away from my homeland, I shy away from every hint of you. But you still have other ways to be everywhere.
I can’t break away from you.
You will be a debt I’ll have to carry for the rest of my life.
The next time I see Yasutomo, I’m with my roommate right in front of the television at that barbecue restaurant watching “Domoto Brothers”*, laughing until the table’s about to flip over. Yasutomo pushes the door open and enters, sees me, smiles as he nods.
* 堂本兄弟 a show hosted by the Japanese Duo of Koichi Domoto and Tsuyoshi Domoto (Kinki Kids)
I’ve discovered that ever since he heard from me “your own life should be decided by you”, he’d often show up here. Would his mother rip me apart if he doesn’t get into Tokyo University due to my instigation?
And at that time, who would my father help?
My roommate leans over, asks, “So he’s that little boyfriend of yours? Looks rather like Hideaki Takizawa.”*
* 瀧澤秀明 Hideaki Takizawa, part of the duo Tackey & Tsubasa; the duo sang some songs for One Piece
What the hell?
I’m in shock. This little thing called rumors are most able to reflect a person’s imagination.
I pull Yasutomo over with one move. I point at him and tell my roommate, “Look, my younger brother!”
My roommate suddenly sees the light. Yasutomo looks at me in amazement.
I sit with Yasutomo in the corner; he’s fidgeting, seems like he has something to tell me.
I look with amusement at the boy currently suffering from some inner struggle, and ask, “Is it about your father?”
He raises his head, expression rather serious, “He’s also your father.”
I carelessly nod, “To say it like that means it’s about him?”
His head droops, he’s always so shy. I think being so focused on study has made him seem more pure than those his age.
“You….can you go see him?”
“….Auntie got sick, so she went back to her parents’ home to help. I need to go to school. The doctor has told Dad to stay inside to rest, him by himself, should be very lonely.”
My best friend has died, I’d separated from another best friend, and am now alone studying in Japan. I’m also lonely, Why haven’t I seen you call someone over to look after me? I roll my eyes.
“His greatest comfort is you,” I say.
“You should still go see him!” Yasutomo says, he stands up, “He’s not as heartless as you imagine.”
I do not believe him, “Why do you care so much about me?”
“‘Cause you are my sister!”
Without giving me a chance to refuse, he mentions a time, then leaves. This child, when had he learned to bully people into being guests?
Just as Yasutomo disappears from my line of vision, Kaga appears, and my head begins to hurt. Don’t know if it’ll be better to apologize for that day or better to just escape.
As I hesitate, Kaga is already in the seat opposite of me. What comes first is a silly smile.
“I came to apologize, it was me who out of line that day. So that was your brother!”
I look around, my roommate seems to have disappeared some time ago. Her usual nickname is CIA, she’s talkative as usual.
I lower my head, and continue to drink my soup.
“I was only worried for you, ” Kaga says, “You by yourself in a foreign country, even if it looks like you get along well with your former classmates and current friends, but you seem lonely inside. You’ve split yourself into two halves, one half to deal with those around you, one half still immersed in your own past. I think you’re the one who needs to be comforted the most.”
I do not say anything.
“I don’t know what happened before you came to Japan, but I hope that, as you’ve already set your past down to come here, you can truly be happy.”
I can’t help but lift my head to face him. Because the content of the conversation is no longer under the other’s control.
“I can do just fine by myself,” I reply.
“That’s great,” Kaga smiles, “You know what?”
“I like you!”
“What’d you say?” I exclaim.
“You heard me!”
Kaga suddenly becomes all smooth and slippery*. He leaves me blankly staring, as he calmly walks away.
* 老奸巨滑 idiom; shrew and crafty, a wily old fox, smooth and slippery, up to all dodges
I don’t understand, when had these people began to scheme against me. Don’t tell me losing my parent’s love has robbed me of intelligence, has turned me into a fool.
Kaga, to be honest, I really do like him. I just have a inherent, good impression of him, just like seeing the fresh flowers of the early morning or the rainbow after a rainstorm, a sort of happiness that just naturally arises.
But God knows whether this is love. I haven’t even fallen in love before.
Xiao’s matter, has changed me a coward.
I know I’m someone with flaws, but I can still live a normal life, and think passing the days like this is just fine.
Therefore Kaga, I don’t know how to answer you.
I follow Yasutomo’s order to visit Father.
He himself opens the door, his complexion still doesn’t look very well, but he seems in a rather good mood. He enthusiastically, somewhat emotionally, welcomes me into the house.
“Are you cold? Even if it’s already spring, but the wind is still quite strong.”
I accept the tea as I say, “Today’s weather was good.”
“That’s good.” He replies, “That’s good.”
Yasutomo is upstairs revising his homework, the two of us are downstairs staring at the other, without even a word. The dog is still as rude as before, but doesn’t keep barking anymore. It treats me just as if it’s in front of food, gives a sniff, then goes over to the side to sleep.
