Second Memory: Kazuta Takeda, 2013
The man behind me sighs. We are in front of the day care center, yet my father's car has already started to move, and they are moving away from us.
"Do you still intend to deny that this man did you and your mother good?" the old man asks me, and I assert, obstinately. "I don't want you to forget what bad things he did, but..."
"Yes, I know." I turn my face away; I'm already getting tired of this conversation. "I just don't want him to come off as someone worthwhile, when in fact he wasn't."
"You don't regret one bit the way you treated him?" he questions, stiffly. "Since a long time, when you began to feel anger at your father's absence, you began to treat him like a criminal. We saw, in Ren's memory: you began to deny your father readily."
"I should have done that before." I have no intention of admitting that I am wrong. Because, in fact, I don't think I am. Whose fault is it for a son who hates his father? Son's? I just wanted to feel important to him. He is to blame, for denying me what I should rightfully receive: paternal love. "I should never, ever have given any kind of trust to that man. He died without saying he loved me!"
We say nothing for a few seconds. The children are slowly coming out of the nursery, accompanied by their parents, but because it is cold, they are all pulling up in their cars and leaving as fast as they came. We are more and more alone in front of the day care center.
"Love is not always a feeling we can express with words," the man comments. "But Naoki certainly showed several times that he loved you. Even if for him, you were not the highest priority, and I am sorry for that."
He extends his hand to me.
"I would like you to watch your parents talking while you have lunch, but I'm afraid you have already made your conviction clear. Therefore, I will take you straight to our next stop... However, of course, I would like your confirmation."
His hand standing in front of me is already becoming habitual. He no longer wants to take me to places without my being fully aware of them. And, being quite honest, I am a little curious what he would have to show me. I remembered well the treatment he had given Naoki since that memory we visited, but to tell you the truth, I don't have that many memories of the period before that... the period when I was a child, who didn't really understand the meaning of a father, and who saw that irresponsible man as a hero.
Maybe I really want to give my past a chance, even if only a little.
I accept his offer, shaking his hand, and we travel once more.
We are back in my house, more specifically, inside my bedroom. Somewhat similar to my room from 2015, the room looks the same... except for the clutter: clothes, socks, and various objects like boots and blankets flood the entire space of the room, surrounding an orange, open, empty suitcase on the floor. The Kazuta of the time is not in the room, but I am sure he will walk in at any moment.
I vaguely remembered this memory; this had been the day that my parents and I had gone camping, like the family we were not. One of the very few times we had gone out like this, to enjoy our time together. I look at the man next to me, and he seems to be amused by my gaze.
"I imagined you would be surprised by this memory. You were eleven years old, surely you don't remember much about her, do you?"
I don't answer him, at which point Kazuta Takeda enters the room. Smiling, panting, the boy runs to his bed, avoiding stepping on all the things that are scattered on the floor, and sits on the bed, I imagine waiting for Mom to help him pack.
This had probably been my happiest time: when I was eleven years old, I was still a carefree child, living my best phase. Free of obligations, free of demands, free of the burden of being myself... it was much easier to see life just thinking about the present day, without having to hold on to superficial things to feel true... Just before I started making the mistakes that would make me who I am.
Mom enters the room, looking at the floor.
"Look at this mess! Why did you do that, Takeda?" Complaining heavily, she picks things up off the floor, while the child Kazuta stares at his mother, swinging his legs in animation. But my mother was not in the least bit patient; starting to turn red, she shouts, "Come help me!"
While my mother is complaining to him, they both tidy up. There are many spare things in the room, such as thick wool socks, white T-shirts, light shorts, a raincoat, two towels, a pillow, two pairs of slippers, and a pair of boots, which appear to be brand new, resting in the corner, below the bedside table.
"Do you think it will all fit in there, Mama?", Kazuta asks, with an intonation of uncertainty.
"Don't worry, dear; whatever won't fit, we'll carry with an extra bag.
"But Mama, I don't want to carry any weight!"
"It won't be heavy, my son... Come on, help me find your flashlight."
They set out to look for that flashlight, which I have no idea where it was either.
"Do you remember who else went camping with you?" the man next to me asks, muffling the sounds of memory.
