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I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard Published in 1995 (paperback).
Written by Ms. Keiko Ochiai Translated by Ms. Kiyomi Kawano and Ms. Miho Tajima
The season in my memory was almost always summer. Especially during my childhood, I even felt as though I had never been in any other season but summer. I came alone to this sea-side resort hotel at the end of summer. After I took a shower arriving at the hotel, I wrote a letter to my mother that I probably will not send out. Sleepiness recedes away slowly. I woke up on a deck chair. The late summer sun was grilling my left body, which was not covered by the beach umbrella. The sun must have moved slightly while I have been dozing off. Since coming to this beach hotel, I have been napping whenever I had a chance and had a dream each time. I think I was dreaming just before. I check my watch that I have left hanging from the arm of the deck chair. It is one forty-five p.m. The pool-side is full of people perfecting their season’s tan rubbing more oil into their bronzed bodies. Looking up at the mousse-like white clouds in the sky through my sunglasses, I recall the letter I mailed out just before leaving for my holiday. And I thought of the man who must have been reading it by now. Hello, As hot days are still on our way, I just wonder how you have been. I am sorry for troubling to visit me twice in Tokyo under this torrid heat. By the way, I felt I could finally have a talk with you the other day. Rather, I should say it was the first time we talked in such a manner. It was my surprise that you showed so much interest in me and my work that I even felt you were trying to make up your indifference toward me thus far. 2
● “You look so similar,” the man in front of me seemingly begun to open his mouth abruptly. Almost one hour had passed since I met the man at a café in the Imperial Hotel. I was sitting in front of the man, who was visiting Tokyo. “You look so similar” The man repeated. The contentment I had detected in his voice made me feel uneasy. What he meant was clear to me, but I did not reply. I was staring at the white tea cup on the table. Rather thin cup and saucer with a design of faint blue vines around the edge look like those which mother had in my childhood. They were her favorite. She cherished the time we had together over English tea and talked to me about the movies and music she enjoyed in her past. Sometimes, she would say, if she had much time, she would like to take piano lessons and take a leisurely trip to a nice beach somewhere in the south. Those were her wishes. Did she share these memories with the man? Or were those her wishes that she would like to spend the time with him? If desires bring life to people, I think, mother must have had her desires then. She is now seemingly drifting her time doing nothing without any desire. She seems to have lost all desires and has even forgotten how to connect today to tomorrow. Staring at the teacup, my mind was reminiscing about mother. “I mean, it is me that kimi (you) take after,” voiced the man once again, with a hint of irritation, somewhat mixed with pleasure, that broke my thoughts about mother.
Kimi….I’m now caught by his word. In fact, I myself was searching for the right word to call him. Has he been doing the same? Maybe the word, kimi, was chosen after a bit of thought. Since I had never been called kimi by any other men, it disturbed me right away. Is there any man who calls his daughter as kimi ? Besides, what kind of a person can call someone by kimi ? The man reached a tall glass of hot milk and drank it slowly as if to savor the liquid. Although he took another sip, the milk did not seem to have lessen somehow. I suddenly remembered the canary and paddy bird I used to keep as a child. The drinking water for them in the plastic cup never appeared to get less by the end of the day. 3
The unbelievable age of this man—eighty-seven—seems to be analogous to the unchanging horizon of milk in the glass. “’I will guarantee your health up to a hundred,’ that is what my doctor told me.” The man changed his subject suddenly and said the one who guaranteed his health was the doctor who was elected to the House of Councilors a couple of years ago. “He owes me a big one. I had lent him a powerful advisor for his election campaign.” He also had been a Diet member once. I suppose, in the world he has lived in, a man and constituency are something that can be lent or borrowed. I thought of it with a slight spitefulness. The man still appeared to possess a great deal of power even though he has now handed over his election district to his son. I was amazed to learn that some people around him still call him as sensei master. I am sure some people have called him that way. But even though he was just repeating someone else’s words, that fact that he recited it as such made me realize that we resided in totally different worlds. This thought brought me a bitter smile on my face. It is no surprise that there exist such people living in such a world. I looked straight up at the man who lives in the world so far away from me. I noticed that his hand, holding the glass, was covered with age spots and thick blue veins, slightly shaking. “Guess how old I look.” He asked me in a pompous tone. He must be used to being told young. In fact, he does look much younger than he is. People who don’t know his age can pass for twenty-years younger than his real age. Then he repeated several times about the operation for subdural hemorrhage he had two years ago. Since then he not only gave up alcohol but drink like coffee as well. Once his ambition used to look out for power and fame but now it is focused on long life. That is what mother has given up long ago, the ambition to live her life fully. The man then described about his breakfast menu. “I try to eat cooked or steamed vegetables, no salad” While listening to the man, I was looking at the lush summer forest of Hibiya Park beyond his shoulders. The sky was getting dark. It seemed as if rain was coming on the way. “Koji, you know” Said the man abruptly again. Whether it was due to his habit or his illness, I don’t know, but he often switched the subject. 4
Koji is his youngest son who is at present a member of the prefectural assembly. He said he is going to make Koji run for a seat in the next Lower House election. One time when I visited the local district where the family lives, I remember seeing Koji’s face on a campaign poster when I happened to visit the town they live. Some may say he is handsome, but I would say he has a typical politician look. That’s how much I remember. The area where his family lives…. That is where my mother was born and raised, and so was I. “I have worked hard to build up my company by myself, but it is difficult to develop it further. I’d rather say it is extremely hard even to keep it going…. Worse still, my kids seem to be promoting its demise….” The man gave a bitter smile. He sounded as if he was proud of his unworthy sons. I, in turn, had a sarcastic smile, interpreting his words in an ironic way. The man talked about several companies that he still owns as a chairman, while his sons and sons-in-law were listed as the board members. Did the man want to see me simply to talk about such issues? I wanted to put an end to this boring meeting anytime now. “…. I have no reason nor duty to put up with all this. Nobody could blame me whenever I get up and leave.” I looked at the man’s face, having obstinate words in my mind. In fact, I would not have agreed to meet him unless I was told that he was eighty-seven and that he had an operation for subdural hemorrhage. Meeting him would not start nor end anything in our relationship. Nothing to begin, nothing to end. To begin with, I was hesitant to meet him for confirming this ambiguous weak tie that couldn’t be named as a relationship. I had this hesitation, to begin with, to meet this man knowing that it would not take us anywhere. In a way, my hesitation, if you will, brought me over here to meet him. But for what, and for whom, does this meeting serve? Besides, I was actually busy this summer and was too tired of tending to other’s jitters. As I looked behind his back, I saw a lightening flashed diagonally over the sky. Rain started pouring down. The smell of rain was wafting into the vast hotel lobby, making the space darker and heavier. I watched him talking with down-cast eyes, pointing at my feet with his forefinger. “Something fell”
An envelope with the publisher’s name was lying on the carpet. I have already marked red on the galley proof inside the envelope. I was scheduled to meet my editor after this meeting. “Come to think of….” I said to myself, suddenly realizing that the marked galley sheets in the manila envelope were in some way related to the man in front of me. My thought left the eighty-seven years old man in front of me. I recalled last night when I was doing the proof-reading. I was interviewed last night by a young woman lawyer, an acquaintance of mine, who is trying to edit a book about illegitimate children. The galley sheets were a transcript of the taped interview we had before. …What I am interested in is only regarding the decisions I had made; that is, what happened after my birth. I have no control over whatever happened before my birth…. The introducing sentence is taken from my words, followed by her remarks. ––Well, I’d like to ask you some very personal questions today, the you-know-what, but when did you realize that you were an illegitimate child? When did you know that you were an illegitimate child? While proof-reading, I made a wry smile, remembering her favorite expression ‘you-know-what.’ She told me she had already did some editing, but I would delete her ‘you-know-what.’ Picking up a red pen in my hand, though, I had a second thought that this expression might be where her vitality comes from. ––Strangely, I just don’t quite remember. I would say, there weren’t any cases or experiences of mine that made me realize illegitimacy was considered negative in our society. Everyone around me, including mother, must have been very careful of this issue, I think. I may have asked mother when I saw a man at my friend’s house coming back home from work and thought he could be the ‘father’ I have seen in a book. In my whole life, it was mother who would come back home from work in the evening. Therefore, I never knew there was such a thing called gender role; that is, men work outside and women at home. But then, is it really true? Didn’t I intentionally fix my memory for my own convenience? I thought again while reading the manuscript. What I said was not a lie. It wasn’t a lie, but something seems to slip out from words. ––But you’d find a mother and father in children’s books, right? ––I must have thought ‘father’ as a ‘in the book. But it was a WOW experience for me to learn that there actually exists a ‘father’ in the real world. At least in my real world, 6
‘he’ didn’t exist. You see, especially in your childhood, you would make out the outside world through the lens of your reality, wouldn’t you? ––Did your mother, for instance, tell you that your father had died or he had been somewhere else? ––That’s another thing I don’t quite remember…. I might have got mixed up but, I may have asked her at some point why I didn’t have a father. I did not finish kindergarten. I dropped out of it after two weeks. I’d been teased about not having a father, though it must have been a childish fight or some sort…. I was teased by other kids for not having a father and felt humiliated, though my memories are rather vague. Though my memory of that time is fragmented, mother explained that in the most cases there are a mother and a father in what we call a family. It is just the matter of a number. In our household, however, there is no father. Ours is different from others, but this is how it is for us. This may have been what she explained, although the words may not be the same. Did mother really say so? Or was this an explanation I wanted to hear from mother but never got to hear nonetheless in such a way that I got fully satisfied?
Am I taking
my subconscious wish for her words, which in fact she had never said? ––So, your mother explained the situation thoroughly? ––Yes. Later on, she said something like this: “Anyway, people may think my life is extraordinary, deviating from the mainstream, but the thing is, I really wanted to have you.” I remember the interviewer saying that there are books written by un-wed mothers talking about their lives, but none from the daughters’ point of view. She said she wanted this book to offer a material for discussion and give a positive influence on children and adults who have experienced prejudice…. She would have said so. ––Did your mother know what she was doing by having you outside of marriage? As a ‘convinced criminal,’ so to speak? ––Well, I wish she was a ‘convinced criminal,’ but not totally. Since she basically had an old education, I don’t think it was solely her decision to become an unwed mother. Most likely, there was a reason that she couldn’t marry the man of her child. Besides, it was right in the middle of the second World War…. As a result of all these factors which were out of her control, she chose to have me out of wedlock. That’s how I see it. It can be said that she became a ‘convinced criminal’ only after she got pregnant and decided to have me. –– So, your mother told you that she wanted to have you, and then did she explain any further? 7
––It’s not really clear to me, but with the fragmented memories I have, combined with what mother told me in my childhood, as well as what I heard from her friends…the following is what I have concluded out of my imagination. “This is mother’s privacy which even her child shouldn’t get into it. What I am responsible is after my birth, not before it. I think it is unfair if I step in any further” In a sense, I didn’t want to let it bother me. I thought it was useless to ask about what went on before my birth which I can’t take any responsibility, which wasn’t my decision, and was not even a part of my life. So, I just let it pass without sticking my nose in it. Now that I think of it, mother may have wanted to talk more about it. About the man she had loved and about why she chose to have me. I am the one who shut it all out. I liked it that way during my teens and twenties. I think I was probably trying to act mature. I thought it was fair, but mother may have wanted to talk with me more. ––She was a good mother, wasn’t she? ––Yes, she certainly was. However, to remain a good mother, for my sake, and for her circumstances, she must have closed the door for various opportunities and possibilities. Anyway, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that, being a ‘good mother’ or a ‘bad mother.’ ––Putting aside what you mean by “good mother,” as a daughter, I often felt painful to look at mother because she was trying too hard to be a “good mother.” But as for “father,” I can only put him like this. Say that there is a chair somewhere in the house and one day it suddenly disappears. You would of course notice its absence. But if the chair was not there to begin with, you wouldn’t miss it. The same can be said about a picture on the wall. I never had a father, so I didn’t miss him at all. It may sound un-natural but it is completely natural to me. What could be un-natural for one person could be natural for another. In the environment in which I grew up, not having a father was natural. Therefore, when I actually did meet my father, I couldn’t welcome him as a ‘father’. It was like “Oh….hello” (laughter). Even when I am speaking as I am now, I use phrases like ‘the man who should be my father’ or ‘that person.’ I can’t make myself say ‘my father.’ Friends from school told me that I am too self-conscious. But for me, the word ‘father’ makes me feel uncomfortable…. Even though he is certainly my biological ‘father,’ to me it is no more than just ‘blood.’ I have no memories us living together so I don’t consider him my ‘father’…. I felt nothing toward him, neither disgust nor rejection, both of which requires a certain intensity of feelings. I would rather say that it was exactly the source of my anxiety back then. Emotions such as hate, anger, and rejection would expect something in return from the other, wouldn’t it? But why don’t I have any of those feelings? Am I all right? After it has been passed some years of decade. When we met after several decades, I realized how old he had become when I saw his back. 8
Not he as an individual but as a person of old age. That’s the only feeling I had toward him. Just that. I did feel a little something to him not he as an individual but as a person facing old age when I turned around to catch a shape of his back. ––Is he still alive? ––Yes. ––How old is he? ––Over eighty, I suppose. I didn’t know his exact age at the time of this interview. ––He sure is old! I laughed again. “Is he still alive?” and “He sure is old!” I laughed and was surprised by her honest straight responses. ––What does he do? ––He has run several companies, but I think he’s retired now. ––Is he an influential person or anything like that? ––He used to be a politician. ––A politician? At what level? ––He was a member of the House of Councilors. Wasn’t this supposed to be the interview for me? What kind of relationship is there between his work and me at present? Though wondering, I continue to respond to her question. However, …I sort of feel awkward on the issue. Although publishing this book was meant to oppose discrimination toward illegitimate children, how much of its purpose do these questions serve, I wonder? ––I don’t care what he does. But if I may, I do care about my mother. And What’s more, the way she lived her life that gave me a chance to think about “the women’s issues,” plus the conditions of other women that I saw through her life. I can only see him as a man whom mother loved. That which their relationship intertwines has nothing to do with myself. I can’t put up myself on the same line. ––Considering that he was a powerful politician, was their relationship widely known in the area? ––I think he got into politics after I was grown up.…But what does this have to do with me? I thought of myself if the woman really understood what I meant. What I’m saying is, whoever he is and whatever he does have nothing to do with me. ––So, you didn’t get involved at all? 9
