A Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora fanfiction. Yuuichi reminisces over the last ten years of his life.
A Parting Gift
I have lived an ordinary life.
I was an average student in high school, with dreams of going to college in Tokyo or Nagoya. And then, to find a good job and get married – ordinary dreams. It wasn't easy, but they came to fruition, one by one. I was a ronin for a while, but finally earned scores good enough to get into a second-class university. Finding work was even a bigger challenge – but somehow, someway, I managed. It may not have been the dream job I had always wanted, but it was reasonable and was enough to live on. And as for my wife – we've had a good relationship from the start; she has always understood me and taken good care of me.
When people ask me about my past, this is what I tell them. I was no superhero or anyone special; just an ordinary, honest man who wanted to live a reasonable life – and yet, was rewarded with a life I was satisfied with. And lucky enough to find a woman that I love; the steadfast childhood friend who grew into something more as the years went by.
I have lived an extraordinary life.
This is a secret that only a few know. One shared by some of my closest friends, my wife, and a few people back in Ise.
I was twenty-three when I entered college. Nineteen when I graduated from high school. And in between, a lifetime's worth of memories. Some good, some bad. But always intense, whether good or bad.
There are four pictures placed on the shelf, each one taken at a key time in my life. There is one of me and my father, taken just before his downward descent that he would never recover from. A second with my lifelong friends, my closest friends from high school – Sekoguchi Tsukasa, my best friend from back then, Yamanishi Tamotsu, the fun-loving troublemaker, and Mizutani Miyuki – my oldest friend, and the only girl of the bunch. The fourth is a picture of me and my wife on our wedding day. The third – is facing the wall.
Even now, I cannot bring myself to turn it back around. Ten years since the picture was taken. Five years since I refused to look at it – though, I could never get myself to throw it out entirely. It deserved better than that. No, she deserved better than that. That's what I told her – Only a few years to make a lifetime of memories. A time that wasn't very long – but not very short, either. Three years, that's all it was. A light that was that was bright enough to blind, a darkness that no light could penetrate. A time filled with passion, elation, and desperation – and yet, without vision.
I had relied on others to be my eyes during that time. Tsukasa, Tamotsu, and Miyuki. My mother. And two other names I became more and more familiar with over the years – Natsume Goro, the doctor, and Tanizaki Akiko, my former nurse – who gave up her nursing career a long time ago, but managed to stay in town. They had supported me, but they had also warned me. And in the end, I had hoarded the support and ignored the warnings. Until the time came when there was nothing to hoard and everything to ignore. When Natsume would ask me about my health and not about hers. When Tanizaki would remark that I was treating life like a race – shortly before slamming on the accelerator and sending the speedometer well into triple digits.
I wanted to play the hero. Maybe Tsukasa's antics had rubbed off on me just a little bit. He would put on his Zebra Mask before going off on secret missions and performing heroic deeds – and believe it or not, pull it off most of the time. Heck, he was the one who gave me the opportunity to play the hero in the first place. The time when I took her to Gun-Battery mountain – a place that held one of the few memories I had of my father – it was Tsukasa who had arranged the trip, got me past the hospital security, and brought me safely back to the hospital when I fainted on the mountaintop. And when I was eventually prohibited from seeing her again, Tsukasa, along with his older brother, had come to my rescue; lowering me from the water tower near the East Wing, where she was staying, and allowing me to enter her room from the veranda.
That was the turning point in my life. Then and there, I had pledged the rest of my life to her. Or rather, the rest of hers – my condition couldn't possibly be compared with hers; acute viral hepatitis has over a 90 percent cure rate if discovered within the first couple months, as it was in my case. Compare that with her disease; a valvular disorder compounded by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a deadly combination that turned her heart into a ticking time bomb, giving her less than a 50 percent chance of surviving five years.
I was desperate. I was stubborn. I had already made up my mind not to listen if anyone tried to dissuade me. And plenty tried – no one harder than Natsume, who had seen a colleague go down the same path and urged me not to do the same. Tanizaki was a bit more sympathetic but constantly reminded me that I had a choice; that I had yet to pass the point of no return. As for my mother – she was strongly against it, and there would be no winning her over – but I couldn't really blame her; she was friends with Miyuki's parents and favored her from the start.