At that time I was still quite close to my childhood friends; Ichise, Rena, Yui, Kenji, all of them were already my friends, and we played a lot, in school and out of school as well. But there was the one who was different, the one who was closest to me, and had continued to be for many years, until the day my father ruined his life...
"Yes," I reply. "The Kouyama family went with us."
The man smiles.
"Exactly. I'm sorry to warn you, but the trouble that occasioned Ren's parents' divorce had already begun by that time."
That is a surprising thing to hear, for sure.
"So you mean my father was already..."
He confirms, without saying anything more. And I start feeling very angry again.
"I don't believe it. So he was with my mother and me there, when in fact..."
"No, not that. Your father devoted all his time to you and your mother on this trip. You'll see."
What made me most angry wasn't so much what my father did... he wasn't married to my mother after all. What made me angry was the fact that he had ruined a family's life. Ren and his father had moved out of town, and after that event, I saw Ren very few times around town, and none of the times we talked or even exchanged glances. Thanks to my father, Ren's parents had separated... and we were never friends again.
And this bothered me; Ren was my best friend, especially at this time. Smart and thoughtful, there was nothing I couldn't tell my friend, and I felt much more confident when I was playing volleyball and Ren was watching me and making his comments. Come to think of it, maybe this was even why I had grown closer to Hina a few years later. Because she, just like Ren, would cheer me up and follow my matches diligently, and even though she was not as technical and knowledgeable as Ren, she was still sincere and cheerful, and this motivated me.
Hina and Ren... who else will suffer because of the Kazuta family?
My mother and I found the lantern. Not very big, but with a powerful brightness. Putting it in the front pocket of my bag, my mother hurries to pack. Then he appears in the doorway of the room, opening the door: Looking exactly the same, a young Kazuta Naoki looks at his ex-wife and son, and smiles.
"Do you need any help?"
"No, we're almost done. You can go downstairs and start the car, everything is already packed in my bag too."
"Great," he says, closing the door. My mother and little Kazuta finish packing, and Kazuta hurriedly goes downstairs, taking his wheeled suitcase with him, while my mother stops by his room (which is next to mine) to get his things. It was early, but they were late; the Kouyama family had already left, and they would arrive at the camp site before them.
"Your parents had a good relationship with the Kouyama family, almost as good as they had with the Kanzaki family, and that was quite a bit because of your mother," the man in the top hat clarifies. "Before she had the accident and could no longer work, everyone liked her, it was the favorite veterinary clinic of much of the town, and maybe even you remember that."
"I don't," I reply. My mother had not worked as a veterinarian for years, since she had been injured in a motorcycle accident... and in the period that she had been in that profession, I was too young to remember. My mother had always worked selling cosmetics, and had done so since she had been injured, for as long as I could remember.
"Anyway, the point is that she had quite a friendship with Ren's family," the man continues, "and they invited her and her family to go camping for a few days."
Mom is already with her luggage, and she is already coming down the stairs, not very fast because of her injuries from the accident, from years before. She doesn't necessarily suffer from pain or discomfort, but the doctors have always advised her to avoid making too abrupt movements, and she avoids them as much as possible.
Downstairs, the whole family seems excited: while Kazuta rushes into the back seat of the car, which is still the gray one from years before, Naoki and Kaori struggle to organize the suitcases in the back of the car, making an effort to force spare parts of the luggage into the car. The old man smiles as he sees this. It is similar to the happiness of seeing Hina happy, as if this man feels happy seeing people happy in the past.
"Of course I feel cheerful," he says, giving himself the right to check my mind " because it's how people are enjoying their life. There are different values for each person, and some of them are truly complicated to please; you, for example, only felt truly happy when you were playing volleyball, didn't you? And Hina, unlike you, was happy with just about everything. Who is right? And who is wrong?"
We see my parents finishing putting away their things, now getting into the car to start their "family" trip.
"Or you and Ren; it's not hard to see how different you were. How Ren is happy to know what makes people sad and help them, and how that's totally the opposite of what you've always done."
"I get it," I tell him, turning my face to look again at my memory, which is now preparing to leave.
"I just want to say that I am happy to see people enjoying their lives, each with their own values," he finishes, looking at the same thing as me. "And that goes for you too, Kazuta. As much as you have many things to be ashamed of, I still enjoy seeing your successes."