New Year’s came and went. I stayed with a friend from another prefecture.
School started back up and sped by, because a few weeks later was spring break.
Yohei and I were closer than ever. One morning, he asked me if I wanted to go with him to Kawagoe. I immediately jumped into action. I got ready and showed up at the station a little too early. He was early, too, though, so we left.
In Kawagoe, we had fun. We went to a bookstore and a cat café, talking a lot and enjoying ourselves. It was a wonderful day.
Valentine’s Day was coming up and I was excited. Valentine’s Day is different in Japan than it is in the United States. In the US, men give women flowers, gifts, and/or chocolates for the occasion. In Japan, the girls make chocolate to give the guys, and one month later on March 14th, the men return the favor by giving something to the girls that they received something from. I made chocolate for my friends. Including Yohei. I gave him the chocolate the same day I gave Hama and Tatsu their chocolate. I didn’t want to make it too obvious that I was itching to give Yohei homemade chocolate. March 14th was White Day. This is the day that guys return the favor from Valentine’s Day. Yohei gave me a beautiful necklace. I went to Kyoto not long after that to visit a few friends of mine. I stayed for a week. The entire time that I was there, Yohei and I were messaging back and forth. One of my friends noticed, saying, “That guy likes you, you know.”
I had to stop myself from blurting out something along the lines of, “HA! I wish!” Instead, I calmly said, “No, I don’t think so.”
“He’s messaging you nonstop. Guys generally don’t do that unless they’re interested.”
“How would you know?”
“I’m a guy.”
“A single one.”
“Not for lack of trying.”
Good point. It was food for thought.
In Kyoto, I ended up find a cute couple charm for phones. I obviously had no one to give it to yet, but someday. So I bought it.
When I got back to Saitama, I didn’t want to lose it, so I put it up on the bulletin board above my desk where I could look at it and hope silently to myself that I would eventually have a boyfriend. Then, I crawled into bed.
I woke up the next morning, terribly ill. I guess I overdid it and didn’t rest enough when I was in Kyoto.
I messaged Yohei and told him about my condition. He offered to come by and give me some medicine. I didn’t want him to see me in that state. It wasn’t because I was in my pajamas. He had stayed the night a few times before. We had a habit of talking and losing track of time, causing him to miss the last train. We couldn’t seem to learn our lesson… not that I minded.
What was embarrassing was that I knew I looked sick. I already have fair skin, but I look creepishly pale when sick, and my cheeks were quick to flush with fever. I did manage to rip a brush through my hair before he got there, though.
He showed up with more than just medicine, though. That week I was in Kyoto, he went to his hometown and bought me loads of souvenirs. I got him one too, of course, but not nearly as many as he got me.
Then he saw the couple’s charms on my board.
“Do you have a boyfriend…?” he asked me.
“No. You know I don’t.”
“I know that you like someone, though,” he said.
“So do you,” I replied.
“Who do you like?”
“Who do you like?”
Neither of us spoke for a moment.
“Let’s play twenty questions,” I suggested.
“I start!” he demanded. “Is it Kyousuke?”
“No,” I told him. “I told you before that that was a lie.”
“Just making sure,” he said.
Me: Is she Japanese?
Him: She’s… Japanese-like.
Me: But not Japanese.
Him: You’re too smart. Is it Hama?
Me: No. Is she Chinese?
Him: No – WAIT! I mean, well, she’s not, but… crap.
“Crap” was right. I’d figured it out. There were only six girls that weren’t Chinese. Me, Carleen, Ish, Chi, Mod, and Ellie.
Ellie had just arrived a week before. The crush thing had been going on for weeks. So it definitely wasn’t her.
He already told me that he didn’t like Mod, so it wasn’t her.
Ish and Chi were both over six and a half feet tall, rather loud, obnoxious, and liked talking about not much more than dirty topics. Definitely not his type.
He and Car had maybe exchanged three words since they first met. Not her.
That left me.
Him: Is it Yuuya?
Me: Is it me?
Him: … You didn’t answer my question.
