Chaotic Minds

The images flash through my mind;
I look out the window and see
People drowning themselves in tragedy,
A world of violence and greed
Based only on fantasy,
And I know I don’t belong here –
But I’m forced to share this dream.

Before the night is over
You tell me to close my eyes,
Try to soothe my soul with lies:
A promise that this world is good,
That we can be happy and always free.
You insist we can live forever,
And I say that’s not my wish –
But you won’t answer me.

Why do I live,
Why do I die?
This dream was never mine.
Just take my life away, I cry –
Unlock the door of my reality
And set me free.

I wrestle with my heart and hands,
I’m not brave enough to take it.
You say that I’m a coward,
Too sensitive, too weak.
You offer me a bedsheet;
You offer a pitch black knife.
But that’s all you can give –
And in the end only part of me wants to die.

Sitting on the ledge, you ask me why.
I wave my hands to the world,
To the arrogance and hatred,
The superficiality.
I paint the bloodthirsty violence
Onto an illusory canvas,
Begging you to see –
But in the end you’re just as blind as me.

Why do I live,
Why do I die?
This dream was never mine.
Just take my life away, I cry –
Unlock the door of my reality
And set me free.

Wake me up,
And set me free…
So that one day,
Someday,
I can live again.

Life Beyond the Setting Sun: A Short Story

The tales speak of a strange phenomenon where the shadow of a person who has loved deeply throughout their lifetime may on the day of their death wander the earth until the disappearance of the setting sun. Of those tales, the one below is, in my opinion, the most convincing.


Last year, the first Monday of April, at roughly eight o’clock in the morning. I was sitting on my balcony enjoying a leisurely breakfast when the call came. I picked up, irritated – I don’t like being disturbed on my days off – and asked who it was. “I need you to come over to Bren’s place,” the voice said without any introduction. It was our manager. I said fine, hung up, and sat there for another half hour finishing my cereal.

Looking back I can hear the pain in her voice – or maybe that’s just reconstructive fantasy. Whatever the case may be, I didn’t think anything was wrong that morning. I had no idea that my life was changing right before me, totally spinning out of control, everything I had built in the past fifteen years completely falling apart. I thought that I had all the time in the world – and so I sat there, eating cereal, rereading my favorite book, savoring a cup of coffee, while my partner hanged himself.

People in our line of work commit suicide all the time, but you don’t hear about it. I’d never imagined Brennan would, but in a strange, retrospective way, I’m not surprised. There’s more to us than you think. 

When I got to his apartment the police and paramedics were already there. Even at that point I had no idea of the tragedy that had befallen us. Some of our younger colleagues were there too, standing outside the building, and when they saw me they started to stare with faces full of horror, grief, and pity. None of them spoke to me, and I got irritated with them because I thought they were being disrespectful. Then I pushed past the police line and went up the stairs to Brennan’s room. The door was closed, guarded by a pair of stoic policemen, and Kiara, our manager, was standing outside.

I think that at that point I knew. I saw the look on her face and this horrible feeling started forming in my gut; my chest tightened and for a moment I couldn’t speak. She stared at me with tear-filled eyes, said hoarsely, “Henry, I don’t think you want to go in there.” 

Of course I went in. How could I not?

I don’t think words can even convey everything I felt that day. We’ve known each other since first grade, Brennan and I, and we’d entered this business together straight out of high school. We pulled each other through the first few years of scarce work and low pay. At one point he paid the rent for my apartment, and another time I bought him dinner for two weeks straight. After that, because of some immensely kind senior colleagues and Kiara’s hard work, we were able to make it. The next ten years went by in a flash. Our popularity wasn’t always steady, but for the most part, we survived – or at least I thought we had. Clearly, I was mistaken.

