When This is All We Know

So here I am.

Not sure where to start, or if I even have. I’m trying to learn to open my mouth less, and by doing so, say more. “Don’t speak unless it improves on the silence” and all that.

It has had mixed success, really. I tend to be someone who plays with words, who dallies and experiments, meandering with meaning until I fall upon the right prose. I chew upon phrases, enjoying the taste of the perfect combination as they fall from my lips–as seldom as that may be. More common, far more often than I would enjoy, I simply embed my foot so firmly in my mouth that it takes months to extricate it, regardless of intention… all while simply searching for the right thing to say.

I usually talk more than I should. Yet now, I struggle to find the words that need to be spoken, and wonder more on the meaning pressed into them, or if that meaning will be anything close to what I want. Only one way to tell really.

Before I begin, I think it prudent to begin with a notion coined by Patrick Rothfuss, who will forever be a better author than I could ever be, and that is this:

There are two kinds of secrets: secrets of the mouth, and secrets of the heart.

Secrets of the mouth are like a stone in your boot, hardly noticed at first, but grow intolerable in time, longing to be released into the world. Gossip, good news, and scandal, things that wish to be spoken aloud, they grow larger the longer they are kept, fighting their way up your stomach to press against your lips. They yearn to be free.

Secrets of the heart are different. They are painful and private, and we want nothing more than to hide them from the world. They do not swell to press against our mouth. They live in the heart. The longer they are kept, the heavier they become. We hoard these painful treasures close, swallowing against them every day, forcing them deeper inside. There they sit and fester, growing heavier still, until they cannot help but crush the heart that holds them.

My life has been filled with many kinds. Secrets of the mouth I carry in my pocket, secrets for my friends that are theirs, precious moments given, that weigh nothing more than the smile they bring to my lips as I think of trust unbroken. And the last, secrets of the heart. Of those, I have many.

And that is okay. I am not alone in this.

We all carry such things, are all connected by the things we cannot speak aloud. Together, we find solace in words that shall never move from the depths of us.

The silent waves among us all.

It is, however, time a secret of the mouth let itself be known.

In case you may not have been privy, I moved back to America in August. Yet now, I am sitting at a second-hand dining table in a very J apartment (minus the kotatsu that, given my current shivers, I am quite un-fond of not having) which can mean only one thing:

I am back in Japan.

What some may have expected, but I certainly never did. Not once. My shattered heart can attest to that simplest of truth. I left Kansai with no intention of ever coming back, not in any long-term sense. It was among the hardest trials I have ever had to play my part in. I was tempted in every possible way to stay, and yet I did not. Even as my fist bled around fingers that refused to release their grip, I somehow found a way to let go.

I had to.

There was a decades-old task that needed done, and I had my place in its doing. I had ran from it for far too long. The time had come to turn. To meet it. Lest it bury me.

The task was one that cannot find words. At least ones I can ordain to speak, not as I stand now, the type I swallow against daily, pushing down deeper still. Safe to say, it was a trial of knowing. There were things I had to discover about myself, about who I once was, and about who I choose to one day become if ever I was to continue to grow.

The clouds or the mirror?

Shatter the skies, and we shall lean out to catch the stars. But to hold our own reflection? Why, that’s the harder task by far.

I held my own for three months.

Each day, I took out those secrets I hold in my heart and examined them. I was loathe to, but knew it to be the entire reason I had come back and knew that it must be done. And every day it grew harder to bare, but bare it I must, for no one else could. So each day I did, and each day I tried not to be swept away.

It was such a strange feeling. For nearly three decades, I have built walls, been as unfeeling as stone when the need is required, it was how I survived so many things. My armor. But in this I could not. I needed to look what now lay behind those barriers, to find the answers I had avoided for so long.

What was found was a series of bitter truths I always guessed but never realized, and their uncovering shook me profoundly. So much so that for three months straight I never once slept the entire night through. Not a single night. Friends on the other side of the world wondered aloud at why I was always awake so late, why I responded so quickly and fiercely. To those, and you know who you are, I want you to know, it had nothing to do with any expectation I had of you, but everything to do with helping me try and forget the tasks I had to hand . . . if only for a moment. I thank each of you for that. For unknowingly being a balm that helped me sleep what little I could, that helped make things easier to bear.

