On a quiet evening in my upscale apartment in Tokyo, I start typing these words. I pour myself a cup of green tea, take off my suit, and without even understanding why, I sit down and begin to type something. Not sure what these words are at first, I suddenly realize that they are memories of my arrival in Nagasaki four years ago.
As thoughts work their way through tiny neurons, electrical pulses turn into movements and I find myself punching away at my laptop keys. I begin to see myself as I was: twenty-two, I might as well have been some kid on the verge of puberty―pimples, awkwardness, and all―except that my face had the ornery expression of a coal miner, or no, maybe a tired insurance salesman.
At the age of twenty-two, I was traveling across the world for reasons only half-understood, or not understood at all―my insurance salesman face took care not to register this fact too loudly. I was convinced that an English language school was bringing me there, some company, branded and marketed, active and thriving with power and money behind it, when really it was her.
Jet-lagged and hung-over, I came by bullet train to the steep slopes and regenerative soil of Nagasaki. Nagasaki―the not-birthplace of atomic warfare, but instead its brother, second cousin―was a radioactively peace-loving city. Though I was a foreigner, in a foreign land, I had not come alone. The vague presence of a disgruntled girl gnawed at the deep well where my heart had been. Not yet aware of the ghosts surrounding me or of the perils of my situation, I was compelled to think of it all in terms of a great adventure, like a Hemingway or Fitzgerald expatriate story. But she and the others were deceptively close, waiting for the romance to wear off.
In retrospect, I came to Nagasaki for the regenerative properties. The second atomic bomb blast so many years ago, which had swept up most of the city in a plutonium cloud, had made the city radioactively peace-loving. Reversing the usual cycle that turns victim into perpetrator, the people who stepped from the rubble filled their hearts with a fervent devotion to peace in all its forms.
In my mind’s eye I see them: wounded and dying, their lungs filled with ash and smoke. The ash sits there for some time, and when they exhale, miraculously, something akin to love comes out. From all those bitter seeds that usually grow hate, something emerged in Nagasaki’s soil-spirit that could heal and grow hearts. Beyond scientific innovation, beyond administrative decision making, the power of a city to heal itself and others lay in something less tangible than the splitting of an atom. And there I was: awkward, tired, a nasty emptiness in my center that was filling itself with something unbearably sad and heavy.
I look on, and I see part of me, perhaps the part of me that is dying or perhaps the part that drinks and practices business analysis and dances with Apollo and Dionysus on the mountain top with the spirits. Or maybe it’s the part of me that died the day I left her.
In my Tokyo apartment, these observations pour out and exhaust me. I get up and stretch. Tea? What am I thinking? I need coffee. My mind wanders, I check my email, surf the Internet, look over some papers for work. As someone who has lived a great deal of his life in the pages of biography and autobiography, I know that self-revelation can be both the cure and the disease.
These memoirs. These bad news memoirs. They stand in the way of the serious work of beating back the past. Best to let the past lie, if it’s willing. And the spirits that brought me to Nagasaki so many years ago? They were gone. They vanished the moment I left her. I should leave them where they rest. In the soil of half-formed hearts, buried in history books, in the collective consciousness of the Japanese spirit―waiting for another historian-novelist to find.
Daniel Clausen’s fiction has been published in Slipstream Magazine, Zygote in my Coffee, Leading Edge Magazine, and Spindrift, among other literary journals. You can learn more about his newest novel, The Ghosts of Nagasaki, at: ghostsofnagasaki.com