After a while, my father finally says, “Your mother……she’s remarried? What type of person is he?”
“A partner from work, their companies frequently do business back and forth. ” I say.
“Your mother is a capable person.”
Even if she was more capable, you’ll still have divorced her anyways. But then again, a person who focuses so on her career as Mother, will never be able to take care of the house and do chores like Yasutomo’s mother can. She doesn’t even know what her own daughter likes most to eat.
She also knew the complaints I didn’t say, so she was always saying sorry to me, sorry for falling short.
But what I couldn’t comprehend was why she was always apologizing to me for the shattered family. It wasn’t her own fault, why did she mind so much?
Father restlessly moves around a bit.
“You were already very pretty when you were a child,” He seems to think of something, “You wait a bit, let me get your pictures from then!” he finishes speaking, goes right upstairs.
He actually still has those things, I’m really surprised. I’d thought that once he’d left the country, once he got married, he’d stop being concerned about the past; unlike me.
Father comes back down, clasping a box ever-so-carefully. I look after he opens it, it’s full of yellowing photos, dozens* or so of them. Things from twenty years ago, still kept so well.
* raws say tens or so; but in eng, dozens sounds better
I wasn’t even one years old back then, Mother young and pretty, Father elegant and graceful, I was in Mother’s arms, unconsciously staring at the camera lens, Mother and Father were both laughing, incomparably sweet.
It looked like a happy and ordinary family, just the same as thousands, millions of families out there. But I knew they’d parted ways not even three months after.
What was the reason for their change?
The pictures are all from that period of time. The simple, crude cottage, the tiny crib, the handmade wind chimes over the window, the patch of weeds outside the door, the bushes behind the house. This was my childhood, where I’d spent six monotonous autumns after my father left. There’s nothing more emotional than remembering the bitter and reflecting on the sweet.* I sit there, don’t even move.
* 憶苦思甜 idiom; to view one’s past as miserable and one’s present as happy
“Look, you were so cute then. But now you’re even more beautiful. That day I saw you, I really didn’t recognize you.” Father says, “Look at this one, you splashed water all over me back then! You were always so lively!”
I look at the pictures he hands me, one by one, and listen to this man, past fifty in age, recount memories of the past.
“You know what?” he says, “I’ve always been thinking about you.”
Is that so?
I’m so tired, unwilling to even think about anything, unwilling to even say anything. I stand up, wanting to leave.
He doesn’t urge me to stay, just regretfully opens the door for me.
“Be careful on your way.”
“Tell me if there’s anything, even though you’re already at this age, I haven’t really taken care of you yet. What do you like to eat?”
“Whatever.” I say half-heartedly. I’m not familiar with his enthusiasm; it makes me uncomfortable.
“Oh.” He hands me my overcoat.
I go out the door, a burst of wetness at my eyes. Isn’t this the fatherly love I’d been hoping for? Why am I running away again?
All parents in the world, even if they hate, they also have the room to love. I can believe he loves me, although not as much as his love for Yasutomo or his current wife; but he still loves his daughter. It’s just that he doesn’t express it, or doesn’t care to express it; that’s all.
And children sometimes are the debt owed by their parents from a former lifetime.
A teacher from the school had came to tell me, Xiao’s parents wanted to meet me and Ouyang.
In the music classroom I’d first met the two at, Xiao’s parents wiped their tears, as they asked us every drip, every drop* about Xiao at school. This was killing us once more, as we were forced to remember those happy things that yet made us sad.
* 點點滴滴 saying; literally drip drip drop drop; every little bit; I left it in for emphasis
“Why? Why?” His mother bitterly cried, “Why in the world did this happen?”
I coldly looked at her, suddenly angry. Things had gotten to this point and she was still asking why! Did she still not understand why? But I immediately softened just after; this couldn’t entirely be blamed on the parents, they lacked communication.
In fact, we also lacked communication with Xiao, if not, this tragedy wouldn’t have occurred.
At that time, i couldn’t stop thinking, how much did we actually understand of those around us, of those you’d believed you understood very well? How much was it you imagining affections that weren’t even there?* How much was it you deliberately ignoring what was there?*
* 自作多情 idiom; imagine that one’s love is reciprocated; to shower love on an uninterested party
* 視而不見 idiom; turning a blind eye, to ignore
I carefully go over every drip, every drop of me and him. He was the type kind to a fault, kind to the point that one wanted to be his younger sister forever. I was always hugging his guitar, dreaming. He, with his back to the light, would look at me with a complicated expression. That expression, I didn’t understand, and didn’t want to understand.
He would sometimes ask Ouyang, how far away is forever? And sometimes he would ask me, will you forever be with us?
But during the six months before he passed, he’d mostly been silent; he would read “The Tales of Oscar Wilde”*, would cry till he was a total mess. When I asked what happened, he’d replied that he pitied that little prince.