Me: It isn’t Yuuya. Is it me?
Him: … I mean, there are other non-Chinese international students.
I explained my reasoning and asked again. “Is it me?”
He was quiet for a minute or two. It was an extremely long minute. Then he suddenly slammed his hand on my desk, stood up, looked me in (my now wide and surprised) eyes, saying in perfect English, “Tanie, I like you. Do you like me?”
I was shocked rather speechless by his sudden outburst. I couldn’t manage much more than a nod and a, “… uh huh.”
He sank back into his chair, switching back to Japanese and saying something along the lines of, “Thank goodness!”
I took a second to calculate when the heck was happening. My face was hot, but it wasn’t because of the fever.
“I was so sure that is was Hama,” he said.
“Hama and I are just friends,” I reassured him.
Yohei shook his head “Hama likes you, too. I’m sure of it.”
“Oh,” was all I could manage. In my head, though, I was replaying all the moments I had with both Yohei and Hama. I didn’t know either of them liked me. I must be quite the ditz.
Yohei’s eyes suddenly got wide and he sat straight up. “What about Kuro?!”
I smiled. “We aren’t really married, obviously,” I told him.
He smiled back. “I know.”
We sat in silence for a few moments just taking it all in.
“Ah, wait!” he said suddenly. “I told you I like you, but I haven’t asked you to be my girlfriend yet!”
That caught me off guard. I waited.
He was quiet. Obviously thinking.
I didn’t know what to do. Was he going to ask me or not?
Did he want a glass of water?
Did he mean that he liked me but that he didn’t want me to be his girlfriend?
… Did he need a glass of water?
I really hoped the silence was just because he wanted a glass of water.
He cleared his throat.
Maybe he really did need a glass of water! … Wait, was I stalling?
“Tanie,” he said suddenly. “When you talk, I want to listen. When I see you, I’m happy. When you smile, I smile. I always want to see you smile, so will you smile for me every day and be my girlfriend?”
I think my heart stopped. I stopped breathing. Reply, you idiot! I screamed in my head. I couldn’t manage a word, so I nodded, but I know I was smiling like an idiot.
Yohei smiled and sat back down. We talked for the rest of the night…. after I gave him the half of the couple’s charm.
The next morning, he caught the first train home. We decided to keep our relationship on the down-low until we could tell Tatsu and Hama. They were our closest friends, so it only made sense that we would tell them first.
Later in the day, the international students had placement exams. After the exams, most of us were heading to Harajuku. Mana, a Japanese girl we were friends with, was going, too.
Mana was my friend, but she had a tendency to flirt with every single guy that she talks to.
Because Yohei and I weren’t announcing our relationship yet, she kept flirting away. Yohei didn’t even notice. I told him, but he told me not to worry because he had no interest in her.
Yohei and I wandered off on our own for a while until everyone met up again in front of the mall. He had offered me his arm in the crowd so we wouldn’t get separated, and I took it. As we got closer to the rest of the group, I went to pull away but he held tight and didn’t let go.
The point of the trip was to show the new international students around, so most of the group were new people.
They said they were all going to go out to eat and asked if we wanted to go. I told them that I thought I was going to go home. It was getting late and I was kind of short on money.
One of the new guys chimed in suddenly, “Your boyfriend can pay for you!”
Mana jumped in faster than a cat jumping out of water. “They’re not a couple!”
I looked at Yohei and tried to pull my arm away again. He held on tight and didn’t deny that we were a couple.
The new guy ignored Mana (which I was secretly a little happy about). “Come on, Tanie, come with us! It’ll be fun! Your boyfriend will pay for you. Won’t you, Yohei?”
“Actually,” he replied, “I think I’m going to get going, too.”
The new guy laughed. “I get it. You two want some alone time.”
Mana chimed in again, “I told you, they aren’t a couple!” She nagged on about it for a while.
I took that nagging time as a chance to whisper to Yohei that he didn’t have to leave just because I was.
He just smiled and whispered back, “Now, what kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn’t walk you home?”
