I’ve known Anika and Kenji for 27 lifetimes now. A psychic once told us that. But this current life, this one that we’re currently in right now, this one that I’m about to tell you about — it’s by far my favorite. At least I think it is. I can’t remember the others. I just know that in this lifetime I got to witness Anika and Kenji’s love bloom larger than the Rafflesia Arnoldii. Do you know about the Rafflesia Arnoldii? It’s a flower found in the rainforests of Indonesia and it can weigh up to fifteen pounds and grow up to three feet across. It’s grand and beautiful and rare.
I like rare things most of all.
We were all in our twenties in the 1990s, living in the beautiful state of Oregon where we spent many weekends camping in Crater Lake park and Dairy Creek. I had a girlfriend in the early part of our adventures. Her name was Alexandria and she was crazy cute, super fun, and out of my reach. Too far out of my reach, as it turned out. She left me for a tall bisexual bodybuilder named Phillip. I was young and broken-hearted but Anika and Kenji were there to help heal my hurting heart.
The day Alexandria dumped me, I instantly became the third wheel of our group. At first, it felt awkward and lonely. I didn’t want to get in the way of the good thing Anika and Kenji had going on. But they insisted saying, “Jessie, you’re not in the way, you’re part of us. We’re family” So that was that. The three of us spent more than a decade together. Not in a polyamorous kinda way, just in a — me and the two of them kinda way. We lived together, cooked together, drank together, watched Friends and Fresh Prince together. Our home always smelled of sweet chai tea and sandalwood incense. We fought — rarely, laughed — often. We were the Three Musketeers without the swashbuckling. And we were happy. Mostly.
We were smack in the middle of our thirties when I first began to notice a change. Something had happened between the two of them when I wasn’t looking. Something upsetting. I didn’t know what it was, I just noticed the sweet chai in the air began to smell sour and the laughs tasted bitter coming out of my mouth like it had gone off. Did we go off? How did I miss it?
“He used to look at me like I was his entire world,” Anika tells me. We’re going for a walk, she and I, along Frozen Pond in Polk County. It’s so beautiful, the pond, frozen like that, so still. I have an urge to skid across it and scream, “WEEEEEEEE!!!!”But of course, I don’t. The ice could crack and I could fall to my untimely death. So instead, as we’re walking I just suddenly scream, “WEEEEEEEE!!!!” This startles Anika who stops walking. “What the fuck, Jessie?”
“Oh, sorry. I had an urge. I mean, that was just part of it.”
“Part of what?”
“The urge. Sorry. Keep talking.”
Anika picks right up from where she stopped. “And then at some point,” Anika continues, “he stopped looking at me at all.”
“I can’t believe I never noticed it,” I say.
“Why would you? It was happening to me. To you, Kenji is just the same old Kenji.”
“I know some people have done it, but I don’t know if we can survive a betrayal.” This time I stopped walking. “Oh, my God. Kenji cheated? I can’t believe it. I’m so sorry.”
Anika stops and stares out at the frozen pond. “No, not Kenji.”
I look at the pond, then at her and it registers. “You? No way! I’ve never even seen you look at another guy like that!”
“Looking would have been fine. This was definitely more doing than looking.”
“Does Kenji know?”
“What happens now?” I ask her this worrying about myself. But also her and Kenji, of course. I’m suddenly terrified about the unknown. I haven’t had any part of my adult life without these two. The Question, What happens now? was directed more at the Universe than at her.
Anika doesn’t answer. She says, “Let’s get back home. I need to do something.”
When we arrive home Kenji has made a full-on supper for us. He greets us with a smile as he takes out a sheet of warm garlic bread from the oven. There’s a fresh salad and an open bottle of red wine on the table. I lunge at it.
“Yeah, help yourself to wine. The lasagna will be ready soon,” Kenji says as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened. I glance at Anika who looks pissed.
“No!” Anika says forcefully.
“No to the lasagna?” Kenji asks. “Okay, I can make something else. Gnocchi?”
“No to avoiding! We need to talk about it!”
Kenji looks over at me and Anika adds, “She knows.”
Kenji’s expression doesn’t change. I can tell that he’s willing his brow and mouth to stay put. He’s forcing calm and okayness on himself and I feel so bad for him I could cry.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Kenji says, as he tests the lasagna for doneness. “You made a mistake, it happens, let’s move on.”
I’m kinda blown away by his calmness but as calm as Kenji is — Anika is the polar opposite. She looks like she’s about to pop. She opens her mouth to say something, maybe scream, apologize, cry…. I don’t know and I don’t find out because nothing comes out of her mouth. Instead, she grabs her jacket and runs out the door.
