Chapter 8 ~ Saturday Afternoon pt. 2 - Katawa Shounen
My jaw drops and I'm stunned into a momentary silence. As I gawk for the next few seconds, it naturally occurs to me how climbing a goddamn mountain
may not be in the best interests of my continued life and good health. I'm no health expert, but when the nurse said "take it easy", I'm pretty sure he didn't mean "climb the highest mountain in the country." Eventually, I find the words to respond.
"Of course by 'we' you mean, 'you guys'. Not sure if you're aware, but I DO have a heart problem. Maybe a badly understood heart problem... but still a heart problem."
"Well you've got plenty of time to figure yourself out man," says Nakata.
Rebecca replies as well. "That's not much of an excuse anyways. I'm not sure if you're
aware, but I was shot," she says, tapping her leg with her cane.
"Okay that's true..." how do I put this without insulting her? "But what happened to you probably won't happen again by climbing a mountain. I'm not so lucky."
Eiichi pipes in, "We've got you covered dude. We'll obviously have to take it slow, you're not the only one that needs to take it easy. For most people it's an overnight trip, but we're gonna do it over 3 days during break. Two days up, one down. We're taking the easiest trail, figured out who's gonna be carrying what, we've got the whole thing organized so you don't need to worry about a thing." He nods in Saki's direction. "Saki's actually done a lot
of planning to make it work."
"Eiichi and I are the most fit," says Nakata as he sets off in the direction of Yamaku with the rest of the group, "so we'll carry the water and stuff. C'mon man, we already made reservations for six! You're not gonna make us cancel are you?"
Still a little dumbstruck, it takes me a second to realize I'm the only one not moving. I catch up with a little jog before observing, "I don't see how my ducking out precludes you all from going."
"How could it not?" asks Nakata staring at me over his shoulder as if it was a foregone conclusion.
"No one gets left behind, dude."
"If we have to drug you and carry you up the damn mountain we will, so just say yes will ya? I'm already gonna be carrying all your stuff, so it'll be a lot less work for me."
I sigh as I follow the group up the slight incline. Maybe this is something I can ask about when I talk to the nurse tonight, but for the time being, I think back to my first and so far only meeting with the man. I do recall him saying that I should take it easy... but then again, he also said that getting some exercise would do me well. Come to think of it, the only thing he really
warned me against was any sudden concussions. This hiking trip... it's just walking, right? Maybe I shouldn't dismiss this outright.
I sigh. "I'm gonna go with a very solid maybe," I say shaking my head in mild exasperation.
Eiichi shakes his head too, but much more forcefully. "Not good enough. The break's comin' up before you know it, we gotta get you in shape."
True. I guess if I want any shot at doing this, then I'd have to start now. "Okay, how about this. I'll start working out, but no promises about this trip alright?"
Even with this concession, I'm not entirely sure what I need to do. I've never seriously committed to working out, and all the time I played soccer was more out of want for something to do than out of any actual passion for the sport. Even on the field I never really gave 100%, which may be part of why my condition never reared its ugly head until that snowy winter day. It passed the time well enough, but I never really took it seriously. I voice these concerns to the group, but as always, they have a solution.
"Oh don't worry about that dude, the answer to that one's right in front of you."
The way he says it worries me. "Oh yeah?" I say, raising my eyebrows with some reservation.
The stocky boy looks back at me with a mischievous grin spread wide on his face. The implication is clear enough even without him speaking. Eiichi is clearly among the top percentage of Yamaku's physically fit, and who better to train an up and coming mountaineer? Well... probably a member of the school's professional physical therapy staff, with years of intensive training to assist the disabled and state of the art equipment to which I'm sure a hefty amount of my tuition goes towards supplying, but he'll do. Still, even with his implication plenty clear, he can't help but verbally express his eagerness to begin training a complete newbie.
"You're in my world now, Hisao."
I manage to make it up the hill without any major scares. Anyways, it was less the climb that had my heart pounding and more anxiety from the lurking knowledge that Eiichi Inoue is now my personal trainer. It appears that he and Nakata have already implemented an exercise regime, to which I have now been included. I begin tomorrow at close of business.
The group breaks apart at the usual spot, where the sidewalk splits to the boy's and girl's dormitories. Everyone says their goodbyes and head off to the dormitories, but I have other plans. As everyone else's back's fade in the twilight, I step off without a moment's hesitation in the direction of the auxiliary building.
