Every year, during the summer months, I develop a taste for pickled fruit and vegetables. I eat pickled plums in bowls of rice: they are round, soft, and purple-red, like gluey, zombified eyes. I buy trays of kimchi from the supermarket: lasagna-like layers of briny cabbage and chili spice. I think longingly of my year in south India, during which time I ate pounds upon pounds of chunky, fragrant Andhra-style mango aachar. Though I’ve always had a sweet tooth, sourness manages to linger more indelibly on my palate and in my gustatory memories. It makes me wonder what types of sensory experiences overpower others in my mind, and quickly I draw up a classification: Darkness over brightness, sharpness over softness, silence over sound, foul and fecal over faint and flowery. I don’t enjoy many of these experiences, but they resonate deeply enough to end up splashing onto the timeline of my life. When I recall a day I’ll fill it in with its strongest sensory impressions, as though possessed by a single-minded algorithm designed to prioritize attention-grabbing content. But that is likely too simplistic; maybe what I consciously remember is not all that has left its mark on me. I have never been the best curator of my own feelings and memories.
I think of my life immersed in brine, or preserved in resin. I think of my life as a terrarium: A miniature, individualized world encased in a glass globe, featuring a mismatched assortment of color palettes, textures, and shapes. Clay figurines of friends and family cast into different poses. Striped-and-spotted flora and fauna rustling in the underbrush. Decorations handmade out of styrofoam, yarn, and tinfoil hanging from the ceiling like Christmas ornaments. A fully formed climate system inside, defined by cloudbursts punctured by glossy sunlight. All of this hidden underneath a thick veil of vines, because I’ve always been secretive.
Sarushima, a tiny island located in Tokyo Bay, also holds its secrets close to its chest. Though the island’s main purpose–to serve as a military battery for various wars–is clearly described on the many explanatory placards placed alongside the main path, the general atmosphere is one of mystery, not clarity. We wander around, from the moss-covered stone fort to the frothy, rocky coastline. I circle the remains of a massive artillery unit constructed on the island’s high point, situated at the perfect angle, I am informed, to shoot enemies at sea. Unexpectedly, the glass terrarium that holds my life fractures ever so slightly, and I cup my hands around it to contain the sudden tide of confused, sad anger. There’s many facts about our world that fill me with a brew of dark, quiet, sharp, sour emotions but I feel that blend press against me acutely as I stand there, in a place that locked and loaded meaningless death, that mounted devices to strip breath from bone, now overrun with tree stumps and bathed in sea spray.