Road to RSR09 in EZO → Sunset Day 14

Ahh jeez... this is gonna be long. I don't expect anyone to read it, but at least now I'll have a record of my thoughts and feelings on my last (full) day in Japan.

I woke up feeling pretty nervous, because today was the day that I would go see Mizue in the hospital. I skipped breakfast and made my way to Mitaka, which is on the western part of Tokyo, kind of near where TAKMIZ live. Takkun met me at the train station, and he gave me a more detailed description of Mizue's condition on the bus to the hospital. When we got there, she was away from her room, so we sat down and he prepared me as best as he could for what I was going to see. Shortly after Takkun said goodbye to Mizue and Tsukuru and left for work in the morning, he got a panicked call from Mizue saying that her head hurt really badly. The phone cut out, and he wasn't able to get back to her. Then he got a call from an ambulance saying that they had picked her up and were taking her to the hospital. She was lucky that they got to her as quickly as they did, but the stroke had caused some pretty serious damage in her brain.

So Takkun went on to explain that she's still Mizue... she still knows who people are, recognizes pictures and words and such, but her brain had basically wiped itself clean of all the neural connections she had spent a lifetime building. So she had a hard time talking because she could imagine what she wanted to say, but she just couldn't get herself to say it. Her reading skills were about the same as mine... she'll see kanji and vaguely understand the meaning, but she doesn't really know how to read it (this is probably a difficult concept to explain to someone using a language that doesn't use pictographs). She can't really write... she can scribble out a few letters and draw simple sketches. But she's been writing in a notebook every day, and that's how she and Takkun have been communicating when words don't work. The difference between the first days after the stroke and a month later was pretty drastic, but it still resembled a small child. Naturally, I couldn't help but wonder how much about me she remembered. We dated for three years, after all, and have remained very close friends ever since (we chat online all the time, and I could always count on her to help me in any sort of random difficult situation that came up). When Takkun said I was coming, she said it was really embarrassing, and that she didn't want me to see her like this. The more Takkun and I talked, the more worried I became for her. But he assured me that she's still herself. She hasn't forgotten all of the things she used to know... her brain just doesn't know how to access them. So every day, little by little, she's reminded of things, connections start to form, and she's slowly working towards recovery. Of course it was really hard for him at first, but between his job, going to the hospital to see her every day, and the baby, he didn't have much time to feel sad over her condition. Instead, he's gotten used to it, and is now enjoying helping her recover, waiting for the days (not any time soon) that they can travel together again, go to music festivals, and enjoy their new family life.

So then the moment of truth came. Mizue was wheeled into the room in a wheelchair, and they helped her wash her hands. She hadn't noticed me, and she wasn't saying anything. Well before Takkun had told me much of her condition, I was fighting back tears, but upon first sight, it got bad. Then she turned around, saw me, and let out this wailing sound like "uwwwaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh". Immediately I realized that Takkun was right, that she really is still herself, because that's pretty much the exact same reaction she would have had in a moment of embarrassment even without the stroke. So she kept making that sound while laughing and pointing to her headgear saying "..but I look like this!" Over the course of the next few hours, I got a good idea of just how little she's changed. She had a hard time talking, but would then suddenly say something surprisingly coherent. She kept saying things like "what's that??" and "I don't know what that means", but the way she said them was no different than it would have been normally. And she kept laughing at herself when she couldn't remember how to say something, or when she tried to write something and immediately realized that something was wrong, but she wasn't sure what. Mostly it was the sounds... even if she couldn't talk normally, her weird little grunting noises, sighs, and laughter were exactly the same as usual. So that was comforting. The three of us were able to laugh together at her state, because even she realized that this wasn't normal, but she would just have to keep working to return to normal. Or as normal as she could be. Takkun said that if it had been anyone else, it would have been incredibly difficult, but because of Mizue's strange sense of humor, her incredible self-reliance, and overall strong personality, she turned a difficult situation into something much more manageable. That doesn't mean I wasn't still struggling not to cry the whole time, but it was good to see that our friends were right, she really was doing well.

During the day at the hospital, some interesting things happened. Mizue's mom had come down from Sapporo, and was living at her and Takkun's apartment taking care of the baby and the cats. Just a day or two prior, her dad also came down to visit. So the two of them came to the hospital and brought Tsukuru. I hadn't seen Mizue's parents in 6 years. It was awesome. Nothing had changed... we chatted just like we used to, and they seemed just as happy to see me as I was to see them. Meeting Tsukuru (or "Tukuru", depending on who you ask, which only makes it even more obvious that you can derive MY NAME from his) for the first time was also neat. Seeing Takkun holding his son and talking about how much fun it was to be a dad did something horrible to me... all of a sudden there was like this crazy wave of emotions inside of me that made me think "ahhh jeez, I want one of these things. I want to get married and have a kid." Gross. I thought that only happened to women. But even with Mizue in the state she was in, seeing TAKMIZ with TAKMIZ, Jr. (when she first told me she was pregnant, this is the name she used for him, which I still find to be ridiculously funny) it just seemed to right to see them like that, and it felt like I should have a kid by this point to grow up with Tsukuru (or Tsukkun for short). That was weird.