––How could I? One thing I know for sure is she loved him very much. It was probably her first and last love. Whether mother had a full life or not, I don’t know, nor do anyone, but women tend to lead such a life, you know. In order to take her responsibility on her choice, women are likely to close out other possibilities. There must be many such circumstances in other cases, I believe. ––Did you experience something disturbing or any kind of discrimination in college because of your birth? ––Not in particular. Rather, I remember feeling aghast to learn that the male students in the 60’s, who talk of revolution and ideal new society still held on to very old-fashioned attitudes toward women. In my opinion, these attitudes and discrimination against illegitimate children are all on the same line. What I mean is the way bias, illusion, and myth are created, imbibed, and eventually control human consciousness. Discriminatory and distorted views toward women share the same root. I think it was easier for me to recognize this fact because I am an illegitimate child. ––Did you for instance talk about this matter with your boyfriend? ––Yes, I did. But when he said “Oh, that must have been tough,” on the surface, I laughed. But in fact, I was depressed. Laughing I felt surely depressed. It’s not that I felt awkward because of the negative image people project toward an illegitimate child, but rather, the way people overreact based on their own assumption toward me. For instance, after they learned my situation, they would avoid talking about my father…. Come to think of it, though, I was doing the same thing to my mother. Bringing up the topic or not would not make any difference, I think, but I had done just that to mother myself. ––You never felt antipathy or resentment towards your mother? ––What I felt from my childhood was that mother had her own life, and I was solely interested in mine. But I did have certain heart-rending feelings toward mother. That is, “why did she try to be so perfect, both as a mother and as a working woman….” As I understand, it was her way of confronting the world, but why such intensity? I wanted her to enjoy life and take it easy, you know. Because mother sought perfection, I, in turn, seemed to have an obsession to be a perfect daughter during my teens and twenties. My girlfriends who grew up in a similar situation would tell me that they hated their wild mothers, but I wanted my mother to be wilder, on the contrary. It’s like negative and positive images. Either way, daughters tend to ask too much from their mothers, as a same-sex role-model. ––Did you have anything like a confrontation, so to speak, with your mother? That would make a story more exciting. Unfortunately, there weren’t any because I 10
avoid the issue. ––She would have given me more information if I’d asked for a ‘thorough disclosure.’ But I’m the one who rejected it. It was me who rejected not to know the information. Suppose my mother had tried to hide all the information, then I would have had a confrontation with mother. ––That means you were considerate to your ‘wise’ mother? ––It is more accurate to say that I had a mixed feeling of sympathy and irritation to a woman who tried too much to become an ‘ideal’ mother. Since I myself didn’t want sympathy from others, I, in turn, didn’t want to sympathize nor glorify her—that’s how I convinced myself. This is it that I kept saying to myself. By so doing, I thought, I could show my faithfulness to mother. ––It seems that the relationship between you and your mother is rather like that between two individuals. ––Maybe so. It is, as a result of my effort, trying to establish such individualized relationship. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve found myself treading my own path away from that of my mother and the man, who happens to be my father. ––When I was in my teens, I had this impulse to shake my mother’s shoulders and ask her if she was really happy in marriage. This was during my rebellious years. Didn’t this happen to you? ––I guess there was a time when I felt strongly that she should be more flexible, instead of being so rigid. Besides…no matter how attractive he was, I won’t, or rather couldn’t love the man who went back and forth between two women. ––Are you trying to say your mother should have had better taste in a man? I said to myself “What? ‘Better taste in a man’? I knitted my eye winced a little for a moment as she didn’t notice how I reacted, ––‘Better taste in a man’ doesn’t sound nice to me. I cannot come up with a better expression, but even if I ended up falling in love with a man like that, I would break off that relationship in the end. I cannot tell, though, when, where, and how I would fall in love like that. ––Wouldn’t it be true that it’s a rebel against your father? ––I am not criticizing her choice; I’m simply saying I cannot love a person like that. ––Suppose your best friend got a boyfriend, and this time she had a ‘bad taste.’ Would it be like that? –– I don’t know if the word ‘taste’ appropriate in this situation. I cannot say such a thing even to my best friend. It’s totally up to her, isn’t it? I’m simply saying I wouldn’t do it. 11
––So, you never asked your mother like why she had shut down all her possibilities? –– No, not that I know of. –– Then you were able to put these things in order within your mind, sort of? –– I don’t know if I was actually able to put them in order or if I was just thinking so. –– Before I found out much later that you were an illegitimate child, As I knew that you joined a radio network and became a popular newscaster. I was wondering if your father, as a politician, had something to do with it or not. Is she suggesting that I got my job through nepotism? Then it occurred to me that she was implying I used his connections to get a job. Her question made me irritated so much. That is just her suspicion –– When you, a lawyer, try to build up your career in legal circles, would it be helpful to you if your father was a veteran of the Bar? ––I see what you mean. ––Radio network and political circles have nothing to do with each other. At least in the sense what you meant. ––I am sorry to be so nosy. ––It’s not that you are nosy, but the way you see things would foster prejudice, don’t you think? –– I am sorry. ––Well, I was just shocked to learn that a lawyer like you, who is tackling with discrimination against illegitimate children, would speak with such an awful bias. Wouldn’t it be a slander or violation to human rights, something that you always criticize? I looked up at her child-like face. ––Excuse me for being blunt, but may I ask, did being an illegitimate child give you a negative or positive impact? I said to myself that it is not a blunt but just a stereotypical question. The questions made me so surprised and irritated that I became a bit spiteful. However, to give it another thought, perhaps she had intentionally chosen these stereotypical questions so that everybody could understand. It’s her way to explain legal jargon to ordinary people. That is how I should take it that way. ––I don’t know. That would be the same as asking me whether my birth itself was good or bad. I don’t live life as an illegitimate child but as myself, as an individual person. I found myself as if I was speaking in English... A bitter smile welled up inside of me. 12
––It’s impossible to imagine if my life would have been different depending on whether I was or was not born an illegitimate child. There are times when I feel happy that I was born and times when I don’t. I never try to make some relationship between being an illegitimate child and not being so. Of course, I try to make more frequently happy times on my life. Of course, I want to live a happy life as much as possible. Anyway, at present, the illegitimate issue is not a big concern to me. –– What you are saying is after you were born, right? –– Well what else can I talk about? “Perhaps your mother loved me much more than my wife did.” The lobby of the Imperial Hotel was crowded with people seeking shelter from a sudden rain. “I wish you’d tell that to my mother directly. It doesn’t make any sense for me to hear that.” I answered. After saying this, a thought occurred to me that I was meeting him because mother asked me to. “Your father wants to meet you.” That is how I end up meeting him all the time. “You should be the one to go, Mother.” “No way….” There was no way that mother, who was suffering from obsessive-compulsive neurosis and couldn’t even go to a grocery store herself, would be able to meet him at the hotel lobby. So, that is why I end up coming instead. He repeated the same-old question again. “How do you think you came into this world?” I suppose the man wanted to let me know that it was half his doing, with a help of nature and genes. I have no intention of discussing the moment of an egg and sperm with him. “I am the one who created by myself. Besides, you have nothing to do with my becoming ME” I should have answered as such but rather held back the words. I stared back at the man once again. He turned his face away from me and started to speak slowly in a low voice. “I remember the times I used to visit your mother…. But now you are sitting there shattering my romantic memories into pieces.” “Memories are sweet for everybody…especially for a successful person like you.” “So, you see me successful?” 13
“Doesn’t everybody say so?
What is the definition of success in life…. You and I
would draw different designs, anyway. “Would it be my respect toward an eighty-seven-year old? Or toward a man who is ‘father’? “I didn’t think any further.” “Why don’t you get married? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a child of your own with your bloodline?” “Does he want to see me as successful as he is? Is he trying to say that I should transmit his successful bloodline? To a person who makes ends meet by writing?” “I may not be obsessed by the bloodline. Even if one is related by blood, I don’t believe love will grow without sharing a life together.” “Are you being sarcastic with me?” “Not really. I am giving you an honest answer.” I noticed that his eyes became nervous. “People may be watching us,” said he. “Don’t worry. In your home town you may be well-known but here in Tokyo, you are not” But I remained silent. Did mother also have a moment with the man, whose eyes looked always nervous? “How is Harue-san?” He called mother by her given name. “Nothing is changed” “I wonder why she got that problem” He knew that she suffered from obsessive-compulsive neurosis. “Was it partially because of me?” The man asked. Did he feel guilty, responsible for causing mother‘s nervous breakdown? Or did he want to be absolved from all guilt? “Probably”, said I.” Yes, probably so. I knew it was something even my mother couldn’t answer. Her excessive fear towards ‘un-cleanliness.’ “I wonder why this happened to me. I wish I could take everything out of my head and wash it all in water.” Mother was in great pain for years. But, she couldn’t find the cause of it by herself. The man called a waiter and ordered his milk.
“Milk is very good. It was 1946 when Koji was born. You could have found almost nothing at the time right after the end of war. I went everywhere to find a milk shop that could deliver milk.” I’ve heard the story repeatedly. I was born one year before, and according to mother, was raised by soybean and sweet potato juice instead of milk. I am very healthy thanks to lecithin from soybeans and fiber from sweet potatoes. “I too drank two bottles every day. This may be the reason why I am still healthy at the age of eighty-seven” Has he ever loved my mother? Once he said it was consensual; it sounded like a rape suspect. “Mother has lived for forty years with this burden you buried in the past.” This slipped out of my lips as I thought of mother continuously washing the dishes and wiping the table until she felt satisfied. “When my family found out our relationship, my wife left home for two months and my daughter didn’t come home for nine days.” I don’t think the depth of a problem can be measured by the time spent worrying about it. “You listen…. Mother has been suffering for forty-five years.” “Everyone makes a mistake in life.” “Are you saying that the relationship with my mother was a mistake?” “No, I didn’t mean that…” “Well, I shouldn’t get mad at you because it’s mother who loved you, not me, you know?” What a dull man.
I just couldn’t make out exactly what quality in this man
attracted mother. Of course, it is natural that a man whom I love is not necessarily loved by any other person. It may be that someone loves someone can be very personal matter from third party. Maybe love is just that. But, as far as I know, I would definitely not fall in love with this man.
Deck chairs are arranged like a radiant ray of the sun around the pool. Sunbathers are constantly shifting the chairs around, trying to get as much sun as possible during their short vacation period. I am watching them half asleep. 15
When I first got to the hotel, I found out the following morning at around 6:00 am that the guests would compete aggressively over the pool-side deck chairs. The bright morning sun awakened me. I strolled out on the terrace to look at the golden ocean. A few employees appeared in the patio of the swimming pool, each carrying a long-handled skimmers. They skimmed the water surface back and forth, trying to catch the bugs that fell into the pool over night. That seemed to be their first chore of the day. The chair grabbing tournament by the guests was already under way. By the time the dining room was buzzing with people having breakfast, the backs of the deck chairs were covered with colorful patches of beach towels, claiming ownership for the day. So, I was pretty lucky to find a vacant chair as soon as I rushed out to the pool, having finished my brunch. It was an unexpected gift from a young couple, who were flirting each other until the very last moment for checkout. At any rate, I couldn’t put my hands on the papers to start my work. Of course, I did not totally forget about it; I knew I had to come up with a plot or two for my novel. But instead, I kept reading and writing letters that made my time slip by. As if to shake off my works from my mind, I turned around on a deck chair and covered my face with an open book. Only the bustle at the pool remained in my consciousness and suddenly I heard a thunderbolt. ● A blue lightning bolt streaked across the far sky, followed by thunder. ‘The hill we two visited was a hilltop with the view of the bay…. I heard a popular song coming from the radio. I was five years old back then and was looking at four legs pacing quickly back and forth in front of me. The legs belonged to my two aunts. I saw them with my Shiba dog, Chiro, underneath the engawa veranda. I knew they were looking for me. But I was hiding there holding my breath, grabbing my dog’s collar tightly so that he did not jump out. 16
They were wearing their navy-blue school uniforms, dressed identically, with pleated skirts, socks, and sneakers. I could tell which one was older and which was younger. The four legs continued pacing back and forth in the garden, where the persimmon flowers had fallen on the ground. They went out from the back-door and just came back in. “She isn’t anywhere.” “She was here just a while ago.” “Chiro’s gone too.” “I wonder what happened?” Chiro, that had his head resting on his paws, whipped his tail several times against the ground when he heard his name. While laying on my belly on the cool ground with Chiro, I quickly grabbed on to his collar once again. I felt a blast of air sweeping through the porch. The older aunt’s feet paused within inches of Chiro’s shining nose, as if she had suddenly thought of something. Chiro once again wagged his tail. “I met her at the entrance just a while ago.” Through the thin boards just above my head came a male voice, a voice which was seldom heard in this house. I tensed up, still holding tightly onto Chiro’s neck. Shortly, big feet in black socks came stamping down on the big stone steps. They were the feet of the man who tapped my shoulder and smiled at me just a while ago when I was playing under the azalea bush by the front door. I had shook myself free from those hands, darted through the house, and into the space under the house where I was now hiding. The big feet came down hard onto the geta sandals and the toes slid into the crimson thongs. “Those are my mommy’s!” I almost let out my voice. The big feet with heels sticking out from my mother’s geta took several big steps around the garden. Under his steps were the persimmon flowers being crushed. The man was trampling the flowers under foot. With a deep indignation, I was watching mama’s geta worn by the big feet. I was concerned about my mother, who was overly sensitive about others using her things. As if my thoughts had been heard, the big feet threw off mother’s geta. Instead, the man put on his leather shoes, which my aunt had carefully 17
placed side-by-side. Then he went out through the wooden rear gate and never returned. There lies, on the crushed persimmon flowers, my mother’s geta flipped upside down. I was looking at it from underneath the porch.
The book lied open on my face. I kept dozing off. Squeak, squeak, squeak. The sound came from nearby. I looked up without getting up, just lifting the book off my face. A little girl was walking briskly, with her body slightly leaning forward. The squeaking sound like a baby bird chirping was coming from her small red sandals. They squeaked every time she took a step. Squeak, squeak, squeak. An elderly woman with her thin red hair wearing a muumuu dress caught up the little girl and grabbed her elbow. The girl twisted her well-tanned bony little shoulders and got away. Now that she was free again, she ran away with her hands holding onto the tube around her waist. The woman in muumuu chased after the girl with her arms wide open. Then a young woman in a beachwear came running after the elderly woman. Obviously, she was the little girl’s mother. “Mother.” The young woman soon gave up the chase and called out to the woman in muumuu. “Don’t give her any sweets or ice-cream no matter how much she asks you. She’ll be too full to eat dinner.” Guessing by the way they talked so casually, I imagine they were mother and daughter, not in-laws. ● “Mother.” My mother admonished my grandmother. On top of my chocolate parfait, grandma spooned over some mandarin oranges and cherries from her dessert. My parfait was already piled high with oranges and cherries on top of ice-cream covered with chocolate syrup. 18
Already covered with all these fruits, grandmother was trying to fork over a slice of banana now. Mother had caught her in the act. She screamed at grandmother, “Mother!” The forked banana remained up in the air. Kids of my relatives with stiff white cotton hats were watching the scene from the other side of the table. The kids were sitting shoulder to shoulder darted envious glances back and forth from grandmother to mother, to myself, and to mandarin oranges and cherries in my parfait glass to the fork, to banana on to grandmother’s hand holding the fork. It was only during my childhood that I felt proud of being treated as a favored grandchild. Soon it became my burden with a feeling of embarrassment. Grandmother was not concerned at all how uncomfortable I felt to be given a few pieces of mandarin oranges more than any other kids. That was her way all the time. She wanted to treat me as a special child especially when I was with those kids.
“Excuse me.” After the words are repeated several times, I finally noticed someone was talking to me. “Would you please take our picture?” It was a request from a family who occupied a big bright beach umbrella, next to me. I put my book down and got up from my deck chair. “Sorry to interrupt your sleep.” A young father asked me without hesitation. Twin boys, a wife and the husband. The four of them posing for the picture. I placed them in the center of the view finder, with the swimming pool in their background. ● “Here, right over here!” Grandmother was urgently beckoning me with her hands. “Hurry, Come here.”
