Of Memories, Prisms and Snowflakes
Unable to do it, I walk away from the bin and deposit the small angel on the coffee table. Hand-made from the leftovers of whatever it is they make sequins out of, its shimmering colors of red and gold stand out starkly against the dark, plain wood. Sitting between a leather bound anthology of Sylvia Plath's work and my current katana, it looks totally out of place in my dingy apartment, as though it has no right being here. The little girl with the cold hands and grossly inadequate winter coat who insisted I take the angel as gratitude for my donation would be devastated if she knew that her creation hadn't made it to the top of a Christmas tree and I try not to think about her. Overwhelmed by the amount of meaningless -- to me -- cash I'd thrown into her collection tray, her parting words were that she hoped I 'had the most beautiful tree in all of New York'. There being nothing to be achieved from telling her that Christmas means nothing to me and for all I really care I could be spending it in a tent in the middle of the Sahara, I merely pocketed the unwanted angel and nodded politely before quickly taking my leave.
Biting back a sigh, I take my coat off and drape it over the back of the armchair before stripping off my shirt and wandering into the bedroom. Throwing the dirty shirt in the clothesbasket, I grab the first t-shirt I come across in my chest of drawers and pull it on. For reasons best known to himself, the stupid landlord controls the heating to the entire apartment block and he never allows the thermostat to dip below 'hot to sweltering'. Perhaps he thinks it's his festive gift to his tenants or something, I honestly don't know. You read in the paper about people freezing to death in their apartments because their landlord won't pay for heating, but you never read about tenants either melting or flipping out because they're too hot. I hate it but, short of leaving all the windows open, there's not really a lot I can do about it. Unable to sleep because, even though it's winter and close to snowing outside, I'm too warm, I've tried opening the windows but all that succeeded in doing was cooling the apartment down a little. Given that I then had the noise of the street to contend with however, I still found it impossible to get to sleep and have had to resort to attempting to sleep while covered only by a sheet.
Even now, although I've got every window closed and the drapes tightly drawn, the suburban chorus from the world outside still manages to seep through the walls, a never ending, monotonous soundtrack to a life I don't even wish to be a part of. Emergency services -- the trilogy of fear and despair; police, ambulance, fire -- sirens pierce the air with almost as much frequency as the loud, barking horns of disgruntled, impatient motorists. Then, over the top of all that, there's the music and raised voices of people who feel the need to share their likes and dislikes with those around them.
The young male resident -- a wannabe drug dealer with ideas above his station -- in the apartment to my left likes heavy metal and rap music. He also likes to play it at all hours of the night and at a volume loud enough to wake the dead. The elderly gentleman to my right however is a fan of maudlin Russian folk songs that, when his nightly bottle of vodka is nearing an end, he likes to sing along to at the top of his lungs. Oh, and let's not forget the Hanson's who occupy the apartment directly above mine - their favorite hobby is screaming abuse at each other before, invariably, one of two things happen. Mr Hanson will either stalk out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him with such force that the framed print of Tokyo Bay on my wall will shake, or Mrs Hanson will pick up whatever she has at hand and lob it at her husband's head. One night it was the television.
Although it's close to the witching hour, all of my neighbors are currently at it. The Hanson's are shrieking, the drug dealer is banging and thudding around his living room to Linkin Park, and Mr Petrovik is slurring and wailing his way through a particularly horrid Russian dirge. Outside in the street and no doubt coming from a tricked out car surrounded by homeboys, the expletive laden, misogynistic work of some thankfully unrecognizable rapper fights for supremacy over the rest of the racket.
Home sweet feral home. I could move, yeah, but I simply can't be bothered. I don't want to be in New York as it is so it's not like I really care one way or the other where I -- try to -- sleep. Because I don't look like them and make a point of keeping to myself, at least everyone around here ignores me. I suspect I could die in my apartment and no one would even notice that they hadn't seen me around until the smell of decomposing flesh finally raised their curiosity. And, well, as depressing and as sordid as it is, it works well enough for me.
Leaving the bedroom, I walk into the kitchen and make myself cup of tea before returning to the living room. Not wanting to see the angel looking at me accusingly, I avoid the sofa and sink down in the chair in front of the computer desk. Routine more than anything else making me do it, I log the computer on as I sip my tea. A small, flashing envelope in the bottom right hand corner tells me that I've got mail but I don't open up Outlook to read it. The only people who have my email address not consisting of anyone I particularly want to hear from at the moment, reading it can wait until tomorrow. If they want me desperately enough they can always phone me. I may even take their call.