* Written by the Irish poet-playwright Oscar Wilde (author of The Picture of Dorian Grey), the book is also called ‘The Happy Prince and Other Tales’; among the five stories was ‘The Happy Prince’. In this tale, a swallow meets the statue of a prince, and the statue tells the swallow to take away the ruby set in his sword, the sapphires placed as his eyes etc, and to give them to the poor. The swallow takes away all the gems, leaving the statue stripped bare, and thus the townspeople decide to melt down and replace the now shabby statue of the Prince.
Sometimes I felt he’d yet to grow up, but the merciless years made him feel too much, made him hurt too much, and thus his spirit was in constant turmoil and unjustified pain.
The forensic doctor had said he’d a period of self-abuse, mild, so therefore it had been ignored.
Just like it’s somewhat unbelievable that anorexia could starve a person to death, I’d originally thought that depression was born out of thin air, was only something from fiction. For example, Naoko* died in that manner, but in our own lives, we’d instead moan about imaginary diseases.*
* Naoko, a character from Haruki Murakami’s novel, Norwegian Wood. The main character had two friends (Kizuki and Naoko, whom were a couple) , then Kizuki comitted suicide. Things happen, the narrator and Naoko become closer, then Naoko leaves a note and quits school to go to a sanatorium. The main character meets another girl yadayadaya, eventually visits Naoko whom shares about the suicide of her own sister years ago. Then, the main character struggles between his feelings for the girls, then he receives a letter that Naoko committed suicide. (it’s fascinating that there’s actual papers written that dissect Naoko’s characteristics, one of the conclusions is that she’s schizophrenic, another says PTSD, depression is also not a forgone conclusion)
* 無病呻吟 idiom; moaning about imaginary illness, fussing like a hypochondriac
But Xiao died just like that.
And for Xiao, was that enough? Was living, just not good enough?*
* 活著就好嗎 was living just enough/ was it enough to just live; this doesn’t rly make sense, because in the previous sentence, the narrator’s asking if just killing himself was enough; i highly suspect a “not” was missing, so I just added it
I was suddenly confused about the meaning of life.
I suppose it was Xiao’s death that changed me.
It’d be weirder if I didn’t change!
I became withdrawn, cold, harsh, hypocritical, selfish and also pessimistic. I believed I’d been like that from the very beginning. It was just that, on one hand, I’d restrained it; in order to show that I could be like a fish in water, that I could be the same as those who lead happy lives, that it was something I could – but just didn’t – do. On the other hand, some things had gently persuaded me to persevere, such as the presence of the other recipient of the friendship, along with that little longing for parental love.
But I then discovered, I didn’t even need to do all that, right?
Could it be I have to twist my thoughts to some grotesque angle, in order to be deemed “correct”?
Whose forgiveness did I seek, whose love did I crave? This life of mine was actually this meaningless.
During the late nights I’d been unwilling to sleep, I would listen to Xiao’s favorite song. That song sang a timeless melody.
Half asleep, half awake, the song seemed to layer over the sounds of the last train of the day, going far away, or it would follow along the rocks, sinking to the bottom of the lake.
Right then, I would wonder, what was wrong with this world?
What was also wrong with me?
Why was I like this now?
People are born just to die, but me, I’m half hanging there, like a jar about to crack but yet unable to crack open.
I’m so careful, I now hate to do anything. I’m afraid if I’m also happy, or blessed, I’ll be sorry for Xiao.
At the subway station, I wait patiently for my train. Everything is all very quiet. This point about Japan is good, everyone is quiet at a public place, just as if they’re all hiding some enormous secret, it’s quiet as if 9-11 will happen in the very next moment.
I stand by the railroad tracks, a person walks up to my side, I glance at him.
He says, “So you’re waiting for the train?”
“Yeah,” I reply, “Anything wrong?”
Xiao cutely laughs, “You promised to bring me there.”
“I know,” I say, “I promised you a lifetime of things.”
“I really miss you.”
I smile tenderly, “I’ll never ever forget you.”
And then Xiao just disappears, just like how he’d arrived, without a sound, without a warning, just as if he’d never existed before.
When I get back to school from my father’s place, Kaga is waiting at the bottom of the stairs of my place, right on time.
I look at his mysterious smile, and ask, “Did anything good happen?”
“Not at all.” He says, and slips me something. I look, it’s a seashell.
“I picked it up near the sea by my hometown.”
“Where’s your hometown?”
I’m surprised. “What a great place.”
“Thank you.” Kaga smiles proudly.
I ask, “Can this be used as a blessing for peace?”
“As the Chinese proverb goes, faith is spiritual.”*
* 信則靈; part of the saying 信則靈不信則無; if you believe something could happen, it’ll be more effective, if you don’t believe, then nothing will happen
How meaningful. I accept it.