This is a cardboard box filled with paper cranes that I’ve folded since last summer. This batch started while I was working on my summer apprenticeship for teaching First-Year Composition. There are a couple hundred here, though I haven’t actually counted for an exact number. But I know that I’ve made about 50 or so since last week.
I’ve been folding origami off and on since about eight grade, when I went through a variety of hobbies to find something to do. That was around the same time I became really interested in learning American Sign Language, all of which I have pretty much forgotten except the basic alphabet. But that’s something, right? I used to have a couple of color books that showed easy things to fold: cicadas, boxes, “balloons,” or little people. I always loved folding kabuto (samurai helmets) the most.
My obsession with paper cranes didn’t start until a few years ago, though. It was all part of a grand plan for proposing to my now-husband. You see, in Japan there is a story that if you can fold 1,000 paper cranes, you get to make a wish. My cunning plan was to fold 1,000 and present them to my boyfriend who also loves things like origami.
Once I had picked out the ring, I spent the next several months in my secret alone time (lunch breaks, after work but before he got home, or late into the night) folding these little multicolored birds. Every one brought me one step closer to the best way I could express how much I loved him. I kept a stash of origami paper in the break room at work, and hid another in the closet at home. Any time Charlie wasn’t around, I was folding paper. It was a simple joy of working with my hands, of making something, and of having a purpose.
My plan had been to have a romantic picnic in the park behind our apartment. There were these beautiful little elms with low branches. I was going to string together the cranes and hang them from the branches, leaving a bread crumb-esque trail of cranes from the apartment to the park. And there I would be with my tree filled with paper cranes, lunch, a bottle of wine, and the rings. I would be dressed up to see him, and I would get down on one knee and he would think everything was so beautiful and special that he would cry and just have to say yes.
1,000 paper cranes is, I believe, a show of devotion, and that is the root of the story – if you have the fortitude and stick-to-it-ness to make that many, you can put your mind to anything. Of course, folding 1,000 cranes takes longer than you might think. Some days I could get into a rhythm and fold one in about 3 minutes. Other times, the folds just wouldn’t line up, or I would get distracted and they would take 5 or 10 minutes instead. After several months of this, I had still only managed to make about 300 cranes.
Thankfully I had let some of our friends in on the super secret plan. Days before I had intended to put things into action, I got a call: “You might need to rethink your plan for this weekend. Make it mobile.”
In preparation for this sudden change of circumstance, I told Charlie, “Umm. I need to walk over to work; I, uh, forgot something. I’ll be back shortly!” (I didn’t know until after the fact that he then saw me sneak out to the car and drive away – arousing his suspicion.) I ran to Daiso and did my best to package the cranes and the ring, and to write a letter for him.
Apparently, I hadn’t been the only one planning a surprise: I had forgotten it was my birthday weekend, and Charlie had planned a weekend getaway for us. It was the “Things You Like” weekend, including reuben sandwiches, the King Tut exhibit, dancing, and Hotel Kabuki, which was, as our friends pointed out, a much better theme for a birthday weekend than “Things You Can Hardly Tolerate.”
We had our fun first night, and after dinner we went back to the hotel room. I had lived in Japan for a few years, and so staying at Hotel Kabuki (ostensibly Japan-themed in Japantown) seemed apropos. We were getting changed to go out dancing, and when Charlie came out of the bathroom I was holding a present for him.
“What’s this?” he said. Opening the card, two tiny metallic cranes fell out: one gold and one silver. It said:
“In Japan, there is a belief that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes you get to make a wish. I’ve spent months folding cranes for you, but by the time I made about 300 I realized that you’ve already made all my wishes come true.”
He opened the box and said, “But there are only two cranes here…”
Once he removed the lid, the tightly-packed cranes exploded from the box in a spray of bird-shaped confetti. He dug around inside and pulled out the ring box.
I got down on one knee and asked, “Charlie, will you marry me?”
After two years of marriage, we separated, but only physically. I am back in Georgia working on my PhD. He is in New York working as a researcher. I have another year and a half left of coursework before we can get back together. For now, lots of Skype dates and short visits.
Making the cranes now is like a countdown. By the time I finish the rest of the 1,000 cranes we will be back together, and my next wish will have come true.