But the path was set, at least in my mind. I was going to finish high school. Then get a job. Then ask her to marry me. Then spend the next few years living our lives to the fullest, treasuring every moment we had together, packing in a lifetime's worth of experiences in that period of time…
Things went wrong from the beginning. It took me an extra semester to finish high school; I had lost too much time from my extended hospital stay. Finding a job didn't take quite as long, but I realized that my options were limited without a college education – the pay would not be enough to support her properly, let alone account for her ever-climbing hospital bills. And in the meantime, she was facing troubles of her own. One of her goals had been to attend high school – but that was about all she would be able to do; she missed too many days of school, was unable to keep up with her classes, and was forced to give up her dream of graduating. She was not well liked by others, teachers and students alike – some out of jealousy, some out of spite, and some for very good reasons. And in the meantime, the clock kept on ticking – and as her appointment grew nearer, the anxiety only grew. When would their time come? She didn't have much time left…
But the time did come. And it was a magical moment, one of few I would remember and cherish. If only for one day, all traces of her illness were gone. She was so lively and radiant that day; she brought smiles to everyone around her. It was this side of her that I had fallen in love with; days like these that I hoped for in our marriage, even if there wouldn't be very many…
Details. That's what it came down to. There was no big blowup, or a sudden rift – just some little things that seemed to add up and pick up momentum as time went by. Like housework. A girl who spent most of her life in the hospital couldn't be expected to do things like cook, clean, and keep house – especially in her weak state. And of course, there was my mother – who was somewhat willing to help her out in these areas, and much more eager to point out all her deficiencies. Friends. She never really seemed to have any, and never seemed to like any of mine – ever since my old high school friends moved away to go to college. And living for the moment, and creating memories. Wasn't this the reason we had gotten married, in the first place? But creating memories usually involves things like getting out of bed and being able to walk around. Even early in our marriage, that was one day out of three. And travel was out of the question. Just one of many things Natsume had warned me against – but I had been stubborn; I had believed that I could beat the odds through sheer effort and determination.
Odds is a funny thing. It doesn't seem to care how much you love the person or how hard you try. It has a mind of its own and is haphazard in its ways. Yet some people are more skilled than others, and manage to beat it more often than not. Tsukasa had been one of them – but he wasn't there to bail me out this time. And the others seemed to be more interested in reminding me just how bad my odds were, instead of helping me find a way improve them. And in the end, they were right. Hopeless. Disaster. Hopeless disaster. Natsume had used these terms with regularity, sometimes all in the same sentence. New drugs and treatments popped up now and then, and there was also the possibility of additional surgery. There was also a slight chance of finding a donor heart. But Natsume would close these doors, one by one. No, lock them and throw away the key, even as I was pounding away on the other side. Better to let things end gracefully, than to hold onto a lost cause, was what he said.
The end did come, and rather swiftly. But it was anything but graceful. Attempts to console me were useless. Seeing my high school friends again did cheer me up a bit – but it was only temporary. And in the meantime, my mother was constantly nagging me to go to college, which only seemed to exacerbate matters.
That was when Miyuki decided to pay me a visit – my mother had probably called her. I didn't know what to expect. I knew what my mother thought of her; it took me a little longer to figure out what Miyuki thought of me. But I wasn't ready for this. It was too soon. It wasn't going to work. Having lived through one disaster, I was getting better at spotting them; nothing good could come out of this…
And as usual I proved to be a horrible guesser. She was only there to drop off her old study material; she assumed I was already studying for next year's exam. I couldn't find a good reason to prove her wrong – and so, I didn't. I couldn't quite make up for the lost time, and the colleges I could get into were definitely on the lower end of the scale – but I made it, somehow. And as for the rest of the story… it's already been told many times over, the story I tell people when they ask me about my life.
Still, I wonder. I wonder what would've happened if the odds had been a bit kinder to me. If she hadn't suffered from such a serious ailment. If there had been a cure for her condition. Or at the very least, there had been more happy times, more memories, more carefree days, like the one captured in the picture I find myself looking at…
I notice a figure beside me. She picks up the picture and shakes her head. "Is that really me? I can't believe I used to look like this. How many years ago was this? Ten?"
I nod my head.
"I remember, that was my sister's uniform," she says, pointing to the girl in the wheelchair – Akiba Rika, my first wife.
I smile – there had been some good times, good memories. Only, they had been shared: sometimes with family, sometimes with friends. But it always had taken more than two people to create those special moments. Why was that? Why was it that two people weren't enough, no matter how strong their love was? Even the most special moment of all – the confession at her bedside under the light of the half-moon – had only happened because my friends and helped and supported me… and because her mother had been there to witness it. It was then I was convinced that this would work, that all difficulties would be overcome…
Had they been?
"Miyuki," I call out to my wife.
"It's all right. She was so beautiful, and cute, but didn't have long to live... I can't blame you one bit."
"And she always came to school with a smile. And always tried her best. She was so brave and strong…"
"What can I say? She was great. It was fun having her around. It was always one adventure after another, never knowing what would come next."
We nod knowingly at each other, and share a laugh – before she puts the picture away. Moments like these, they were so much easier to come by… it was almost unfair. I had put in so much effort with Rika, yet received so little in return – and now, things were so much easier with Miyuki. Maybe this had something to do with circumstances and odds. Maybe I had taken a bad step ten years ago, and it took many years for me to find my feet again. But as I look at my wife's face once more, I think I can spot something in her smile… and maybe, just maybe, this had been Rika's parting gift.