You know, we didn’t always have the greatest relationship. It’s hard to work with the same person, to see them almost every day, for years and years on end. We got angry with each other at times. But we also cared for each other more deeply than most people realize. I was best man at his wedding, and became godfather to his kids. When his wife died of cancer I cried an ocean and then spent a couple of weeks practically camping out at his place, helping take care of his daughters. He was also the first person I came out to about being gay, and the reaction I got from him was the most loving and supportive one I’ve ever received. Honestly, I don’t know who I would be or where I would have ended up if I had never met him. That morning, standing in the middle of his living room, I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it – and that’s why afternoon found me once again at the edge of my balcony. Sitting on the rails, staring out into the self-manufactured darkness, I was in that moment utterly devoid of thought or feeling. Of course I hadn’t really “planned” this – I think most people don’t – but whatever the case may be, I was completely ready to die. I was just waiting for the right moment to do it. 

And that’s when he appeared.

I thought I was hallucinating. He stood a little to my left, leaning forward with his hands on the railing – not a ghost but a silhouette, a dark gray shadow with depth and form, at once both faceless and recognizable. When he spoke his voice was deeper and more full-throated than when I’d known him in life. With a slight tinge of anger he warned me, “Don’t you dare.”

I choked. “Bren?”

“I didn’t kill myself just for you to follow me, idiot,” his shadow replied. “Get off there.”

I swung my legs back over and joined him on the safe side of the railing. “How…”

“Listen, Henry,” he said abruptly. “When the sun sets, I have to go. I just came to ask you to take care of my kids.”

I swallowed hard, still trying to comprehend what was happening. “Wait,” I managed to say. “What?”

He shifted so that his face – or what would have been his face – was looking my direction. “Take care of my kids,” he repeated, and this time he really did seem angry. In all the years I’d known him he had never spoken with such force. And it worked – I couldn’t refuse. I mumbled some kind of agreement, and from then on, knowing he had guaranteed my life, he seemed to relax. 

I stood still for a minute, trying to form my thoughts. It was a good thing that I had already cried my heart out that morning, because now there were no tears to break my voice. I asked slowly, “Why’d you do it?”

“You of all people know why.”

“No, that’s not … I meant, why did you leave me? And your kids? Why now, without any warning?”

His shadow rippled with gentle, sorrowful laughter. “If I warned you, you would have stopped me… And listen, you know, I got in too far, for myself and my family. I’ve been dealing with some dark things for years that I’d rather my children not have to be a part of. Look, don’t misunderstand. I love you and I love my kids and I love all the work we’ve done. But I couldn’t escape it, and in the end I think it’s better for you all that I move on. Don’t be angry with yourself, Henry. It is what it is. Just let me go.”

After that he refused to talk anymore about his death. Instead, standing together on the balcony watching the sun lower itself to the horizon, we reminisced for four hours about his life. We talked about the time we first met – sitting across from each other in the same first grade class – and about the time we mutually decided we weren’t going to attend college. We talked about his marriage, his wife and kids, and about my boyfriend and our plans for marriage. We talked about our work, the minute legacy we had left behind. We talked about all the beautiful things we had seen and done together, and all of the suffering we’d endured together, and what I thought the rest of my life would look like. Towards the end, as the red-orange sun hovered just above the horizon, I asked him, “Are you happy?”

He thought about it. After a minute he said carefully, “I’m not happy, but I am content. How about you?”

“I don’t know,” I started to say – and then darkness enveloped the world and he was gone.

And so it was. My partner died, and I lived.

Since then I’ve quit my job – I realized I couldn’t do the work without him – but I’ve found another one, relatively low-paying but simple and fulfilling. My boyfriend and I got married, and we adopted both of Brennan’s kids. Now we’re a happy family of four. I still think of Bren often, and time has not soothed the hurt, but in a way, I’ve found peace. 

As they say, life goes on.

Aren’t Many Like Us

I remember that day. On an overnight island trip, we woke up early one silent, misty morning. We rose from our beds, exited our tents, and wandered the paths down to the beach – together. We walked, side by side, parallel to the shoreline, watching the waves crawl across the sand. We held hands. We found rare seashells. We embraced this quiet, powerful moment of communion, something that neither of us could put into words back then, something that many do not understand even now. It was a morning I will not forget.

I close my eyes and wonder why the image of this day comes so strongly to my mind. But the answer comes to me quickly: I probably wouldn’t be alive today, if you had not given me memories such as these.