I turn back to an incredulous Eiichi, who has arms spread wide open in confusion. "Dorm's this way!" he says, pointing his thumb over his shoulder.
"Nah, I'm headed to the auxiliary building. Got a promise to keep!"
There's a pause, but Nakata brightens in a second, remembering my obligation. He calls back, "I await your report!"
"You don't owe this idiot anything Hisao," says Rebecca.
"Hey! He made a promise Yankee! Here in Japan that means his honor's on the line!"
"It's okay, this isn't just for him Rebecca!" I yell in return. I turn back to the auxiliary building and give a low key thumbs up as I set off. "Text ya in a bit bro!"
Having not returned since my meeting the first day, it takes a moments searching to find the head nurse's office. The building isn't large, however, so I find my destination in only a few minutes. Half expecting to be greeted with silence, I raise my hand to knock, and any thoughts of putting this talk off until some other time are quickly dashed when the Head Nurse's voice emanates from within. His hearty, "come in!" has a volume and manner much too energetic for the time. Hooray for the 24 hour nursing staff.
The room is just as I left it last time. The mild smell of antiseptic stings my nose and the desk is still littered with coffee rings, a cup of which currently resides in the Nurse's hand. Vague recognition brightens the man's widening eyes.
"Well hello! Mr..." his face scrunches as he reaches for a name that lies significantly beyond his grasp.
"Nakai. Hisao Nakai."
"Hisao!" he says with a snap, "of course!" He spins in his office chair so he doesn't have to twist his neck to converse and continues. "How are you?"
"Good. Really good, actually."
"I'm glad to hear that," he says nodding. After a pause, he grins as he continues. "Well, considering your answer and the fact you don't seem in need of CPR, can I ask what brings you here so late?" It wouldn't be a visit to the Head Nurse without some awkward humor.
"Yeah... about that..."
The nurse raises his eyebrows.
"Yeah. I, uh... I have, well, obviously some sort of medical thing. Something wrong with... my heart. I mean that is why I'm here. Here at Yamaku I mean, not here in the office here. And, uh, I just wanted to, and sorry for bothering you this late, but I just kinda decided to come in today after talking with some friends, not that that's important, but..." I take a deep breath, then sigh. This isn't coming out very clearly. I take a moment to organize my thoughts, then continue. "I realized that while I was in the hospital... everything was pretty crazy. I did a lot of things to... well to distract myself, rather than really take the time to-"
The nurse holds up his hand. "Let me guess. You'd like to know more about your condition?"
I'm stunned for a second with how quickly he read through that ramble. "Somethin' like that, yeah. How'd you know?"
He grins, then gestures for me to sit down. "Eh, this happens more often than you'd think. Hospitals are intimidating, especially to people your age. Everyone deals with the stress differently. Some get mad, some get sad, some just try to forget completely, and considering the number of student's that come through here, I've seen just about everything."
"Those last ones usually stop by once they get back in their groove, and going back to school can do that. And heck, if there's one thing I know about teenagers, you guys are absolutely horrible
at listening," he says with his typical cheeky grin. "Blind, deaf, or otherwise, a teenager's still a teenager! And anyways, everyone can do with some reminders."
It's oddly comforting, though not at all surprising, to hear that I'm not the only one who wanted to block this all out. Regardless of circumstances, it's always nice to understand that you're "not the only one." What he says is certainly true, the memories of those few months remain quite unpleasant. Meticulously clean hospital sheets, the smell of antiseptic that permeated the building, the demeanor of-
"Hey, Hisao!" the Nurse says, snapping his fingers at me, which quickly snaps me out of my reverie. "Bring it in!"
"Sorry," I say. "Long day, just tired."
"Well I hope you didn't tire yourself out too much." He tone is mostly that of idle chatter, but looking up, I do catch a hint of concern in his expression. I'm quick to wave him off.
"Nothing too stressful, just the walk to and from town is all."
The nurse nods, evidently pleased with my answer. "Good. Now let me just find your file..." he says, standing and walking over to a tall filing cabinet. He opens one drawer and begins shifting through the numerous folders packed tightly within. Of course, I can't see the contents of each folder, but I do notice that many of the folders are quite thick. When he finally pulls out what appears to be mine, I'm surprised to see how thin it is compared with the rest he flipped past. A subtle reminder that things could always be worse.