I felt like I wanted to go shy away when grandmother called me like that. I should have run away before her call. I always thought of it only after I got caught by her eyes and voice since I was slow to catch onto what she wanted. “Here! Come here. You shouldn’t keep everyone waiting.” Grandmother kept calling me. She was placing herself in the center of all the relatives gathered together for a photo session in front of an old-fashioned bellows camera mounted on a tripod. “Hurry, hurry!” She would not stop calling me until I placed myself exactly where she was pointing. Photo sessions were always like this. Grandmother would draw me up into the center next to her. “Don’t be so slow!”. When I sensed in my grandmother’s voice a slight irritation that could only be noticed by someone living together with her, I became obedient automatically and fit myself in the place. I, among the children of the relatives, always looked down or looked somewhere else in the pictures. It was a way for me to express my resistance at the best of my ability, a childish dissatisfaction. “My goodness, you are really naughty.” The photographs made grandmother happy despite my resentment. I detested to look at those photographs and never put them in my photo album.
It was now in the middle of the day and pool-side appeared less crowded. I gazed absent-mindedly at the little girl in the red sandals still being chased by her grandmother. Today if my grandmother were here by this pool and if someone suggested a photo session, grandmother would most likely to place me, now a forty-five-year-old granddaughter, in the front row center, just like before. By this time, though, I have enough affection to feel for my grandmother, who could only express her love that way. Nevertheless, this sudden flashback made me snicker and a bit uneasy. 20
● “I wonder whom this child took after.”
Grandmother was angry. Once she got angry, she would infuriate her anger herself. It was all because of me. On the engawa at the beginning of spring, there was a baby chick sitting tenderly in my hands. It was warm and shivering. Among all the chicks that had hatched, only this one had black feathers. It was my favorite. For the same reason that grandmother loved me, I loved the black chick that was different from others. But grandmother promised this boy from the neighborhood to give it away without my consent. “I don’t want to give the chick away!” I protested. The boy was the one who kept teasing me and playing tricks on me. Once he’d even put torimochi (bubble gum) in my hair. I had to cut my short bob hair even shorter around the back. “You guys didn’t send out no soldier during the war, did you?” I didn’t really get what he meant at that moment. But remarks like this seemed to upset grandmother enormously. This was probably why she was trying to ease him. “Be nice and play with her please.” Grandmother said to him when he came over to get a chick. The boy gave an ambiguous nod. But I insisted. “I don’t have to play with him.” I don’t want to give my precious chick away just to have the boy play with me. I’d rather want to give it to someone of my choice. Whether good or bad I don’t know, but I was a child who could recognize humiliation since young. I didn’t want to go out of my way to give up my chick just to play with him. In a way, I hated the way grandmother was behaving to go along with the world. “Stubborn girl! Just give it to him.” Grandmother was now seriously angry. “No!” The boy stood by the back gate, wiping his nose on his sleeve and watched this exchange between grandmother and myself. “It’s okay now. I don’t want the chick.” Finally, he sighed and ran off. 21
Actually, I didn’t mind giving it away to him. If grandmother had not intruded, I probably would have. Watching his sweater moving away from me, I took hold of the chick a bit stronger.
The boy had no father. I once heard that his father was drafted and died in some island. As these memories came flooding back, I heard again the the chirp of a chick. Squeak, squeak, squeak. It was coming from the same girl in red sandals, running around by the swimming pool. She was making yet another round and apparently was never getting bored. I took my sunglasses off, still lying on the deck chair looking up at the blue sky. It was only a week ago that I decided to take a trip to a resort hotel. I wonder how many phone calls I had made to make a reservation. Just when I was about to give up, I found this hotel which opened last year. It took me four and a half hours to drive through the jammed streets in Tokyo. After passing through several small fishing harbors, I began to feel anxious about my destination. Then all of a sudden, a group of big Mediterranean style buildings appeared in the midst of pine trees. White buildings with orange rooftops were scattered in a spacious ground, and each building was connected by the corridor with pendant lights hanging from the ceiling. The maisonette-type cottage that I am staying is located at the end of the courtyard by the swimming pool. There are four tennis courts behind it. The unhappy mixture here and there of the styles from a classical traditional resort on the one hand and a casual city-hotel on the other makes this place look more shabby. That said, nevertheless, I should feel lucky that I was able to reserve a room during this peak season. 22
I brought my work here anyway. But I wanted to be the laziest guest in this hotel. Besides, this is my first vacation in a long while. In my room there are two rattan semi-double beds. They are covered by the bed spreads with tropical fishes, flowers, and birds scattered around on the sky/ocean blue background. I picked one and slept in all the time. Whether on a chair by the ocean-view window or on the sundeck by the swimming pool, or on the sofa placed at the corner of an empty piano parlor, I would either read books, watch the ocean through the window, or sleep. Wherever I am, slight sound of waves entices me to drift off. I haven’t finished reading any of the books I brought with me. Marks from fingerprints made from the suntan oil dot the cover of a book lying on my face. Reclining on the deck chair, I stretch my arms out trying to reach my drink on the table under the umbrella. It is probably the mid-summer sun that makes people lazy. “I bet you are a hard worker.” The man’s remark floated back in my mind. “That too is what we resemble,” perhaps that was what he wanted to say. It seems as if he wanted to remind me that all of my good characteristics were inherited from him. I was trying hard not to laugh at his remarks. Then gradually I got cooled down. “I work hard when I have to and chill out whenever I can, said I. I answered him so. If we have to choose only one way or the other, then the life would get boring. I became stiff in front of him. I took a sip of sangria. Diluted by the melting ice, the red wine only left sweetness on my tongue. I slowly put the drink down on the table and picked up my book. The afternoon passes in a tranquilizer climate. Once again, I was overcome by sleepiness. During the nap, I had a dream in which I was somewhere in the South sea under the bright afternoon sun. A boat is floating in the middle of the ocean. There I saw a rosy egg at the bottom of the boat. The dream was just that. 23
I have rose-colored eggs in my mind. As for the rosy egg, it must be coming from the story I read yesterday about an ostrich named Lea. It was an essay written by a former zoo director describing the eggs that were ‘crying’ before hatching. One day he heard an unfamiliar sound coming from the incubator. He thought that one of Lea’s eggs must have hatched and looked for a baby chick. But the chick was nowhere to be found; all he saw was cream-colored eggs lining up in a row. To his surprise, however, the cries were actually coming from these eggs. The embryos inside were crying to each other through the thick shell. There was an exchange of cries between mother sitting on the eggs and unhatched eggs. The chirping within the eggs was said to continue for twenty to thirty hours before hatching. The exchange would deepen the bond between mother and embryos and work as a signal when to hatch. If the mother does not hear the cries of her unborn chicks, she would attack them when they hatch and peck them to death. That is what the essay was all about. Now let me return to my dream again…. The rosy egg was placed on the seat of the boat. There was no wind. The pale ocean was glittering like golden sparks reflecting the sunlight. Soft tapping sounds of the waves lapped against the edge of the boat, and seagulls were noisily flying above the sky with white clouds, far away at the offshore. I found myself sleeping inside the rose-colored egg with my knees cuddled up. The egg was drifting on top of the waves with me sleeping inside. A therapist might listen patiently to my dream and help me analyze its hidden meanings. Everyone but me would be satisfied with the analysis. But I would not accept it for sure. To begin with, the question of how I have become who I am…. The ailment that is called ‘self-consciousness’…. I seem to be stuck by the word, self-consciousness, since after I once found it in a therapy book. 24
It is true that ‘self-consciousness’ is now ubiquitous. Everyone is too self-conscious and never go of the string to it once they hold it in their hands. The excess self-consciousness seems to sneak into everyone’s unconsciousness. I painfully recall one of my girlfriends. Bare delicacy. Naked sensitivity. All these are offered to me under the name of virtuous, faithful, and determined friendship. Her vulnerability binds me up and suffocates me. “I won’t bother you. Please let me stay by you.” Sending me a card with such words, she makes me shudder from embarrassment. Her entreaty, because of her weakness, can work as a threat or weapon. But I don’t want to be protected nor protect someone. ‘I cried this morning dreaming of you going away to a remote place.’ When I saw the card from her with an illustration of violets, I felt a pang of anger. How could she discharge her feelings like this? How could she allow herself to do this, to reveal her innermost feelings so blatantly? Grandmother was just like her. So were my aunts. And so was my mother although she tried very hard to hide it. All of these women love someone in order to be loved. They ask for love in return for the love they have given. Women who love too much. Dependency syndrome called by the name of love. Excess and lack. My friend’s excessive love may come from her lack of being loved? I slowly lifted my upper body from the deck chair. The branches of sweet oleander bush draped down just above my head. From the speakers hidden in the shadows of the branches, came the mellow sound of bossa nova. 25
Suddenly, I found myself petrified on the deck chair. I was overwhelmed by the excess feelings and lost control of my body. And I knew that this had happened to me before. Recently, I have been captured unexpectedly by the apparition of my friend. “If you were, what do you do?” “So, what would you do?” said she, her almond eyes glaring at me. That was a few days before I left on my vacation, which, by the way, I did not tell her at all, knowing that she would otherwise bombard me with such questions as who I’d go with, where to, how she could contact me, etc. I didn’t tell her about my vacation. Who do you spend with?, where do you go?, and what is your contact address?. She facilitates our conversation like that, I know. I’d rather say she should turn her interest more toward herself instead. I can never say directly to her, “I don’t like the way you behave….” I always get frustrated to find a weakness in my inner-self when I think about her. Wherever I was and whatever I was doing, I always felt her inquiring eyes for the last few years. The occasional weaknesses that she demonstrated deterred me from giving her an ultimatum. At the same time, it can be said that it is my own weakness as well. She needs my support…. By so doing, I drive myself into nowhere. My own weakness itself. Why do I become so weak when I face the weak? She is a kind of person who takes her weakness for granted and takes advantage of it. I always get swooped by her superficial weakness, overwhelmed by the obstinate nerve she exhibits to me. It is as though a daughter cannot leave her sick mother exactly because of her weakness. Also, a mother with an unhappy daughter cannot desert her, thinking that she is half responsible for the daughter’s unhappiness. 26
She entwines around me like a vine. I would end up finding myself entwined by her. What horrifies me is not only her vulnerability, introversion, and sensibility but rather, her self-consciousness that she never doubted as her character by herself. “If you were me, what would you do?” She was toying in coquetry with a sugar packet for coffee with her pinky finger sticking up, repeating the same question. I cried in my mind. What do you really want to do? That is something you would have to decide. Why do you always let me share your problem? All your emotions, all your senses, and all your logics! I swallowed awkwardly those words that almost came up to my throat. She was in trouble with this man she had been seeing. The man put pressure on her to sleep with him. She was asking me what to do. “If you want to sleep, sleep with him but if not then to tell him so.” I could only say so. Why does she have to ask such a simple question to me? It was slightly different from a sexual harassment case in the workplace. She didn’t apprehend this slight difference. The man was not her boss nor her colleague; they just happened to meet at her favorite bar. She could just turn him down. And above all, why did she keep seeing him? There was no connection whatsoever except the fact that they had met at her favorite bar accidently and began to speak each other. Why then must she suffer that much, why does she have to suffer so much for a man she just met at a bar? I’ve got no idea. “So, I told him I won’t be able to see him anymore if he says things like that.” She said to me somewhat unclearly. I won’t see you anymore if…? Does this sound like a refusal? If he doesn’t demand such things, will she continue seeing him? 27
“Something seems strange to me. You don’t want to see him, do you? Or you want to see him but not sleep? Whatever it is, you must deliver your message clearly to him.” Women cannot say no even when they feel so, that is true. Women are bound by what the Japanese culture imposes on them. Precisely for that we women try to raise the question. Right? But that is precisely why we are raising the question. You too are one of them, aren’t you? You have involved in women’s lib much sooner than I. I’ve got no idea why a person like you cannot raise your voice! That person like you couldn’t say no, why? There seems to be no reason why you are troubled. If you don’t want to sleep with him, then don’t see him. Still, if you cannot forgive his rudeness, then you can call him names or slap him at the face in front of public. Even between lovers, even if you invite a man into your room, a rape is a rape and a sexual harassment is a sexual harassment. Even a seventy-seven year old woman with seven grandchildren could encounter a sexual harassment. But your case is different. You just made it fuzzy by not refusing clearly. And you carry on the unnecessary burden. For what? Why do you have to draw a trouble to yourself and jump right into it? She does not get my anger. “If you were me, how would you say no? How do you refuse without hurting his feelings?” Not hurting his feelings? You are the one who is hurt. Refuse him in a way that the message gets across. Otherwise it isn’t a refusal. “But he must have his own pride” “Think about your own self-esteem rather than worrying his. Nothing is more humiliating than to be seen as a slut by a jerk. Why do you have to respect his self-esteem over yours? I am confused because I think I shouldn’t hurt her. But no, it is not right. Treating her that way would eventually hurt her. Under the disguise of friendship, I have cared too much, covered up, and turned my eyes away from….
