What do you want to be when you grow up?
I guess... it’s kind of a stupid question. Hibari would definitely agree! And I can see where he’s coming from, too, because if I don’t know what I want to be, then who would, right? But then again, even people who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up will have something they’re good at. Gokudera’s really smart, and Ryohei-sempai’s good at boxing. And Tsuna reads people so well it’s like he’s psychic or something, haha! As for me, well—I think everyone knows the answer to that question. The truth is, though, I’m just one of the lucky ones, ‘cause I turned out to be decent at the thing I like doing. Can you imagine what it would’ve been like if I was really bad at baseball and really good at calligraphy or something? Talk about a waste!
And maybe it’s silly to be thinking about this after all this time, because what’s there to talk about if you’ve already grown up? It’s just that I don’t feel grown up, even though I have my own place and a driver’s license and everything. I still forget the garbage day schedules and put out the burnable trash when it’s supposed to be recyclables only. I drink milk straight from the carton ‘cause I don’t want to have to wash a glass. Honestly, I think I’m making a big mess of being an adult, but it’s okay, because no one’s even going to yell at me about it. No one except Hibari, anyway, and he doesn’t yell—he just gets violent. But somehow, that’s easier to bear than yelling—it’s kinda like dealing with an animal, you know? It’s simple. There’s no need to feel guilty when I mess up, standing with my head bowed and apologizing over and over again, or fumbling for an explanation like a kid. No one else is responsible for me; I am responsible for myself. Which means I’m responsible for my own happiness, too. I decide things for myself, I make my own choices. And really, I’m not fussy—I’d be okay with a normal happiness. As long as I can wake up in the morning looking forward to every day, I think I’d call myself lucky.
When you’re little, deciding what you’re going to do is the easiest thing in the world. If you’d asked me this same question back then, before all of this happened, I would’ve told you—I’m gonna finish high school like the old man wants me to, then I’ll enter the pro leagues and become famous. Now, ten years later, I can’t even figure out what I’m going to have for breakfast tomorrow morning. It seems that’s just how it is—what you like to do doesn’t matter anymore. And you might feel sad about it, but it’s just part of growing up. It’s painful, but you have to learn to leave these things behind. You bury them deep, like a photo album of old friends that you only take out to look at once a year, and hide it away the rest of the time.
I keep telling myself that these feelings are normal. It’s okay to regret. It’s okay to want things you can’t have. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s all okay. You don’t have to be ashamed.
But I am.
Underneath it all, there’s a tiny little part of me that hurts... that will always regret this. And it sounds like a cliche, I know, but it’s like—it’s like it eats away at me, all the time. Secretly? I’m a mess. I am not a whole person. I just fill the gaps in me the best I can. Sometimes, I struggle just to make it through the day. And when I die, when I finally go, they’ll scatter my ashes, and all the sadness and longing will leak out of the bits that used to be me and disappear into the sky. That’s when I’ll finally be free.
Sometimes, I lie awake in bed and listen to my heartbeat in my ears. It’s frightening, how it gets so loud, but on the other hand it would be worse if I didn’t have one at all, obviously. I think that maybe I’m just a big kid! I’m a kid. I remember what it was like going to practice early and standing out in the middle of the baseball diamond, on the pitcher’s mound, all alone. That was the best feeling in the world. It was like something was telling me This is it, you’ve made it. This is where you belong, and I said, Yup! This is where I belong! It feels great being so sure of something, especially at that age, when it feels like anything could happen. It’s almost scary!
… I forget what I was saying. You see, this happens all the time now. My thoughts just go all over the place and I can’t do a thing about it!
A long time ago I broke my arm, and it’s funny because at the time it was like the end of the world to me, the idea that I had to quit doing baseball. I stood out on the ledge with my arm in a sling and for forty-five whole seconds I was really going to do it. But then Tsuna came along and talked me out of it. Tsuna’s a really good guy, you know. Sometimes, I think that I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have friends like these. Okay, I don’t just think it—I know it, it’s the truth.
I wonder what Hibari would have said if he was the one to find me up there. He goes up on the roof a lot, so hey, it could happen, right? I can imagine him getting angry the way he always does and saying something like Hey you worthless herbivore, it’s against the school rules to be on the roof during break. And I’d turn to him and laugh and say, Hibari, if I jump, will you jump too? And of course Hibari would say no, and we’d laugh about it some more, or I guess that would just be me laughing. I don’t know what I want more, Hibari to stop me, or Hibari to jump with me. I think life would be a lot easier if everyone just knew what they wanted.
