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Creative Non-fiction

There are days when I think of Arashiyama. The water was warm as I stepped in, toes slipping on mossy rocks. I waded deeper, dodging boulders, my blue shirt floating around me. The fog wrapped around the mountains, and tiny raindrops fell, invisible in the blackness, murmuring a soft tune over the water.

You took off your trunks and swam naked in the night river; Jack sat on the pebbled shore, our sandals and clothes scattered about him. A boatful of tourists floated our way, with Japanese men lighting torches and fish-swallowing birds performing tricks to loud, enthusiastic applause. Balls of fire illuminated the dark green water, and we hid in a bank canopied with willows.

And I remember the hill in Nara. We climbed fences and endless steps to the top, treading on deer dung, drenched in sweat.

“How much further, Chris?”

“Just be patient. And don’t look back.”

(I looked back when he wasn’t looking.)

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His stare, the clarity of his eyes shining through, is burned into my memory. The steady, concentrated gaze ensnared me; his whole being and energy seemed to pour from those eyes, and I froze, self-aware and mesmerized, small under the magnifying glass of a much greater person.

With such men, you tumble down the rabbit hole of their single-minded tunnel vision because you trust and feel safe in their confidence and absolute surety that you should be together. And so you fall, and you scrape your knees, and you fall again. You’re bleeding, but you don’t feel any pain. You keep on running beside him.

You float gently in the naiveté of his answers, his childlike inability to describe just what he feels in the face of something astonishing and never before experienced. You play pretend every time you meet, in places where it’s forbidden, because pretend is so much better than real. You venture into smoky, black forests and confront the scary monsters you locked up when you were a kid, because how could anything hurt you when you’re with him?

And so you keep on discovering and conquering like two brave warriors until you reach a crossroads and you don’t know why but you know you have to part. There, you recognize each other’s vulnerabilities and see them not as weak, unattractive, frightful things, but something to protect. Something precious. And for that, if nothing else, you love him.

——

On this day three years ago, I was freezing and insomniac in a shared apartment on 26th Street, New York. And I wrote this:

It’s 6 p.m.  My roommate Heather’s not back yet, so I have the luxury of listening to my music without headphones.  The day is winding down, much too soon, and cars honk here and there as they rush home.  Wheels sound slick on wet roads.

It’s 7 p.m.  My suitemate Kristen takes her usual evening shower.  Maybe I should shower early tonight, too.  I’m tired and I’d like to go to bed early, maybe wake up early to finish studying.  But Heather will be back soon and I wouldn’t be able to sleep with her in the room, typing away on instant messenger.  My pills rattle as I look for my glass bottle of Vitamin B6.  I press down firmly on my pill splitter until one tablet snaps neatly in two, giving me two manageable doses of 25 mg.  No need for 50 mg at this time of the evening.

It’s 8 p.m.  Our heat’s broken again; I turn on my electric heater.  It clicks merrily as it heats up the oil inside.  The satisfying click, the promising click…  Heather’s back, and we make our usual small talk, but there’s more to talk about tonight.  Sometimes I think we turn every mundane event into drama to compensate for the lack of excitement in our lives.  An ambulance blares and honks its way down our street as Heather and I discuss the latest passive-aggressive behaviors in our suite.

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