I must deliver my message…. Otherwise, I have to repeat the same story over and over again. Otherwise, both of us will get hurt. Confusion. And self-hatred. You try to control someone with your own weakness. Knowing that my fury would eventually blow up, I could not but support her. That is excellent dependency and co-dependency. Isn’t this a perfect example of dependence and codependence? Yes, that’s right; I am her accomplice. “So how can I refuse?” She asks me. “I’ve got an idea” cried I, desperately. I was so frustrated with her, almost to a point of exploding explosion and cried in a half desperation. “I’ll sleep with anyone but you!” “No way!” She chuckled ha, ha, ha, shaking her shoulders left to right. With desperation, anger and despair, I made a laugh. Right, I could not help laughing again. But this is not right. I must tell her honestly how I feel. If I can’t tell her, I’d better write a letter to her. I can write a letter. I have tried to write her letters to her many times before but have not mailed any of them. I have tried many times before, but this time, for sure, I must mail it once and for all. Dear Y-san, Sorry for not writing back sooner. All I can say is to take good care of your own self-esteem! I have been campaigning against sexual harassment. But to be honest with you, I doubt that your case can be classified as such. Up until now, society has perpetuated the myth that women want to sleep with men and that if men push hard, then women will most likely respond. If your situation was like this, then your case may have applied as harassment. However, you had a choice at the least. You don’t seem to speak your opinion even among women. I have been wondering about your attitudes on everything and anything. After you told me about your childhood that you were 29
always watching out for other people, and that you felt uneasy between your father-in-law and mother, I thought I saw what you meant. For a helpless child like you, that was the only behavior you could take. Still, I wonder why you didn’t try to change your behaviors up until now? It would be too unfair if our life was decided by all that we could not choose. It is impossible for a three-year-old to choose the environment in which they live. What you told me about your mother is still clear to me inside. I think I can now articulate the rough feelings that I could not make out back then. “…my mother decided to remarry solely for my sake. She married a man she felt nothing about just for the sake of my carrier and marriage.” So, you said with tears in your eyes. It may have been the reality you saw. I, however, don’t want to see my mother as a victim of circumstances because that would be extremely rude to her. Having me out of the wedlock brought her many hardships, I believe. So, to a certain extent, she was a victim all right. By some % of these all elements mother can be seen clearly a victim. But at a certain time and space in life, she was an accomplice of her romantic relationship. And you know, this is my great relief. She must not have a sexual relationship unwillingly. Also, she didn’t give birth unwillingly. I don’t want to think that there weren’t any moment of pleasure, satisfaction, nor enjoyment in her laborious life. If you think of her as a hundred-percent victim, then she would become a mere receptor of sperms. That would be absolutely unfair to her. But this is how you see your mother, if you will. “…just for the sake of her daughter, just for that, she remarried a man far below her level.” Your mother was financially independent, which was quite unusual at the time, and left the in-laws’ house to start a new life with you, you said. 30
Come to think of it, if a person like that decided to remarry only for her daughter’s sake, and if she insinuated that to her daughter…. You should get angry exactly with your mother’s unfairness and toward her own life. That would also mean dishonesty toward you, because…. Now listen. “I had gone through so much trouble for you, sacrificing, suffering….How can a child compensate for her mother’s irrecoverable past? If my mother had said to me that she had given birth to me for my sake and had gone through so much trouble to raise me, I would look down on her. But this is what she said to me instead, “I had you because I wanted to have you. Whether it is my egoism or not, I don’t care, but I wanted to have you anyway.” What she said was a blessing to me. That is why I don’t consider my mother as a victim. That would be too sad and sentimental. At least from the man’s wife’s point of view, my mother was an offender. And I find it happy to think that she was not a mere receptor of the sperm. What I meant is that at least she wasn’t only unintended receptor of sperms. Does this sound strange to you? Can you really say that your mother remarried just for you? Did she really sleep with the guy you hated so much just for the sake of your future? You don’t want to recognize your mother’s sexual desire? I cannot accept the way you see a woman, through your mother, only from her passive side. It is natural that the victims have their own feelings of being victimized. But I take it as a false charge if someone is created as a victim without her knowing it. Many daughters tend to see their mothers as such. But remember, you and I are Mothers’ daughters.” Say that if man and woman are created equal, and if that is what your feminism has been claiming since early on, then I would say that the same dynamics, contradiction, and dishonesty 31
existing between men and women do exist between women, and even within a woman’s inner self. This is what I think. And this is where I want to begin my own feminism. “I will support you.” The role of walking a few steps behind, of supporting someone from the sideline, is actually an active role that you as a passive person have decided to play. And that is the role which society has been imposing on ‘women’, which you and I have been questioning. You have probably forced yourself to play this role towards your mother since you were small. As for me, I needed to keep a certain distance from my mother. This may not apply to you because you lost your mother at such a young age. Especially, your mother’s struggle with illness and early death may have only left you a dense memory as well as a huge sense of loss. That is why you still want to unite physically and psychologically with women, trying to fill up your sense of loss. As you have extreme concerns over other people’s misfortunes, I thought of you as a very kind person for a long time. Yes, it is certainly is kindness. Recently, however, I have begun to see it as your seeking compensation for loss. You seem to fulfill your own loss by substituting your emptiness with other’s. You may be avoiding to tackle with your own problem by letting other’s interest ahead of you. When I observe your behavior you remind me of my mother and grandmother. Mother tried to be totally helpful in every way to grandmother, who lost her husband early in her marriage. For mother, detaching herself from grandmother was something she could not possibly think of, and if she had done so, it would have been a complete betrayal to her. Grandmother had acted as a protector of my mother but at the same time behaved like a small girl who needed protection. That can be said the typical co-dependent relationship. A mother depending on her daughter, a daughter supporting her mother. This kind of relationship have existed between my mother and I as well. 32
Poor mother…. That’s how I saw her as a pitiful victim up until a certain time. As long as I see her that way, she has to live a life of a pitiful woman. This intensified relationship made it imperative for me to break away from emotional dependency with mother. Now, I am finally on my way to complete my mission of detaching myself from her. Weren’t you and your mother also like this? Your mother lost her husband at a young age. Also, your mother had to fight against her illness. I assume due to her illness you and your mother developed an even closer relationship. That’s how you have come to misunderstand feelings and senses toward your mother as true love and friendship. You lost your mother way before you’ve acquired an ability to get seriously involved with others while keeping your autonomy. I feel deeply sorry for you when I think about it. Nevertheless, we must keep on going and overcome the problems our mothers had to face. I have come to realize recently that all “Mothers’ daughters” have to go beyond the mothers so as to acquire autonomy. Please don’t send me a card every day. Please don’t mention such grotesque and sad remarks as “I don’t care who you date with; I’ll follow you anyway.” This is sad and bizarre to hear. I am trying to keep a distance from you and am struggling to get myself back. So please keep off of me as well. And after that if we can face each other again, let’s call it our friendship. I don’t call it friendship when two people, or a group of people if you will, cluster together like rice balls sticking to each other. Even if they begin their friendship like that, I don’t think they should stay that way for long. The relationship between a mother and daughter could be the same. I have come to be myself by detaching myself from my mother. Empathy is totally different from assimilation. Unless you keep a proper distance, you cannot have an empathy toward 33
others. And that I believe is friendship—feeling empathy toward each other, not assimilation. Since we women have been talking about solidarity and have found profound meanings in it tend to feel guilty in having negative feelings toward girlfriends. That’s what made me shy for all these days. But now I have to make it clear to you in the name of our friendship; we are two mature adults who can tell empathy from assimilation.
I can get to the beach just by crossing a road in front of the hotel. I would go there twice a day, dawn and dusk, walking by the edge of the water and hearing the sounds of waves for a while, and then I return to the hotel. I sometimes go back to my room directly or drop by in the dining room. This morning after breakfast I returned to my room earlier than usual, feeling that I must get some work done. At my office in Tokyo, a bunch of fax messages must be piling up, reminding me of the deadline. Frankly speaking, I shouldn’t have accepted this task; I shouldn’t have promised to write. Why am I so reluctant to write about myself? The thought of it makes me procrastinate my work. Most likely, I cannot write a reflection of an illegitimate child because I have never lived such a life. As I said, I am who I am throughout my life. Birth, for every child, is only a coincidence. Birth, for a mother on the other hand, is inevitably by her choice. But again, the birth for a child is only a coincidence outside of her choice. I didn’t choose to be an illegitimate child. I was simply born as a baby. All children are born simply as children. That’s how life is. A child first enters the structure of society after he or she is born. In order to be recognized as a citizen. I wonder how many times we have to register ourselves to the social structure during our life time. 34
The first of such is the birth certificate. There I became illegitimate officially because my mother was not married. It was just that. It is neither fortunate nor unfortunate. Yes, for a child, whether illegitimate or not does not define her happiness. What makes her life happy or otherwise is up to the environment in which she lives in. Parents, families, societies—each would define early on a child’s happiness, or else, within its framework. If the society marks a child “happy one” from their standards, so may become she or he socially. If your neighbors say you are fortunate, then you are; if not, you are not. A child can’t do or don’t do anything about it. A child has no say about her own happiness; one registration card would make her life happy or else, envied or despised. Then again, it is totally different from her own happiness. What is happiness if it has nothing to do with her intentions or feelings? Some people seem to seek other people’s misfortune as much as seeking happiness. Society’s want of seeing others’ unhappiness makes people unhappy. For those who they believe have reached their limit in happiness, others’ unhappiness is the only way to bring fulfillment to their life. The society looks down, shows envy and respect, or feels pity to those who are different from the majority. And in their illusion, they create someone more unfortunate than themselves in order to find solace in their own desolate happiness. I, however, don’t want to be in their shoes. I want to be happy, to gain happiness which makes other people happy as well. I seek my own happiness that is not bound by social conventions. I will gain my own happiness beyond the norms of the society that is determined by it. It is so easy to give in to other’s expectations. And precisely for that reason, I would reject to be unfortunate. Another day is passing. 35
Feeling impatient that I must work, though, I spent another day by the swimming pool until dusk. The cottage I am staying is located at the end of the courtyard, with a lounge and bathroom on the first floor, the bedroom upstairs. The cool breeze coming from the air conditioner feels comfortable to my hot body. I took off my swimming suit that got the smell of musk from the suntan lotion and went to the bathroom at once. I took time to shampoo my hair twice with hot water to rinse off salt completely. Changing into a loose-fitting cotton shirt and pants, I turned to the desk. Although I was fully aware of the pressure from my editor, there were several letters that I wanted to, and had to, respond. One was a reply for S, a girlfriend of mine who was teaching English at college. “Thank you very much for your letter. I was so lucky, I received it right before leaving on my vacation. I read it once at my house and wanted to read it again, so I brought it over with me to this beach-side hotel.” I am thinking of what to write to S. It would probably begin like this…. “I envy you.” S surely said so when we met a few days ago. S was worried that I might have misunderstood her use of her words. I should tell her in my reply not to think little of my comprehensive faculty. I believe that I have understood her words quite perfectly. Conventionally, if you say “I envy you” to a group of marginalized people, it would surely cause trouble. But I do understand she did not mean it. The fact that I am an illegitimate child and she is not is not our responsibility. Raised with or without parents and siblings—that too is not of our responsibility. 36
S grew up in a laissez-faire upper-middle class academic environment. For those who would see only what they wanted to see, she appeared on a surface to be a happy child who knew of no frustration or despair, but I have been aware that she has got bruises deep inside herself. This has been going on all her life and she is deeply hurt by it. People tend to give an easy explanation to the social minorities, treating them with special care and offering them meaningless sympathy. What S and I have been going through are, in a way, two sides of the same coin. To me, it was awfully annoying but funny at times; and to her, upsetting probably. People often attribute both my good and bad characteristics to my upbringing, and would often refer to the Buddhist idea of karmic retribution. “I know how you feel.” “I understand.” “You are such a strong person.” That’s what people used to say, and even now. Much too much. It is way too hot!. I finally begin to write a letter to S. Dear S-san, Although being an illegitimate child does not seem like a negative factor to me, this can be a mark that makes it easier for feminists to unite closer. It is not that I can’t understand this, but if that is the only way that I am ‘understood’ as such, then my birth would become the only factor to state who I am. This is certainly unfair and wrong end of sympathy. In the same way your upper-middle-class upbringings is not the only factor to define who you are. What matters to me is how I tried to live my own life after my birth…. This phrase sounds like a translation, doesn’t it? It is very difficult to talk about “emotional logics” in Japanese language. Japanese language, I’d rather say Japanese culture, may be suited to speak emotions than logics. Let me rephrase it; by thinking so, we have avoided taking on serious discussions. 37
Think about what lies behind the words you said to me, “I envy you.” Born in an upper-middle-class family, you had a chance to study abroad, and gained the position as university professor. This is your credit, what you have achieved on your own; you should be proud of yourself. It’s what you achieved on your own, but it may seem to be too good of personal history in the eyes of many feminists. But it may look too good of a personal history in the eyes of many feminists since many of them get wounded and seek salvation in feminism. That, I don’t deny. Despite your fabulous background, I know you have been hurt and have bruises too. You are easily regarded as heretical just because your upbringing is too blessed. I am afraid this would make a new scar inside you. It’s too sad if you are trying to get over with your wound by hurting other women. However, if you say something like “I envy you” in front of people who are fighting against discrimination, I can’t assure you that your true intention would be grasped fully by them. If there exists something among these women that makes you feel uncomfortable with your blessed upbringing, I would say, as a feminist, I am awfully sorry. Privilege is not necessarily bad, I think. I mean, it is wrong that you feel superior, or inferior, based on your upbringing because that’s not what you have achieved in your own right. For a child, birth is not her choice. It would be nice if we could choose parents, though. What we feminists are challenging is the dynamics of society. It is the dynamics of the strong people suppressing and oppressing the weak. Interestingly, this dynamics at times twists and turns, so to speak. It suddenly turns the weak into the strong, exactly due to their weakness, if you know what I mean. The relationship of master and servant seen among women that I am fed up with…. By putting one’s mate on servant position, master’s side should be bind firmly hand and foot due to her weakness. I am talking about this absurd dynamics that I see 38
among women that the oppressor becomes inseparable to the oppressed. “You guys don’t understand my feelings. I cannot give birth even if I try. And your try to promote abortion, embryonic inspection. How dare!” This may look similar when pro-choice women get lost in words, facing attacks from disabled women. It is possible to explain logically but there are moments when emotions unreasonably block up the words. That exact moment of silence shall bring in discrimination against ‘the disabled. This can happen to all of us. And that’s exactly the moment we expose our bias toward the socially underprivileged. Although I can’t put on the right words, we must recognize them as the underprivileged in the relation within the person and the society and try to change that kind of social structure. It’s difficult to explain, but the issue is about the social structure that puts a mark on some people as the socially weak. There is a huge gap between “I agree, we need to change the social structure” and an easy “I feel sorry for you.” You, who feel inferior due to your wealthy background. Yet you, who paradoxically envy me, an illegitimate child. What if there is something in feminism that makes you feel cornered? Unfortunately, I have to say there is. That’s because feminism does not exist somewhere in a utopia; it is actually a mirror image of the real world. Do you remember one time, there was a women’s meeting, and you showed up after class in a well-tailored pant suit with a briefcase, and the women there gave a hostile remark to you? They went, “Hey, you just look like a career woman from New York!” What a childish remark they made. Thinking about this episode still makes me snigger, but when women are cornered and devastated, sadly, they tend to turn their anger toward someone nearby. It is just like back in the 60’s, when those long-haired young radicals, who dreamed about raising a revolution, lost their way 39
out after a long battle in the student movements, and started to grow hatred toward each other. Even though they shared the same humiliation of discrimination, they ended up competing each other for the depth of sufferings, hardships, severity, and poverty. It can be said that all ‘anti’ movements have such an aspect. It’s like we dig a hole deep down and end up hitting another one by the side. In fact, this is how this one person described feminism. Isn’t it so true? The two holes now connected side by side does not get wider and bigger; instead they just go deeper and narrower as they get one…. That is feminism as of today. But those pits is the evidence historically that we have got the chance being capable of talking about ourselves by women. Historically speaking, it is a welcome sign as the first stage since now women can finally get together in one pit and share each other’s experiences. The fact that you are a college professor who love Calvin Klein pant suit, Katherin Hamnett blouses, and Krizia briefcase does not register you as a woman belonging to the men’s world. As I am writing this I almost broke out in laughter at the stupidity of the whole thing. That is too hilarious and stereotypical, isn’t it? I also own a Krizia garment bag. I like Calvin Klein suits. The style is orthodox and wearable for many years. The jacket is handy, easy to coordinate with other clothes. And to use a phrase from a women’s magazine, they are “reasonably priced.” I like Catherin Hamnett and Half Moon and also have a couple of Dona Karan. Remember the time you bought me as a souvenir eye cream from Clarins at a duty-free shop in New York? You said to me apprehensively, “I hope I don’t get scolded,” and gave me a wrinkle remover. That cream is supposed to erase wrinkles under the eyes. I thought of myself at that time, “I see”. And that gave me a clue. Cosmetics and skincare goods are something that women who claim to be natural would never want to use. At least that is their façade. Since you did not know me well at that time, you 40