Through my time in Washington, when I found the strength to stand, I spent much time walking. Through forests. to the tops of mountains, along coastlines, down back alleys and graveyards. Searching for . . . something. I can’t rightly say what, for I still haven’t found it. It alludes me still. Often, I was accompanied by my baby brother, who provided such wonderful company and advice. Not in the form of words, for he cannot speak, but in the form of reading my moods, of knowing what I needed even if I didn’t know myself. Thank you for that, Curly, even if the world may see you as only a dog . . . I know better. You helped more than words can bare witness.

The rest of the time, I kept my hands busy, writing and climbing and running. Thoughts being, that if I could no longer run from myself, I could damn sure run down everything else.

And one day, I finally found my answers.

Were they what I expected? Naturally they were not. Nothing ever is exactly how we expect after all. How boring life would be if that were the case. But they were laid bare, and brutal, and true. Even through a painful truth, we can still find peace.

When that truth was revealed, my task finally complete, I knew then it was time to leave. Past time. The question next, was to where? Where could I go that could possibly quell the tension thick as drowning? I had half-formed notions, ideas that still required time, but they were abstract, needing more planning and research before they could be put in place. But the thought of waiting a minute longer was sickening.

As things tend to, the moment I could no longer stomach it, an opportunity came. . . one I did not expect. And the silent waves within me did something that had not done in months . . . they grew still. I blinked. I was struck profound.

My choice was then clear. As I do with so many things in my life, I relied on impulse and made my decision. Three weeks later and I was boarding a plane, a secret of the mouth so hard-pressed against my teeth I could barely clamp my lips shut over it.

I wanted to shout it at the moon, to fill the world with the truest smile I had produced in months, and yet I waited. To surprise, to amuse, and to remember.

It was worth it.

But not all is as dreams intend, as much as we may wish it so.

I find now, picking up the shattered pieces of my heart, wounded and weary from the past months, coming back to the only place I have ever been able to call home, I have been dealt a cruel trick I did not expect, but should have realized. Like all things broken, no matter how you try to fit the pieces back into place, you can never repair it truly, put them the way they once were. Nothing broken and put back together ever can be. I have found that I do not form and fit in this place as I once did.

That isn’t necessarily a sad thing, even if it seems it on the surface. I know someday I’ll find where I belong. In time.

My secrets of the heart are still there, as they forever will be. An angel’s touch, 22 seconds, Tablerock, sinking silence, and all the rest. But they are burdens I know well, and may yet one day lay to rest. When what we know falters, there can be only hope.

For those who won’t understand, who think I am running. You aren’t wrong. But know well this: I am not fleeing anything. Rather, I am running toward a destination as yet unknown to me, but one I won’t stop until I find. In the meantime, I choose to be in a place I can rest content, where laughter can find my lips as easy as skipping stones. Even if I am caught between places and people and knowing and unknowing.

I’ve come to realize that you can exist somewhere between those things. Can stand neither here nor there, nor have a place really. That somehow you can be happy and sad at the same time, and even as you wonder how that can possibly be, you realize feeling that way can be a most beautiful thing.


2 thoughts on “When This is All We Know

  1. If this is your first post, I can attest I enjoyed reading it. I find your honesty endearing and rooting for you to find the things you are searching for. I also like your writing style. Beautiful, my friend. Miss you.

  2. I can’t really say that I’m surprised that you found yourself back in Japan. I was surprised that you left in the first place because I’ve always thought that you and Japan are a perfect match. I think that you thrive on the constant change to the expat community, making new and lasting friendships every time you meet someone new. You are senpai, teaching the newcomers, and kouhai, learning from the newcomers, at the same time. That’s not all, of course. There are so many other reasons that I think you belong in Japan, but that’s a pretty important one.

    You have no idea how important you were to me in my time in Japan. I know we weren’t always close, but what you did for me is beyond adequate description. You were the first in the expat community that I felt accepted by. That picnic at Kamiyama Shinrin Park was the beginning of me finding my place in the community. And then you got me a job, one that I didn’t always love, but one that gave me purpose and, even now, I remember with a smile. (Gods, how I miss those kids!) I can never thank you enough for those two things.

    I’m happy to hear that you are walking your path to happiness and contentment. I hope that you find what you need back in Japan and I look forward to those feelings of jealousy as I look at the photos of your adventures. I’m just sorry that we never got a chance to get together while you were State-side.

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