Stars in a Bottle
I wasn't sure what kind of appeal I saw in bottles. I think what I liked most was the idea of being able to preserve memories forever, since I rarely had things I could cling to. I'd buy them from secondhand stores—old bottles, colored bottles, bottles with lids—since they didn't cost much. One time I took them to school, and some kids threw them from the second story floor. It nearly hit a teacher, so they got suspended. I got detention for bringing it in the first place. So I vowed to never do something stupid like that again.
But realistically, much misfortune befell me in my earlier years. Several years into elementary school, when I was close to graduating, I dug out the biggest jar I had from a chest underneath my bed and wrote 'LUCK' on it in big, messy letters. It sits on my bookshelf to this day, reminding me of what I don't have. It reminds me every passing holiday—Christmas Day, New Year's, my birthday—what I thought I didn't have. Most of all, I think, it reminds me of what I could have done, but didn't.
My mother threw most of them out eventually, but I was able to keep a couple. One of them was my empty Luck Jar. The other was a bottle filled with paper stars.
Another fascination I'd have is for stories. I liked the way I could make my own world and have no one see it. I liked the way I was in control of what I was doing. It was a free form of entertainment, so my parents didn't complain. Rather, they encouraged it. They thought it was the expansion of a human's mind: of their creative capacity and other things I didn't really understand at the time.
I wasn't too bothered by what they thought. The only reason I did it, simple-minded as it was, was because it was fun. It was a way to pass the time when no one else wanted to or had the time to play with me. Most often it was the former. My mother had chores to do. My dad would be attempting to get a job to salvage some income. My sister was mad at me for erasing her save file on Pokémon, which I hadn't done on purpose. My grandparents were holidaying overseas, and their cat hated me (I have the scars to prove it). Bottles and writing were my only friends.
Stars in a Bottle
I. Paper and Plastic Complement Each Other
I had a few real friends at school, but not many. My self-proclaimed best friend was a possessive girl who always liked to pick a fight with me, and then blamed me for provoking it when I didn't actually do anything. I remember the first day she did it, I went home crying. I don't actually remember doing that, but my mother said it happened. So maybe it did happen.
I had another friend who was a complete weirdo. In a good way. She was always loud and happy and flamboyant and eager to play those stupid role-playing games that, for some reason, elementary-aged girls are attracted to playing. Not many people liked her, mostly because they thought she was weird. And whenever my best friend fought with me, she would steal my weird friend to hang out with for the rest of the day.
I used to have another friend who I liked a lot, but she moved away.
There was another boy who I used to hang out with a lot in my earlier years. I met him first in third grade. He was quiet, but friendly all the same. He played the piano and was very tall. His name was Ōtori Choutarou. The only reason I didn't hang out with him more than I could have was because his best friend scared me a little bit.
It helped that we sat next to each other in class. He always let me share his things, and even though I never struggled in class, he was always happy to give me a hand when I asked. My self-proclaimed best friend liked to tease me about having a crush on him. When I tried to defend myself by suggesting someone for her, she proceeded to ignore me for the rest of the day.
Ōtori often found me sulking near the toilets. It was the only discreet place I could think of going to, and the only place Ōtori visited me often because he had some kind of obsession with keeping himself hydrated.
I would look up to him.
He sat down on the ground across from me. "What are you doing here? Did you have another fight with your friend?"
Then I would describe to him the extremely pointless reason why my best friend had thrown another fit and abandoned me to hang out with my weirdo friend.
But Ōtori never criticized. He would just smile and nod, and then extend his hand towards me. "Hiyoshi-kun and I are just reading. I have a spare book if you want to read it. Do you like cats?"
I would smile and nod enthusiastically.
Most of the time, I would end up alone at lunch time because I had done something to offend my best friend, and I didn't have anyone else to sit with. Since I didn't eat much, I usually resorted to entertaining myself afterwards. Sometimes I brought things to school; other times I ripped pages out of my notebook and did origami. I liked folding hearts and stars. When they didn't work, I scrunched them up and pretended they were sheep.
It was Valentine's Day, and nearly the end of the school year. I never got many chocolates or candy, and I never gave many out because I couldn't cook and I didn't have any money. So for the few people that I liked, I folded origami hearts, wrote little messages to them and slipped it into their satchel. I observed some reactions from afar. Most times, I saw smiles.
Ōtori was the only displeased reaction I received.