"If you'll just give me a moment to take a look over this again Hisao, it's not easy keeping track of all of you," he says, sitting back and propping up his ankle on the opposite knee.
"Of course," I say.
My eyes wander the room as I wait for the Nurse to get re-acquainted. The utter plainness of the room still bothers me. Sure, it's the nurse's office, many students come through here and he must be expected to maintain a level of professionalism, but would it kill him to change his computer background or put up a photo of the wife and kids? The way it is now feels so impersonal.
The nurse is intently scanning my records, muttering to himself under his breath. Suddenly, he stops, snorts, and... smiles?
After which he looks up at me. Noticing me watching him, he quickly returns to the document, but a faint smile lingers, leaving me perplexed. A few minutes later, he lowers the records and says, "right." He extends them to me. "Would you like to take a look?"
I pause, mildly surprised given that none of my doctors or nurses have offered before. Still, if I want to make an accurate report back to Nakata, I should see it for myself. "Sure," I say, taking the records myself. I flip them around and start reading through... and quickly come to wonder what I thought my unacquainted mind could glean from such a technical document.
Most of the first paragraph is, of course, entirely incomprehensible. I'm able to pick apart some of the record, "18 year old Japanese male" is simple enough. For the most part however, I stare blankly at the page, wondering what a QTc interval is, why my supposed Q wave would be "dagger-like," and what it all means for my overall state of health. This facade of apathy lasts only as long as the second paragraph, however, since those opening sentences are enough to make me cringe rather heavily. So this
is what gave the nurse such a kick.
I look up to see the nurse grinning back at me. "Not a whole lot of topics that can get a man's heart racing like that, Hisao," he warmly observes.
"Oh, yeah, no, I was just..." I try to play it off, but I can't come up with any excuses in time, so I just ignore it and go back to my records, hoping he'll let it go.
The information I'm really after tonight is sitting right there, at the bottom of the page. I read through the words, sounding them out and hoping that even if I don't have the definitions down, I can at least get the pronunciation right. Try as I might, the words aren't exactly something a layman can expect to read and understand by intuition alone. I say the words out loud. "Congenital Long QT Syndrome... and Obstructive Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy."
The nurse nods. "You got it."
"So... what's that?"
The nurse smiles. "Well that
," he says pointing at my records, "is proof you lost the genetic lottery."
I stare blankly.
The nurse leans forward again. "Two heart conditions, seemingly unrelated, in the same person. One affects the muscle structure, the other affects electrical pathways through the heart. Now, cardiomyopathy is actually more common than you'd think, but genetic Long QT is pretty rare. The chances that someone would be born with both conditions are... very unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely."
I nod, but he still hasn't really answered my question. "Okay," I say, "but what does it do
? You said it affects my heart, the muscle and electrical paths. How?"
The nurse grins again, which I'm beginning to think is actually his resting state. "Do you want the long version or the short?"
I think for a moment. "Can you do the medium?"
He chuckles. "I'll try!" The nurse opens his desk and pulls out a pen and paper, after which he draws a familiar shape. It's the shape you always see on the computers next to the patient in a medical drama, which always beep in the movies but which they thankfully turn off in real life when they know you're gonna be there for the next few months. Unsatisfied with the drawing, he scribbles it out and redraws the shape, after which he labels a few of the bumps. I lean in to get a better view before he points with his pen and begins his explanation.
"So your heart beats because of electrical impulses sent out by two 'nodes', which tell your heart muscles when to contract. We can pick up this electrical activity with a device we call an 'EKG.' This," he says, pointing at the first bump on the graph, "is the P wave. It shows the contraction of the atrium..." He pauses, then looks at me. "You know what the atrium is right?"
"I think so," I say, thinking back to biology. "They're the small chambers on the top of the heart right?"
"Exactly. When your atrium beats, it fills the ventricles, which are the big chambers which send blood to the body. When that
beats, you get this big electrical feedback which you can see here," he says, pointing to the big wave on the EKG, "which we call the 'QRS complex.' Finally, you get this last wave here, the T wave, which is basically your heart relaxing and getting ready for the next beat."
"In your case, the pause between your ventricles contracting and your heart 'recharging' is longer than usual. When you're exercising, under stress, or at any other time your heart-rate increases, your heart can try to beat before it's fully recharged. That's when you get problems."