Sometimes I think that I should start a diary and write down all of these thoughts. But I’m not smart the way Gokudera is, so even if I tried I wouldn’t know where to start. Gokudera would know, though—he used to tutor Tsuna and me, and he would say things like Pull yourself together you damn baseball idiot, it’s just a bit of calculus! Those were fun times. More than anything else I miss walking home with them. Let me tell you a secret: you know how we used to go to the convenience store after school to get drinks and read magazines? I wish we could still do that. Sometimes I get bored in the middle of a meeting and I want to say Hey everyone, let’s go to the convenience store and pick up some canned coffee and this week’s Jump! But I think everyone would laugh at me, and then I would have to pretend it was a joke instead of something I really wanted to do. Tsuna would laugh in that tight, sad way that he laughs nowadays, and Gokudera would just yell at me like always. And Hibari wouldn’t say anything at all. He would just look at me with his mouth closed, bored, like he was looking at a bug. He would wait. He wouldn’t say anything on the way home, either, or all through dinner. He would wait until we were three beers in and my vision was getting fuzzy, and he would say You’re really an idiot, aren’t you. And I’ll squeeze the can in my hand so tight that I end up crushing it a little and I’ll hunch over the table, but I won’t cry, I won’t, I won’t
… I get a little carried away sometimes. I’m sorry. Gokudera is always saying that I talk too much, and maybe it’s true. I wonder if Hibari thinks so. Actually, I guess I don’t really want to know, haha. Gokudera asked me once Do you ever get tired of being so happy? I said Haha, I dunno! Do you ever get tired of being so cranky? It made him mad, which was funny. Still, though, it made me wonder about that a little. AmI happy? I think I am, or I must be. I can’t imagine things being any other way.
These days, I go over so often that Hibari hasn’t managed to put away the futon he laid out for me the first time I stayed over because I was too drunk to go home. It’s a good thing, too, otherwise I think he wouldn’t bother getting it out again, and then where would I sleep? One time, I passed out in his bed and he got really angry and yanked the sheets out from under me so hard that I fell onto the floor. This is my bed! He said, and kicked me out of the room. I had to spend that night on the couch, and let me tell you, it gets pretty cold in Hibari’s place at night! He was less angry after I made him breakfast in the morning, though. People tend to be kind of wary of Hibari, like they think he’s inhuman or something, but Hibari is just Hibari. When you get to know him, he’s actually a pretty simple guy. He likes to eat plain food and drink good sake and sometimes he’ll even drink beer with me, if I bring some over. And I do that a lot, because it sure beats drinking alone.
But when Hibari’s not around, like when he goes on a business trip, I have to let myself in. You know, it’s a funny story, how I came by these keys in the first place. I’d been waiting outside Hibari’s place for half an hour and was about to go home when he finally came out to get me. I said to him, Hey! and he just threw his spare keys in my face and snapped Let yourself in, you’re too big for a dog door. Then he went back into his room and slammed the door behind him. I had to put a band-aid on my forehead where the keys cut me, and sleep on the couch that night, but it was worth it because he never asked for them back. Finder’s keepers, right?
And once in a while, when he’s away, I’ll give him a call. Just to say hi and stuff, you know! He never says anything when he answers, but I think he does that on purpose. When I hear his breathing on the other end, I press the phone into my ear so hard that it hurts. Hibari doesn’t say goodbye when he hangs up, either. I think, to Hibari, every call I make must be just another five minutes in a very, very long phone conversation. But for me, the minutes are all broken up, and all the feelings I couldn’t put into words fall into the cracks between them. Hibari doesn’t know that, though. At least... I think he doesn’t know. He just hangs up, and afterwards I sit on his side of the couch and rub my eyes so hard that they feel weird and crossed and crooked. Life would be so much easier if everyone just knew what they wanted.
I think... that I’m really grateful that Tsuna stopped me from jumping that time, after all. There are a lot of things I love about being alive that I’d lose if I were gone. I love my dad—his broad, rough hands with rice stuck to his fingers, the way his eyes twinkle when he smiles at me. I love how hitting a home run sends a shock through my fingers, all the way down my spine to my toes, the loud echoing crack that follows; love the meaty feel of a ball going into a catcher’s mitt. Nothing will ever take those feelings away from me. Even if I lose myself, even if I forget everything else, I’ll still have that—it’ll keep me going. It’ll keep me sane.
Sometimes, it’s all you can do to keep it together. Sometimes even trying your best isn’t enough.
I put all of my eggs in one basket, because that’s just the way I am. I hold my head up high and keep moving forward. Even if you don’t go to meet it, time rushes out to meet you. That’s the way things are. You never stop getting older; you can’t change the past. Whatever happens, happens, and even if I still feel the pain of it ten years down the line, it’s no more than I deserve.
There are things I’ve done, choices I’ve made that I regret. But like my dad always says, you don’t dwell. You learn from there, you get stronger, then you move on. If you live in the past, you’re not living at all. You’re here now in the present, and all those ancient people are gone. Just learn to let it go, he always says.
I can’t let go.
If you asked me about it, there are plenty of things I could say. Like... it was convenient, or... it felt like the right thing to do at the time. It was fun, or it seemed natural. I did it on a whim. Why not, right?