I wasn’t the greatest friend to you, I know that. In middle school I was struggling with symptoms of depression that I couldn’t understand. I was too focused on myself, on my problems, to see yours. But still you held my hand. Still, you stood with your back to mine and promised we would face the world together. And we did – and we won.

We won, because we both made it out alive. And although we are divided now, separated by time and distance and situations over which we have little control, I know that if I ever need you again, you will come for me. And if you ever need me, I will come for you. Together we will stand, back-to-back, alone in the rain, until the storm subsides… until the world decides to let us free.

Because, as you told me so long ago, there aren’t many like us.

Sleep, Wake, Sleep…

As the sun creeps slowly below the horizon I sit at my desk, earphones in, thinking myself haunted. I see faces at the window that aren’t there. Voices from the past scream into my ear, giving impressions of beauty and sorrow from a time long gone. I close my eyes.

One of the songs on the playlist pulls at me; I put it on repeat. Slowly I listen with care, feeling the rhythm of the dead musician’s pain, the lyrics made even more tragic by the circumstances of his life and death. It makes me think of something… something I can’t quite get at, a feeling I can’t name. I wonder what I’m doing, listening to this song in the silence.

After four or five times around I realize that the night has settled, and it’s about time for me to go to sleep. I turn the music off. As I stand up I glance over at my bed, at the blanket and the sheets, and I wonder with a sudden heaviness: what if I just never woke up?

I think about what would happen. Who would find me, what they would do, who they would call. The suffering it might create. But even then, it would be easy, right? Just close your eyes and drift into nothingness, and it’ll be alright.

Yes. It would be easy – but only for me.

People die in their sleep all the time. Some want to die, others don’t. Some actively seek it out, others have no idea what’s coming to them. And then there are some people who just have a strange, ambiguous feeling, as if their life is rushing very quickly towards some undefinable conclusion – and all they can do is close their eyes and go along with it, because in the end that’s all any of us can ever do.

Who am I?

I close my eyes, stop thinking, and just go to bed.

Pieces of a Shadow

My heart fills with fear when I realize what you’re doing. I stare at you, sitting on your bed with a calmness I haven’t seen in years. I watch as your fingers deliberately tie the rope. I call out to you, confessing my love, pleading for you to live, but you can’t hear me.

Please, stop. I can’t lose you.

You can’t even see me. I fall to the floor, reaching in a panic for the tiny pieces of darkness scattered across the room. Most of them dissolve in my hands without form or depth; others, like shards of glass, draw pain and blood. I give no mind to the scarlet running down my arms onto your carpet. I struggle to fit the dark pieces against each other, trying to stitch together a shadow so that you can live again. But it’s no use, and I know it.

You’re not even dead yet, and in my head I’m already reciting the speech I’m going to give at your funeral.

I watch as you sit at your desk and write your letter, a short note overflowing with pain and anger and sorrow. I close my eyes and pray into the silence that you won’t sign it. But you do, happily. You stand up and cross the room, and I don’t open my eyes again until you’re hovering ten inches off the floor.

I thought I could save you. But all I could do was give you a broken shadow and a formless hope that you would make it.

She Saw My Scars

She calls me in the middle of the night, for the first time in months. I’m sitting at my computer listening to music when my phone goes off. I pick it up, surprised, and say, “Hey, are you okay?”

“Hi. I just need to talk to you,” she tells me. “It’s been kind of bad the past few days.”

“Where are you?” I ask.

“Outside my house. There’s a community pool in my neighborhood. I go there when I need to think.”

“Okay,” I say. I make a mental note of that. “Well, what’s up?”

“So we went to a hot springs bath the other day,” she says. “And I cut, right, and my parents didn’t know, and I forgot to cover it up. And my mom saw my scars… she saw my scars and started blaming me. She started yelling at me saying how she doesn’t even put that much pressure on me to do good at school or anything but she does, she does, she just doesn’t realize it. She doesn’t realize she’s causing so many of my problems and she just blames it all on me.”

My throat tightens in anger and pain as I try to find a way to answer her. This, I find, is a common thread among many of us – people who don’t understand, who don’t listen, who blame us for our own problems without realizing that they’re the cause. And at this age, many of us are just stuck with these kinds of people. It’s worse when they’re your own family and you can’t do anything about it.

