Imaginary Problems

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Our family's first barbecued crab

As the sun began to set, the scent of barbecued steak pervaded the house. The fireworks of laughter and the chirps of crickets harmonized into an elegant chorus – both opulent in crescendos of excitement and diminuendos of comfort. On Friday nights, our dinner table was finer than a 5 star restaurant. Moving to the United States, our family faced inundating challenges and conflicts. The process was arduous, but each passing obstacle seemingly worked as a catalyst that progressively strengthened the chemical bonds within the family. The United States was where we belonged; a place had never felt more like home. With each “X” on the calendar, my cherished memories of Japan faded one by one, and instead overlapped with the dismissive criticisms of my parents. To them, the abysmal norms of Japanese society made Japan a residential nightmare. 

July 21st 2020, my family and I were issued a mandatory return to Japan. The massive outbreak of COVID-19 and the language and culture gap led me to a road of utter loneliness. The conversations between friends were like anonymous phone calls, with endlessly recurring conflicts and misunderstandings. The seemingly infinite hurdles left a scratch of painful rejection each time – eventually escalating to a point of fatality. Hypnotized by the excruciating pain, I leapt, and soaked myself in the pool of Japanese culture. Turning a blind eye to friendly helping hands, I marked my rebirth as an “ordinary” side character. 

As time passed, I became acknowledged in the halls and I was no longer vigilant for the sound of the final bell. The pain was over, and my long lost days in the United States were finally making their return. Nonetheless, that empty void within my core remained – the withered flower at the center yet to blossom. The exchange for happiness was temporary, and it cost my personality. My emotions and character laid at the bottom of the “acidic pool of conformity” – desolate and decayed. I was forced to continue my voyage alone, as an empty shell, to roam around in the dark depths of earth. 

In the eyes of a friend, a teacher, and a family member, I was still a part of the countless teenagers around, experiencing the corresponding dose of puberty, drama, and vicissitudes. The disguise I forged upon social occasions kept my scabs and scars concealed. Nobody noticed that when I was talking I was not conversing and that when I went out I was not living – with the exception of a single friend.

His name was Toki, a fragile introvert I met on the day of our school orientation. Toki was a returnee from South California, close to my previous home. If not for his relatable presence and subtle yet genuine care, I would have never gotten past the rudimentary stages of returning to Japan. However, despite our extensive time together, I withheld my desperation from reaching out and opening up to Toki; I was not about to drag my dearest friend along into my depths of despair. Yet, somewhere beneath those layers of control, modesty, and maturity, a part of me discreetly prayed for a helping hand. 

It was the fall of 2021, Toki and I found ourselves alone on the train from school. The ride was tranquil when Toki abruptly broke the silence. “You are stuck on imaginary problems, you have to focus on what’s real man,” he blurted out. The sudden comment caught me off guard, and I hastily replied “Thanks,” before instantaneously switching the subject. 

After parting ways with Toki, the words of his continued to attempt to tug the cork out of the bottle of my urges; the suppressed desperation to seek a helping hand was on the brink of being unleashed. It was time to let things be. 

I swiftly scribbled two columns on a piece of scratch paper, each labeled “real” and “fake”, and began listing my confined thoughts into words. 

As my pencil grinded to a halt, I let out a sigh of brief relief. The agonizing process was over at last; but as the ticks on the clock became distinct, the rush of cold adrenaline snapped me back from my drunken stupor – to reality. As my vision readjusted on the table, I was startled by the bizarre outcome of what the list came to be; the list was almost entirely skewed to the right. 

“Cannot relate to the topics in conversation”, “Seems to embarrass me, every opportunity I get”. Upon retrospect, my problems were mere coincidences or plain misinterpretations. They were augmented specks of parasites that had taken advantage of my enfeebled system in the course of my return to Japan. 

Throughout 2020 and 2021, I had put together albums of priceless memories.

I was not only a slave of the lively past, but I was a regret to the future and what is to come beyond. 

People tend to forget that life is just a cycle of redemption. So tomorrow, I want to be the one that is grateful for the most negligible of details. I want to be the one that welcomes any forthcoming fate with open arms. I want to be the one that lives in the shining light of the present.

I want to be the one that is grateful for the most negligible of details;
I want to be the one that welcomes any forthcoming fate with open arms;
I want to be the one that lives in the shining light of the present;
- Haruta
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Japan