Just as You Are
"Ah I knew it, I shouldn't have had that piece of cake." I was completely displeased with myself as I looked in Sae's bathroom mirror - who speaking of which, chuckled lightly from the living room.
"You're worrying too much, Hiro." She sat her desk as usual, and looked at me intensely, a tiny smile forming on her face. "You really don't need to diet anyway, I think you're fine the way you are."
"You can only say that because you're skinny, you meanie!" I puffed out my flushed cheeks at her, she sighed in response, and waved a hand in the air, dismissing my worry. Then she turned around, glancing at her clock; I only now just how late it was. Sae gazed at me softly with an apologetic expression; I knew what that look meant, so I removed myself from her bathroom, passing by her as I headed for the door, stopping only a few feet away from the knob.
"Sae, please try not to stay up too late, okay?"
"Yeah yeah." She turned away from me, clearing her desk, preparing to begin her daily routine as an author. I grabbed hold of the knob, and hesitated for another second before opening the door.
I made my exit as she stretched her arms out. Right away, seconds after closing her door, I ran - nearly tripped as I got inside my own apartment, going as fast as I could to my bathroom. Once inside, I stripped myself completely naked, focused on large mirror before me, and examined myself. I Squeezed various parts of my body, and was able to pinch significant amounts of fat, enough to make me start worrying all over again.
Just as I thought . . . I sighed, stared at my reflection. Its useless, because I'll always be . . .
I got dressed again. I was tired, so I flopped down on my bed and laid on my back, staring up at the ceiling.
I squeezed my body some more, and let out another depressed squeal. Laying awake, I thought of Sae, and how she said that I was fine the way I was. That was complete nonsense. I knew I was fat, She had no idea what she was talking about. In any case, I was just going to have to work harder starting tomorrow.
Hm . . . Should I cut down on lunch again, or maybe breakfast? No, perhaps . . . dinner? Or . . . maybe I could . . .
I pondered even more now. Of all the methods for losing weight I've tried - from jelly to workouts; the one thing I hadn't yet attempted, was just not eating altogether. And now that the thought of doing so came to mind, I did my best to push it away. I didn't want to even consider such an extreme solution to my problem.
I'll just find another way to lose weight.
My eyes started to hurt then, so I closed them. I pushed all my remaining thoughts into the abyss, feeling a faint darkness overtaking me. Without struggle I gave into it, and before I knew it, my consciousness was beginning to wither away.
"Um . . . ah . . . Sugara-senpai!" I was standing in front of a handsome man, a boy from another class; his name was Sugara Kisuke. He was a year older than me, so I was nervous, unbearably so, I was about to confess to him after all. "I . . . um . . . have something to tell you." He looked agitated and disinterested in me, but still agreed to hear me out, much to the pleasure of my heart. Under the stare of our fellow students, we walked away. He led me to the roof the archaic looking middle school that we both attended.
When we got there, the tension between us become thicker. It was quiet, so no one would interrupt us, but it also made me anxious since I was all alone with him. His expression became harder all of a sudden, a sign that he was getting impatient.
"So, what do ya want?"
"Um . . . I . . ." I was choked on my words, becoming a bumbling idiot. However eventually, I somehow managed to say it clearly at last, the thing I most wanted to say. "I . . . I like you, please go out with me!" I bowed my head deeply to him, and prayed that when I raised it, I would see his smiling, loving face.
He started laughing, so I raised my head. I didn't understand what was so funny about this situation, but he cleared that up for me.
"Wow, you can't really be serious. There's no way I'd go out with a ugly bitch like you."
My eyes fluttered open, a reaction to the early morning sun that shinned through the parts of my window not covered by the curtain. There was something on my face and touched it, feeling a wet sensation, a stream that ran down my cheeks; I was crying. After a moment of recollection, I understood why. A dream, one that I hadn't experienced in a long time. To be clear though, it was more like a nightmarish memory, one I wished I could forget. Even though I had managed to escape it for so long, it caught up with me at last, and now was repeating in my head; that frightful nightmare, that dreary collection of my darker days in middle school.
Looking back on it, the confession that I made on that black day was the worst mistake of my life. It was the turning point of my young existence; it followed – chased – me everywhere I went, finding me always, no matter where I hid. I even thought I could lock those memories away when I entered the Hidamari Apartments, begin a new life, but that naivety only served to make things worse. In the first place, I was already infected by the poison of that day and the ones that followed; even if I denied it, the fact was that my life had changed as a result of that brutal rejection of my adolescent feelings.