were nervous about my response. But thank you, I still use that cream even now. It is important to protest against women’s made-up image and to claim all women be natural. But if it goes so much as to deter one’s personal growth, then I would not think “natural” is beautiful. Ironic as it may sound to you, but someone like me would be called a “bourgeois feminist.” Some women are so poor in vocabulary, ideas, and what’s inside the purse that they even consider a Krizia briefcase as a bourgeois stuff. The vocabulary, the way of thinking, and sometimes the content of wallet...If that’s the case, then all women should become rich in all aspects. That would make feminism ever richer, making society closer to utopia. The goal of feminism is to overturn inequality and uneven distribution ubiquitously existing in men’s society. Feminism must not repeat the same mistake as patriarchy. It is not our ideal if some gets more than the rest. I am getting tired. Let me have a cigarette break. Well, then shall we continue? Does being a professor of a university mean you are registered in the men’s world? What a simplistic thought! Being registered in the men’s world and yet make an accusation against it from within a wonderful task to do. Be careful not to be “A mummy-hunter gets lost and become a mummy.” There was a time when I myself was considered ‘one of their kind’ because I worked in mass-media. In terms of media stuff, for some women, they can only trust hand-made zines. Of course, I’m not trying to say I look light of hand-made zines. But, they do not represent justice in and of itself either. The publication of big publishing company is right just because of the big publishing company, which makes us laugh now. Giving an automatic endorsement to small-scale media is just as dangerous as giving an automatic authorization to a big-time publisher. There is this saying in Japan that goes, “Stay clean, poor, and beautiful,” and I do admit that I have that bias more or less inside me, too. But what matters the most is the content, as well as the editor’s viewpoint and position. 41
It is nice to stay clean, poor, and beautiful, all right, but I cannot stand that attitude that people automatically give in to the tenet of only the poor is clean and beautiful. What I prefer is to stay clean, wealthy, and beautiful. Moreover, if that poverty is produced by the social structure, our ideal is to change the structure and consequently to become rich. Competing for poverty would consequently support the existing structure and would never bring change to the dynamics of the center versus the periphery. Anyhow, women in mass media are also, if I borrow their words, ‘oppressed women.’ In a way, it is true that mass media holds power. But to think that all women in the media have power is too childish and stereotypical There are such women in media field but that’s solely up to an individual, right? It is a bad joke if feminism gets trapped in the very stereotype that it is trying to dismantle. While trying to deny all kinds of class stratification, women are still not free from it in their own mind. In my case, the fact that I am an illegitimate child works as the Inro (a seal case) of Mito Koumon (a historical figure). By the way, I have always thought since childhood that Mito Koumon is unfair. For, he can get out of any plight as soon as he presents his inro, the sign of his noble birth, to his enemy. If being an illegitimate child has the same effect among women as that inro, then I don’t want it. I certainly don’t want to live as the weak. I am I; neither the strong nor the weak. “You must have gone through a lot, haven’t you? I understand because I was the same.” It is true that painful experiences foster camaraderie, but if pain is the only thing that binds people, where on earth are we heading to? Surely, a woman has kept all kinds of sufferings within herself, unable to share them with her peers, secretly locked them up in the attic—for two thousand years! We have lots and lots to talk: “It is not just your misfortune, you know?” How much ever we women talk of all issues, it shouldn’t be too much. It is like to say that unhappiness doesn’t only belong to you. Many a woman can 42
be saved by these words. However…. “You are unhappy and I am too, therefore we are friends.” If feminism—or any ‘isms’ in that matter—is as such, nodding each other for decades over their misfortune and excluding those who don’t share the same unhappiness from their enclosure…the real source of misfortune would stay forever. Isn’t this ironic or what? We dig one dark hole and bury it, then dig another and bury it again…the same cycle continues for generations. If that’s the only thing us women can do, then what women are doing is to reproduce and transmit “misfortune of the weak” to the coming generations forever. If we want to be liberated, then we must ask from what we want to be liberated as well as to which direction we are heading to. Otherwise, what is left after all these years of toil will only be blood, sweat, and tears. And all I get is just sweat and tears? No way! I want a sense of fulfillment that matches the cost. Your phrase “I envy you” is a paradox of “you are lucky” and I do understand that meaning exactly, I think. Would you say that the fact that you are not born as an illegitimate child is considered “unfortunate” in feminism? That your having a professorship is “unfortunate” in feminism? That your having a better-off life is “unfortunate” in feminism? If so, then you should declare all that you have gained is “happiness” rather than “unhappiness.” It annoys me more than anything that I am understood or evaluated solely by the fact of my illegitimacy. Because that’s not what I’ve gained through my own effort. I’d rather think it squarely that I should be evaluated not by the fact that I am an illegitimate child but by what I have pulled out from it and fought against it. “You must not understand me without my permission.” Nikki Giovanni said it quite effectively. I don’t need any sympathy nor understanding from others without my permission. Say that you are discriminated. You think 43
that is unacceptable. Since you are discriminated, you are considered weak. Therefore, whatever the weak does should be granted and accepted by society. This kind of logic is nothing but the back side of the same coin in power dynamics; it just switches the slave to the master. Although many have noticed the fallacy of this logic, they have kept quiet in fear of soliciting the attacks from those who want to slander any serious-minded anti-discrimination campaigns. What was happening for the last twenty years was either they shut their mouth and leave or keep a small fishbone stuck to their throat. I like feminism. So, I don’t want to leave with my mouth shut or continue to live my life backwards in a cage, keeping a fishbone in my throat. I don’t like to be unhappy. To be more precise, I don’t like to be in a situation not to make any effort to become happy. I am not good at those people who have made their unhappiness as their proof of existence. There are some among unhappy people who can’t empathize with anything or who can do. Among the unhappy people, there are some that I can empathize with. But I cannot empathize with those who would take their unhappiness for granted, would never want to fight back, and would find fulfilment in life of a “Oh poor me.” They reflect themselves in the unhappy mirror and find their satisfaction of ‘poor me’ on their lives by rubbing plus patting the figure on that mirror. They would use such sugar-coated words like camaraderie or sisterhood to draw out others’ misfortune, forcibly match it with their own, and call it solidarity. I mean, I’m referring to these goodwill underdogs who are content with their circumstances. But look; I don’t think it’s right for the weak to stay weak forever, is it? I’m not saying that I’m trying to become an overdog, but I don’t think it’s right that women are forever kept in a weak position. Because that would consequently sustain the existing power structure from underneath. When a scab is eventually produced on the surface of injury, I cannot identify myself with those who keep removing the scab to 44
prolong their wound. What’s more, they may rub the wound with dirty fingers and make it worse. I would not feel sympathy toward this kind of unhealthy self-contradiction/self-pity. Those who compete over their unhappiness and sorrow with other women are as ridiculous and sad as those foolish men who show off their power and background. If you are ‘privileged,’ please use your privilege practically and sufficiently. The content of being privileged exists within its content itself. If I were, I would make use of it to its fullest. And say that if you and I are in fact “privileged” now, we have gained that status with our own effort, regardless of our birth and other stuff. I’d say we should feel proud of ourselves. Let’s get together again sometime. I will get in touch with you after I get back to Tokyo. It’s soon dinner time. The dishes here are very nice. What’s delicious is indeed delicious.
I noticed the sprinklers starting to run at the other side of the pool. Having been scorched by the mid-summer sun, the lawn got immediately rejuvenated. The water scattered out by the sprinklers made a small rainbow in the air. I came out to the poolside again. “Well, I can think of the plot anywhere,” I said to myself as an excuse. At the far end of the patio, there was a log hut roofed by palm leaves. Two young men dressed in short-sleeved shirt and a bow tie were silently piling boiled edamame on the paper plates, poring beer into mugs, and scooping ice-cream into cones narrowing their eyes against the strong sunlight. From around the end of the patio, a pebbled path was lined with sweet oleander bushes at both sides that led to the hotel’s private beach. The bamboo poles with the hotel logo imprinted in blue and white were separating the hotel’s private beach from the unsold 45
beach area. Both sides of the private beach lied the natural sand beaches intact by human hands. The hotel guests, however, obediently followed the rules and played within the private beach that looked like a miniature garden prepared for them. Planned sense of liberation. Brightness without shadow. The afternoon at a resort with excess and lack. I saw a girl crossing the state road, striding along the oleander-lined pebble path. Now, I’d better get started; I need to get down to work. The story is not going to be about an illegitimate child but about myself. I’ve got to gather the pieces of my past that leads up to the present. ● I could smell like sweet caramel biscuits still left in the box. I was tottering along, covering my entire head with the box. It was a play that I had just learned. The five-year-old me was totally caught up with this new play, wondering how far I could go with my head totally covered with the box. There was a single path stretching right behind my house with a hedge on one side and the board fence on the other. The board fence had knotholes here and there, and along the fence were bunches of corn fluttering their golden tassels in the wind. I was groping my way forward by the fence since there was no hole on the box. There was no hole, even a tiny peephole. All I could see was the toes of my sneakers. While walking, I was humming a simple melody over and over in my head. Back then, I remember a Zen priest begging from door to door and played his shakuhachi (a bamboo flute), in return. He was covering his face with a deep straw hat. Grandmother would always offer him a donation. I, with my face covered with a box, was pretending to be the Zen priest. I sometimes felt secure like hiding myself under the engawa when I had the box over my head. By so doing, I was always looking for a comfortable place to hide. Underneath the engawa. Behind the orange boxes piled up in the 46
storeroom. Behind the musty smelling futon for the guests in the upper step of the closet. In the tool shed at the corner of the bamboo grove where we kept our shovels and hoes. Staying still in these hide-outs, I often had a thought that everyone—mother, grandmother, aunts, and my friends—would eventually forget about me, a scary but amusing thought. Wearing a box was like playing hide-and-seek to me. The box on my head made me feel totally different person—it was still me but not the same. It was thrilling. So, it was mysterious to me that the adults could find out right away that it was me. The path behind the house was so short that it hit the end right away. But with a box on my head, I would always bump into the hedge or the fence, never able to walk straight. Whether I got scratches on my knees or bumps on my head, I would never want to give up that play. ‘Our hakoiri-musume (precious little girl in the box)’, my aunts used to tease me. Walking with a box on my head, I felt like night was coming down. It was as if I was walking in the middle of the night while everyone else was living in the daytime. Soon I found an escape in the box, day or night, whenever I heard my grandmother wailing or raging. There was a bamboo grove at the backyard of my childhood house. There I found lots of fat worms. After finishing our daily chore of splashing warm water over the frozen faucets, there was a conversation between grandmother and I every year. “Is it all right now?” “Not yet.” “Is it all right now then?” “A little bit later.” I was asking my grandmother when to dig out the bamboo shoots. Bamboo shoots digging was a big event for us, which involved the whole neighborhood. Grandmother loved this sort of events and loved even more to be in charge. The morning had finally arrived. Grandmother changed her navy blue monpe pants and brought out a big shovel and hoe. 47
“These tools have been in the house long before you were born, you know.” Somehow, she would always tell me whenever she brought out the shovel and hoe. They seemed to remind my grandmother something about my birth. That morning, too, she said the same thing to me. The neighborhood children had already gathered at the bamboo grove. Grandmother spat into her hands and said, “Okay let’s get started,” while looking around at each face. The children nodded obediently and watched carefully their leader’s every movement. The stagnated air in the grove was soon filled with a damp smell of dirt, and the dug-out shoots, big and fat, were placed on the yard. Freshly dug-out bamboo shoots reminded me of the fat worms I saw in the grove, making me feel eerie. It was the children’s job to give out the bamboo shoots to the neighbors. Before sending us out, grandmother made me practice several times what to say to neighbors. Grandmother’s intension was to place me in the center of the group. Since there was no other bamboo grove in the neighborhood, and ours was a major event, it was obvious who the main messenger was. Still, grandmother had put me in charge of the errand. That was her usual way of doing things. “We’ve got bamboo shoots today. Please enjoy them.” The group of children, I, in the center, carrying a big bamboo basket full of bamboo shoots was making a procession. I, as a child, found it quite childish. As soon as we were done with first the round, we would dash back to the engawa so that we could go out for the next round. So we waited for my grandmother to finish up the preparation. The kids were not interested in the bamboo delicacy that was going to line up for dinner that night, nor did we enjoy its tangy taste. They were chewy and didn’t taste good. In fact, what we were waiting for was just the husk of the bamboo shoots. Soon, grandmother would come out from the kitchen with a strainer full of washed husks, their fuzz already removed. We took a piece of bamboo husk in our hands. And we placed a sour plum and shiso leaves inside the husk and folded it into triangles. 48
It was such a pleasure for us kids to suck them up. The more we sucked them, the more pinkish the husk would become, the color seeping out from the red shiso leaves. When we were through sucking, we had would stick our tongues out to compete whose was the reddest. I felt it much nicer as a snack than sugar-coated alphabet cookies or caramel biscuits. It was Sunday when grandmother, mother, and the youngest aunt were all gone and the second aunt, Chi-chan and I were left in the house. At that time, Chi-chan was staying at the dormitory of a normal school and came home only on weekends. I was lying on my stomach at the engawa watching a line of ants. The line was heading toward the hedge from a piece of milk caramel that I had dropped on the ground. As I was watching, the sound of a popular American song Chi-chan was singing in the kitchen began to fade away and I seemed to have fallen asleep. I was woken up by Chi-chan’s giggles and a man’s low-tone laughter. It was a mid-summer day. A hot, very hot Sunday. I remained lying on my stomach with my eyes open. My body was still asleep, I saw the hem of Chi-chan’s black skirt and heathered trousers sitting side by side on the tatami by the engawa. Chi-chan had her hands on her lap, letting a big bony hand holding them tightly. It was Takashi-san. I remember those big hands with a callous on his middle finger, for it was always smudged with blue ink. I wanted so bad to have a callous on my middle finger, too. Chi-chan told me that I could get one if I studied hard. Chi-chan had one too but was much smaller than his. “He is no good because he is ‘red.’ ” Grandmother disliked Takashi-san. I liked Takashi-san. The tall and thin Takashi-san came around sometimes and read a book for me as I sat in his crossed legs. The way he read me books was totally different from any other adults. He read it in a normal voice and tone, whereas other adults read unnecessarily loud and dramatic like a flawed candy man but Takashi-san was different. With his deep and clear voice, he would read me in a natural way, treated 49
me like an adult, which I liked very much. We don’t usually hear a man talking in my household. Takashi-san’s voice sounded comfortable to my ear. Takashi-san’s hand with a callous suddenly left Chi-chan’s lap, moved around her back, and got hold of her arm. Chi-chan giggled again. Takashi-san did as well. It was the first time for me to hear them giggling like that. As Chi-chan relaxed her position a bit, I could see her smooth round knees as well as her white thighs inside her black skirt. Takashi-san twisted his body, and his white shirt blocked me from seeing Chi-chan’s body. Stay rigid and quiet, I thought somehow. I had my arm drooping down from the engawa. I was getting to feel numb in the arm and closed my eyes. Then I felt an itch at my fingertip. I opened my eyes slightly and saw a big black ant, bigger that those feasting on a caramel, climbing up on my hand. I meant to shake it off quietly, but my fingers hit the engawa and made a rather big noise. I got up slowly as if I had just awakened and glanced at Chi-chan and Takashi-san. I saw them sitting up straight with a book between them. I shouldn’t tell anyone that Takashi-san visited us today. It was a day that I gained such wisdom to keep my mouth shut. Whenever grandmother took all relative kids for shopping, she would always buy me something extra. When everyone got a caramel, I got a chocolate ball in addition. The kids knew it all but grandmother did not care. “Shake hands, shake hands.” That was how she would place an extra goodie in my hand. Since I knew that everyone was aware of what was going on, I would get even more nervous and end up dropping the goodies. Each time after that, she would forget to give her usual compliments to me and instead give me a tsk-tsk. “Really, you such a clumsy child,” followed by “You’re just as clumsy as your mother, Harue.” Each time grandmother forgot her regular praise words and it became her irritation, saying ‘tu,tu’. “You, such a clumsy child!” And after that grandmother necessarily named Harue, my mother, who 50
had bad knack of doing things and said that I was just like mother. Whenever she pointed out my failures and flaws, she would mention my mother’s name as well. On the contrary, when she spoiled me with lavish compliments, she would totally wipe out my mother’s existence. However, my mother often told me, “When you were born, she was so anxious not to be mistaken for other babies, so she was stuck to you all the time even when you were bathing, so much so that the nurses got upset. Writing your name on your sole was not enough for her, so she shaved off a piece of your hair as a mark.” I don’t know in what shape she shaved my head, but obviously I was treated as a special child from the time I was in the room of new born babies. Beyond the summer woods growing luxuriantly in deep green, my grandfather was resting in peace at the end of the unpaved path with oleanders blooming by the sides. A mid-August afternoon. It was windless and suffocating. “What sultry looking flowers” “What stifling blossoms,” said grandmother in a grey chiffon kimono holding a linen parasol in her hand, looking up at the red oleander blossoms. Grandmother was holding a furosiki cloth carefully with the other hand. There were fruits, sweet cakes, and incense sticks inside. I was wearing a straw hat and brought a bunch of flowers. Small spray mums, golden laces, and cockscombs were wilted by the warmth of my hands. Every summer vacation, I spent about a half month in the grandmother’s house with my aunts. The only plan I had during summer was to visit with my grandmother the graveyard of my grandfather. Both of my aunts, Chi-chan and Teru-chan always had to go out for an urgent matter on the day before the grave visiting. Another aunt, Shi-chan who was next eldest after mother, was in the hospital due to tuberculosis, and she was excluded from our important summer event. So, being free from tuberculosis, stomach pain and an urgent matter, I, all the time, ended up joining grandmother for her visit to the graveyard . My mother, the eldest daughter, usually couldn’t take a time off from her work. So she brought me over to grandmother’s and returned to Tokyo right after visiting the grave by herself. 51
“I guess once you are dead, everything is finished. And you are forgotten. Even to pay a visit to the graveyard would become trivial.” Grandmother complained resentfully but I thought she was selfish. Grandmother could visit the graveyard with my mother on the day she was there to drop me off. However, grandmother wanted my mother to adjust her schedule, not the other way around. When we got there, the grave was already cleaned up by my mother. A small bottle of sake and flowers were offered at the altar. Nevertheless, grandmother had to switch the flowers she had brought with her and cleaned the grave all over again. That was just how she was. There was an oleander tree next to grandfather’s grave too, and it was full of blossoms despite its narrow trunk. Every year when I saw the color and shape of these oleander blossoms by the grave, I thought of having passed half of the summer vacation, of home work undone, of a sea that I had not yet visited, of sketch diary incomplete. I felt awfully miserable and sad.