I start asking her about her plans for her future. I want to hear what she wants to do, where she wants to go. She can’t give me anything concrete – people who are suicidal usually don’t plan that far ahead. I stare at the wall of my room and tell her slowly, “I have an old friend who was in a similar position. We were talking one time, and he explained to me, ‘But I’m willing to burn bridges as I stand on them for a life I’d rather live.'”

I let that sink in for a moment. She says in a small voice, “That’s a good quote.”

I tell her, “Plan for a better life. It will hurt, but if your family relationships are toxic, that’s a bridge you should be willing to burn. Pursue your own life, your own happiness, because that’s more important in the end.”

We sit in silence for a little while. Finally I ask her, “Well, what do you want to do?”

She says, “I kind of want to go to Korea to teach English…”

Drowning

I sit at the edge of the pool, letting my feet dangle in the cold water. I stare into the dark blue depths and feel alone. There’s a slight ringing in my ears, drowning out the sound of the wind and the birds and the traffic on the street below. I close my eyes and try to breathe.

You’re okay, I tell myself. It’s okay.

My chest hurts.

Before I know it I’m crying, silent and powerful sobs that shake my entire body. I want to stop but at the same time I don’t, I want to drown myself in tears. I want to wring a rope around my neck, I want to throw myself into the pool and hold my head underwater with my own shadowed hands. I want to escape this life of suffering and pain and hatred and humanity.

I close my eyes, choking on my tears. In the shadows I reach out to touch my memories but they shatter beneath my fingers, violent and sharp, jagged shards slicing across my wrists. I scream into the darkness, calling out for someone, anyone – no one.

Inside of me I know that I’ll wake up from this nightmare. But I’m not sure what side of life I’ll wake up on.

Zuihitsu #28

Daily Thoughts:

I wonder why life is so terrible.

I also wonder why life is so beautiful.

I wonder why I sometimes feel depressed and suicidal.

I also wonder why I always end up choosing to live.

I wonder why people have to suffer without reason.

I also wonder why those who have suffered the most are often the wisest, kindest people.

I wonder how it is that humans have such a capacity for cruelty and hatred.

I also wonder how it is that humans have such an immense capacity for love.

Do you want to live? they ask.

Not right now, I say. Maybe later.

There is no later, they tell me. Just now.

Well, in that case…

Conversations in the Night (2)

I sense the storm coming an hour before it hits. The sky has been clear all day, and it doesn’t look like the weather will change, but I know it will. I lay on my bed, listening to raging music through my headphones, waiting for the rain to come. Fear, anger, and grief course through my body in alternating currents, both meeting and overpowering the passion of the tenor vocalist. I lay there with my eyes closed, listening and breathing hard, struggling not to let the tears overtake me. There’s no reason to cry right now, but I feel like I will.

The sound of my name comes abruptly out of nowhere. “Haku!”

I sit up quickly, tear my headphones out of my ears, and wipe my face on my sleeve. “Hi,” I reply, clearing my throat.

They look at me curiously before going over to sit in my chair. I hadn’t heard the rain start, but with the music silenced the raging of the storm is shockingly loud. I walk over to close the window I don’t remember having opened, and my hair gets slightly wet in the process.

“What’s up?” they ask me.

“Nothing,” I say. “I was just thinking.” I go back to my bed, take the winter blanket off, and sit with it draped over my knees on the floor.

“What were you thinking about?”

“Death,” I say casually. “I was thinking about how people die.”

“Everybody dies,” they say.

“Yeah, I know, but some people die for no good reason. Some people die for no reason at all. And some people die because they want to die, and other people don’t want to die but they’re forced to die anyway.”

I shut my mouth and stare at them, waiting for a response. They close their amber eyes, pondering my statements for a long time. The gentle pattering of the rain fills our silence.

Finally they say, “What about you?”

“What about me?” I ask, surprised.

“Do you want to die?”

“Me?” I choke trying to find a good answer. “I mean, sometimes, yeah. At least I know for sure that I don’t want to not die. That’d be even worse than living.”

“Life sucks,” they admit. “Especially eternal life. But is death better?”

“It’s easier,” I say.