Reeling in horror at the words that Sugara gave me, I did everything I could to prove him wrong. At first I believed in myself; thinking that it must all be a lie – it had to be a lie, there was nothing wrong with me, nothing so terrible about me to warrant the cruelty that he - and later his friends - displayed to me. The constant snickers, the awful notes left in my shoe locker; surely I had done nothing to deserve it, it had to be a mistake . . .
But, as time went on, as the pressure, the crushing weight of their insults increased in volume, I finally understood everything. When I first noticed, it was like seeing myself for the first time.
"Where did all that fat come from?"
"Since when did I have such gross skin?"
"Why . . . am I so ugly?"
Before I knew it, those kinds of thoughts invaded my mind, took over me, and changed me. Now that I could see for myself, I believed in Sugara's words, and finally understood why he rejected me. I was disgusting, fat, ugly. Of course I had to be rejected, who would want someone like me?
Now that I was aware of my faults, I was a little at peace.
"I can do something about this, right?"
"I can change myself, I can become cute, right?"
"I can stop being fat and ugly . . . right?"
Becoming steeled with the resolve to change myself, I took every step necessary. To make my skin smooth and silky, I used every cream on the market, even working a part time at a local store so that I could afford it. To combat my weight, I reduced the amount of food I ate, I worked out every day, exercising myself into exhaustion so frequently, I was sure I would die.
When high school came, I enrolled to Yamabuki Arts School. I wasn't really interested in the arts, but it was somewhere far from home, where I could get away from all the bullying that I endured by staying. I moved into the Hidamari Apartments, it was the perfect escape for me. Now that I was away, I thought I could forget about my bad experiences; but they followed me, and that only made me more determined to change. That was when I met Sae, and my life changed once again.
She was a taller girl, though at first I had mistaken her for a man, because of her short hair, height, and slim figure – which I was incredibly jealous of. After settling in, and getting to know her better, I found that she was also cool and smart as well, and in a lot of ways reminded me of Sugara, however she didn't seem like the type to say mean things about someone.
At first I was hesitant becoming friends with her. In middle school, because of the bullying, everyone avoided me, not wanting to become the next victim. So now that there was someone who wanted to be around me, I was at a loss. I also didn't know what it meant to have a friend, so in addition to my lack of self-worth, I also struggled with how I could make sure that she didn't end up hating me.
I visited her a much as possible, even on rainy days, or days where she was clearly in a bad mood; even on those days she didn't push me away, and invited me inside her apartment for tea and conversion. I honed my cooking skills, and began making dinner for her, despite her frantic protests; she soon gave into my pressure, and I learned about a whole new side of her that I never knew until then. She was really cute when she got flustered.
At some point, without realizing it, I became more like a mother than a friend, but that was fine, I was okay with being in that kind of relationship. It was fun to take care of her, and to be there for her, it made me happy to see her smile. At last, things were turning around, and it seemed like my heart was finally healing.
But then that moment came, that instant where I understood just how much I cared about Sae. Somewhere along the line of out friendship, I had fallen deeply in love with her. It was probably because she looked so much like a boy, or maybe it was because of her kindness . . . or maybe, I was just a lesbian, and hadn't noticed it until that moment. Regardless, things quickly became painful again, as my role changed from that of a mother, to a wife - that's how I wanted to think of it from then on.
After piecing my feelings together, I didn't do anything about them, except stew in the insecurity that came along with them. It wasn't just that I was worried about both of us being girls, that part wasn't very important. I was mostly scared of being rejected again, just like in middle school. Because of these feelings, I was forced to confront the truth; I was still not over the things that happened in the past. I still felt like I was fat, no matter how much weight I lost; and I still felt ugly, no matter how many creams and treatments I applied to myself. Sugara's words continued to resonate with me, and there was nothing I could do about it. Because of this, the happiness that had I found quickly deteriorated – and despite my acting to the contrary – I was still that stupid, disgusting girl that Sugara said I was.
No matter what, I didn't want Sae to think I was fat, or ugly; I didn't want her to tell me that she would never go out with someone like me, the way Sugara did. That fear seized me, it owned me, and because of it, I kept all of my feelings inside, even though it was painful and made my heart clench with agony.
I continued my diets, even though they were useless. If it meant that Sae would always be by my side, then I would sacrifice anything and everything, even if I had to bare the unrequited feelings in my heart forever. So I continued on, just like that, all the way to . . .
. . .
Why am I thinking about this now?
I snapped out of my thoughts, halting for now the pain of reminiscing about the horrors of the past, and present sufferings that I subjected myself to. I removed myself from bed, getting ready for the day. First I went to the kitchen, to prepare breakfast for myself and Sae; but I stopped before touching a single utensil. I tried not to think about it, but the dream and my memories were still getting to me, the awful images were filling my thoughts again, screaming at me, calling me fat, reminding me of how ugly I was.