“Anika!” I yell after her.
“She’s going to sit under her tree,” Kenji explains as he brings the bread to the table. My stomach growls in response to the garlicky smell in the air. I admonish myself inside for being hungry at a time like this.
As if reading my mind Kenji says, “Eat, please. She goes to sit under her favorite pear tree to meditate.”
As we eat dinner together, I listen as he explains to me that Anika sees his forgiveness as indifference. He tells me that he has no intention of throwing away their life over one mistake.
“Does Anika see it as a mistake?” I ask helping myself to more wine.
“What do you mean?” Kenji’s face is now out of his control, his brows have officially furrowed, the sides of his mouth have turned down. Way down.
“What else would it have been?” He asks. “Did she say she wants to leave me for the barista?”
Barista? Jimmy the cutie with the long surfer hair? Oh shoot, does that mean we can never go back to our favorite Starbucks? Oh well, there’s another one on the same block. And the block after that. And so on. And so on.
“No, she didn’t tell me any specifics like that. I didn’t even know it was Jimmy.”
“You know his name!”
“I mean, he wears a name tag, so…”
“Why am I not enough for her?” Kenji, broken now, pushes his half-eaten lasagna aside and buries his face in his hands, sobbing.
I comfort him for a few moments, finish my glass of wine and head out to find Anika.
So apparently, just like Buddha before her, Anika has taken up the habit of sitting cross-legged under a tree to meditate. When I find her, eyes closed, looking too serene to bother, I sit down next to her and close my eyes. I don’t really know how to meditate but maybe I’ll pick it up through her via osmosis.
Anika taps me on the shoulder and I open my eyes.
“He doesn’t care anymore,” she says.
“No, that’s not true. He does. I know he does.”
“Then how can he so easily forgive what I’ve done?”
“Because, according to Don Henley, that’s what it’s about.”
“No. You always get that wrong. You always forget the word think. Henley sings that he thinks it’s about forgiveness.”
“Okay,” I say.
Anika sings, “…even if, even if, you don’t love me anymore.” Then she looks up at me. “You can’t just pick and choose the lyrics that work for your argument.”
Of course, I can. But I don’t say that. Instead, I put my arm around her shoulder and ask, “How long are you going to sit here?”
“Buddha sat under a fig tree,” I remind her.
“So, this is a pear tree.”
Anika shrugs, “A fruit is a fruit.”
“Do you think it was a mistake?”
“Yes. No. Sort of. I mean, I guess I wanted to see what it would feel like, to, you know, be seen again.”
“But you rather Kenji do the seeing?”
“Of course. I just want it to be… like it was. But I don’t think it can be.”
“Maybe it can be something new,” I offer.
Anika gets up to grab us each a pear off the tree. She tosses me one and we eat them side by side. The pear is sweet and juicy and I wonder how many pears it would take to make a pear pie. Is pear pie a thing? I realize I haven’t eaten many pears in my life and I’ve never made a pie, so I have no idea. But I think I’d like to make a pear pie and have the house smell sweet again.
We sit in silence for a moment and then I interrupt our silence with, “Hey remember that time when we all went up to Lost Lake to watch the lake disappear?”
Okay, so, if you don’t know about Lost Lake, you should look it up. It’s this crazy cool lake about two hours southeast of Portland that literally disappears each year in late spring by draining down a lava tube (a geologic thing that happens when lava cools around the edge of molten rock). Then it reappears like clockwork the next year in early spring. It’s nature at it’s most magic. So freakin’ cool.
“Yeah, I remember,” Anika said.
“When we were all watching it drain, Kenji said it made him sad to watch the water disappear. But you said it was okay because when the snow melted the following year, it would be back.”
“That made him feel better,’ Anika remembers.
“The thing is,” I continue, not entirely sure where I was going with this, “the water that returns is not the same water that left. It’s newly made, fresh, and ready to experience what it is to be a lake for the first time. I think it’s kinda nice, to start again.”
Anika looks at me astonished, “Did you just make that shit up on the spot?”
“Wow, you got mad improv skills.”
We both laugh as Anika’s heart thaws just like the pond we walked along earlier and the lake that loses itself only to find itself.
We sit eating our pears and think about life and love and I get the overall sensation that it’s all going to be okay. Even if things don’t work out the way I want them to. Even if Anika and Kenji part ways. No matter what happens, I can improvise a life for myself that will work. And I have friends who are my family. And things that leave, come back new and different and maybe that’s a good thing.
Later that day, Kenji and Anika talked it out at the kitchen table while I baked us a pear pie making the house smell as sweet as juicy pears and rare flowers and as fresh as forgiveness.
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This post was previously published on Medium.
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