14 Jun Arata
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Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
Do you ever look back on your early childhood, and wonder which memories are real, and which are fabrications of your overactive imagination? Have you ever had a memory that you think might have been a dream? Our minds are capable of doing terrible things to us, but so are people. I’m not sure which one traumatized me for most of my childhood.
I remember despising kindergarten. I went to Duggan Elementary School in Farner, Tennessee. Naturally, I
hated it. But how I felt about that place by the end of the year went beyond simple loathing. Obscure memories of those days still resurface in my mind from time to time. I remember hearing, and seeing things that I was too young to understand. I just have these vague images and sounds in my head that I can barely recall. I don’t have nightmares
anymore. I guess what scares me most is the memory of how I felt at the time.
Recently, I found an old photo album of my kindergarten year. It took me back in time. I recognized a picture of my teacher. He was an extremely old man who we called Mr. Arata. There was something about him that seemed… well he didn’t seem very child-friendly. He drove a long white van to school every day. It was called it “the stupid van” because the kids all hated him. Mr. Arata was irritable and cross, but he sure knew how to act when he was being watched by other teachers or the principal.
One day, at my house, I remember my mother telling me that one of my classmates had gone missing. She was
watching the news and was, understandably, very upset. When a second child in my class went missing, my mother abruptly pulled me out of school. She told me that she would send me back when it was safe. I thought it was great, not being in school. I was too young to understand what a child’s disappearance could actually mean… too naive
to think about it realistically. I remember that, after a while, I went back. The kids had been found, but they did not go back to school for whatever reason. I heard one of my fellow students tell me that the kids who had disappeared had no recollection of what had happened. She said that they had been “cut open under the belly button and stitched up.” She knew those two kids well. I think her name was Katy or Kitty or something. I just assumed that she was lying through
her teeth. Even as a six-year-old, I wasn’t credulous enough to believe something like that.
Later on in the year, I remember the girl (let’s just call her Katy) talking about how one of the kids who had previously gone missing had passed away. She took a week off from school because of it. Apparently, she had kept in touch with the two kids after they switched schools. Katy said that the child had been sick ever since they found him with no memory. At this point, I thought she was making up more lies to get attention, but she did genuinely seem miserable now that I think of it. Little kids aren’t that great at acting.
I remember that one day, I had a terrible nightmare. The day started out normally. I remember going to lunch, and… I think I remember getting up to leave after the bell had rung to return to class. I’m not sure what happened next because
that’s the last thing I remember before having the nightmare.
Suddenly, I was on a table, strapped down. I could see tinted windows on the narrow walls by my side… everything was pretty dark. I was in a very cramped rectangular room. I just sat there for a moment. Clearly, I remember looking about and feeling the straps on my wrists and ankles. I looked to the side of me, and there was a tray with surgical instruments on it. I did not know how I got there in the first place. I was confused and on the verge of tears. A man dressed like a doctor came to see me. I couldn’t make out his face because it was so dark there. He just looked at me for a moment, then he turned on a bright light that was mounted over top of me – like the kind they use when you go to the dentist. He was wearing a doctor mask and had a blank expression on his face. I was stunned with fear. He casually reached for a scalpel, and grabbed one from the tray. I began screaming and crying. He looked slightly taken back. The man uttered a few words, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
I awoke to the harsh scolding of Mr. Arata. I was lying down asleep on the bleachers in the gym where we would wait for our bus numbers to be called. He was telling me that I had fallen asleep and missed the bus. He took me back to his class,
and called my mother to come pick me up. I started crying as soon as I had time to think about the dream. He didn’t try to comfort me; he didn’t even ask me what my problem was. He just stared at me. I told him that I had experienced a terrible nightmare, and he… he nodded at me… at least, I think he did. My mother spent the whole day trying to reassure me. The most disturbing part is, I usually wake from a nightmare as soon as I began feeling terror. But this… I was screaming and thrashing about for an extended amount of time. It all seemed real.
I was convinced over the years that I had hallucinated. I began getting homeschooled because I was extremely terrified of going back. My parents couldn’t understand how a nightmare could cause someone to have the kind of issues that I had. I had a few dreams about the experience. It wasn’t like I was having a reoccurring nightmare… it was as if these nightmares were much less real than my original nightmare. They were just the original experience in dream form.
They say that the sense of smell is the best way to remember something. Years later, when I was a grown man, I
visited my grandfather in the hospital. There was something about the smell that brought me back. It made me think about that dark room. I went over to my parents’ house and flipped through some of the old photo albums, looking for anything to help ease my curiosity. While I was looking through the photo album, I found a picture of the class and Mr.
Arata . It had some writing on the back, but it wasn’t in English. Arata is a Japanese name, so I guessed that that was what language it was. I knew that one of my Dad’s friends spoke Japanese, so I took the photo to him, and he translated it for me. I looked underneath the original text to see the scribblings that the man had left. The translation said, “I had a great time working on you this school year.”
I went back to the photo album and started rabidly searching through it. I didn’t want my dream to be a reality, but I had to know for sure. There were photos of me performing all kinds of activities. I even found photos of the time
that my mother brought the class cupcakes for my birthday. Almost every picture had Mr. Arata in it, with a stern look on his face. I held one picture in my hand(a picture that my mom took of me during a school play)and it seemed thicker than the others. I noticed tape on the edge of the picture. Two pictures had actually been taped together. I took a knife and cut the two pictures apart. What I saw haunted me. Underneath the regular picture was a picture of a small boy strapped to a table in the dark. I compared the picture with the other ones and… it was me. I looked on the back of the picture of the play (the back was originally facing the picture of me on the table) and it had more Japanese writing on it. I had to sit down. The dread and paranoia was coming back to me. I took the writing to the same man who had translated the first note. He seemed quite confused by what he read.
“I came to this country to continue what I started in Manchuria.”