They nod in agreement. “So – what do you think will happen when you die?”

“I have no idea,” I reply honestly.

“Well, you know a lot of dead people, right?” they say. “Do you think you’ll get to see them again?”

The question strikes me. I sit for a while, thinking about it, while the storm rages around us. “I’d like to believe that,” I say.

“You’d give anything to see some of them again, right?”

I nod slowly. “Yeah.”

“It’s hard to live without them,” they say sympathetically.

Lightning flashes outside my window, and within a second I can feel tears spilling onto my face. “It’s so stupid,” I say. “He never said goodbye.”

They come over and sit next to me, laying a gentle hand on my shoulder as I cry. “It’s hard,” they say softly into my ear. “Whether you knew or not.”

“I knew,” I whisper hollowly. “I knew. He was rushing towards death, and I was waiting for him to die. Isn’t that… isn’t that so wrong?”

“Nobody could have saved him,” they say. “It’s not your fault.”

“But we could have saved him,” I insist, reaching up to wipe my face. “If people cared more, he’d still be alive. If people took him seriously, if they paid attention, if they…” I trail off into a thundering sob. I’m embarrassed to really cry in front of someone, but it’s too late now.

“You care about people too much,” they say gently as they stroke my hair. “You say you hate humanity, but admit it – somehow, at the same time, you love humans. You love them too deeply, so when they make mistakes, when they give up, when they die, you hurt. You hurt a lot.”

I choke down another sob and shake my head. “Of course I hurt. What’s the alternative?”

“You could choose not to love,” they say.

“That’s stupid,” I say, suddenly wildly angry amidst my tears. “What kind of life is that?”

“You could also choose death.”

“That’s stupid too,” I snap, surprisingly incensed by the thought. “His death destroyed us all. It destroyed me. I’m not putting my friends and family through that kind of pain.”

They smile at me gently, amber eyes sparkling. “Exactly. So you’ll live, and you’ll love, and you’ll hurt, but for now, that’s okay. Right?”

My tears have stopped. I sit in silent awe for a moment, wondering what it was they said that got me to this startling conclusion. “I guess,” I say. Part of me feels defeated, but my heart is singing only emptiness and acceptance.

“Well, that’s all there is to it, then.” They rise to their feet and go to look out the window. “The storm is letting off already. I should probably go.”

“Okay.” I remain where I am on the floor, too tired to stand.

They look down at me, grounding me. “See you later, Haku,” they say.

“Later,” I reply.

They stand there, grinning at me awkwardly. “Um.”

Oh… sorry.” I haul myself to my feet and go over to open the window, struggling against the old, partially-broken sliding mechanism. And as soon as I’ve won the fight, I’m alone.

I pause, breathing in the misty air, readjusting. Then I smile, put my headphones back in, and turn on the music.

Conversations in the Night

Cold air rushes into my room as I prop open the window. I stick my head out for barely a second, just long enough to glance up at the night sky. The moon and stars are there, but I can’t see them under their blanket of dark gray clouds.

I sit back on my bed and wait for the coming downpour, something I can sense in the heaviness of the air. The drops come down lightly at first, but within minutes a full storm is raging. Water pours violently off the edge of the roof and floods the narrow dirt paths around my house. I listen silently to the sound of the final autumn rain, and before I know it, I’m not the only one in the room.

“Hi, Haku,” they say.

“Hi,” I say back. “It’s raining.”

“I know,” they say, smiling a little. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing.”

The rain is now coming down in sheets, and the wind is starting to blow it sideways. I get up to close the window and then fall back onto my bed.

“Why are humans so stupid?” I ask, staring up at the ceiling.

They smile again, sadly. “We just are.”

“I don’t get why people refuse to learn,” I say. “I don’t get why we teach our children to hate, or why we spend our short lives just killing each other and everything else on the planet. I don’t… I don’t understand any of it.”

They think for a moment. “I don’t understand it either. But what do you mean people refuse to learn?”