To shut it all away, to stop the terrible noise in my mind, I skipped myself for once, and instead, just focused on making breakfast for Sae alone. I did the same as I prepared our lunches. I could handle it, just one day of not eating, that would be enough to burn the calories from last night, and set my mind at ease, at least for the moment. As I finished Sae's meals, my stomach rumbled, but I ignored it and marched over to her apartment. Usually she was up before me, but since there was a deadline coming for her short story, she probably didn't get any sleep until the early hours of the morning.
It was just as I suspected, she was sleeping soundly when I entered. Sae didn't even lock her door anymore, since she knew I would be coming. She laid there against her desk, defenseless, anyone could have walked in and done something terrible to her. In a way, it was exciting to think along those lines.
She always had her guard up, so seeing her in such a fragile state, being the only one to see it, was really tempting to my lustful heart.
But I swallowed those thoughts, and shook her gently. "Sae, its morning, wake up." She mumbled something unintelligible, and then opened her eyes. "Good morning, Sae."
"Go . . . ning . . . ." She was still sleepy, and rubbed her eyes, doing her best to wake up. I smiled down at her for a moment before going off to prepare some tea in her kitchen; I left her breakfast on the desk.
When the tea was ready, we drank it together on her couch. My stomach started to rumble and whine again. Of course, Sae noticed right away. "Huh? Didn't you eat, Hiro?"
"Ah! N-No, I'm not really hungry."
"Hmm, I see." Now she was pondering in her head, whether I was getting sick. She was always
like that, and it was easy to read her mind. But I was happy, she was worried about me, that was enough to warm my heart. If she kept thinking about me like that, then I really didn't need anything else.
My happiness was short lived. I took a sip of tea, then looked down at the cup intensely, sadly, wondering how many calories I'd just consumed.
When lunch break came, I felt like I was going to die from hunger. Not eating was more tiring than I anticipated; Everyone was so nosy as well, especially Sae. When I told her that I didn't bring a lunch, she looked at me strangely, like I was from outer space. She asked me why, and I told her that I wasn't feeling hungry today. That made her look at me even more seriously, which was natural, since I was the cook of the Hidamari Apartments, and never appeared at lunch empty handed. Now she was truly worried, I could tell, because her eyes softened up.
She whispered in my ear – making sure that our underclassmen friends and fellow residents of the Hidamari Apartments, Yuno and Miyako couldn't hear - asking if I was not eating on purpose, for some kind of diet. I had to admire her detective skills, she could give Sherlock Homes a run for his money.
Of course I denied all her completely true accusations, I didn't want her to worry any more than necessary. And once it became clear that I wouldn't give in, she eventually backed off, and went back to eating her lunch; with me sitting there quietly, wishing I had one.
After school, I left quickly without Sae, for the first time in ages and went on ahead. I got back to my apartment as soon as possible. When I was inside, I immediately scrambled to the fridge, taking out a slice of leftover cake. I downed it quickly. Immediately after I was done, I felt immense shame and regret.
I did it again! I had starved myself today, so that I could burn the calories of yesterday's cake. Now, thanks to my weakness, it was all for nothing. Feeling completely disgusted with myself, I slapped my cheeks as punishment. Stupid stupid, you stupid fatty!
Suddenly, my stomach turned, and I felt sick. I hurried to the bathroom and let my face hover over the toilet. It came up without warning, and I unloaded my insides into the bowl. One way or the other, the calories from that cake were out of my system. I felt bit better afterward, but it was a strange kind, because I more or less still hated myself.
Having had enough misery for the day, I decided to go to bed early, even though it was only a little after 4:00. My stomach was starting to mellow out, and I regained some energy, but still felt extremely tired. I laid down and closed my eyes. By now I knew Sae would be wondering where I was, and would probably come here. That was fine, its not like I would be awake, and she wouldn't disturb me if I didn't answer the door. With that in mind, I let myself drift away.
" . . . There's no way I'd go out with a ugly bi-"
I jolted awake, and my eyes snapped open. I was breathing in heavily; I was also sweating a lot. It was that dream again, back to torture me, just when I was finally starting to feel better.
I checked my clock, it was late. I missed dinner, but I didn't really care about my own meal, though I was worried about Sae, since I usually made hers. I wondered what she ate while I was asleep, if she even remembered to eat at all. I wanted to get up from the bed to find out, but I couldn't. I felt exhausted, like all the strength from my body had been drained. So I laid there, without being able to go back to sleep, just staring up at the ceiling, watching the hours roll by, feeling more angry with my useless self as the seconds passed . . .