The two of us managed to get away from the group and to the station. We transferred trains in Ikebukuro and boarded our line. Soon after, many other boarded, squishing us in like sardines.
I looked up and Yohei was just a few centimeters away. I felt my face grew hot and looked down.
Being the great guy that he is, he was immediately worried about me. “What’s wrong? Are you okay? Is your fever back?”
Being the ditz I am, I stuttered, 「ち、ちかい！」(“C-Close!”)
Yohei then had the same reaction I did. Red face, looking down. That didn’t stop him from putting an arm between me and any other guy that came near me, though.
The crowd thinned out as we got closer to our countryside town, so I was able to lean against the door.
Yohei had offered me his arm again and I gladly accepted. The sun was setting and the excitement of the day wore me out. Not to mention Yohei and I were up all night talking. I was exhausted. My eyes felt heavy. My hand started to slip from his arm… so he took my hand in his.
Yohei missed his stop and got off at mine to walk me home. Outside my door, saying goodbye was a bit awkward. I didn’t want him to leave, but I knew he had to. Instead, I asked if I could have a hug.
He doesn’t know I know, but as he walked away, I peeked out the door one more time and saw a fist pump and him quietly saying, “Yes!” before walking away.
I love our love. Even now, it’s still pure and innocent. You’d think we’ve been together seven days, not seven years.
A few days later, we decided to have our first real date in Kawagoe. I went out and bought a new dress just for the occasion.
He had told Hama and Tatsu about us being a couple. Apparently Hama was quiet and nodded in understanding (nothing new – very Hama-like). Tatsu, on the other hand, was super surprised and exploded with questions: Wait, really? Since when? Seriously? How? Who confessed to who? Oh, yeah, and congratulations.
During the date, we sat at a table in an Italian restaurant trying to figure out how to tell everyone else.
Then we had an idea.
Dare we do it? So cliché! But everyone would be informed. No risk of leaving anyone out.
Yes, we would do it.
We were going to… make it Facebook official.
Yohei had me send the request. He accepted. We set our phones down as our meals arrived.
Me: Do you think anyone’s seen it yet?
My phone: Buzz!
Him: Yeah, I think so.
My phone: Buzz! Buzz!
Me: Should I check?
His phone: Buzz! Buzz!
Him: … I don’t know…
My phone: Buzz!
His phone: Buzz! Buzz!
My phone: Buzz!
Me: Maybe we should just… put our phones away for now.
Him: Yeah… I think that’s a good idea.
We put our phones away, but we could still hear the buzzing. We decided to ignore it. This was our first date and we weren’t going to let anything ruin it.
When I finally did check my phone, our relationship status update had over a hundred likes and comments. I had over thirty messages on LINE. People were very supportive. They all told us that we made a great couple (except for Mana who separately messaged Yohei and told him I wasn’t his type) but when the heck did this happen? No one even knew we hung out, which was odd considering how often we actually did.
There was one comment, though, from the new international student that went to Harajuku with us. His comment was simple:
“I knew it. :)”
Our one month anniversary rolled around and he gave me a single red rose. He said that he was sorry that he couldn’t give me something more, but he didn’t know what to get me.
I told him not to worry, because that single red rose was super romantic and I didn’t need anything else. But he took me out to dinner anyway.
Two months, two roses, plus dinner.
Three months, three roses and dinner, plus a book with the violin sheet music for Ghibli movies.
Four months was rolling around, but Yohei apologized to me, saying that he was super low on cash and didn’t think we would we able to do anything.
I told him not to worry. We didn’t have to go out to celebrate. “I can pick up some snacks from the convenience store and we can watch movies,” I said.
He came over the night before our four month anniversary. He brought me four roses. He said he was able to pull together enough money to do at least that. We watched a movie and fell asleep.
The next morning, Yohei woke me up at four AM.
“Tanie! Wake up!”
I panicked. “What? What is it? What’s wrong?!”
He smiled. “Nothing is wrong,” he said, smiling. “But we have to hurry or we’re going to be late!”