The sea surface was glittering in blueish gold as if it was varnished in the evening calm It comes the calm of evening upon us. The land and the ocean were still as if they were holding their breath. The wind was still, but the smell of the ocean was getting stronger. Just now by the swimming pool, I saw the lights turned on inside the hut with palm roof. The tiny space marked off by the palm leaves was looming out of the dark by the orange lights, giving it a somewhat nostalgic effect. ●
My grandfather, whom I know only from his photograph, was an elementary school teacher and had passed away, long before I was born, when mother was an elementary school student. He had passed away long before I was born and mother was in a pupil of the primary school. He went fishing to the river on the last Sunday of summer vacation to serve fish for his students. There he got a cut on his bare sole and died from tetanus, I 52
heard. That was why grandmother did not like fresh water fish. According to grandmother, he was the youngest school principal in Tochigi prefecture. “Actually, he didn’t quite make it to the principal yet but was a vice principal at the time. He was appointed to be the principal soon, but mother wants to show off even to the family, you know,” said my aunt, which did not make any difference to me anyway. I didn’t care whether it is true or not, although my aunts said so. “Only the good die young, and the rest remains,” said my grandmother sometimes. It was so much like her, and of course, she didn’t include herself in “the rest.” “She’s in charge of everything, you know, our Houjo Masako (a historical figure), so to speak,” said my aunts at times, describing their mother. The aunts sometimes said so about their own mother. Surely, grandmother had the final word on everything—visits to the grave, neighborly issues, wakes and weddings, even dinner menus. Not only to make a visiting day going to grave but also the relationship with neighbors, arrangement for ceremonial occasions and even dinner menu. In my opinion, though, it was my mother who was responsible for making grandmother as conceited as Masako the Great by spoiling her too much I pointed it out to mother one time, and here’s what she said. “But our grandmother lost her father when she was in her twenties. She went through so many hardships to raise four of us up. Her mother, your great grandmother, also became a widow at a young age and was forced to remarry, having left young grandmother to her parents, your great grandparents. That is why grandmother had always dreamed of having a warm and close affectionate family. But unfortunately, she also lost her husband young….” “So, it’s OK for her to be a bit conceited and stubborn,” she said. What I could not take, however, was the way my grandmother accommodated her pushiness depending on the person. When facing my aunts, who were more aggressive than my mother, grandmother used to call them names by saying “apres-guerre,” but would usually back off in the end. On the contrary, she would whine or swagger to my mother instead. “Mother wants to depend on someone, you know,” my mother replied. 53
Then how about you? I really wanted to ask mother but I didn’t. I once told my mother that they were like a poorly-made usukawa manju, a thin-skinned bean cake—grandmother as the bean filling, mother as the thin skin. Grandmother was the sweet red-bean filling in the center and mother, the thin-skinned wrapping. The filling sometimes spurt out through the wrapping. If the filling pops out of the skin, the skin has to carefully wrap it again. Even though the “filling” was too energetic and popped out of the “skin” so often, my mother would never raise her voice. I was afraid that the “skin” would eventually get worn out. According to my grandmother, grandfather was a man of high aspirations, and she was proud of marrying such a man for love. She was proud of being married with their love. “It was a love marriage,” Grandmother chuckled every time she mentioned this. Our Houjo Masako was quite cute and charming at such moments. Grandfather was in the album covered with wine-colored velvet. Having a mustache on a square face, he was wearing knickerbockers and holding a tennis racket. Beside him was our Houjo Masako in western dress and a parasol. It’s hard to imagine how their love relationship was from the photo. Besides, a mustache cannot guarantee high aspirations. Grandmother said that mother’s face looked just like grandfather’s. Every time I looked at the portrait of my grandfather, I tried in my head to put a mustache on my mother’s face, followed by my face, to recreate how he looked but to no avail. Besides, I have heard that I looked more like my father than mother. My father was even more distant than my grandfather in the photograph, and my imagination didn’t go any further.
“So, you wore your best kimono when you visited the grave site,” said I, as if conversing with my grandmother. The lights turned on in the swimming pool, making the water shining blue. I speak out loud to my grandmother as if I am imaginary being alone at the poolside. I looked around to make sure no one had heard me and realized no one ever paid any attention to me. 54
Grandmother usually wore a simple dress during summer, but on a day to visit the grave, she would wear a kimono. “That is what propriety is. I want to be properly dressed in front of your grandfather.” I could only understand half of what she said. Grandfather’s grave was much smaller than the rest in the graveyard, and grandmother was concerned about it. She hoped to build a larger grave someday that she thought was suitable for her husband. “I can’t die till then.” She would pronounce the “can’t die” part extra loud, and finish the sentence with an emphasis, making her look ever more powerful. She would live until two hundred for sure. “When this girl grows up, I’m sure she’ll build a big grave for you. It is not likely that my own daughters will. I am expecting this grandchild of mine to do so.” While she was announcing that, I was struggling with mosquitos behind her. As I was running away from mosquitos, I heard that the daughter she was referring to was my mother. Being the daughter of the daughter whom she could not depend on, I didn’t want her to depend on me. I was scratching the leg with mosquito bites with the other leg and waited for grandmother to finish with her greetings. I remember grandmother used to convey her wishes and thoughts by soliloquy. “I wish I could eat sweet bean ice cream….” When she said that in the morning, someone, mostly my mother, would get the ice cream by the evening. Mother would hurry back home so that the ice cream would not melt. It was much later that they put dry ice in the ice cream box. At times, her requests of ogura-ice would become a spring shawl or tickets for the theater. Although she often complained about her health, grandmother used to travel to Tokyo to visit Shimbashi Dance Theater and the Kabuki Theater. She would never seem to get tired of such outings. “If it’s just ogura ice-cream, I can buy you one when I grow up,” thought I. But the grave was out of the question. I didn’t think I could ever do it because I thought I had to start by quarrying a rock. 55
Grandmother was sweeping around the grave by the bamboo broom. She looked so lively that she could fly up in the air on the bloom. “I often used to scrub grandfather’s back like this.” Grandmother scrubbed the tombstone so vigorously with a tawashi scrubber that her veins on her hands popped out blue. “Didn’t grandfather’s back peel off and turn red if you scrubbed so hard?” I wanted to ask her, but instead stood silently watching her scrubbing. Because I hated to bath with her and have my back scrubbed like that. Using a ladle, grandmother poured water over the tombstone sizzled with summer heat that was grilled by summer heat. She yanked out the fresh flowers that mother had put a few days ago and replaced them with her own. “Now it is all cleaned up,” said grandmother, who looked like freshly out of the bath herself. After that, grandmother and I would place the sweets, fruits in front of the tombstone. “Your grandfather was a great man but liked to eat sweet bean cake together with sake.” She said it in such a way as to reveal a big secret. She hardly said bad things about grandfather. But I heard her mentioning this several times. A highly ambitious man shouldn’t drink sake with sweets—that’s how she sounded to me. “Darling… if you were still alive, things wouldn’t have turned out this way.” Grandmother whispered to the tombstone. I didn’t understand what she meant by “this way.” She had wrinkles between her eyebrows that never went away even during sleep. I somehow thought that there was a connection among these three issues: her wrinkles, my mother, and I. I could hear a voice from far away. I could also hear a child’s voice. Other families must be paying a visit to their graves. The smoke from an incense was travelling upward from where the voices were heard. “A black lily is the flower of love. If you give it to someone you love…” A child was singing a song in a high-pitch voice. I knew the song. When I began to sing along, mimicking the child, grandmother hushed me. And she handed me some incense sticks. I sat by her side and put my hands together for prayer. A swallowtail, larger than my palm, came to stop on the newly placed 56
flowers. I watched its hasty movements with my hands still together. the the swallowtail danced high up into the summer sky.
Grandmother was angry. So were Chi-chan and Teru-chan. Shi-chan was crying. It was a Sunday afternoon. Only my mother was calm somehow and was serving tea for the crying and the angry. It had been one year since Shi-chan was discharged from a hospital somewhere. She was spending her days in the sunniest room on the east side of the house, reading books, crocheting lacy tablecloth and listening to the music. Grandmother kept chickens in the yard in order for Shi-chan to eat plenty of eggs. Grandmother’s special attention to me had subsided a bit after Shi-chan came back home, which made me happy. Grandmother was upset that the relatives visited us less frequently since Shi-chan returned home. “They are afraid of tuberculosis.” The aunts said. “Don’t say such a thing in front of Shi-chan.” Mother admonished grandmother and aunts. Shi-chan had a boyfriend, Mitsuo-san, two years younger than she was, whom she met in the hospital. He was a light-skinned nasal-voiced man. Mitsuo-san’s father was a lawyer and Mitsuo-san was studying to become a lawyer, just like his father, when he got tuberculosis. Grandmother, who always had something to say about the boyfriends of her daughters, was different to Mitsuo-san. “She has a weakness for titles. She likes the fact that he’s a son of a lawyer.” Chi-chan and Teru-chan were gossiping. Chi-chan was angry because grandmother was against Chi-chan and Takashi-san’s relationship. Mitsuo-san’s condition was not so serious and was discharged from the hospital a few months ago. Especially on Sundays, he came over in the morning and stayed until late in the evening. When they went to Shi-chan’s room together, Grandmother frequently sent me to take some refreshments and cakes to them in the room. She also 57
told me as to play cards with them. I wanted to play with them at one time and didn’t at another time. I knew that sometimes they wanted to be alone just like Shi-chan and Takashi-san. “I wonder what mother is worried about. She sent her to watch them.” My younger aunts said to me behind my back. Shi-chan and Mitsuo-san went out sometimes. And this morning, Mitsuo-san came to explain that he was going to marry someone else. “I know how sad you are,” mother said to Shi-chan. My mother said to Shi-chan. “But Mitsuo-san said he would wait. And you know what? You are the one who actually turned him down, saying ‘Well, I’m not sure, please marry someone else, I don’t want to live my whole life under your care’—that’s exactly what you said!” “But still….”, said Teru-chan with a pout. Teru-chan pouted. “She was just played with him,” said grandmother, with fury. Grandmother’s anger was severe. “Mother, that’s too much to say! Besides, Shi-chan liked him too.” Late that night, on the way to the bathroom, I saw mother in her sleeping clothes standing in front of Shi-chan’s room observing inside. When she noticed me, she placed her hand quietly on my head and went back to our room. Coming out of the bathroom, I found grandmother in the same place where my mother had been standing. “I saw grandma in front of Shi-chan’s room,” said I, while crawling into the futon, to my mother, who was staring up at the ceiling. I said to mother who staring up at the ceiling as I crawled into my futon. “She must be worried.” Mother stretched her arm out to me and held me close as I cuddled next to her. Next spring, Shi-chan was admitted to a big sanitarium in a place called Numabukuro town in Tokyo. After the thunderstorm, my ten-year-old summer vacation began. It was a hot afternoon without a wind. Although I was walking with care, I found the white straps of my 58
brand-new leather sandals smeared by the melted asphalt. When I bent down to wipe the dirt off, my straw hat fell to the ground. “Keep the strap under your chin! Kids get run over while chasing a hat blown by the wind.” Mother advised me just before I left the house, but that was the way the little ones would do, so I didn’t want to do it. So, I had taken the string off of my chin and hid it inside the hat right after slipping out the door as soon as I left the house. Since the elastic made me itch, mother made a strap out of a leftover dress, and had it pass through the brim of my hat. When I picked up my hat, I saw black stains from asphalt stuck around the brim. I tried to pull myself together and held a heavy package of loquats and peaches tightly in my arms, which were sent by my mother. And I started up on a sunny hill road again. Houses on both sides of the slope, the road, the sky—all were waving and shimmering under the strong summer light. “Go and explain to your teacher by yourself. And don’t stay too long.” We couldn’t afford to buy a piano. Therefore, I couldn’t take a piano lesson. That was what mother told me to say to the piano teacher. Although I was only a child, mother never allowed me to use childish speech or act childish coy. Particularly, girls have to show a firm and resolute attitude—that was her opinion. Go all the way up to the top of the wide slope, make a left at the mailbox, then walk up the narrow slope, and at the end stood an old Western-style house where my piano teacher lived. That was my teacher’s house. Looking up from the mailbox place, the house silhouetted against the blue sky, appearing like a hand painted backdrop for a school play. It must have been a pretty pastel blue, but now the paint had been peeled off, making the house look dingy and eerie. Along both sides of the concrete path that led to the front door, I could see brilliantly bright moss roses and cannas. Right by the front door, there was a windmill palm with its yellow millet-like spikes hanging down heavily. I took a deep breath, wiped off my sweat carefully with a handkerchief and rang the doorbell. There was no answer at once. There was a witch living in an old western-styled house and was sharpening a sickle to chop off children’s heads. I got frightened as I suddenly remembered the story. Nevertheless, I 59
rang the bell again. Then suddenly, a voice was heard behind the door to let me in. It was the voice of my teacher. The strong outdoor light blinded me, shading the face of my beloved teacher. She was kneeling on the shiny floor to greet me in such a way as to greet an adult. She was wearing a white sleeveless dress. The dress was decorated with delicate laces around the neck and sleeves. I remember her wearing it a few times at school before the last summer break. My eyes finally got accustomed to the light inside. I looked at my teacher’s face but completely forgot the greeting words that I memorized before. I was trapped by some kind of a chill that ran through the spine, kind of like before getting a high fever. She was not the person that I had known, yet she was, staring at me with blank eyes. She was looking at me without blinking, having her big doll-like eyes widely open. It was as if she was looking through me, somewhere far beyond. She was teaching music at my elementary school until six months ago. At the last lesson, she told us that she would quit school in order to get back to school to study music further. I also remember her saying that she had a fiancé and that she would continue teaching after marriage. We thought of it as a romantic dream tale. My mother who loves music had been exchanging letters with her even after she left school. I also knew that the teacher suggested me to take piano lessons but mother was against it. I didn’t know at that time, however, that mother liked piano and wanted to take piano lessons very much. What’s more, I didn’t know that the koto zither that she took very good care of was the one she got instead of the piano when young. Anther a bit of information unknown to me back then was that mother taught koto to the neighbors after work and that these lesson fees helped some portion of our living expenses. “You can come here whenever you want and practice as much as you like by my piano, and while at home you can practice on a paper keyboard for a while.” She delivered the message to me through my mother. But mother was against her proposal because she thought I could not 60
improve my skills with the paper keyboard and that I must not take advantage of my teacher’s generosity. Anyhow, the person in front of me was not the teacher that I knew of. She was not the one that had played and sung the Tennessee Waltz after class in the music room, which was coming from the radio almost every day then. Nor was she the one who played the New World Symphony and the Nutcracker to us. Young lady, old lady, elderly woman—those were the categories of women I had known back then. When she was at school, she was, according to my category, in the upper crust among the “young lady” group. For me, to be in that category, the person had to be pretty, kind, and possess a special talent of some kind. The teacher had long pretty fingers to play the piano and a clear deep voice. While at school, she had her luxuriant curled brown hair tied with a ribbon at the nape of her neck. The ribbons were always matched with her blouses or cardigans, and when she was absorbed in playing the piano or conducting, the ribbon sometimes got loose and fell on the floor. I used to watch it with a throbbing heart. The teacher was still staring at me. Her unblinking eyes made me scared. Her eyes looked like those of a bird. Right then I made up my mind. I thought I would have her on my side and take a piano lesson no matter what. But at once I changed my mind. Something within my mind made me uneasy. I hastily blurted out the words mother made me to say and ran out of her house. When I turned back once to shut the door, the teacher was still looking at me with those bird-like eyes. When I got home, I simply told mother that I gave up taking piano lessons. I didn’t say anything else. I just didn’t know how to explain my mother the chills and shivers I had at the back of my knees. Much later I found out the teacher had to be hospitalized. Much later, someone from my class told me that she was hospitalized. She was put into a cage, I’ve heard. The word “cage” as well as her eyes reminded me of the canary at the bird shop by the street corner. I passed by the shop everyday on my way to and from school. I would always hurry to pass that place so that I didn’t have to see the canary that had lost half of its tail feathers. After a while, I heard that the teacher went back to the hospital with bars 61
shortly after she was discharged. She had fallen in love with someone other than her fiancé and that made her sick. The other man had a wife. Behind the big paulownia tree in the neighborhood field, I learned that story from my three-year senior schoolmate Sanae-chan, a daughter of the baker. “Have some,” said Sanae-chan, offering me a bag full of kasutera cake crusts that they could not sell at the bakery, and told me the secret after I promised to tell no one. She offered me holding out a paper bag with full of shoulders of castella cake. Then she told me the teacher’s secret after I promised to tell no one. “The man, the one who wasn’t her fiancé, promised to marry her after getting a divorce from his wife. The teacher knew it wasn’t a right thing to do but wanted to marry him as well. Then the man’s wife marched into the school and that’s the reason she had to quit school.” After she demanded a pinky promise, Sanae-chan added. “After all a woman always loses at the end. That is what my mother said. The teacher was foolish. Even a smart woman like her would get trapped because of her weakness as a woman. Sanae-chan sounded just like her mother. Once again, she demanded a pinky promise not to tell anyone. “Have some more.” Sanae-chan offered again. Taking her offer, I ate some dry kasutera crumbles that took away all moistures in my mouth and choked me. For a while I became to dislike Sanae-chan. For a while, I didn’t want to talk to Sanae-chan.