And the strangest part was, Ōtori was not an easily displeased person. If anything, he was quite the opposite; he would go to great lengths to conceal any disappointments. But Ōtori seemed quite disappointed when he received a heart. He wordlessly put it back in his satchel (I didn't sign any of the cards, he wasn't aware that it was me), and the day passed on as if nothing had happened.
Being the bold person I used to be, I approached him when he was on his way to meet Hiyoshi somewhere during lunch break. "Ōtori-kun?"
He was strangely tall, so I had to look up. He had to look down.
"Don't you like Valentine's Day?"
He was silent. I cocked my head at him.
"I didn't mean to be mean or anything." I said. "I give hearts to people that have been nice to me, and I couldn't think of anything you'd done to make me not think that."
Ōtori shifted his feet uncomfortably. "It's not that..."
He was looking elsewhere, and when I followed his gaze, I discovered he was just staring at an empty section of the wall. I wondered if he was pretending something was there, but I couldn't know for certain, so I asked instead.
"What is it?"
"Never mind." He said. "I have to go. Hiyoshi-kun is waiting for me."
He bundled out the door, and I stared after him. I never knew until my teacher suggested we make a birthday chart, so that everyone would remember. This happened sometime in June, a time when no one happened to be born. That was the day I discovered that Valentine's Day was Ōtori's birthday.
When it was my turn to tell the teacher when it was my birthday, I told her.
The teacher stared at me blinkingly. "That's a pity that's it's during Christmas break." Then she went on to ask for other birthdays. I wondered if she even bothered to write it down.
Few people remembered my birthday, even inside my family, so I could empathize with Ōtori. I knew what it was like to have people forget my birthday.
So he got a surprise a few days later when he found a star sitting in his desk. He blinked slowly and flipped it over to where 'HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY' and his age were written.
He turned to stare incredulously at me. I gave him an awkward smile, and proceeded to talk to my other seatmate.
My weirdo friend and best friend moved schools after that year. Ōtori was there to welcome me into his two-man circle of friends.
Ōtori, Hiyoshi, and I spent most of our lunch times reading. I didn't have many books to bring to school, but Ōtori would always bring me some. He had an entire series called Warriors, and even though he didn't approve of the violence in it, he liked cats. Hiyoshi lent me his books, but expected me to give them back after lunch was over, whereas Ōtori would let me keep his for the night.
I felt bad about never having anything to give him, so when I could, I would find something to write about and then give it to him the next day. His favorite was about a boy and his piano, so creatively titled The Boy and his Piano. I don't think he ever realized that he was the inspiration for my story. Sometimes I would write chaptered stories which he wanted me to continue, but most of the time I never finished them. They were mainly drabbles that I attempted to write, but could never finish for my talent at never being able to write short stories.
"Do you want to be an author when you grow up?" Ōtori asked me. We were sitting at the bench by ourselves, reading our books. Hiyoshi was at home, sick.
I considered this. "Maybe. That would be fun."
"You would be good at it." He said.
And in my fourth grade mind, I imagined myself wearing glasses, leaning pensively over a lamp-lit desk and writing a story the old fashioned way. In a weird way, I thought it would be nice. "That would be cool." I said. "I can publish The Boy and his Piano."
Ōtori frowned a little. "You never finished it for me, though."
"Um... I'll ask my mom for a notebook and some more pens."
"I have a spare notebook." He said, brightening. "I can give it to you, if you like."
I said yes please, I would love that.
I finished The Boy and his Piano that year and let Ōtori keep all my notebooks as a Christmas present. He said he hadn't gotten me mine yet, his face torn between panic and frustration. He told me to definitely be here on the last day before winter break. I said I would.
For a little while, things were okay.
The day before winter break, Ōtori offered me a nicely wrapped gift and bade me not open it until I got home. He made me pinky promise up-and-down that I wouldn't open it behind his back, and even though the curiosity was killing me, I said I would wait.
When I got home, I opened it to find a box. Inside the box was a notebook, and another box. I first took out the notebook, admiring the vintage design on the front cover. I opened up one page, and was immediately taken aback by the design on the inside. Seashells and starfish in sepia served as the background, with Those Memories printed on in the inside cover. I flicked through the page; they were all so beautifully decorated. The one good thing that came from my parents' lack of interest in spoiling me was appreciating small gifts.
Inside the small box were stars: nine of them. There were numbers and some letters on the back of them, and I arranged in ascending order. I was able to read the message 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY -SAN' across the backs.
I bottled the stars. They became the only memory I could savor.