Leaning back in my seat, I place my tea on the desk and glance across to the window. Despite the drapes being drawn I can still just make out the lurid, neon colors of the truly revolting display of Christmas lights that are strewn haphazardly over the apartment block across the street. From sunset to sunup the lights illuminate the length of the street in a sort of nuclear glow. I find it all tasteless in the extreme but the neighborhood children love it. On Christmas Eve Father Christmas himself (read some fat sucker in a red suit with a tacked on white beard) will have the honor of switching the lights on and he'll also be handing out gifts. Needless to say I have plans to be elsewhere during the spectacle. I don't care where, so long it's as devoid of festive cheer as I can possibly manage, that's all I really care about.
I've never been a fan of the Western obsession with the festive season. As far as I'm concerned it's little more than a money-grabbing farce, the only real winners of the gift buying frenzy being manufacturers and storeowners. If you don't buy your son the latest 'must have' accessory or game for his PS2 then he won't think that you truly love him. If you misguidedly buy your daughter the wrong Barbie doll then you're all but guaranteeing she'll need therapy by the time she's fifteen. Your wife deserves not only that expensive bottle of French perfume but also that gold bracelet she's had her eye on for months now. Your husband will love you more if you buy him both the alloys for his car and the latest, whiz-bang cordless drill. Quantify your love by how much cash you fork over. Buy, buy, buy. Spiraling credit debt? Who cares. You can always get another card, another line of credit. So long as your family knows that you love them and you feel loved in return, that's all that has to matter, right? Go on. Just think how good that new computer would look wrapped and under your tree...
Even the various religions get in on the act. Their leaders bleat about the true meaning of Christmas while simultaneously doing whatever they can to entice the cynical back in to the cash donating flock. There's one Lutheran church that I pass quite frequently that is covered in so many garish lights that it makes the display opposite my window seem quite tame.
Quite frankly, I dislike it all intensely and, now more so than ever, wish that I was back in Japan. While, thanks to the department stores studying their Western counterparts and seeing a cash cow just going a begging, the concept of Christmas, of Santa Claus and of lavishly decorated fir trees, is slowly becoming more prevalent over there, it's still a long way off becoming anything like what it is in the rest of the world. If I could, if only even for the month of December, I'd like nothing more than to hop on to the first plane to Tokyo just to escape it all. Hell, spending a month hiding out in a motel room for fear of being recognized... or... seeing those that I have no right to ever lay eyes on again... would still have to be better than this. Far, far better.
The cold, hard truth of the matter is that I simply don't want to be reminded of Christmas and the fact that I can't avoid it is currently niggling at me like an itch that just won't go away. Today, unable to help myself, I even...
I'm just being plain pathetic.
It's not like I have anyone to blame for any of it other than myself. Staying not being an option I could have in all conscience considered, I chose to come to New York to start afresh, just as I chose to cut all but the most tenuous of links to my past. Besides, it's not even like this is the first Christmas where we've...
Don't want to remember but can't, contrary to my best efforts to bury my head in the sand, get it out of my mind. I've tried, God knows I've tried, but the memories still haunt me. Every time I see a Christmas tree... or a lavishly wrapped present... or... Fuck. I only just avoided being elbowed into the path of oncoming traffic this morning because I was staring at a shop window display -- a living room decorated in festive finery -- across the street as though it was the most wondrous thing I'd ever seen.
... The Christmas before last, the year we were... happy... at Souzou, Omi took it upon himself to decide that the time had come for us to have a 'proper' Christmas together. His reasoning was that not only had we had a completely shit year, but also, in keeping with the English theme of Souzou's gardens, it would be novel attempting to recreate a 'proper' British Christmas. It not taking a lot to appeal to them, both Ken and Yohji thought it was a terrific idea. Personally, I thought it was downright stupid -- if I wanted a 'proper' English Christmas I'd get on a plane and spend December in England -- and wasted no time in sharing my views with everyone.
'Christmas?' 'Why bother?' 'Yes, the year has been... hard... but we're fine now.' 'Come on, drop it.' 'No, I *don't* want to experience the taste of roast turkey and, while I'm at it, the idea of eating Christmas pudding with hot custard doesn't exactly do a lot for me either.' 'Presents? Fine. Whatever. Tell me what you want and I'll go buy it for you. What do you mean it has to be a surprise? This... This is ridiculous!' "Just... No!'
