I can't remember now if it was before or after the end of high school. Juliette and I went to the swimming hole at the end of my street with two friends. At first I just sat on the edge of the chalk shelf and let my feet dangle in the water, while the others went straight in. The water was always chilly there, and the trees and the hillside never let any sunlight down to warm us. The other boy—also named Mike—started talking about shrinkage. He was one of those rare few back then, back before "geek chic" was a thing, who could enthusiastically love obscure movies and made his own stop-motion videos and always had a pop culture reference at his lips, and yet he was still cool, authentically cool. Much cooler than I was.
"Shrinkage factor 15!" he exclaimed.
"You have a scale?" I asked. "Like, a measurement? What does 15 mean?"
"Dude, I just made it up right now because it was funny."
"Oh." Right. Duh.
Juliette's friend, a girl who lived around the corner from me, glided through the water scooping up clumps of algae in her hands and flicking it at us playfully. "Gross!" one of us shouted.
"It's just pond yuck," she said matter-of-factly. "It's fun to squish it."
I don't remember when I actually got in, but at some point I must have decided that hanging off to the side looked worse than taking my shirt off in front of two beautiful girls and a guy from the swim team. I imagine that other kids were just as insecure back then as I was, but I didn't know it then. Though, I guess they didn't know it about me, either.
Cold water, shrinkage, pond yuck, insecurity. That's what I remember. It was thirteen years before I came back to the swimming hole, but by then the river had moved and the rock was naked under the sky. Somewhere else along the river, kids are still flirting and playing and feeling weird, but not right there anymore.
I don't know if I ever feel more Japanese—and simultaneously less Japanese—than I do when I'm at my grandmother's house. More because almost everything I learned about being Japanese I learned from her, in her house. Less because it reminds me how little of my heritage I have in my own daily life.
I took this picture when we were visiting her for Christmas Eve. She didn't have this picture on her wall when I was a kid; I don't remember exactly when she got it. When we were young, my brother and cousins and I would take over her bedroom TV for our video game systems—at first an Atari, then a Nintendo, and so on—and the four of us would hole up in there until just before dinner while the adults did adult things out in the living room. Sometimes we'd watch movies: I remember once my dad's younger cousin came in while we were watching a VHS copy of The Neverending Story, only staying for the opening credits because he liked the song.
It seems smaller now, that room, and a lot quieter. But it makes me glad that my kids have gotten to see it and make some of their own memories there.
Sunrise on El Caminito
I drove up the windy road to the top of the hill, my headlights not going far in the twists and turns. When I arrived and got out of my car the sky was just beginning to brighten with false dawn. My breath steamed in the cold air and I shoved my hands in my pockets to keep my fingers warm. I stood there for over an hour as the sun rose.
I knew I'd been at that spot some time before--long before--but I couldn't remember when. It's an odd thing to look out at a place and have it feel familiar and strange at the same time. Maybe it was the perspective--we always lived in the canyons, and the valley looks different from the heights.
I looked out at the little crossroads and the track winding off into the distance, and I wondered where it went. This place, it's in me in a way that nowhere else ever has been. When I was a child I knew a lot of the secret spots that only children do, but even still there are things I don't know about it. If I had stayed, how many more would I know? But then, I stopped exploring before I left. With a job and a family and not much time, would I have even thought to look?
Half My Life
In about seven hours--at the time I'm writing this--I will have been with Juliette for half of my life. When we started dating, I was seventeen, a senior in high school. Now I'm thirty-four, and we have a mortgage, a dog, two kids, and a third on the way. She has seen every step of my adult life, and then some--and I hers. Seventeen years ago, we couldn't have known what we were getting into, where we'd be a whole lifetime hence, and now here we are, and what a life it is. I'm thankful every day to have gotten to share my life with her, and to get to keep on doing so.
Before I lived with you I never made the bed.
I never really cared how the bed looked, whether I was in it or not, and in any case I didn't see the point in spending the time straightening up a bed I was just going to mess up again half a day hence, and which no one who didn't live with me would be seeing.
Honestly, I still don't really see the point.
But you like the bed to be made, and so I do. Every day.
It's not my favorite part of my day, and it's not the worst. I don't take any joy or pride in the work or the result. It still doesn't matter to me. But it's because it doesn't matter to me that I do it, because it's something I do only for you, only because you like it. It's something I can do, a small thing, to make you happy and let you know that you are loved.
If there's one thing I do like about making the bed, it's getting to see the evidence that you were beside me in the night. When you're not here, I wake up in the morning to find your side unmussed, unrumpled, un-slept in--of course. It makes the job easier, but it makes me sad.
Tomorrow when I get up, you'll most likely be gone already, taking Jason to school or running an errand. When I strip the comforter, I'll look and see the morning light caressing the wrinkled topsheet, and I'll think of us together. And then I'll run my hands across the fabric, smoothing it out, fluffing and stacking the pillows, pulling the blanket straight. Because that's the way you like it, and because I love you.
It's funny how quickly I slip into lonely melancholy when left to myself. Or, I suppose, it must be funny to other people looking in. Or, no, it is funny to me, to part of me. It's been less than two days since I've seen them, and less than two days until I see them again. But when I come to bed and don't find the television on, illuminating a scene like this, I can't help but reflect on how big and cold that bed is for just one person.
I am, as must be obvious, quite melodramatic.
The Octopus Tree
My friends and I used to play in this tree. We'd climb up and lie on the bent over trunks, or sit under it and throw leaves at each other. I wanted to lie under it and take a picture looking up into the branches, but the path had completely grown over with brambles and poison oak, and I couldn't get through. I was happy to see that the tree was still there, but sad to think that no other kids have been lying under it on a lazy summer afternoon, dreaming new dreams. But, who knows? Maybe some day some kid will find a new way into the little clearing, and the story can start over again.