anywhere yet nowhere

Kyoko described her adolescent self as a “hopeless case”, getting involved with a bad crowd and doing plenty of bad things. As seen with the younger Arisa in earlier chapters, Kyoko, too, belonged to a gang and was part of regular street fights, some of which would leave her badly bruised in the alleyways.

With a father who hardly took note of her and a mother who only cared about her husband as well as outward appearances, her home environment was steeped in negativity. They didn’t do anything as a family, not even having meals together, and Kyoko couldn’t remember ever having been hugged. Her own father hit her and wrote her off as ungrateful and disrespectful human waste, whereas her mother would stand by and lament the person Kyoko had become, while crying over how that affected her own relationship with her husband and the neighbours.

She said it was as though her body was made of broken glass. There was no one she could trust, neither her parents nor her gang. Instead, she inflicted pain. At night, when she sped down the streets on her bike, she’d feel the urge to laugh out loud… and to cry. She felt as though she could go anywhere yet nowhere. Kyo, Volume 16

The young Kyoko was full of anger, resentment and contempt, which she lived out on the streets and in arguments with her parents, questioning why she had been born in the first place. The rest of the time, those emotions were kept in check beneath a mask of cold apathy until provoked.

She hardly ever attended school, and when she did, her unruly appearance coupled with her reputation were enough to set off the teachers. On one such occasion, she lashed out at the teachers, threatening them with violence while yelling at them, and was subsequently put into detention. While the teachers quickly retreated to call for her parents — which she assured them wouldn’t come —, one of the adults stayed behind.

In stark contrast to her yelling, he calmly asked her one question: “Why are you so angry?” Mistaking him for yet another person who feigned interest only to preach, she first tried to ward him off, but when he wouldn’t let go, all the rage burst forth again: Kyoko condemned everything and everyone for treating her like garbage when they were no better, cursing and hating on everyone and wishing for the lot of them to disappear, to perish — to break like she had broken.

During the entirety of her breakdown, the man who had asked her that question listened to her just as calmly, and finally, he said:

And yet, you want them to care about you, right? You want them to turn towards you, those people. You want to be needed by someone. You want for them to listen to you, to understand and to accept you… You want to be loved, don’t you? At least I do. Katsuya

Perhaps it was the fact that someone finally listened to her without trying to overrule whatever she had to say, perhaps it was the calm manner in which he had responded, so unlike all the other adults who had only ever provoked and yelled at her, and surely it was the fact that someone finally got through to her, seeing her for who she was and who she couldn’t admit to being deep down — Kyoko’s cries ceased, her rage subsiding, sincere tears and self-frustration taking their place.

How did I get this way? It’s me who wants to know that most of all. Why…? Why am I like this? (What went wrong? What have I done wrong?) It’s so sad, so lonely…

(I wanted to be a person who could love and who would be loved. I wanted to be happy. I didn’t want to turn out like this.) Kyoko

At the sight of her tears, the man introduced himself as Katsuya Honda, a teacher in training, and invited her to a bowl of ramen to counter the loneliness. Kyoko was more than puzzled at his inexplicable actions, and even more so by his personality. When asked why he would even bother with her, he responded that she had made him curious, and nicknamed her “Miss No-Eyebrows” (see gang).

The adult Kyoko in all her wisdom was a likeable character to me, but it wasn’t until I read this part of her story, complete with the melancholic narrative voice that accompanied all the mood swings, that I was finally able to see someone I could relate to.

The young Kyoko, to me, captures a certain part of adolescence perfectly: the identity crisis, the feeling of being lost and having nowhere to go, the alienation and neglect, the ignorance and narrow-mindedness of assumptions that only feed your rage and frustrations, the pent-up anger directed at yourself for being who you are and being unable to change despite knowing better, the clumsy and desperate way to reach out to others while trying so very hard not to expose your own vulnerability. The rage and bitterness that threaten to swallow you, seemingly leaving you with no way but to lash out at others and to accuse them of not caring about you the way you want them to. And, beneath all of that, the bottomless loneliness of not feeling understood.

Katsuya was the first and only person to pick up on the loneliness and desperate yearning beneath the rage, the only one who saw past the hurt she wanted to inflict on others so as to protect herself. Not only that, he, as an adult, revealed something about himself while acknowledging her feelings: that he, too, wanted to be loved and understood. And in doing so, he treated her on equal footing, and showed her that her feelings weren’t anything to be ashamed of.