Truth is, though, I was just lonely.
The thing that I like about Hibari is probably the thing that everyone else hates about him. Hibari doesn’t mince words, he doesn’t beat around the bush. He’s not the kind of guy to say Oh, oh, that’s so terrible, it must have been awful, but really he’s thinking something else entirely, like You’re such an idiot or Why do I have to sit here and listen to this stuff? He’s always honest. He says what he means. He means what he says. And if he doesn’t say anything, it just means that he doesn’t have anything to say. I don’t have to worry about any of that stuff when I’m with him; it’s that kind of a relationship. It’s comfortable.
Anyway, it’s like this: a whole lot of stuff happened, and somehow, I just really wanted someone to talk to. It turns out that Hibari will listen to me ramble on about pretty much anything, as long as I feed him. It’s not bribery, okay—it’s a fair trade! And I figure a little sushi is worth listening to my problems, haha. And then, at some point in the middle of all this, it became normal for me to bring food over to Hibari’s place and spend the rest of the night talking his ear off. It’s amazing what people can get used to if they put their minds to it. Things that were inconceivable one night quickly become commonplace the next. I bring food, or alcohol, or food and alcohol, and he keeps letting me in. I’m sure sometimes he asks himself how things even got to this point, but it’s okay as long as he never gets tired of it. I think he doesn’t even appreciate how much work goes into his dinner! That stuff doesn’t cook itself, after all. Sometimes I think that maybe he wouldn’t even mind if I brought him take-out instead. But we’ve come this far, and now I’m afraid to change anything for fear that that will be the end of this... whatever you want to call it, this tentative arrangement. Even if it’s one-sided, I never want to lose it. I don’t ever want to stop learning about him.
And you know, there are even more things I wish I could tell you about. Things like... the smell of his sweat, how funny he looks with morning wood tenting his sweatpants, or the way his stubble rasps my cheek when he kisses me. Maybe one of these days, I’ll even know what those things are like, instead of just having to imagine them.
… This is so—why am I still thinking about this?
When I can scrape together the time, I take the train back to my dad’s place for the weekend. We don’t really do a lot together, or anything, but it’s a relief because he’s always glad to see me, and that’s not something you can get just anywhere, you know? He’ll make me dinner, and we’ll watch baseball on TV for a bit, and just catch up. He’ll tell me about how the regulars at the sushi bar have been getting on, and I’ll tell him about Tsuna and Gokudera and everyone, though of course there are things that I can’t really tell him about.
There are a lot of things he doesn’t say, either, but I think he understands.
In my dreams, I am seven years old and playing catch with my dad in the park. I was so small and he was so big that he could swing me up onto his shoulders and carry me around like a big bag of rice. And he would say to me, Takeshi, you can be whatever you want to be!
It’s true, you know. I can be whatever I want to be.
And really, it’s not a problem at all, because if I close my eyes I can go back any time I want. The smell of chalk dust and the song of the bell at the end of the day—the sounds and odors of my old classroom in Namimori Middle are with me, I carry them in my heart. If I keep my eyes closed and move my feet, I can climb all the way up to the roof where I’ll find Hibari napping, like always, with his hands behind his head like he’s basking in the sun. I’ll share my lunch with him, like always, and I’ll tell him about my day, and he’ll listen without saying anything but I’ll still know he’s listening. And everything will be the same as it always was—Tsuna won’t look tired and sad and Gokudera won’t smoke a pack a day and Hibari will never have to roll his eyes and say to me My house is not an extension of yours, get out.
That was only one time, though, and now we don’t even mention it. If you never talk about it, it’s like it never happened. If you could erase all the records of an event and all the memories of everyone who was there, would it be like it never happened? That’s what we’re trying to find out. This is an experiment between Hibari and me. It’s a private thing. It’s special.
When did this all start?
A long time ago, I just wanted to play baseball.
This is what I know. At some point in my life, I reached a crossroads. On one side was the thing that I loved doing most in the world. And on the other, all the people that I love and have ever loved. To me, that isn’t even a choice, you know? Even if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I do what is asked of me, nothing less.
So why does it hurt so much?
I do what is asked of me.
I never asked for this.
There are so many things that I regret -
And maybe it would all be okay if I could just accept that I’m human and this is normal, completely normal. I can’t control everything—I have to let go! Just smile and let it wash over me like I’m lying in the surf at the edge of the sea. Salt water in my eyes and ears, and overhead I can see nothing but the endless, endless sky.
One day, all of these feelings will disappear. Time will swallow them up. Like paper lanterns floating down a river—a light at the edges of vision... and the next moment, nothing but memories.
In the end, it rains all night, and when thunder cracks the sky I wake up with Hibari’s soft breathing in my ears.
The futon is cold. It smells like him.
I roll onto my side, and wonder what closure feels like.