When morning came, and it was finally time for me to get up, I at last found the strength to do so. I had to do my usual preparations for Sae, so I couldn't just sit around like a louse. I went to the kitchen, and did what I had to do. Again though, I skipped out on making myself breakfast or lunch; I remembered the cake, and throwing up last night, and thought it was for the best. Still, I would need an explanation. I didn't know what I would come up with, so for now I just concentrated on making lunch for Sae. I felt a bit dizzy, but was mostly fine, I could do this much at least. Again, I marched over to her apartment to wake her, where she would no doubt have more questions for me.
I took the day off. During break, the hunger became unbearable for me, and I was starting to feel even more out of it by then. Sae wanted to take me home, but I refused, saying I would be fine. I wanted to reassure her, but I couldn't find the right words, so I just left it at that. I don't think she believed me, but she let me go anyway without putting up much of a fight in the end.
I barely made it home. Almost staggering across the street, I felt completely wiped out. When I got inside, I went over to my bed for a quick nap. I only meant to rest for a minute, but before I knew it, hours had slipped by when I awoke again, and it had grown dark. It was time for dinner, but I wasn't hungry. Still, I knew that Sae would be, and I couldn't have her eating ramen, or something even more unhealthy again, I would have to prepare something, that was my role.
Reluctantly my body moved, it was a battle just to rise from the bed.
Come on, you fatty! Get up, Sae is waiting for you. Temporarily motivated, I got to my feet, but the rush of energy disappeared just as suddenly as it came, and weariness overtook me. I stumbled forward, losing my balance. Without even knowing what was going on, I fell over, and hit the floor hard.
"Sae . . . ." I gently called her name, one last time, before everything faded to black.
I woke up in a large white bed, surrounded by white walls. I didn't understand what was going on, but Sae was here as well, sitting on a chair beside me. As soon as my eyes opened and I looked at her, she sprung from her seat and tackled me with a hug.
"S-Sae!" I blurted out her name in embarrassment, my face flushed a deep red, I certainly wasn't ready for such affection coming from her. Automatically, I reached out to her, to wrap my arms around her . . .
"Hiro you idiot!" But her harsh words stopped me; and when she pulled back, I saw that she was furious. "What were you thinking!" I was still piecing things together for myself, so it was hard to
come up with an appropriate answer. I remained silent and tried to collect my thoughts.
Ah, that's right . . .
I collapsed at home, just as I was about to make her dinner. I hadn't eaten for a few days, and all my strength was gone, that must have been the reason. And Sae . . . I must have left my door unlocked, so when she came in to check on me, and saw me on the floor, she . . .
I suddenly felt very ashamed of myself, and my heart wretched with pain.
"I'm sorry, Sae," I apologized. Her cold expression lightened up, and she scratched her cheek, embarrassed.
"W-Well, I just can't understand it; why would you would starve yourself until you collapsed from anemia? Its okay that you want to diet Hiro, but there's such a thing as taking it too far." I knew that . . . I knew that much, which is why I was reluctant to do such a thing in the first place. But then, that dream, and those horrible memories, they pushed me forward onto that path.
I knew then; if Sae was going to understand why I did this, I would have to tell her everything. My past, the dreams, and about my true self, and my true feelings. She wouldn't leave without a proper explanation, so I had no choice but to reveal everything to her now. I didn't want to do this, because it would change things between us. However . . .
There's no choice, I have to tell her . . .
"Sae, will you listen to me for a little while?"
"Of course, Hiro." I smiled weakly, glad that she was so understanding. And then, I recalled all
the bitter memories, which I had tried my best to push away . . . And then I told her everything. All of my experiences, all of my pain; the nightmare that I had to endure, and the destruction of my self-esteem, I revealed all of it to her.
As I recited my story I gauged her reaction. Sometimes she looked so shocked that I thought she would faint; other times she appeared to be close to crying. The most interesting reaction, and the one that I appreciated the most, was her anger. As I told her about the confession, she shook, vibrating with rage; seething with an emotion that I never directed at anyone but myself. To see her get so angry over what I told her, it made my heart do a back flip. I didn't think it was possible, but in that moment, I fell even more in love with her . . .
Finally, after a long while – with a brief interruption from a doctor to check my condition – I was at the end of my tale. Her anger had subsided a bit, but I could still clearly see the emotions swimming in her eyes. There was still one thing though, something that before, I would never dare tell her; the fact that I loved her, and was in love with her, and what she meant to me.
"Sae . . . there's something else . . . something important that you have to know."
"What is it Hiro? I'll listen to anything you have to say." I smiled, my heart glowing from her kindness.
