A Story on Saturday: Only One Boy

“‘Hey, we’re going for a beer after work. You wanna come?’

I smile and shake my head. ‘Thanks for the offer, but I kinda… I kinda have plans.’

‘Really? Not a date, surely.’

‘Kinda, sorta.’

‘Excellent! Go get him, buddy! Listen, we’ll grab a beer another time. Have fun tonight!’ He punches me in the shoulder lightly, then heads back to his desk. I sit down at mine. I like my co-workers, so I feel a little bad blowing them off like this. But I really do have plans, and they’re kind of important. No matter, quitting time now. I have to make some preparations.

Slinging my messenger bag across my body, I step out into the beautiful spring afternoon. Sunny, cool wind. Perfect. Fills me with a feeling of nostalgia, of longing. It’s the sort of palpable remembering that I can feel in my nose. Everyone feels nostalgia in their nose, right? Maybe I’m weird…

Back then, when we first met, he’d sometimes tell me I was weird. ‘Cheez Whiz and banana on toast? No, seriously? That’s so weird!’ or ‘Wait, what are you listening to? That song, really? Haha, you’re so weird.’ From some people, I guess that may have been hurtful, but I never thought it was with him.

No, I fell in love with Zack the moment I met him. I was at my community theatre in the last year of high school. I always thought I’d be an actor, though I guess that didn’t work out in the end. One day at practice, he was there, a new guy brought in to cover the role of someone who’d broken their leg or something.

He practiced his lines, loudly, boldly. I joined him, first yelling my lines in our scene across the theatre at him. In no time, before we’d even been introduced, we were improvising a new scene, riffing off each other, while the rest of the cast just stared. Even now, when I think about it, it was pretty magical, how we just clicked.

Oh, right, I need to pick up some wine. He’s not picky about his wine, so long as there is some. I feel like a red tonight, so whatever I come across will be fine.

We had only known each other two weeks, but we’d already moved through the new acquaintance phase, past the awkward shy phase, and were deeply into the heart of love. I remember our first kiss. We’d spent the day at the beach, laying in the sun, playing in the sea, and then laying in the sun some more. We fell asleep in late afternoon, and when I awoke just around sunset, he was gently shaking me. ‘Hey, wake up. Pokeyhead,’ that’s what he called me, because of my spiky hairdo, ‘Pokeyhead wake up, it’s sunset.’

I opened my eyes, and there he was, his brown eyes and his black hair and smile, and behind him, the first stars just starting to appear in the darkening sky. I kissed him. He kissed me. We were kissing. It was my first kiss with him, and my first kiss ever. I was 19, but I had never felt this way about anyone. That night was special.

Ah, here’s the supermarket. What should I get… right, chicken, rice, chilis, onions. I’ll make Szechuan chicken. It’s his favourite, and he always said mine was even better than his mom’s.

Over the next couple of months, we just grew closer and closer. I met his parents. His dad was gruff, and I didn’t think he liked me at first. His mom took to me right away, and when I told her I enjoyed cooking, she ran out of the room. When I left later that night, I had all of her specialty recipes in a tidy package, and an invitation to come back another day and cook with her to learn technique. As we walked back to my place, Zack teased me that I liked his mom more than he did. I just hugged him and smiled. Perfect happiness.

Video store. Renting a movie but which one… there can only be one, really. This, his favourite, one he introduced to me and that I could watch again and again. I’d always cry at the end because it was so bittersweet, and he’d laugh and tell me I was too serious. ‘But it’s so sad!’ I’d protest. He’d just laugh more, wipe my tears away, and kiss me.

Home. It’s where I moved after high school. Older than me, already established, and me with no real home support, he asked me to move in, and I did. My friends told me it was a bad idea. We’d only been together two months, and I had just graduated. I ignored them. They didn’t feel what I did. I know, 19, young, I couldn’t possibly know what love is. But I did. And I do.

It’s getting late, I’d better get supper started. But a bit of music, too, is in order. I pick a playlist I made of songs we shared. Our songs. As it plays, I prepare supper. A bit of garlic here, a bit of ginger, there, a toss in the wok, a touch of seasoning. I smile to myself. This may be the best chicken I’ve ever cooked. Appropriate for such an important night.

It was a night like this. It was autumn, but it felt like spring, warm, but with a cool breeze, with the feeling of nostalgia in my nose, the longing. We’d been together nearly half a year, lived together for half that time. I loved him. I knew he loved me, but that was the first night he actually said it. ‘I love you Pokeyhead.’

‘I love you too. Let’s be together forever,’ I whispered as we laid in bed.

I remember he stiffened when I said that. ‘Forever is a long time… I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep.’

I told him he was silly, and we kissed, and it was beautiful and memorable.

Here we go, dinner ready. Set the table, light the candles, pour the wine. Dish up two plates.

I sit down at the table, looking at the lovely meal I’ve cooked for us. I take a sip of wine, and think about what he’d say. The music starts to repeat, but I don’t mind. I settle in to wait for him to come home, to celebrate our anniversary.

I wait, as I have waited every night for the past 12 years.

As the candlelight starts to quiver through the tears in my eyes, I raise my glass. ‘Wherever you are, I am, and will always be, your Pokeyhead. I love you.’

I down the wine in one, and my tears escape.”

The Giant Trees of Tochigi #25: The Giant Cryptomeria of Kumano Shrine

#25 The Giant Cryptomeria of Kumano Shrine
Here is the shrine.

Number: 25
Name: The Giant Cryptomeria of Kumano Shrine (熊野神社のスギ)
Type: Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)
Height: 40m
Trunk Circumference: 6.4m
Age: unknown
Location: 栃木県鹿沼市下永野山際 (36° 29′ 12″N 139° 37′ 06″E)
Date of Visit: 2012-4-30

If you turn off Prefectural Road 15 south onto Prefectural Road 32 (The Tochigi-Kasuo Line), after a long climb, a reasonably long tunnel, and a long descent, you’ll find yourself in the community of Yamagiwa.

#25 The Giant Cryptomeria of Kumano Shrine
There is the tree on the left. The shrine is newly built, and of non-traditional construction. The steps are a modern and quite new concrete set.

On the north edge of the community, at the base of a hill, you’ll find Kumano Shrine.

The Giant Cryptomeria is on the left side of the stone steps up to the shrine. Coming out of the ground, it’s a single trunk, but like so many cryptomeria in Kanuma, it splits partway up. Is this just a forked tree, or is it a union of two trees? There’s another tree there too. It seems like it probably started life around the same time.

#25 The Giant Cryptomeria of Kumano Shrine
The tree in question is the back one.
#25 The Giant Cryptomeria of Kumano Shrine
#25 The Giant Cryptomeria of Kumano Shrine
Two trunks!

If you look about, there’s a small concrete storehouse with the name “Oosugi Shrine” (大杉神社, “Large Cryptomeria Shrine”) written on it. What is this about? I guess this is the big cryptomeria in the name. There’s no shimenawa on this tree, there’s no information board or post like many large trees, there was no one about to ask, so in the end, it’s still a mystery to me.