Eventually Mizue's parents and Tsukkun left, and one of her friends, Minaco showed up. I then presented Mizue with a bunch of souvenirs I had brought with me. She had asked me for baby books in English, so I gave her a bunch. We assumed that if she couldn't really speak Japanese, there was even less of a chance of her understanding English. She was thrilled to receive the books, but didn't really understand what was going on, so we decided that it would be up to Takkun to teach both English and Japanese to both his wife and child. Better than the books, though, were the two years' worth of snow globes that I had collected from them from my various travels (mostly moped rallies). I had wrapped them loosely in newspaper, but as soon as she pulled the first one from the bag she immediately knew what it was, and reacted like "oh, you've got to be kidding me, another one?!?", which is exactly how she reacted two years ago when I gave them more for the collection I'm forcing upon them. But then she opened them and was struck by a wave of nostalgia. Some of the cities (Salt Lake City, Victoria) she had never been to, but they brought back memories of her adventures in the USA and Canada. Then she pulled out Detroit, and got really excited because she had lived in Kalamazoo for a year and a half, and it brought back all kinds of memories of Michigan. She pulled out her notepad and drew a picture of an explosion, and said that "it's that place which is abu". That was weird... "abu" is a word I invented (which means "dangerous"), and an inside joke among our friends, but she said it like it was nothing, and laughed that her memory of Detroit is that it was dangerous and she didn't want to go there. Even more impressive, she started writing "Detroit", and even though she couldn't quite get it right, even she was surprised that she remembered how to write in English. Then she opened the one from Los Angeles and got really excited, because it's always been one of her favorite cities in the world. She said "it's the place where everyone likes to do this" and drew a picture of a giant ice cream cone. She then remembered how much she loved American junk food, and said "everyone is like this because of the food" and drew a picture of a big fat guy. Clearly, Mizue is just as badass as ever.

We hung out for a while more, but eventually I had to get going to attend my going-away party. So I said goodbye to everyone, and Takkun walked me to the bus stop. I fought back the last few waves of tears (mostly because of Mizue, but also partly because, once again, I would be attending a going-away party for myself and going back to the Americraine, something that has happened far too many times in my life). All in all, I was glad I got to see Takkun, Tsukkun, and the parents, but most of all, I was glad that I got to see Mizue. Takkun is right... it's probably going to take a long time, but she'll recover, and she'll never stop enjoying life to the fullest.

In Shibuya, I met up with Shingo outside of Hachiko (soon to be an offensively American movie), the dog statue, while we waited for Minaco to show up. I had only met her for the first time a few hours ago, but she was coming to my going-away party. I guess that's just kind of how our friend group works. Actually, I didn't really know WHO was going to show up, so it was interesting. As we waited in the crowdedest part of one of the crowdedest wards of Tokyo, we noticed that our skin was becoming warm and sticky just from it being so crowded. Gross. So Minaco showed up, and we set out for the drinkery/eatery, a tiny little hidden place that was supposedly very good for how cheap it was. Shingo asked what I wanted to eat (by the way, I hadn't eaten yet today.. I was hoping to get to Shibuya early to find food so I wouldn't get super drunk, but that didn't work out), and I said "anything I can't find in America". It kind of seems like he ordered a selection of the grossest things they had to offer: Shiokara, chicken liver, some kind of fish roe, and other weird things. Good thing I can eat anything. Even the things I don't really like (for example, Shiokara were damn tasty. And of course, I ordered things I wanted to eat, too. I was already drunk by the time people started showing up. It was kind of weird.. there were 9 people there that I met for the first time that night. But every time one of my friends showed up, it was an awesome surprise. Ai-chan showed up, and it was neat not only seeing her and her brother in the same room, but also her boyfriend who was visiting from Shizuoka, who just happens to live in the same town as Kengo. And work for the same company as him. And know him. Weird. Also, she was awesome when she was drunk. The next pleasant surprise was Takkun... he's got such a crazy busy schedule that I didn't think he'd actually be able to make it out tonight. MAN, it made me happy that we could actually spend some time together (I mean, besides in the hospital). Hitomix also made a cameo appearance, which made me happy, especially after how much she and I had hung out 2 years ago when we were both studying Audio production. But especially awesome was that Mi-kun came out. I've been friends with him since way back in 2003 when Mizue and I met up with 8 of her friends and went on a 3-day tour of Utsunomiya, doing nothing but eating the gyoza that town is famous for. Not only was that trip the first time that either of us met Takkun, but it was because of Mi-kun that I learned Japanese. Seriously, I had an epiphany overnight, and it's because of him. It was too bad that his long-time girlfriend Sachikun couldn't make it out, but I was super happy to see him. So that was the going-away party. Kind of a weird mix, but we all ate a lot, drank a LOT, and had an awesome time.

I was glad my friends insisted on getting me really drunk, because otherwise saying goodbye to everyone would have been really sad. Especially Takkun. Naturally, Shingo decided it would be a waste if I didn't hang out more (also, Jai had told me that since it was my last night in Japan, I should hang out with my friends as long as possible and don't worry about coming back late), so he and two people whose names I of course don't remember and I went to... some place. As soon as we sat down, I realized I was super drunk, and that it probably wasn't going to end well. Then Shingo ordered me a beer. And when we looked at the menus, I got really excited about a dish which was basically a cocktail glass filled with blueberries and topped with soft-serve ice cream (something I crave ALL the time). So I ordered that. Then I saw pancakes, and for some drunken reason decided that it was tradition for me to eat them while drinking (which is only sometimes true, and definitely not while in Japan). So we ate and drank more, and then I went to the bathroom to puke. Normally when I vomit, that's it, I'm done for the night. By which I mean, I keep vomiting until I'm too tired to move. But because tonight was special, I cleaned myself out, went back to the table, and finished both of my meals and my beer. Gross man, gross.

Finally, I said goodbye to Shingo and my mysterious new friends, and I took a taxi back to Jai's place, which was pretty far away. $2000 yen away, in fact. Not only did I not get carsick (which I was sure I would, what with all the drinking and me not handling vehicles well when I'm drunk), but I had a really long conversation with the driver. Then I got back to Jai's place, and suddenly felt really sober as I told him about Mizue. What a weird last day. But it was good.


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