"Sae, I love you." I said it plainly, with a straight face, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Sae looked like she was about to have a heart attack, and I giggled sadly, looking away from her as I swallowed my anxiety. "Ever since I met you, I've loved you. You were the first person to accept me for who I was, even though you didn't know anything about me, or my past. You didn't care how I looked, and became my friend anyways. I owe you so much, and I love you so much more than I can ever say with words." Her face lit up, and she started to stammer like crazy, just trying figure out what she wanted to say.
"Its okay, you don't have to say anything. I didn't confess so that I could hear your response, I just wanted to tell you my honest feelings. I never told you before, because I hate myself, I hate the way I am right now. I was so worried that you would find me disgusting, that you would reject me, not just because I was a girl, but because I was ugly too. That always scared me, the thought of losing you, so until now, I kept those feelings inside. But you know . . . I can't do it anymore; now that I've told you everything, I can't hold back these feelings anymore! I don't care if you don't feel the same way, I just wanted you to know who I really was. Not only that . . . but I'm begging you; please forgive me for falling in love with you. Please, even if its impossible . . . don't hate me, Sae."
"Hiro . . . ." The red on her face subsided a little, but she was still blushing heavily. I was scared, always scared, that this moment would be the last in one of our friendship. The silence was horrible, but I endured.
And at last . . . after several unbearable seconds, it looked like Sae finally had something to say to me. She looked so serious right now, so stern and so mature, it was as alluring as it was frightening.
Suddenly, she grabbed my shoulders, and held me gently against her body. "H-Hiro . . . I don't really know anything about this kind of thing, and I'm not sure if I feel the same way as you do; I'm sorry about that. But there is something I know for certain: y-you're special to me, you're the most important person to me right now, Hiro!" She looked so embarrassed that it was hard to stay shocked at what she said. To be honest, I felt more like laughing, or crying, because it was just like her to act so cool about things. And even though I was happy, I was still a nervous wreck, and my skeptical heart didn't quite believe her words. So, for the sake of understanding, I decided to make sure, that this wasn't a dream, that she was telling me the truth.
"Sae. I hate myself; I'm insecure, and I'm fat and ugly. Is it really okay for me be friends with someone like me, a person who can't even find one thing to like about herself? Is that really . . . okay?" She nodded swiftly, without a single hint of hesitation.
"I don't think your ugly Hiro, I've never thought that. When you ranted on about your weight, I supported you; but I always thought that you were fine the way you were. However . . . you, all this time . . . I should have paid more attention. I'm sorry for not noticing it sooner, how much pain you were in, even though you're my best friend. Forgive me, Hiro." I shook my head, brushing my it against her chest to avoid showing her the pathetic face I was making right now.
"Please, don't say that, don't apologize, I'm the one who . . . ." And then I started to cry, it felt like a delayed reaction to her actions and words. Sae held me close to her, and it felt so warm, that I closed my eyes and melted into her. I was falling apart at the seams, but I didn't care anymore. Sae's warmth, her heart beat, it made it all my ill feelings disappear, and it made me realize just how twisted my mind had become after all this time.
"I-I'm sorry. I know this is all wrong, I know that I'm all wrong. I'll try to get help, so I can stop feeling this way, so that I don't have to worry you anymore. So please . . . please, stay with me, please stay by my side, Sae!" She pressed her face against my shoulder, and it became wet; I realized then that she was crying too, and she squeezed me tighter as a result.
"Hiro . . . no matter what I'll be there for you. I'll do anything, absolutely anything I can, so that one day, you can love yourself again. That's why, its okay to cry, its okay to let go; because I'll still be here, I'll always be with you. That's why, please don't hurt yourself anymore." The promise to her to me, as heartwarming as it was, felt almost like a marriage vow. Thanks to that, I finally felt at ease, truly at peace, for the first time since I became like this.
I knew . . . I always knew, that I had a serious problem. But I was so blind; I didn't see it, I refused to believe it, that I had people who cared about me, people who wouldn't abandon me, or hate me. And I never understood, realized that I didn't have to endure this pain by myself.
That's why . . . that's why, I wasn't going to give up. I would fix this, I would overcome this. There was no telling how long it would take for me to like myself, it could take the rest of my life. Strangely, maybe even arrogantly, I somehow felt like Sae would wait that long. She was promising to stay by my side, she was never going to leave me; and I believed her now, I believed in that promise.
I love you, Sae, I found myself thinking, and it had never been more true then in that moment. I loved her even more now than before. I never wanted to leave her side, and she wouldn't leave mine either. So for now, I had just had to do my best. And then, one day, for sure . . .
Everything would be alright.