"Well, that's one of the things that can cause your arrhythmias. Long QT causes a very specific type of arrhythmia, so choosing the right medications usually isn't very complicated, but because of your other condition, your treatment isn't as straightforward."
Right. I forgot about the other, entirely separate condition. I sigh, "so what does that one do?"
"Cardiomyopathy is just a fancy word for a defect in the heart muscles themselves. Yours causes the muscles to get larger than they should, which means there's less room for blood inside the heart's chambers. Also, since your heart is larger than usual, it needs more blood... which your heart can't provide because it's too big. You seeing how the problem makes itself worse?"
I nod. "And that can also cause arrhythmia?"
"Yes. A number of different types, in fact, which is what complicates your treatment. Long QT causes a unique arrhythmia called torsades de pointes, but Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy can cause many different arrhythmias. Supraventricular tachycardia mostly, but also AV block, normal or paroxysmal a-fib..." he stops as he notices my blank stare.
"Sorry," he says looking sheepish. "Basically, it's hard to prescribe you the right medicines when so many anti-arrhythmics can CAUSE arrhythmias themselves, many of which you're already at risk for. We don't want to fix one arrhythmia, just to trigger another, equally or even more
dangerous one. Your daily cocktail was very carefully constructed by doctors much smarter than I, which I'd bet is one of many reasons your stay in the hospital was longer than usual." He takes a second to scroll through his computer, as it looks like he has my records pulled up there as well. "Your case is unique, Hisao, but it is manageable."
Right, manageable. Speaking of which...
Flipping the page, I realize I've actually seen this before, the enormous list of medicines and contraindications my doctors gave to me the day I learned about Yamaku. I shake my head looking at the "adverse reactions" list, remembering what my father said when he first took a look at it himself.
So long is right, dad.
The nurse nods sympathetically. "I'd highly recommend you get to know that list, Hisao. You'll be fine here, since we and the nearby hospital have very easy access to this information, but once you're out in the real world... well let's just say I wouldn't leave anything up to chance."
The whole knowledge drop is a lot to take in, and this ominous warning just adds icing on the cake. I sigh and find myself rubbing my face with my hands. Almost subconsciously, I move two fingers to my neck, trying to find my pulse and feel this arrhythmia for myself.
The nurse chuckles. "Your pulse shouldn't be abnormal right now. For the most part, your condition is generally asymptomatic, especially on medication. Remember, Long QT is just a pause before your heart recharges, which you can't pick up on anything other than an EKG. Most of the time, your heartbeat should feel and sound pretty much normal."
I lower my hand. Somehow, what he says makes me feel even more uneasy. It's a ticking time bomb, but without a tick.
As if sensing my uneasiness, the nurse sighs and leans forward, speaking to me very directly. "Okay, time for real talk with the nurse. Look, this school was chartered primarily to help people that are expected to maintain total independence in adulthood. You're expected to graduate and you will
need a job. It's easy to get discouraged, but you need to realize that you're here because you will
live a mostly normal life. A life with less marathons than some and more pills than most, but other than that normal
. The incident that brought you here was unfortunate, but now that you've got the right medications, I promise, you'll stay upright through your next confession."
His words do ease my concerns, if only a little. Coming in to this... session? had been intimidating, but the nurse's words are-
"No! That wasn't-"
The nurse breaks out in full bellied laughter at the sight of my reaction. "Come on Hisao! Two teenagers, alone, in a secluded park, and a topic that got your heart racing a mile a minute? Tell me, what else could it be?"
My protests fall on deaf ears, and after a moment, I start to chuckle too. Defeated, I adopt the nurse's patented sheepish grin.
As the laughter dies down, the nurse asks, "so what was her name?"
"It was... Iwanako. She had a friend slip a note into my math textbook, told me to meet someone in the park."
The nurse nods in a manner strikingly reminiscent of Nakata. "Classic."
"Not my favorite cliché," I say shrugging, "but I appreciated the effort."
The nurse leans back, looking very amused and maybe even a little nostalgic. Before long, he shakes his head, and says, "Well, anything else you want to know?"
I shake my head in response. "No, I don't think I could fit anything else even if I tried."
"Okay then. And how's everything else? I take it you're settling in okay?"
"Yeah, I met some cool people here pretty quickly. Didn't have to try very hard either."