“Late?” I was still half asleep, but I was pretty sure we didn’t make plans. I could have sworn that he told me he had no money so we couldn’t do anything…
He pulled out two small pieces of paper from behind him. “I’m sorry that I lied. I got us two tickets to Disney Land.” He kissed my forehead. “Happy anniversary!”
I was in awe. How did he pull that off without my knowing?
It was an incredible date. We ate breakfast at a little restaurant inside Disney. It was expensive, but so worth it. Exquisite. Delicious. The weather was cloudy, then rainy. When the rain hit, we went to a restaurant for an early dinner (we skipped lunch). The restaurant was Alice in Wonderland themed. Very cool.
After dinner, we walked outside to see that the rain had cleared and the sky was blue. Best date ever.
As much as I didn’t want to, the time came and I had to return to the states. The nights leading up to my departure were full of Yohei holding me as I cried. I remember the pain in my heart. It was physically hurting me, which just led to my crying harder.
At first, I was angry with Yohei. Whenever I would say that I didn’t want to go, he would say that it couldn’t be helped. I was angry that he could be so cold about it all. Did he not even care that I was going? It could be months before we saw each other again.
Then, the night before I had to go, I was crying once again. This time, though, Yohei joined in. He cracked. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I can’t hold it in anymore. I want to find a way to stop you. I want to steal your passport or your wallet or your money. I want to beg you not to go, but I know it will just hurt you more, so I didn’t say anything. I can’t let you leave, though, thinking that I’m okay with it all. I needed to tell you. But listen to me, Tanie, I will find a way to get to you.”
I was glad he told me.
I went to the station with Yohei the next morning to catch a bus to the airport.
Much to my surprise, seven of my friends had gathered at the station to see me off. We talked about how we’ll meet again and not to worry. We hugged, then I boarded the bus (with Yohei) and I left. I managed to keep it together until we turned the corner. As soon as my friends were out of sight, I turned to Yohei’s shoulder and cried until tears wouldn’t flow anymore.
We said our goodbyes at the airport and I left. As I was going through security, he was still watching every time I glanced back… until I couldn’t see him anymore.
I boarded the plane, lucky enough to get an emergency exit seat, window side. That didn’t cheer me up, though I fought and fought, but the tears welled up and overflowed. I was quiet, but the woman next to me noticed.
“Sweetie… here, have a tissue.”
“Are you leaving someone behind?”
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry.”
She was nice. I never caught her name, but she was an amazing woman. Filthy rich. Old money. She was travelling the world and was just getting back from visiting a friend in Okinawa. Her stories distracted me for thirteen hours.
I arrived at the airport closest to me house and was greeted by my family holding big “WELCOME HOME!” signs. My mother made them for me.
I was also greeted with pizza. I missed American pizza. Japanese pizza is gross. They have one with mayonnaise instead of pizza sauce… and with corn. Plus, airplane food sucks.
The pizza was quickly welcomed into my tummy.
When I went to Japan, I didn’t have any culture shock. Going back to the states after a year, though… reverse culture shock was almost as bad as the jet lag.
The food is so greasy.
The portions are ginormous!
It’s raining… why isn’t anyone using an umbrella?
What are you talking about? It isn’t humid.
It’s a bit early for dinner, isn’t it?
There are no vending machines… or convenience stores…
It’s just down the street. Do you really have to drive?
Everything is so big!
You can buy in bulk!
But more than anything else… why is the AC set so low?!
My family thought that I was crazy for wearing a jacket all the time. “Aren’t you hot?” they kept asking me.
I was freezing, though.
We went to visit my grandparents one day. They were excited because they had just gotten central air conditioning. My grandfather was sitting in his leather chair in the living room wearing shorts and a T-shirt, relaxing in the air conditioning.
My two sisters sat on the couch in the same fashion.
I, on the other hand, was sitting on a chair, wearing a hoodie, wrapped in two blankets, surrounded by pillows, still shivering.