I try to get my thoughts in order before I answer. “It’s like this,” I say. “We’ll start this huge, stupid war, right? And millions of people die horrible deaths. Soldiers and civilians alike. Children too. And during the war, because of our fear and distrust, we’ll decide to ignore basic human rights, and we just start locking people up and torturing them and killing them for no legitimate reason. And then the war ends somehow, and everyone who’s still alive will say, ‘That was terrible, we mustn’t let that happen ever again.’ And for a few years we all believe that. We believe that we’ve come out of the war having learned something. We believe we’ve become better human beings. And we write down the history of the war and all the terrible things that happened during it, hoping that future generations will learn from our mistakes. But the thing is, we don’t learn. The war generation forgets the war. Their children don’t read the history books, or they read them but don’t know enough to care. And then after some years have passed we start another stupid war over some pointless thing and everything goes to hell again and at the end everyone promises, ‘Never again,’ except nobody really believes that anymore. At least, I don’t. Because nobody remembers, and nobody learns.”

As soon as I’m finished, a roll of thunder pierces the stormy sky. The windowpane rattles. I look out into the darkness of the night and wait for a reply.

They think for a while, as they always do, before posing a hypothetical. “You sound like you’re not happy as a human being,” they say. “So if you could choose to be reincarnated as anything you want in your next life, you wouldn’t come back as a human?”

The question makes me laugh. “Of course not.”

“Why?” they ask, sounding genuinely interested.

I ponder this for a minute. “Don’t get me wrong — I think humans have won some very great things in life, and I agree that we should all be grateful for the comforts and pleasures we have now. You know, medicine and technology and sanitation and things like that. These things are amazing and I’m duly grateful for them. But I think humans overall don’t deserve all of this. We don’t deserve such great lives because we spend them just being so terrible to each other, to the world, to ourselves. So no, I wouldn’t come back. The legacy of humanity is not one I am willing to bear on my shoulders again.”

“You’re not even willing to bear it now,” they say.

I feel my face flush. “Sometimes I can’t deal with it,” I say.

“Pretty often, right?” They look at me with soft concern, brushing their hair out of their eyes with slim fingers.

I look at them and nod. “Yeah.” I’m a little embarrassed now, and I shift my gaze towards a streetlight that has turned on outside. The raindrops on the windowpane cast little dots of shadow onto my desk, and I stare at them, entranced.

“Why don’t you play something for me?” they suggest. “On the piano.”

“Okay.”

We get up and walk downstairs together. They crash on the small sofa in the corner of the room, and I go over to the piano bench. My fingers find my book of sheet music, and I flip through it absently, trying to find something to reflect my current mood. Another roll of thunder shakes the house around us.

I put the music away and sit down at the keys. Within moments the fragile melody of Yiruma’s “River Flows In You” fills the room. I play without thinking, and they listen quietly.

When I finish the piece I pause for a short breath and then go straight into a Brahms intermezzo. Then it’s more Yiruma, “Hope” and the much darker “Indigo.” The music fills my soul and calms me with a powerful grace, but it just as equally threatens to tear me apart. I finish “Indigo” and just sit for a minute, staring at the off-white wall, listening to the sound of the rain.

“What now?” they ask after a while.

“I don’t know,” I say. I touch the keys again, and we’re automatically enveloped in a rich, solemn Chopin nocturne. They close their eyes, and for a moment I close mine, too, letting my fingers run, letting the piano take over.

A few minutes later, the piece comes to a dramatic conclusion. I look over at them, curled up comfortably on the sofa, and ask, “How was it?”

“It was good,” they say. “But could’ve been better, right?”

I nod. “I’m tired of being human,” I tell them.

“I know. But there are humans out there who need you, so for now, you’re stuck with it.”

“I’m stuck,” I agree heavily. “It’s okay. It’s not all bad. Just sometimes.”

Outside I can hear the storm easing, the violence of the sky over and gone within an hour. I get up and open the front door, peering out into the dripping darkness. The clouds seem brighter, the moon and stars shining more powerfully behind them, even though the clouds are still all I can see.

They move up beside me, and we stand side-by-side in the doorway, watching the lingering raindrops hit the ground.

“Time to go,” they say finally. They look me in the eyes then, something most people these days never do. “See you later, Haku.”

I nod and smile. “Later.”

I miss them as soon as they’re gone, but I’m just as glad to be alone.