I nod. "I dunno. With them, it's almost like they wanted to get to know me
"Good, good. You're lucky, some people have more trouble than that, I'm glad it was easy for you," he says. "Now, I'd be lax in my duties as nurse if I didn't follow up on our last meeting. Have you found any time to do some light exercise?"
I'm unsurprised by the question. Heck, I half-expected it coming down here. "I will be. Actually, I might even be doing some light hiking with the group pretty soon."
The adjective 'light' might not be entirely honest... but at least it's not a full-on lie.
He nods, smiling. "Excellent. Just make sure you build up into it okay? Don't start off with any rock climbing okay?"
"Of course," I say. Note to self, build up
to Mt. Fuji.
"Well if that's all, then it was good talking with you Hisao. Glad you stopped by."
"Yeah, me too."
"I'll see you around Hisao!"
"Yeah, thanks," I say, standing. "Good night," I say with a wave as I take my leave from the nurse's office. As the door to the grounds clicks shut behind me, I feel an odd sense of relief, as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Blissful ignorance was nice, for a time, but I feel like I'm taking the first steps to taking control of this thing, whatever that entails.
I spend the walk back to my room kicking a rock down the concrete path, enjoying the peaceful quiet of the night. It's rather late now, and there's not a single soul to be seen on the campus grounds. Seems they weren't kidding when they said security was lax.
The walk through the dorm halls is equally uneventful. Mindful not to wake anyone up, I quietly unlock my door and step into the room.
Man, I should really put up a poster or something
, I think to myself. Kind of hypocritical to judge the Nurse when my own room is just as barren as his office. And he doesn't even live there.
I've only just laid down and I'm about to close my eyes when my phone buzzes on the stand beside my bed.
I reach over. It's from Nakata. "you finishing your doctorate in there?"
I think for a moment, considering whether or not I actually want to respond. Ultimately, I decide a few short texts would be easier than him kicking down my door.
"its only been 30 minutes" I reply.
"oh. you back?"
"was about to go to sleep"
"sweet. hold that thought"
The attempt open my door, which I had locked upon entrance, is precluded by a series of loud footsteps in the hall, and then followed by a succession of hard knocks.
"LET ME IN HISAO! I DON'T BITE."
I think to myself, but not before I hear a thud and a scramble from the adjacent room, which I can only imagine is Kenji falling from his bed.
"What's going on! Is it happening?"
Dammit... I did
not wanna have to deal with this tonight.
I get up from my bed and open my door. Nakata's tall frame is only inches shorter than the door, and he's standing there with an incredulous look on his face. He points over his shoulder with his thumb and says, half laughing, "THIS looser is your roommate?"
I'm a little taken aback by the enmity, but I manage to respond. "Well he's not my roommate, it's not like we share a room."
Meanwhile, Kenji is working his way through his locks muttering aloud. He's not totally clear, but in there somewhere are the phrases, "too soon," "bug-out bag," and, "preparations." Nakata, juxtaposing Kenji's flustered and frantic demeanor, looks up at the ceiling and closes his eyes, looking annoyed. Finally finished disarming his security measures, Kenji practically bursts through the doorway, holding his math textbook high like a weapon.
"Stop ri-!" Kenji stops dead in his tracks on sight of the tall albino in front of him. "Oh, Nakata..."
An awkward pauses follows, and not wanting to stand there all night, I break the silence with the natural question. "...what's that for Kenji?"
"Oh, I just... that startled me, I didn't hear who it was. I thought that... maybe, it was-"
"Shut the FUCK up Kenji." Nakata makes us both jump with his rather aggressive attack. He isn't loud, but his tone is openly hostile, and he doesn't even turn around to look at the kid.
Through his enormous glasses I can see that Kenji's are wide open, almost afraid. "I... sorry," is all he can muster up before he quietly backs into his room and closes the door.
I'm a little taken aback by the rapid series of events, but it's all over before I can get my bearings. "Well?" says Nakata. "You gonna let me in?"
"Uh, yeah," I say shaking my head slightly and standing to the side. "Think that was a little aggressive dude?" I say as I close my door, make my way to my bed and flop onto it, spread eagle.
Nakata seats himself at my desk and drops his backpack on the floor. "...Have you met him?" he asks incredulously.
"Yeah. He's a little weird, but..."
"Dude, I've been in his class for two years now. Ignored it for a while, but that shit gets old."
"Still, I mean, live and let live?"
