“It doesn’t make sense, it’s just love.”
That’s what Atsuko told me in a cold December afternoon in Los Angeles, a little over a year ago. Atsuko (not her real name) was my Japanese neighbour and we had gone to watch a movie at a Japanese Film Festival that was taking place those days. The film we had just watched was a silly romantic comedy, not particularly memorable, in fact, not memorable at all. But it is always nice to talk about a movie after one watches it, and so we were discussing the motivations of the characters, and then she said that sentence, in a very low voice, almost as if talking to herself.
I remember that her comment struck me because of its dismissive nature. See, most of us tend to talk about Love as if it was the greatest thing on Earth, the most important or profound sensation that one can ever feel. Sometimes we even capitalize it: Love, not just love. But, for Atsuko, it was just love. A strange feeling that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, something that came and went away, like a fever.
Less than a year later, she was dead. And that didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, either.
Now, the strange thing is that I think that Atsuko was once in love with me. Well, maybe not really in love-love, certainly not in Love, but she seemed to have some kind of interest, although I could be mistaken because Japanese people are a mystery to me. In any case, at the time I was in another relationship, and nothing really happened between us. We watched a couple of films together and talked about the weather when we met in the corridors of the apartment building, and that was about it.
How old was Atsuko? I am not sure. I said that Japanese people are a mystery to me, and that includes their age: it is not always easy to guess it. But she was probably between 35 and 40 years old. She worked as an accountant. She had been living in Los Angeles for 15 or 20 years. She was not married but maybe she had been in the past, but then again, maybe not. She had no kids. She did not have a good relationship with her family back in Japan. That was all I knew.
A few months after that day of the film, she moved away. She had just put down the initial payment for a little house because she wanted a little garden for her dog, an old cocker spaniel that was almost eighteen years old. His name was Guts. She moved away and I didn’t hear anything from her for a few months. Then one day she called me, very distressed.
She said that she was unhappy with the new house and that she was feeling very lonely. She didn’t like her new neighbours, she was living in a bad Mexican neighbourhood of Los Angeles and nobody spoke English, she had spent a lot of money in the house, her dog was sick. She wanted to move back to her old apartment, but what would she do with the house? I tried to console her the best I could and I promised to visit her. But I never did.
Last I heard from her was by e-mail, still a few months later. She had gone back to Japan and she was with her family there. She seemed to be feeling better, or at least that was my impression. Guts, she said, had died.
And then, still a few months later, in the December a year after our movie, a Japanese friend of hers contacted me through Facebook. She told me that Atsuko had died.
At first I thought it was a joke or a misunderstanding: her English wasn’t all that clear. But there are not many ways of mistaking the word “death”. The friend didn’t get into details, she just told me that Atsuko had been ill and that she had died on the 25th of December.
I felt bad then for not having been a better person with her. I thought: I could have visited her in her new house, as I had promised. I could have talked more to her on the phone and be a better friend. I could have gone to watch other Japanese movies with her. But then it was too late.
Love, she had said, makes no sense. But I think that she loved Guts more than anything, and I think that the reason why she died was that she could not go on living after his death. It was a different kind of love, of course, but it was love. Maybe even Love.
And now it’s cold again, and I am not even living in Los Angeles anymore, and I never talk to my new neighbours, and the world seems a strange place full of wind and fury, and I think back to that day, to her words, to her life, at least the little I knew of it. And I remember that she was happy that day. That her words were not spoken with cynicism or anger, but merely resignation, or not even that, maybe even a glad acceptance. It was just her way of explaining that it is not up to us to understand the mysteries of life or love or our feelings, we just have to live. And while many times we will not understand why things happen the way they happen, why we fall in or out of love, deep down we know that there is no need to understand any of that, that maybe there is not even a way to understand it, but that that is not necessarily bad.
It doesn’t make sense, it’s just life.