The silence envelops us like a blanket. My mind churns at a million miles an hour, trying to figure out what she says. Each possible scenario brings with it another emotion, blending, melding, and storming in my mind until individual feelings are no more. Fear, rage, apathy and abandonment swirl together in the whirlpool of my mind, ultimately dragging me into the depths of despair and oblivion. I try my best to prevent this showing on my face, but to no avail.
“…that’s okay. I’m here for you.”
My pathetic voice escapes me, as if trying to break the curse. But as I speak I feel that my voice is too feeble to penetrate the blanket of silence smothering us.
I can tell from Hanako’s face that whatever she wants to say is weighing upon her. I wonder if she is experiencing the same maelstrom in her mind.
“W-why didn’t you come for me?”
The hailstorm in my mind stops, the thunderous waves of my emotion frozen. Hanako’s voice is just like it did when we were in school; timid, broken… and afraid.
“When you… went away… I couldn’t take it anymore. Lilly used to visit me, but then she had to go. I kept waiting, and waiting…”
The confident persona from yesterday has all but melted away. Heated by the weight of her emotions, her cool, confident exterior melts into tears, streaking her day-old make-up. She sniffs, crudely wiping her face with the back of her left hand.
“…but you never came. So I had to give up on you. I tried so hard to force you from my mind…”
Once again she toys with her ring finger, gazing at the soft flesh at its base. Like the pain of a phantom limb, it’s almost as if she longs for the ring to return, to bring its familiar weight to her delicate, slender fingers.
Shock’s hold on my mind starts to release. I feel as if I have missed a vital part of the story.
“Where… where were you waiting?”
I try to fight through the fog of memory to that day, a decade ago. We had joined Lilly for the summer in her Summer home in Hokkaido. Damn I loved that place. The five summers we spent there were perhaps some of my fondest memories. Lilly was only ever able to visit in the holidays, so we made the most of it. Of course, the crisp country air made kept all of us going, and when we started to add alcohol to the mix…
But that was it, wasn’t it? We over did it one night, and the next morning I remember the tightness across my chest. I thought it would fade with my hangover, but it didn’t. By dusk I was whisked away in an ambulance. I’m not sure when I lost consciousness. I might have fabricated the ride in the Ambulance; when I try to think about it I can’t recall any details.
It was a good 36 hours before I was in the world of the living, and by then everyone was gone. I tried some phone numbers, but to no avail. Hanako and I were so intertwined that we didn’t make all that many close friends at university, and certainly no-one that I felt comfortable burdening this with.
Calling Hanako’s mobile just rang out, and then eventually it just stopped ringing. It was like she had shunned me, just like the first time my heart failed me. Only this time, instead of the girlfriend that was never meant to be, I was throw away by the only girl that every meant anything to me.
The day I left that disinfectant-soaked hell, I started jogging. Every day, without fail. I promised myself that I was never going to “lose” again.
I transferred to a university near my parents and took the easy route to a degree. It’s not hard here; if you stick to it for long enough you’re bound to get a degree from somewhere. I never once tried to contact anyone from Yamaku again; such was my burning disgust of all the hurt that I had suffered from that insufferable school.
But, in my loneliest times, I would whisper Hanako’s name to my pillow, hoping that she would appear. As time diluted my anger, I knew that I could never recreate what I had lost. I would talk to her in my head, telling her about my day, and how life would be so much easier if only I had someone to share it with…
Love and hate have been circling each other like rabid dogs in my head for a decade, and now they have started clashing; foamy spittle and blood on each other’s lips as one fight for dominance in my soul.
“In a sad place.”
Again, my swirling mind is stopped dead.
A sad place… What the hell?
Hanako’s face distorts… apparently I let that slip out. I can see that she’s offended, as if I had insulted her directly.
“I… when you… I couldn’t take it anymore.”
For a second I think about our meeting yesterday. She had stumbled slightly when she mentioned my heart attack. At the time I had taken it as her not wanting to remind me of my condition… but…
“Wait… what happened to you after I passed out? I don’t remember much from then.”
She wipes her face again with her hand, streaking the well-worn make-up into a parody of a Picasso. Her chest heaves in sobs as she tries to regain her composure. I can see her trying to fight the natural rhythm of her tears with controlled, regular breathes. It’s like she’s done this a million times before, patiently calming herself down, encircling her emotions and containing them within herself.
She’s done this before. No, wait, someone has taught her how to do this.
“I don’t remember much from that day either. After they took you away… I… I couldn’t stop shaking. Lilly told me everything was going to be alright, but I just couldn’t stop shaking. After that… I-I don’t know. I must have passed out, because I work up… there”.
Hanako’s eyes dart to the right, and she turns her head slightly away from me. It’s almost like she’s ashamed to say.
“That… sad place. Where people who aren’t sick go to get better.”
She can’t be serious. Surely they didn’t…
“You mean… an asylum?”
Once again, the words are out of my mouth before I can filter them. Her body answers before her words can deny it.
My heart sinks. What the fuck do I know about abandonment? How could I compare my piddling “love lost” scenario with Hanako’s entire life?
She was so afraid of losing another loved one that her mind just couldn’t take it anymore.
Even the dogs of Love and Hate have stopped chomping at the bit; their will to fight has been scuppered.
If I had tried to call one more time. If I had found a way to get in contact with Lilly again instead of just wallowing in my own self pity… If only…
Hanako finally pulls a tissue from the box on the table. I suppose she forgot it was there; hotel rooms have that effect on people. But instead of wiping her own tears, she passes it to me.
Tears stream down my cheeks, staining the bed sheets. I still haven’t even gotten dressed. The harsh, white hotel linen is stained into nondescript grey by my sorrow.
“I-I don’t blame you. There was a therapist… at the hospital. He was nice to me, and he helped me like you used to. So when I was allowed to go home I kept in contact with him.”
I wonder… was he her “jogging”? Could she only survive if she had someone else with her?
That should have been me.
I see her shoulders slump, as if the weight of the world was pressing down upon her. I want to get up, to hold her, to tell her it’s going to be alright… but I can’t. I’m paralysed by my own tumulus existence.
“He and I… just weren’t meant to be. So I made myself strong, got a job… and then became my own person.”
“Just like that… he let you go?”
She shakes her head, her unkempt, knotted hair bouncing around as if to reflect her sorry.
“I… I left him and never looked back. I’m sure it hurt him, but I just couldn’t pretend anymore. I needed to be free, to be Hanako.”
Finally my muscles start to listen to my mind. I throw the sheets off, sending them into a crumpled pile on the floor. Still naked, I drag Hanako close to me, just like we used to do so many years ago. I press her face into my shoulder and rest mine on her hair. Both of us just stand and sob away a decade of troubles.
The charred remains of the bridges we have both burnt will never support our weight again.
But maybe, with time, we can build one more bridge. One built on the ashes of the past, built with the maturity and empathy.
“Hanako… I don’t want to leave you…”