For all the good it did me I may as well have saved my breath or been practicing my conversational Latin as no one listened to me. Turning a blind eye to the fact that they were living with the Japanese equivalent of Scrooge, the others very merrily went about their business planning and implementing our very own version of Christmas. All I could do was sit back and watch with mounting disbelief as first a huge, bauble covered tree and then miles -- I swear, literally -- of tinsel rapidly transformed the living room into a shining and glittering grotto. They kept asking me to help, hell, Omi even offered me the honor of placing the angel on top of the tree, but, stubborn to the bitter end, I wouldn't budge from my 'Just Say No To Christmas' position.
Then the presents started arriving under the tree and, although I'd ranted and raved that I didn't want anything from anyone, to my dismay more than a few had tags with my name hanging off them. It was while watching Omi stagger into the living room, barely able to see over the top of the huge box of goodies he'd been busily wrapping for Ken and with strands of silver tinsel clinging to his hair, that I realized I had no real choice other than to fall into line. As foreign as I found the idea of buying -- and wrapping -- Christmas presents, the concept of disappointing everyone and hurting their feelings was even more abhorrent to me. Regardless of my feelings on the subject, I accepted the fact that it wouldn't kill me to get with the program and dutifully took myself off in search for suitable gifts.
As I'd fully expected, looking for presents sucked. After indulging in a spot of headless chicken behavior in a shopping center, I decided to take a more systematic approach and simply chose a department store that I refused to step foot out of before I had everything that I needed. Despite the fact that it took a good two hours more than I would have liked, my plan worked and, complete with a separate bag full of wrapping paper and ribbons (all in gold and silver as there was no way I was going anywhere near the horrid Christmas colors of green and red), I was able to return home feeling pretty happy with myself.
No one said anything when they saw my neatly wrapped pile of presents materialize under the tree but I know they all noticed. Omi's grin in particular brightened considerably when he saw them. They could have teased me about finally coming to my senses but, knowing me too well, no one did. Not even Yohji. He simply bided his time until later that night and, while I was washing the dishes, sidled up behind me, wrapped his arms around my waist and whispered warmly in my ear that he loved me...
Once more unable to help myself, I stand up and, on unsteady feet, walk across to the armchair. Picking up my coat, I retrieve a small box from the pocket before dumping it back on the chair and returning to the computer desk. Opening the box, I gently remove the tiny crystal cat and place it reverently by the side of the keyboard. Like the little girl's angel, it looks out of place on the cheap desk. It... It's still beautiful though.
Not as beautiful as the original, but nonetheless arguably better than nothing.
Despite it being both not the same and a truly futile gesture, when I saw the Swavroski store I just had to go in and buy one. The whole time I was standing there waiting to be served I was telling myself firmly that I needed to turn around and walk out, but I simply couldn't do it. The... The sales assistant thought I was buying it for my wife or girlfriend, I...
I doubt she'd have believed the truth even if I could have found it in myself to tell her.
... Thanks to all of Omi's enthusiasm and Ken's hard work in the kitchen, our 'proper' English Christmas went off without a hitch. Flying in the face of all of my reservations, it was even quite... pleasant. Although I'd decided to pretend to enjoy myself even if it meant inside I was screaming for the peace and quiet of my room and a good book, I found that everyone's good mood was actually infectious and I didn't have to put on an act at all. It was... yeah... fun... The food, while not exactly to my taste, was fine for a once off and watching everyone's faces as they opened their presents was, I don't know, an oddly touching experience for some reason. Ken in particular I thought was going to burst a blood vessel in happiness as he worked his way through Omi's box of Manchester United themed presents, all of which had been carefully chosen from their website and imported from England. He'd even managed to get a robe with the United emblem embroidered on the pocket.
Omi, who I seriously think could organize festivities for a living, had even bought Kiri a new collar as a present. Despite knowing that she wouldn't let him anywhere near her to put it on and that Yohji or I would have to do it for him, he'd still thought of her. In fact, it has to be said that he'd honestly thought of everything.
Again, knowing me too well, my gifts were all of a sensible nature - books, slippers, shower gels, the sort of things they knew that I could actually use. One present though, the smallest under the tree, had no valid purpose whatsoever.