"I do. Except when he pisses me off."
I frown. Kenji's ramblings can absolutely get annoying, but I don't think that was called for. Whatever, he might just be tired.
I don't feel like broaching subject.
"Eiichi joining us?"
"Nah. Said he didn't give a shit."
"Surprised you care so much."
"I don't, but a deal's a deal Hisao. Now stop deflecting, you get the scoop?"
"Yeah, a lot more than I needed honestly."
"Awesome." He leans forward in a manner comically reminiscent of a counseling session. "Now, tell me, how are you broke?"
"I take a deep breath and let it out before I answer. "I have-"
"Wait!" yells Nakata, making me jump as he jolts upright and raises his hand in the classic "stop" gesture. He reaches down and unzips his backpack. Two cans emerge from the pack, and he tosses one to me. "Almost forgot."
Hoping it's soda but knowing it's not, I confirm with a glance at the label. "Seriously?"
"That's like a 'thing' isn't it?"
"Ya talk about important stuff over a beer right?"
"This isn't a TV show Nakata."
He snorts. "Place this weird?" he says as his can opens with the typical tsssst
. "Might as well be."
We're in the dorms, aren't we pushing our luck?"
"I've lived here for two years. They only do safety inspections, never really invasive, and definitely not at this time of night. We're fine, stop worrying so much and live a little." He takes a swig and waits patiently. "Go on."
I pop my own can, and take a sip of what turns out to be a very light drink before I respond. "So it's Long QT Syndrome, and... Hyper-something cardiomyopathy." I'm going to stop there, but Nakata isn't satisfied. He nods and makes a rolling motion with his hand, as if to say, "keep it coming."
"Well, the first one causes this... pause - in my heartbeat. The second makes the walls of my heart too big, so it can't pump as much blood as it should."
He nods, but then he cocks his head in confusion. "Wait, it's two things?"
"Two SEPARATE things?"
"That both hit your heart?"
"Daaaaamn, that sucks."
I laugh. "You're tellin' me," I say as I take another drink. Whatever Nakata brought today, it goes down much easier than the stuff he brought the night of the fireworks show. At the very least, I can drink it without gagging.
Nakata takes the momentary silence to quickly finish his beer, then crumples the can and slips it into his backpack. He fishes around for a moment, and nonchalantly pulls out another. Cracking the seal, he asks, "hang on, this is genetic right? You've had it all your life?"
"Supposedly. That's what 'congenital' means at least."
His face twists and I can watch as his curiosity grows. "Then how come you only just transferred here? I mean, I started when I entered High School, and your... 'thing' seems a lot worse than mine."
"I was asymptomatic. I guess I'd never worked my heart hard enough to trigger an attack before."
I smile at Nakata's smirk. "Yeah well I was never much of a sports player."
"Eh, don't worry about it," he says waving his hand. "Neither was I."
A momentary silence falls. It's late, the busy day has seemingly drained both of us, and the events of tonight have put me in a contemplative mood. In want of something to contemplate, I find myself curious why Nakata cares so much about this. I consider the possibility that he's just a stickler for promises, the idea of holding people to their word, which certainly seems to be part of it, but something tells me there's more. Is he just curious and unashamed to be invasive? That might be good I guess. I doubt he'd pry this much with someone he wasn't at least a little acquainted with, so it could be considered roundabout evidence towards some kind of friendship. Or, could this possibly be his way of making me feel welcome? Given how eager he was to share about his own condition, perhaps it's to show a level of mutual trust? Quid pro quo. Tit for tat. The idea that, 'I trust you enough to share this rather personal information, and I hope you trust me enough to return the favor.'
I'm unable to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, however, and I recall that I've only known the guy for a few short weeks. I put the thoughts to the back of my mind, and decide that I'm content to just... relax. Regardless of motive, it is nice to chat about this with someone who isn't a medical professional. It makes it seem less... formal. Could have done without the drinks, but I don't object either. In the end, I'm glad he came down.
"So what finally did you in?" he says, breaking the silence.
I prop myself up on my elbows, beginning to find it rather difficult to drink while lying on my back. "Girl asked me out."
Nakata snorts, "funny. No but really."
