Seven White, Four Red, Two Blue

Seven White, Four Red, Two Blue

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

Seven White, Four Red, Two Blue

One joy shatters a hundred griefs.

Chinese Proverb

I believe every object in our lives holds a memory. The most prized object in my life, and the one that holds the most memories, is a rusty tin box. I need only look at the beat-up old tin box, resting obscurely on my bookshelf next to a picture of my five-year-old daughter, to unleash a flood of memories and emotions. Some happy—some sad—all mine.

The first true love of my life, and the one that still causes the most pain, was a Japanese girl named Hitomi. In Japanese her name meant Pure Beauty, but you didn’t need to speak the language to understand that. You just had to look at her. I was twenty-six and she was twenty-one when we first met at a nightclub in Okinawa, Japan. I swear she came straight out of a fairy tale. She had long, straight, silky black hair that flowed to her perfectly shaped waist and highlighted her hundred-and-five-pound frame. Her skin was soft and tanned and seemed to glow in the sunlight; but what I remember most were her eyes. Her eyes seemed to pass right through me and touch the very depth of my soul. I was in love.

We started dating shortly after that first meeting. Hitomi was a very sentimental person. Every day held special importance to her. I would soon understand why.

One day, after we had been going out for about a month, she showed up at my apartment and handed me something. “Present,” she said. I opened the carefully wrapped handkerchiefs she had used as gift wrap. What I saw surprised me—a beat-up, old, rusted, lime green, tin cigar box. The lid had the remains of a picture on the outside. Through the rust and chipped paint I could only make out what appeared to be a finger and an ear. The rest of the box looked just as bad—like it had been dragged behind a car after a wedding sixty years ago.

“Thanks,” I told her. “If we’re exchanging junk, let me get something out of my garbage for you.”

She didn’t understand my attempt at humor. “Open,” she said, picking up the box and handing it to me. Paint and rust fell from it as I gripped the box in my hands. I was reluctant to open it, fearing it might still contain the remains of the world’s first fruitcake. “Open,” she said again, this time smacking me on the side of my head and pushing the box into my chest. I opened the box and was amazed. The inside was finished in gold leaf, polished and shined like a mirror.

In the box was a single, white, origami paper swan. “Every month we are together I will make you a white swan to put in our box,” she said. “After one year, we will string the swans together to hang on the praying tree in front of Nishiohama Temple. This will be our way of thanking God for our time together. I will make you a blue swan to put in the box to show our one year of love together. And if we ever have an argument or fight, I will make us a red swan, so when we see it in our box we will remember what we did wrong and learn from it as a couple.” We placed two strings of white swans on the tree at the temple while we were together. And in time, a few red ones appeared in our box as well.

It was during the middle of our third year together that Hitomi began to get sick. She had told me she had health problems in the past, but they were nothing for me to worry about. That was the only lie Hitomi ever told me. I found out through her best friend that she had leukemia and was in the final stages of that sickening disease. Her parents admitted her to the hospital, and after several weeks of pleading, they finally let me see her. I sat next to her bed and softly kissed her lips. When she saw me she smiled.

“Hello, honey,” she whispered. Then she pointed to the nightstand next to her bed. “Please open for me.” I opened the nightstand and saw within it a single, white paper swan. “I want to take to your house but too sick. I’m sorry. Now you please put in our box, okay?”

I nodded and kissed her forehead—tears flowing down my cheeks. I didn’t notice how frail she had become. Or that her skin, once tanned and glowing, was now pale and gray. I also didn’t notice that the long, silky hair she meticulously combed every day was gone, due to heavy doses of chemotherapy. I didn’t see any of that. To me she was as beautiful as the first day we met, maybe even more so. It was then that I realized I wasn’t looking at her—I was looking inside her. I saw the beauty in her that could never be changed. I saw what was important. I now understood the meaning of that tin box she gave me. It was her way of preparing me for what she knew would inevitably become of her—her way of teaching me that pure beauty is on the inside. And that no matter how broken or old the outside may appear, what’s important— what’s real—is that which is held inside.

Hitomi died two days later. Her family didn’t allow me at her funeral. I was a foreigner. That was fine. I knew she was with me, and she always would be—every time I opened that old tin box.

I once read, “No one knows what any object means except he or she who owns it.” When I look at that tin box I think how true that is. Since her death, people have asked me about the relationship I had with Hitomi. My answer is as perplexing to them as it is simple to me: “Seven white, four red and two blue.”

Robert P. Curry

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