I didn’t get used to it. I moved to my house near my university, where we had no air conditioning. One of my roommates occasionally complained that it was too hot, but I was perfectly okay with it.
H-sensei contacted me as soon as he found out that I was back at the university. He wanted me to help him welcome the new exchange students from Japan.
I helped take them shopping, then I was partnered up with a girl to help her move into the dorms.
We were introduced and left alone. She introduced herself in English and I did the same. She then told me, “I no speak English, sorry!” When I told her that I speak Japanese, she was so happy that she hugged me.
We ended up becoming great friends.
We would often hang out at the AMU, a building on my campus for the students. It’s a large, open space with sofas, chairs, tables, and televisions. There’s a large fireplace in the center that’s lit all winter. There’s also a café to one side and a university store on the other. On more than one occasion, I actually found myself buying a hoodie from the school store because I was cold, wearing it as I would study.
The year was dragging by at first. Going on without seeing Yohei every day like I used to. We made it a habit to talk on the phone every night. He wanted to make sure he gave me an “Oyasumi Denwa” (a goodnight call). We Skyped regularly, too, but it wasn’t the same. I missed our dinner dates and our Once Upon a Time binge-watch sessions. On more than one occasion, I broke down and cried as we were talking on the phone, telling him how much I missed him and how hard long distance was. We were determined to not give up, though.
Christmas was hard. It was our first Christmas as a couple, but we weren’t together to celebrate it. We did send each other presents and open them on Skype, but again, it wasn’t the same.
New Year’s came and went without much happening, but finally, February came.
Yohei had been working two jobs to save up to go visit me in America (while still going to school full time). His arrival date was slowly inching closer and closer.
A week before he was supposed to arrive, we had our Oyasumi Denwa and I went to bed.
That night, I had a terrible nightmare. I remember it still, clearly. In the dream, Yohei and I were messaging back and forth like normal. Suddenly, his messages stopped coming. I just figured that he was busy and couldn’t reply, so I just waited. (Still in the dream,) I woke up the next morning and he still wasn’t replying, so I messaged our mutual friend and asked him if he knew what was going on and why Yohei wasn’t replying to me.
Our mutual friend said, “Tanie, no one told you? I thought you would have been the first one to know…”
“What?” I asked.
“Yohei was killed yesterday…”
I told him to knock it off, this joke wasn’t funny. I wasn’t laughing, so stop. He said that he wasn’t joking, though, and that I needed to contact Yohei’s family.
I did so, and they were furious with me. Go away, never contact us again, it’s all your fault, you’re the reason he is dead, we hate you, you can’t come to the funeral, and we are not going to tell you where the memorial is, they told me. I was baffled. What the heck happened?
Apparently it was my fault. Yohei was messaging me back and wasn’t paying attention where he was walking, then stepped into the road in front on an oncoming vehicle, getting hit and killed.
I woke up in a cold sweat, hyperventilating and crying. I immediately picked up my phone and called Yohei. Being the absolutely perfect boyfriend that he is, he answered not with a “Hello?” but with a “What’s wrong?!”
I told him the dream, crying and unable to calm down.
He snickered. “Baka,” he said. (Dummy.) “I’m talking to you now. I’m okay. Deep breaths, calm down. It’s okay.”
He calmed me down enough for me to go back to sleep. The next morning, I was still upset about the dream. I was on edge all day and very emotional, quick to cry. My friends were worried about me all day. One friend told me he was too worried about me to leave me alone. He bought me a coffee and stayed with me in the AMU all day.
The day finally came that Yohei could come to see me. I had to wake up at three AM to leave, but I was so excited that I arrived at the airport almost two hours too early. The roads were icy all week, so I made sure to give myself enough time, but they had salted them well before I left, and there were almost no other cars, so it took a lot less time to get there. When I finally did see him walking toward me in that airport, it took almost everything I had in me to not run up that down escalator and pull him into a hug. He beat me to the chase, though, and dropped his bag to hug me first, followed by a, “I missed you so much.”
I was crying too hard to answer, but I think he knew I missed him too.
Part five coming tomorrow!