• Pat

Blue shirt boy, Straw hat boy

Updated: Apr 5

A 10 year old boy boards the last car of the train. He wears a navy blue t-shirt, a black Puma drawstring bag, grey shorts, and black sneakers with green highlights. At 145 cm, he is fairly tall for his age. He approaches the end of the train to look into the rear control room and out the back window. Timidly, he peers around the few passengers standing against the glass, but, as if he were imposing, he abruptly returns to his seat, where he quietly remains.

Standing in my own corner, I observe this scene taking place and am reminded of my own childhood.

I was such a nervous child. When presented with an opportunity, adults would say, "Why don't you take a look?" Or "Why don't you try?". But I was too nervous to do anything. Too ashamed to show my excitement. I always tried to cooly reject it, as in "No, it's ok. I'm fine. I'm all set looking from here." Having my real feelings being found out was terrifying.

How many experiences did I miss out on? How many sites did I not fully take in? All due to my own insecurities. There could have been so many opportunities to learn and grow.

At Shinjuku, a super enthusiastically energetic child boards the same car. He looks to be around 7. Immediately, he lets out an intense high pitched scream. He wears a red unbuttoned shirt with a bright green t-shirt underneath. A colorful lion character themed rucksack, with artificial fur and paws, dawns his back. On his head, he wears a straw hat. As he screams, he points towards the rear window and shouts "Yamanote sen! Wowww!! Sugoi!!!". I glare. He is noisy, unaware of his surroundings, selfish in his enjoyment. Aren't his parents embarrassed? Won't they do anything?

I've always "hated" overly enthusiastic people and felt uncomfortable when near them. But what am I ashamed of? Expressing anything, besides appreciation or neutral passiveness, is unbearable, even now. I guess this “hatred” is just a coping mechanism.

When I was 11, just before my twin sisters were born, my dad, or perhaps it was my stepmom, or even my mother, proposed the idea that I was bored on weekends when I was at my dad's house. As a result, he tried several things such as setting up a kiddie pool or a "Slip and Slide" in the backyard.

Unfortunately, I was not interested in those things. They involved a certain level of excitement I was incapable of expressing, in addition to being outside in the sun. This is not to say I wasn't fond of the outdoors. I loved walking out into nature and, especially then, building castles of sticks and branches. On this hot July day, I recall walking down the slip and slide my dad had prepared for me. Or maybe I sat down and scooted my way across. Undoubtedly, I was not able to show any sign of enjoyment, no matter how hard I tried. I am sorry for that.

Try as I did, it became a show I was performing. Constantly. Even before that age, I could understand how best to please others. When I was 7, I asked Santa for a snowboard for Christmas. Under the tree, I found a small box with a mini snowboard inside. It could be moved around by slipping your fingers into the foot bindings. "That's what you wanted, right?". I replied,"Yeah!" and attempted to smile. In the end, it was all just a joke, and the real snowboard was hidden outside, but thinking back now, I am surprised. I'm sure my parents were, too. A normal child would have been very upset. Even at that young age, I was always wearing a mask.

Yet, I still can't manage a mask of enjoyment. Just content. Simply a smile. Nothing like the boy in the straw hat.

Standing on the "Slip and Slide", soaking my feet in the water, all I wanted was to go up to my room and enjoy playing with my Legos alone, just like the good old days before my siblings were born. Those first six years. These thoughts never crossed my mind then, but I can see it now. I craved to be alone, just for a little bit. I wanted a place where I could take off my mask. In the end, I never really could play with those Legos, as I was usually pulled away in an effort to cure the mistaken boredom I supposedly suffered, or, after my sisters were born, to attend to by my siblings.

Recollecting this, I feel something, but I have no idea what it is. I love my parents and I certainly appreciated my father’s attention at that time. I have and had nothing against neither of my parents. It would be selfish of me to blame these problems on anyone but me and do not wish to fault anyone. So what happened? Perhaps the seemingly never ending addition of siblings halted a certain emotional development I should have had. Or maybe it is connected to the lack of a sense of belonging.

Or, could it be because I knew I couldn't dare say the truth. Somewhere along the line, I learned that the truth hurts others. Keeping our emotions locked up can save us from embarrassment and vulnerability.

As I entered adolescence, a silent rebellion began to take shape. Dark clothes, long hair, and aggressive music. In seventh grade, a few of the preppy kids commented on my change. "What happened to you? All you wear is black now." Why was that? Part of it was to go against this idea of truthful expression. Instead, I masked my entire self in the peaceful neutrality of my favorite color. On the other hand, was I not trying to express another part of me? I didn't just want to be the mask everyone expected, but to transform myself into something that represented the true me. Through this period, I prayed that someday, someone would recognize the emotions I was truly trying to express. It has yet to occur.

Now, at 29, I cannot expect anything to come from this, but seeing the boy with the navy blue shirt, I feel sorrow for his pain, companionship in our ventures, and hope that, even though we will continue to struggle to express ourselves, if pushed in a certain direction, we will be capable of accomplishing something worthwhile.

Let us not loath those who are positively expressive. Let us find ways to release our true selves, little by little. I have certainly taken steps in the right direction, so I can at least say it is possible.

With all that said, I still can’t scream.

The boy in the straw hat won't shut his mouth. He continues talking until I reach my stop. Under my face mask, I smile at the boy in the blue, who hasn’t said a word this whole time, but frequently gazes in the direction of the rear window.