Yohji actually blushed when he picked it up and shyly handed it to me, which, it has to be said, immediately set me slightly on edge. I'd only given him a very expensive old fashioned calligraphy set -- that I'd hoped his creative nature would be able to find a use for -- and I suddenly had the fear that he'd gone overboard and done something silly like buy me jewelry. He hadn't though. No. He'd bought me a small Swavroski crystal cat.
It was the most pointless thing I'd ever been given.
It was also the most beautiful.
Although it was little more than knick-knack, something I usually despised, I was so taken aback by Yohji's gift that I had to hurriedly blink back tears before thanking him for it. Holding it up to the window, even though it was relatively dull winter's day outside, immediately bathed the living room in tiny, rainbow colored patches of light and we all fell silent as we watched the prisms dancing on the walls. After the year I'd had, after Esset and making the decision to let go of Aya-chan, after... Kimura... and what he did to me, I could hardly believe that things had ended so perfectly...
The cat I bought today isn't the same as the one Yohji gave me. Even if it had still been available I don't know whether I'd have been able to buy it or not. It... Stupidly, it just wouldn't have been the same. Sure it would have looked the same, yeah, but it wouldn't haven't been the one that had been given to me with such love and friendship. I...
I wish I still had Yohji's cat, that in my flustered state over Omi and Kritiker's coup de grce I hadn't dropped it on the wooden floor while trying to convince my hands to obey my commands to pack. I tried to catch it, but I was too slow. Watching it shatter nearly caused what was left of my heart to splinter along with it. It was just nearly the final straw. In less than the space of twelve hours I'd not only succeeded in pushing Yohji away but I'd also had to sit numbly by and listen to Omi and his grandfather effectively put an end to Weiss as we'd known it. The car and driver that was going to take me to my new... life... waiting impatiently in the driveway for me to finish packing, I didn't even have time to pick up the pieces of the cat. All I could do was leave them there as I walked away... from everything I'd come to love and rely on.
... After the presents had been opened and all the wrapping paper cleared away, we settled in the living room to attempt to watch a selection of Christmas themed movies. I can't remember what they were because, comfortably sprawled out on the sofa, my fingers entwined in Yohji's hair as he sat on the floor, I fell asleep halfway through the first DVD. When I woke however many hours later, a log fire was crackling on the television screen (seriously, some idiot had thought of making a DVD of a log fire and, leaving no stone unturned in his quest for the perfect English Christmas, Omi had hunted it down and bought it for the... ah... ambience... it offered), Ken and Omi had disappeared into their room, and Yohji, no doubt bored because he had no one to talk to, was fast asleep. Struggling into a sitting position, I also discovered that I was only half wearing my shirt and that Yohji had been... busy... with his calligraphy set on my right arm.
Starting at the base of my middle finger and traveling all the way up to my elbow, he'd drawn a trail of tiny, exquisitely formed snowflakes. Like the real thing, no two were alike and I could only marvel at their intricate patterns and the way they tattooed my arm, the black ink standing out vividly on my pale flesh. What also astonished me was the way I'd been able to sleep both through Yohji maneuvering my arm out of my shirt and the sensation of the small, ink covered brush being applied to my skin.
Trust... There was just no denying how much I trusted and... loved... him. Anyone else, and this included Ken and Omi, only would have had to have touched my hand and I would have been awake in a second.
Wishing I could give back even a half of everything Yohji had effortlessly given me, I slipped off the sofa and, carefully, so as not smudge the snowflakes, wrapped my arms around him, pulling him against me. It was the perfect end to the perfect day...
Vaguely becoming aware of not only silent tears spilling out of my eyes but also a dull, niggling pain coming from my left elbow, I sit up straight and try to tell myself that I have to get a grip. Blinking back tears, I watch with a sort of numb fascination as blood runs down my arm from the elbow. Although I hadn't even been aware of it, I'd been sitting hunched over the desk, my right hand holding my left elbow while my left hand held on to my right shoulder. I'd also unconsciously been holding on far too tightly as my nails had embedded themselves so deeply into the skin around my elbow that they'd drawn blood.
Whatever it takes. I can get through this and, once again, move on. As always, I have no other option.
Yohji, Ken, Omi... Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, I wish you both a very merry Christmas and the best of luck for the coming year. I hope you all get what your heart most desires.
Through the sheen of tears that I've now given up on controlling, the blood droplets that land on the white Formica of the desk look like snowflakes...
~ end ~