Wrapped inside the searing heartache of being a teenager all over again as I watch the sakura petals of Scum’s Wish, I’m reminded of how special and significant it all was. But particularly in Hanabi’s relationship with her friend Sanae, I’ve come to reframe one of my own first loves in a new light. The scene in which Sanae confessed to Hanabi, crying out in a collision of hope and desperation, selfish in her longing and yet selfless in wanting a better love for her friend, was like looking in on myself at the age of about 15. Overcome with the desire to clear the air at a sleepover that slipped out of control. One minute walking in the door, then suddenly over the line, in the middle of an utterance or action you never agreed to in your own mind.
Just as Sanae seems to predict between the lines, I somehow knew that I too would be rejected. I knew we had completely different feelings for one other, had a lingering awareness that her parents would have been against us. My friend, let’s call her Sophie, couldn’t have seen me as I wanted her to, so I hurt for Ecchan as she cried to her first love and Hana looked up bewildered, almost afraid. I had seen a look like that in somebody else’s eyes, after all.
Hanabi gives a boy in her class what is perhaps the worst putdown he’s been slapped with in his short life: “Is there anything more revolting than the affections of someone you have no interest in?”. I could feel that sting from both sides, the self-loathing, unease and sickening disappointment. With Sophie, it seemed to be different, but only some of the time. When I touched her, sometimes we could pass it off as a bit of fun; an experiment in figuring out the boundaries. But other times I pushed too hard, and she gave me that same look. She was probably expecting me to come out somewhere down the line, preparing the right words for that eventuality. I’ve only just started to wonder: did her words reflect how she truly felt about me and the confession I’d just blurted out? Or had it all been vaguely scripted in her mind long before, edited so as not to upset me?
Even though we remained friends for a short while after, and she was as gentle as she could be in letting me down, I knew from then on I had broken something. That our friendship could never be the happy, innocent thing it had been at the start, years before. I felt Ecchan’s embarrassment, the dread of that unavoidable future, in that stretch of time where Hanabi stared up in her stunned silence. It was ruined, after all that precious time together, for the sake of my own feelings. Nobody, not even my own family, believed that my love for Sophie was real. Nobody saw anything genuine to me crying in the dark when she found someone else to love.
More than a decade later, I recognise yuri from fragments in NANA to full-blown snogging in Sakura Trick. Much of it has helped me make more sense of how I was feeling then, the regret that still lingers now. It’s been a comfort without my even realising up till now. Balanced on a scale between the purity of close friendship and the unspoken urge to devour someone, the subgenre speaks to me at both extremes and everywhere in between. It consoles me when I feel guilty for not knowing when the first started to sway towards the last. Memory fails me; when we parted ways, the best times faded to a blur. When we met again four years ago, I couldn’t remember enough to convince myself to make the effort to stay. We were still broken.
All this history between me and her came back with seeing Scum’s Wish. The selfishness of loving two people at once, keeping them dangling on a string just to test how long they’ll hang on. Damaging friendship by not bothering to ask for consent, just leaping on someone who loves you out of desperation. The emptiness after the fracture appears, the confusion. It’s a power play, but right then and there, it’s the only control you feel you have.
Falling in love for the first time is a state of floundering in-between, wanting to know everything about someone else before you’ve even solved yourself. But falling in love with someone of the same gender for the first time, that was terrifying. I saw much more clearly, and with a great weight, that I didn’t yet know myself. So how was I supposed to know how to share my lust and adoring with her, express it with a touch without it seeming faked? Yet, through all the fear, I knew I was blessed to feel something so special, for someone so much like me. When you do touch someone like that, it’s as though you touch the void within yourself. The space that will be filled with experience and regrets, for a time, is filled only with them.