He pauses, with a half-smile on his face. For a moment, he stares at me, searching my expression for any hint of insincerity. The unblinking stare I return is equally intense, and the realization that I'm totally, completely, dead serious dawns slowly on the albino in front of me. His reaction is equally gradual, beginning with a leisurely facepalm, after which his shoulders begin to shake with quiet laughter. I roll my eyes and finish what's left of my drink as Nakata gets it out of his system.
He takes a deep breath, still some ways from composing himself, and observes, "you better get over that or you got a lonely life ahead of ya!"
I chuckle. "Nurse says I don't have to worry about that too much anymore. The drugs I'm on should keep my heart beating through all that sort of stuff."
His eyes narrow and he cocks his head. "You mean... all
that sort of stuff?" he says in a highly suggestive tone.
I reply by throwing my empty can at him, which he easily deflects. "It's a legitimate question!" he yells in protest.
"Shut up Nakata," I say jokingly. Then again... the idiot does have a point. Like it or not, that sort of... activity, does involve a level of physical exertion. I'll need to ask about it sometime... but how does one bring that
up at a checkup?
Nakata is, of course, still grinning stupidly. "Well I know someone
who's never gonna be on top."
"I can see it now," he says, leaning forward and gesturing with his hands. "You're finally gonna get a girl, you'll get her into your room, clothes'll start comin' off. Then, once you're all ready to go, you'll flop onto your bed first and she'll just be like, 'what?' And you'll be all, 'yeah just hop on. Go ahead and like, bounce around a bit ya know? Have at it! I'll just... I'll be here.'"
"Screw off dude," I say, laughing.
"Oh come on, I'm just messin' with ya Hisao," he says with a chuckle. "If you can't laugh at yourself then who can you? Go on, call me a ghost."
I snort. "Shut up Casper."
He laughs. "See? There ya go."
I sigh. For all his jesting, he does bring up yet another aspect of my life that my condition affects that I hadn't considered before, and at this point, so many months later, I'd thought I'd considered them all. In all reality, I wonder how I will
bring up this subject when... yeah. Unlike the guy in front of me, it isn't immediately obvious that there's anything wrong with me at all. I can't exactly tell them when we first meet, "hi, I'm Hisao, I have a heart problem," isn't a great icebreaker. Maybe only when it gets serious? I don't see how that would work though, "serious" means she's probably been over to my place already, and I don't exactly feel like hiding my medication so I can bring up subjects of cardiomyopathy and inderal caps for 'when the time is right.'
I sigh. "Can I ask you something Nakata?"
Nakata, who has been staring off into a space at a point halfway up my wall, somewhere between the head and the foot of my bed, looks at me with mild surprise, as if he's forgotten there was someone else in the room. He holds out one finger, as if to say, "just a second," and reaches into his backpack for a third can and fourth can, the latter of which goes to me. He seems to have acquired a mild buzz at this point. I frown, but he takes no notice. Popping the lid, he downs half the can before belching, then responds with a simple, "Shoot."
"How do you deal with the looks?"
I roll my eyes. "I have to say this every time I ask you a question don't I? Seriously, how?"
He shrugs. "If people are gonna stare, might as well give 'em a show right?"
It's Nakata's turn to sigh, which turns into a groan of frustration and he pounds his knee with his fist. "No. You wanna know who's weird about this shit? You," he says, leaning in and pointing. "Man, people don't give a flying fuck. What does
happen is if you start acting all weird about stuff -and, like, drink up asshole- then they get all weird too. It becomes this no-man's land that everyone knows is there but are all awkwardly trying to avoid the subject because, hell I dunno. First of all, they usually don't care, but then, it's like, if they do, why do you care that they care?"
He's flailing as he's trying to get out his sentences, it's actually rather comical. "Arrgh! I just hate how you skirt around the subject all the time like a damn mouse. Just... commit you know?"
With that, he flops back in the chair as if his little rant has exhausted him. I'm just about to respond, thinking it's my turn to speak, when Nakata continues, somewhat quieter this time.
"I think people just get weird when they don't know what to do... when they don't know how to act. Just look at the burned chick in your class man," he says, shrugging. "It's impossible to approach her because, even for the people that just wanna talk, she always acts like she just KNOWS you're gonna bring it up and it terrifies her. Those feelings work their way into EVERY. SINGLE.
interaction she has, and it turns it into this subject that has to be addressed if you want to have a normal conversation, but is also impossible to bring up. You get this catch-22, and pretty soon, it's easier to avoid her altogether. It's like she's forgotten that if she doesn't want to talk about it... she can, I don't know, SAY THAT?"