On TV, a popular pro-wrestler Rikidozan in black tights was raising his arms for his triumph. I was in a neighborhood Chinese restaurant called ‘Number Fifty.’ That spring, grandmother had sold their family house and moved to Tokyo. While Teru-chan got into college in Tokyo, Chi-chan graduated from a normal school back home and got a teaching job in Tokyo. That was why grandmother had finally accepted to move to Tokyo. 62
“As long as we stayed there, neither Chi-chan nor Teru-chan can marry. Since the oldest sister is like that, why marry someone from a house like that, they said. Who do they think they are!” cursed grandmother, right in front of my mother. Grandmother said with sarcastic sound in front of my mother. I looked at my mother, but she was pouring tea as if she didn’t hear anything. I heard from Teru-chan that Chi-chan gave up getting married with Takashi-san because of his parent’s opposition. “Men are all the same, whether they sing foreign songs, such as the INTERNATIONAL or war songs. What they want in marriage after all is no different, you know?” Teru-chan lit her cigarette and blew the smoke, telling me not to say it to anyone. “I cannot believe people like such barbarous fights. Look, someone is bleeding, Oh no!” While she was saying that, she stopped eating her ramen noodles and was attached to the TV screen. A little while ago, on a greasy shelf now occupied by the TV, there used to be such curios as kumade (fortune fans) or manekineko (welcome cat) dolls or a mirror with a company name printed on. On nights when there were pro-wrestling programs, all chairs were arranged to face the TV, and the restaurant was crowded with twice the usual number of customers. Grandmother had been a fan of Samurai movies of Toei Film Company since she was in the family home in the countryside. “It’s fun to watch it because you can always tell good guys from bad.” That’s what she always said. That means, grandmother must like pro-wrestling, too. “This girl asks me to go out, you know….” Grandmother says to mother and aunts, making excuses to go out. She went out the house saying that to the aunts and mother. She would order two ramen noodles to begin with, followed by gyoza or shumai, and sweet and sour pork or crab meat with eggs in addition, saying that we needed to order more dishes to stay there longer. If there were familiar faces among the customers, she would order even more and offer the leftovers to them since we couldn’t eat it all anyway. “You know what? Sumo wrestler Azumafuji too is switching over to a 63
pro-wrestler,” said a man with a bottle of beer and a glass, joining us at our table. He owned a drugstore in the neighborhood. A man who owned the grocery store in neighborhood joined in our table, carrying a glass and bottle of beer. Chi-chan and Teru-chan used to buy cold cream and had their stockings mended at this store. Grandmother would buy a skin conditioner in a blue bottle called Bigansui (Beautiful Face Water). “It’s so nice to watch pro-wrestling on TV while drinking a cold beer ….. We have come a long way since the war. I heard that there was a boy who stole TV to bring home for his mother to make her happy.” He said it in front of grandmother, who was having a Hard time chewing off a piece of pork in the ramen. “Stealing is no good. But the father of this boy was caught by gambling, betting on horses.” “Ah-huh. That’s what men would do.” Grandmother snapped, still chewing of her pork. For a moment, he lost his words and then continued. “A fourteen-year-old boy stole a TV for comforting his mother because he saw her crying and struggling to survive. Isn’t it pity, only fourteen, still a child？” Grandmother sipped her soup. I knew that was how she swallowed her pork that she could not chew. “It was a ten- inch Fujitsu TV. The boy told to his mother he won it on a lottery, so I heard.” The man gulped down his beer with his lips greasy from fried dumplings (gyoza). I was watching the Adam’s apple of his skinny throat bobbing up and down.“ I expect a fair judgement for the boy,” said the grocery owner, who liked samurai movies and pro-wrestling just like my grandmother. “Guess what, my daughters are offering me to buy TV.” Said my grandmother abruptly, now that she got free from the battle with pork in her mouth. It came as news to me. I had a classmate who owned a TV. She was a daughter of a doctor’s family and was taking the piano lessons. The rich girls appearing in the girl’s comic books were all mean, but that she was actually very gentle. 64
If we really got a TV, then it would make me the second person in our class. If that’s the case, I’d invite my friends over. I happily thought of who should I invite first? Looking at the red swirl of a slice of fish cake floating in the bowl of ramen, I was wondering. “Say, are we really getting a TV?” I asked grandmother as soon as I got out of the restaurant, but she didn’t answer my question and said instead, “If we bought a television, then we could save money on ramen and gyoza, huh?” There she goes again. At that moment, I realized she had just said it out of vanity again. The Shiba-inu puppy, Chiro, was feverishly digging beneath the green hedge that separated us from the next door’s neighbor. Chiro had recently learned to bark with his nose wrinkled. He would stand firmly on his strong forefeet and growl so that his favorite toy would not be taken away. “I’ve heard puppies who make this kind of face are nasty. When I got him, I was told to check on him by fluttering my hands in front of his face,” said Chi-chan, cocking her head inquiringly. She was the one who brought Chiro in a cardboard box. Chi-chan who had brought Chiro in the cardboard box, cocked her neck on one side saying this. She just changed her job from an elementary school teacher to a university hospital. “I’ll bet you are after doctors”, said Teru-chan, teasing her. Teru-chan teased her saying so. Chi-chan got angry, taking it seriously. Chi-chan brought Chiro home, which was kept for experiments at the hospital. It didn’t matter to me whether he was nasty or not. When we were back in Tochigi prefecture, our dog Chiro, Sr. and I used to hang out under the engawa, which was our secret hideout. This Chiro, therefore, was the second generation of Chiro. But the dog ran away after we moved to Tokyo, so this one became Chiro, Jr. While sitting on the engawa eating an apple, I was watching Chiro ardently digging the ground with his forefeet. I cannot be as ardent as he is on anything, I thought. I would do something with ardor to a certain degree, but right before it gets completed, I 65
would lose my interest and give it up. Although I was just a child, I could tell that I had such tendency. In fact, just the other day, a teacher from school scolded me for not being serious enough. It was when we were practicing needlework at the homemaking class. We were supposed to needle with a red thread along the straight lines written on a fabric. But I just couldn’t manage to do it. I felt giddy in my eyes and soon lost consciousness as if I was standing on a morning gathering for a long hours under the strong sun. Then I became dead tired. So, I put the cloth on a desk staring blankly at the playground when the teacher called my name. “You can do it if you’d try,” said the teacher. Every teacher says the same thing when they give me a warning. “It’s no good if don’t even give it a try.” I was told like that, too. I knew that was a cliché teachers used to encourage dull students. I thought so. But what would they do if a student could not do it anyway? What would they say? I just waited for the teacher to finish the preaching, wanting to know this answer. Besides, I did not thing needlework was a big issue anyway. Chiro turned around having dirt on his muzzle. I kept eating my apple, pretending that I didn’t notice him. Then he jumped at me, stuck his cold nose, and licked my face as if to demand attention. He was so cute when he did that, so I often pretended to ignore him just to look at him. “It’s unsafe because we are an all-female family.” That was grandmother’s reason for keeping the dog. I did not understand why a female family was unsafe. Not knowing why, though, there was an incident a year or two ago that a girl named Kyoko, who was around the same age as I, was murdered at the school bathroom. I remember hearing it at the morning meeting at school. So, I thought ‘unsafe’ meant something like that incident. Grandmother used to keep a pair of men’s big black geta at the entrance, which no one actually wore. When a vender came in selling at the door, grandma turned to the inner part of a room and yelled out, 66
Whenever a pushy salesman came to our house, she would turn around and say loudly, “What do you think, dear?” as if the owner of the geta were at home. As I got closer to his face, I felt a lukewarm, fishy-smelled breath on my face. Then I heard grandmother’s voice coming from inside the house. “Caught by a cheater….” ‘A cheater’…? Chiro tilted his head inquiringly when I picked him up on my knees. Although Chiro had never heard of this high-pitch voice of grandmother, I was already used to her loud name-calling. Grandma was talking to my mother. I now know that the ‘cheater’ she was referring to was my father, whom I had never lived with. Even so what can I do about it? When she got excited the pitch of her voice rose to a harsh mysteriously clean scream. I could hear her voice again getting more piercing and mysteriously clearer as she got excited. Grandmother and mother must have been in the living room. And both were talking between the table. The way my aunts put it, our Houjo Masako was having a hysterical fit again. My mother’s voice was always soft and low but grandmother’s would become sort of metallic as she got excited. I had learned from my aunts that in a situation like that, I should stay away as much as possible. But I found it very painful to think about my mother being yelled at like that. Lately my feeling was getting stronger that to rush toward mother and to protect her in such an occasion. But back then, I didn’t do it. Instead, I decided to share the same painful moment with my mother silently. “Women always suffer a loss…” said grandmother, her voice trailing off since my mother seemed to have shut the sliding door of the living room. The grandmother used to say so. As mother must have closed the sliding door because grandmother’s voice seemed to trail off. “Women always suffer a loss” was my grandmother’s stock phrase. I remember Sanae-chan’s mother saying the same thing when she was talking about the secret of our music teacher at school. “Children suffer a loss, too. 67
That’s what I thought whenever I had to withstand our Hojo Masako’s tantrum till the end. Meanwhile, my mother would usually get quiet. Even from outside, I could imagine exactly how they were, so I held Chiro tightly in my arms. Chiro growled as usual, showing wrinkles around his nose. “How could you fall in love with such a jerk….” All I could hear was my grandmother’s voice. My mother had kept quiet as always. Grandmother ranted on and on until she got exhausted. In fact, I didn’t like my mother’s attitude because it was in fact quite opposite from what she had been telling me all the time. “Just say exactly what you think is right no matter who you are talking to.” That ‘s what she’d been teaching me to do, yet she was letting grandmother get away with it, therefor I couldn’t make out why she would behave like that. Grandmother kept ranting. Then all of a sudden, Chiro jumped out of my arms and bolted to the hedge wagging his tail incessantly. As I turned my eyes, I could see a pair of crimson socks in geta sandals underneath the green hedge. Chiro was wagging his tail at that feet at them. It was the wife of next door. “Chiro!”, I called him in a loud voice. Then suddenly, the pair of sandals started sweeping under the hedge with a bloom. “The wife next door is always eavesdropping on us.” What Teru-chan said before came to my mind. “People look down on us because we are just women.” I was about to repeat grandmother’s phrases that I disliked. I felt I was gradually becoming obnoxious like her. I wished I could make a grimace and growl like Chiro toward the crimson socks under the hedge. “Buses in a country are very old,…Clean clean Kanebou,…Red flowers, blue flowers…,I cried, cried and cried,…Cool breeze, what a nice day…”I song. I sang and sang and sang. I wanted to dismiss grandmother’s voice by singing loudly. 68
Grandmother’s piercing voice was certainly audible in next door. Recently, grandmother gets angry most of the time. Today’s target was Teru-chan, my youngest aunt. Teru-chan, who was a junior at women’s college, was grandmother’s favorite. It turned out, however, that she took an audition to become a fashion model in secret, which was eventually discovered by school. Although grandmother was called in from school, she sent my mother instead, saying that she had a headache. “How was it?” “If she doesn’t quit modeling, she will be expelled, they said.” “Expelled?” “Right. But I think it’s awful.” “Why?” “Because it’s so unfair….” “Well….”, said grandmother and then paused. “It’s immoral,” said grandmother, after the pause. “What do you mean by that?” asked mother. “Fashion modeling is not something for a young girl to do.” “But Mother, unless you are young, you can’t be a model, you know?” Grandmother glanced at a magazine on the tatami mat, where Teru-chan was smiling in a sleeveless shirt and tight pants. Aha!, that’s it, I thought. It reminded me of the clipping from a movie magazine which was pinned on the wall next to the mirror in the bedroom shared by Teru-chan and Chi-chan. It was a scene from the movie ‘Sabrina’ by Audrey Hepburn. In that movie Hepburn was wearing a so-called Sabrina pants in the movie, which the aunts liked very much, and they decided to buy a pair together. While Teru-chan was tall and thin, Chi-chan was short and plump. So the pants turned out to be Teru-chan’s. So Teru-chan ended up keeping the pants all by herself and Chi-chan demanded half the money back. “I can’t face the neighbors,”, grandmother complained. “Why not?” mother asked in a carefree tone. “It is dubious, isn’t it?” “Because it’s indecent!” said grandmother in a what’s-to-know way. I wanted to ask grandmother what she meant by “indecent,” but didn’t. 69
Just then Teru-chan came back home. Grandmother stopped her when she was heading straight for her room. It seemed that Teru-chan at once realized what was going on by watching the magazine on the tatami floor. “I’ll be back after I change.” She said abruptly and retreated to her room. When the aunts were late, grandmother would get so concerned, so much so that she would eventually blow up. It was always my mother’s job to pacify her when that happened. Again, the ‘skin’ got thinner and thinner as the ‘sweet bean paste’ got wilder. “Chi-chan and Teru-chan are already adults, Mother. They’ve got their own worlds to socialize. They won’t always act as you wish, you know,” mother said. “All that I had gone through for nothing.” Said grandmother in a particularly pitiful way, having her nose red. “We’ve never asked you, though,” replied my aunts tit for tat. Again, it was my mother’s role to mediate the commotion. I was very worried about how long my mother, the thin skin could keep on acting as a peace-maker. That said, however, our family was always tightly knit with grandmother at the top. As a child, I couldn’t tell whether we got along well or hated each other. I found our relationship too dense and uncomfortable. “Sorry to have kept you waiting,” said Teru-chan, coming into the room where grandmother, mother, and I were in, holding a fork and a bowl of shredded cucumber and cabbage. Teru-chan bringing knives and forks came into the room where grandmother, mother and I waited for her. In her bowl there were cucumbers, cabbages and tomato sliced for salad. These days she had been eating cucumbers, cabbage, and tomatoes only, so as to lose weight. “If I have to choose between the two, I choose my work. To begin with, our family couldn’t afford to send me to women’s college. We are trying to look good in other people’s eyes but actually we are struggling to make ends meet. I just hate this situation. I want money. It is money that evaluates the world, isn’t it?” Grandmother could not talk back to Teru-chan. All she could do was to open and shut her hands on her knees. 70