Ōtori and I became attached at the hip. He soon allowed me to call him "Choutarou," which was quite an accomplishment for me. In turn, I said he could call me "." Eventually, we ended up shortening it to Chou and . Since Hiyoshi never let anyone call him by his first name, we called him Hiyo. He commented that Chou Hiyo was like a tongue twister.
At some point during our friendship, perhaps mid-fifth grade, I realized that I was harboring a huge crush on Ōtori, and he was either quite blind or quite modest. Or quite terrified to directly address the matter. The days seemed to pass by quicker than ever, of the same routine: reading at lunch time, and Ōtori would insist I finish insert-title-of-a-story-that-I-never-finished-last-year. Even though he partnered with Hiyoshi for most partner activities, he tried to sit near me (which wasn't hard, considering we were already seatmates), or if we had group activities, he would always invite me to join him. He knew I would probably wander around aimlessly looking for some group to join if he didn't.
I think that Ōtori was partially the reason I began to enjoy school more. I gained confidence, and after a while, I would join his groups without him having to ask me, feeling quite certain that no one would chase me away. And no one did. In doing so, I got to know the the rest of the people in my class better. I was able to memorize the names of everyone in my class and at least something about them, which I never used to put any effort into doing so.
At the start of my sixth and final year, it dawned on me that this would be my last year here at school with Ōtori (and Hiyoshi, with whom I'd gotten considerably friendly with), since I wouldn't be attending Hyoutei for middle school. My family was going to start up a restaurant, and they preferred to send me to a school with lower school fees, just in case their business didn't go so well. I complied, like I did with everything else. But two things bothered me.
One: I had no idea how I was going to break this to Ōtori.
Two: I was stumped in trying to imagine a life without Ōtori.
For a period of time, I wrote constantly. I ventured into the small world of poetry, and even though I didn't think it was that good, I didn't erase it. I kept everything I'd written in the notebook Ōtori had gotten me for my birthday, even the small pictures and the scribbles and the question marks I'd littered the flawless pages with.
I didn't tell Ōtori until graduation day that I would not be going to Hyoutei's middle school division.
"Oh..." He looked sad. And something in that sadness reassured me. Got my hopes up. "Does that mean I won't see you again?"
I didn't know how to respond to that. So I shoved the notebook under his face.
He was taken aback, but took it. "Isn't... this the notebook I gave you for your birthday?" He looked a little anxious at the notion that I was giving it back to him.
"Open it." I said.
He did as he was told, and slowly his eyes widened. I'd left a message for him in the front: 'Here's something to remember me by' written underneath the heading of Those Memories.
I didn't have a cell phone, and we were moving houses, so I couldn't really tell him my number. There wasn't really a way for us to keep in contact. But Ōtori was determined to think differently. He searched for a spare piece of paper at the very back of the notebook, gingerly ripped it out, and began fastidiously writing on it with a pen he borrowed from Hiyoshi. He handed the paper to me. I took it; it was all his contact information. He said to write or call whenever I got the chance.
When we parted, I never told him that I had a crush on him. I just wondered what I would do now. Moving to a new school would be like me starting elementary school all over again.
I never wrote to Ōtori or called him when I got myself a phone. His contact information sat rolled up in my once-empty jar of luck. I was too scared to try, thinking that he had already forgotten about me. My lips of yarn would pour upon him things he wouldn't remember. All that lingered of Ōtori was his letter and my hope that maybe, some day, I'd see him again.
Princo & Ribbon
February 14, 2013
Ribbon: So this is interesting, because about 80% of this is based off my life. I drew a lot of experiences from my childhood self, so I guess that's why it was so easy to write. Unfortunately, no one like Choutarou came into my life. Oh well, I had R-san. :,) I guess by writing this DN, I was cheating, since for all the other birthday DNs I wrote, I put a minimal amount of effort into coming up with the plot. THIS ONE IS BASICALLY JUST MY MEMORIES, HAHA. Anyway, you can thank Princo for the idea of me writing a story loosely based off some experiences I had. So. Yeah. LOL.
Princo: The first time I read this, I thought it was so cute I giggled. Also, this had motivated me to write again. :') Or at least start Tec, which may or not be named that later on. Or maybe I'll split the experiences even more. -SHRUG- AND ISN'T THIS SO CUTE? I almost wish my earlier life involved less technology so I'd be able to draw from something as lovely as writing in notebooks. What did I do? I played with the first DS model, watched Cartoon Network, and fangirled over Ben 10. I lived life to its fullest.