I nod, Nakata's recommendation reminding me of something he said down at the park. "Like Saki?"
"Exactly," he says with a big nod. "I stopped trying to pull it out of her years ago. Why? She said she didn't want to talk about it. No hesitation, just, 'no comment.' THAT'S the mark of someone whose... 'come to terms,'" he says making quotation marks with his fingers. "An answer, any answer. As long as they're confident, it's good enough for me. Get what I'm saying?"
I stare at the ceiling for a moment before answering, trying to think of the best way to respond. "I dunno man, I just... I think it might be harder for some people than you might think."
"Don't give me that bullshit, the word 'no' is pretty simple."
"Oh yeah? Then why don't you just go up and talk to her then?"
He stops to think, but only for a split second. "No reason too."
"No reason not to."
"Plenty of reasons not too. Kind of odd to just go up to someone you've never really met before, and I'm not exactly itching to be her friend. I'm just using her as an example man, there's a big difference between refusing to randomly approach someone and systematically alienating everyone you meet. All I'm saying is she could make friends if she wanted too."
"But isn't confidence something you develop? I mean, you get confident when things work out for you. I'm
just saying, that's not the case for everyone."
"Well..." says Nakata, trailing off as if this wasn't something he'd considered before. "Fake it 'till you make it?" he says with a sheepish smile.
I laugh. "We're it so easy," I say in response.
This... reminds me of something. The beer not so much, but I do recall a few nights with Takumi and Shin, the talks always getting progressively more 'real' as time ticked by. It'd start with innocent things like crushes and sports and conversation would naturally wind its way to atom bombs, space travel, and the future of humanity as the hours wore on. You always knew when the Real Talks were about to happen too. You could tell by the way everyone sort of slowly dropped what they were doing, put down the cards, shut off the TV, toss aside the controller. This was usually around the 'light political joking' phase.
God I haven't gossiped in a while.
Well, when in Rome. "So whaddya think she's got?"
Nakata looks confused, and his response drips with sarcasm. "I'll bet she was a monk. I only wonder what cause she considered worthy enough for self-immolation... she got burned you idiot."
I facepalm, wishing I'd been more clear.
Have you noticed how clumsy she can be?"
"Yeah good work Sherlock, however did you figure that one out?" he says.
I roll my eyes. "Okay okay, whatever... Well, what do you think it is?"
"No idea. Somethin' in her head. I thought maybe Parkinson's, but she's just clumsy, not jerkey. Didn't look into it much. Like I said, I don't much care unless you care I care."
"...that makes no sense."
"What do you want from me, a psyche eval? It's true, all I know is what I see." He pauses. "Though come to think of it, it has been getting worse recently, even though she tries to hide it."
"Well, you did only just meet her, but I've known her since we both started here first year, and back then she was just like you. Besides the uniform, I'd have never known she was messed up."
"Nope, got that just a few months ago in fact."
"Blows my mind that she tries to hide it too. It's like, you've got a frickin' CANE, I think that's a bit
more obvious than losing your aptitude at pencil-spinning. I bet she just does it for her own psyche, but she's only kidding herself."
"So much for 'come to terms,'" I say.
"Nah man, it's different. People can handle their shit however they want, doesn't matter to me. As long as they can still INTERACT with people, it's just, whatever."
I chuckle under my breath. "You're pretty passionate about this eh Nakata?"
After a drink, he points at me with the can in his hand. "And you better thank your lucky stars I am, Hisao. I just barely pulled YOU from the precipice after all."
Feeling mildly indignant, I move to protest. "Dude! I REALLY don't think you can blame people, it's just-"
"I swear if you say it's 'weird' one more time, I'll make sure they never find your body."
Exasperated, I flop back down, lean against the headboard and stare at the ceiling, which has become just a little hazy as a result of the drink. Canes, burns, cardiomyopathy, I had a heart attack while getting asked out by a girl for God's sakes. Forget whatever Nakata says, it is
"Man..." I say, shaking my head. "How'd I wind up here..."
Nakata, seemingly finished with judging me, leans back in my chair. "It's in your blood."
Then again, he is at least somewhat right. At least I can talk about it now.
"Hey," he says.
Nakata raises his can. "Cheers to us Hisao."
I follow suit.
"Cheers to us buddy."