Grandmother generally was soft on all her daughters except my mother and and couldn’t say anything back to them. “Money isn’t everything, I suppose,” my mother refuted, but Teru-chan continued, ignoring my mother’s rebuttal. “I hated to be so tall, the tallest one in the family. But now I appreciate the fact that I got a well-proportioned body, Mother,” said Teru-chan, turning to grandmother while tapping the brim of the salad bowl with a fork. Jubilantly Teru-chan began to tapping the tip of her fork on the salad bowl and turn to grandma. “The top models are special. In just one day, they can earn a full month’s pay of a college-graduate teacher,” Teru-chan continued, as if waiting for grandmother’s response. Teru-chan went on saying to grandma to put the fact or to see her reaction. “Then I can build a nice grave for my father.” Teru-chan added, appealing to her mother’s weak point and began to munch cucumbers and cabbages. I noticed grandmother’s shoulders swaying a bit. “I’ll quit before I get kicked out. Over the half of my classmates are already engaged and get married after graduation…. That’s the climate of our school. That is totally an nachronistic to me. I’m bored to death, Mother, it’s just a waste of time and money.” Right after saying so, Teru-chan sat on the tatami floor, rolled onto her back in one fluid motion and started exercising her legs in the air as if riding a bicycle. “You shouldn’t sit with your legs folded down. You’ll get bowlegged. Stretch them out,” said Teru-chan to me. Suddenly Teru-chan turned onto me and said so. I had always been told by grandmother to sit up straight with my legs folded up to now. But now, I started to relax my legs. “Come on, stretch them out.” I looked at grandma. She was staring vaguely at the transom. Perhaps she was daydreaming about the grave Teru-chan had said to build. If that’s the case, I may not have to worry about building it any longer. Feeling relief, I started exercising my legs like Teru-chan. Grandmother just laughed at me quietly, and that was it. 71
Teru-chan became a model after she quit school. Then she and left home suddenly one day. Grandmother was overcome with worry and got bedridden. While in bed, she blamed my mother for this outcome. “It’s because the eldest daughter is not respectful,” cried grandmother. “Go to hell, old hag!” So, I wrote on the ground with a nail but erased it thoroughly by the tip of my sneakers. I did not dislike my grandmother, but I found the affection toward her decreasing day by day, which was out of my control. I’m getting to dislike a person that I’m supposed to love….It was the feeling of guilt that I have come to learn for the first time in life. Someday, grandmother may realize that I don’t like her as much as before. I can easily imagine that she would wail in sorrow then. Thinking about that made me a bit sad. I knew that grandmother really showed me great affection more than any other kids of the relatives. Even so, the way that grandmother treated my mother was too harsh, I thought. It seemed that I started to learn who to like or dislike using the relationship of my mother and someone as a yardstick. My mother had learned, when young, how she could keep a proper distance from others using the relationship of people around her—my late grandfather and grandmother as well as grandmother and others—as a yardstick. Am I repeating the same history? It was a fear that I had never felt before.
The Two girls in swimsuits are walking to the private beach. They are probably 7th or 8th graders. They do not seem to be accustomed to their changing bodies yet. Watching them in turn made me feel somewhat uncomfortable as well. I remember the time I felt uneasiness toward my own body that was as if giving me a revenge for not treating it nice. ●
It was for sure the sound of waves that awoke me. 72
I hear the waves. Napping on the tatami floor, I was listening to the lapping of waves against the shore. How come I’m so close to the ocean? I looked around the room and found myself in the same old six-mat room with the familiar lace curtain. The wall clock was striking four-o’clock, making the same old sound. That clock and the sounds of striking were usual ones. Then what is making that sound like the waves crushing to the shore? If I was in my room, since our house was in the residential area, we could only hear the trains occasionally but not the waves. I turned over in my bed. I could see a familiar fusuma screen right in front of me. On it was a painting of the pine trees waving in the wind. On the other side of the screen was my mother’s room where she was supposed to be sleeping. It was quite. She always sleeps quietly. If she was not sleeping, she’d was either reading or gazing up at the ceiling vaguely. When watching the ceiling, she looked neither happy nor sad. She was just gazing there as if something was about to emerge. I took another look at the painting on fusuma thinking how quiet my mother’s room was as always. The painting appears to be a long beach. On fusuma, blown by the strong wind from the ocean, the pine trees were tilted toward the ground. Maybe it must be the beach with a strong wind blowing. Nevertheless, the beach in the painting was calm with no waves. There was a sea bird was strolling peacefully along the beach. I thought for a moment that the sound of waves was coming from the watercolor painting. Actually, however, the rhythmic sound of waves was not coming from the fusuma picture but coming from my back or even from myself. Maybe it came from the different direction or even from within myself, I thought. I turned around again to the glass-paneled door that was reflecting the late afternoon summer light. Beyond the glass door was supposed to be our yard where summer grasses were growing wild. Up until last year, my mother was frequently out in the yard cutting the weeds whenever possible. Until last summer, mother had always been out in the garden cutting the weeds whenever she had a chance. So, it was a well-kept but boring yard. 73
I could no longer stay still and got up. I felt dizzy a bit. I tried to calm myself down by standing firmly on the tatami mat. I felt sweaty all over on my body. Somehow, I noticed something was different. Why is the glass door closed? Suddenly, it occurred to me that my mother and I both liked hot summer air and never kept the doors shut during the day. I looked back to mother’s room where she was sleeping, then opened the glass-paneled door at once. There was the ocean right in front of my eyes. No grassy yard, no hedge of the neighbor, no houses beyond. Only the vast sea was there. And I could even see the horizon. I must be dreaming, I thought. I was watching our yard thinking that if I was dreaming, then eventually I would wake up. If this was really a dream, then it must be the longest one I’d ever had. There was a white cloud like the shape of a bird floating in the beautiful blue sky. I heard waves breaking under the floor, some of which splashed on my face at times. It was too long for a dream, I thought again. A dream with a real splash on my face? No way. I wiped my face and licked the splash. Whether it was the taste of my hand or that of the splash, I don’t know, but it was salty. Just at that moment, I heard a bird flapping its wings. There was a sea bird flying past my face and landed on the tatami floor. The bird walked a few steps, giving me a sidelong glance. It was a big sea bird. I couldn’t tell what kind it was. I had never seen a sea bird as close as this. To tell the truth, I’ve never liked the eyes of birds and fish; they make me feel scared. The sea bird cooed and walked toward me. I moved around behind the pillar, trying to hide myself. The sea bird took a few steps toward me and stopped. Its walk seemed familiar. Its walk reminded me of a chicken we used to keep at my childhood home. It would cock its head to one side and lift a leg into the air as if to decide which direction to place it. Right now, the sea bird was doing as such the sea bird was doing just that. For some reason, I found anger in its eyes. It didn’t blink. All the blood vessels were gathered around its eyes. 74
My hands with which I held on to the pillar began to ache, but I couldn’t release my hands off, because down below was the sea. Just at the time when I thought that it was becoming strange situation, the sea bird took quick steps. Then it opened its wings wide and flapped a few times, causing the wind to low up the newspaper on the floor. The sea bird was flying into the bright blue sky. That night I had my first period. That was my fourteenth summer.
“Look!” I heard a young woman’s voice coming from the deck chair. There I saw a woman with a ‘sauvage’ hair wearing a cigarette- brown bikini that fit very well to a bronzed slim body, calling her date. She must be in her early-twenties, perhaps a student, or a model, or both. “Hey, look.” She moved the bra strap a little and exposed her white skin to the man. I remember myself measuring the worth of summer by the suntan I had gotten. Her date appeared much older, probably as old as I am. He could be the same age of mine. Probably he is a member of a sport club in the fashionable district of Aoyama, working out once or twice a week to develop his chest, tighten his thighs, and tone up his back on a machine. But for him it appears as though summer has come too soon he had a chance to squeeze off all the fat from his upper abdomen. Summer had arrived, however, before he succeeded in removing fat from his abdomen that was protruding from his swim shorts. “Gotta work hard,”, I was observing him spitefully. “If you get any darker….” He pressed his lips to her neck and whispered something. The
woman, conscious of my eyes on her, gave a glance at me and the suddenly kicked her long leg in the air, and started laughing abruptly. Following the hollow laughter, she flicked her long hair to the back, letting it spread on her tanned shoulders, waving lightly. She takes a mug of beer the man just had a sip and sips a little by herself. Then she returned it to the man’s hand. A man who exploits a young woman like a membership card. A woman who affirms her worth by his credit history. This kind of scene is very common at the resort hotels. I looked away from the couple and again thought of a man who may be reading a letter from me by now. ●
“How do you think you came into this world?” The man asked me again. I can imagine what kind of answer he expected. know that he wanted to declare that I was created by my mother and he. “I am the one…who created by myself.” I have to repeat the same response again. It is an exemplary response. An exemplary response, but insipid, lacking humor. “If it were not for me, you wouldn’t have come into this world, would you?” I blushed from embarrassment and anger. “As far as fertilization is concerned…yes, you may be right” The man paused for a moment, wondering. In the world he reigned, there had been no women in the past, or present, who would use the word “fertilization” so blatantly. “Well, O.K.” he mumbled, as if he finally picked up the right kanji characters for ‘fertilization.’ “That’s not what I mean,” he said glumly. “That’s what…well, that’s what it means.” Since I didn’t want to call him “you” up front, I swallowed my word. “Biologically speaking, I wasn’t born if the two of you have not been here. If I were two years old now, at least the both of you would play a much bigger role in my life. But such equation does not apply to a forty-five year old woman. At present I….at least now, what I can say is…I’m the only one who created myself including my weakness, that’s all. 76
“Well, perhaps you’re right,” The man gave in reluctantly. “It’s no big deal,” I said. The man was having a difficult time trying to scoop some sugar. His fingers might be numb. I gave him a helping hand. “You are so kind.” “I am, for an elderly person, not just for you.” “In the bullet train to Tokyo I was thinking of the time when your mother and I met each other.” My mother? Your lover? Avoiding my question to became sarcastic, I changed the subject instead. “It takes two hours to Tokyo, doesn’t it?” “Right, it has become very convenient.” “It’s about the right time to look back into the past and feel some regret. But it must be hard if the time gets longer than two hours.” “It is you who is hard on me.” “I don’t want to be hard on you.” “Why not?” “I don’t want to sound comforting.” “Comforting to whom?” I was about to point to the man’s dark suit around the chest, but said instead, “If I accuse you, you’ll be able to take some burden off your shoulders, won’t you?” The man laughed bitterly, coughing as he did so. I was watching silently while the man was coughing. “I would like to buy you something. Why don’t we stroll down the shopping arcade? Say anything you want” “…..” “Well?” “I will buy anything by myself…. I will get used to do so all in my life.” “….” True. I am the one who have made who I am. Cherry blossoms looked closer to white rather than pink. 77
They were falling down from every branch of an old tree, covering the entire ground with petals, which reminded me of the magnificent flower shower on the theater stage. What an awesome view! I, now fifteen, was drawn into the breathtaking view of the garden. “Do you know the expression, ‘fade out’?”, said my mother abruptly, who was sitting in an old rocking chair with a teacup in her hand. Her gentle voice sounded like a cherry petal that just left a branch softly. I turned around to my mother with a teacup in my hand as well, noticing a slight difference of tone in her voice. The way of her talk was a little bit different. I mean, she said it in such a way that she recognized me as an adult. I paused for a moment and then answered casually that I didn’t know. That way, I thought, would be the best possible reply to her who treated me as an adult. Come to think of it, perhaps my mother, however, was not in fact waiting for a reply from me, who was still a child. After feeling a little satisfaction I realized that. There always seemed to exist a distance between my mother and I, which I could never fill up. In a way, I have grown up from a little girl to a teenager, always mindful of that distance. Sometimes that distance made me feel impatient or sometimes and other times relieved. This was because she was my mother and I couldn’t see her as anyone other than my mother at that time. The room was filled with amber light of the late spring, giving a tint of warmth on my mother’s bare toes. “You know, when you watch movies, the screen gradually fades at the end, right? That is ‘fade out.’ And then the letters ‘FIN’ appears abruptly on the screen that marks the end of the film.” The word FIN may have been more appropriate to her feelings at the time. Mother used to take me to the French movie or that of Italian such as ‘People in the Gallery’, ‘Therese’, ‘Invitation to Happiness’ and ‘Lira’s Gate’. Even though there were many American movies on the roadshow, somehow she would only take me to French and Italian movies. All of those movies were too difficult for me to enjoy at that time. ‘The Red Balloon’ was the only movie I got through not getting bored. 78
So, I would just sit still and wait for the the ‘FIN’ to appear to set me free. “In a way, my life was kind of like that—‘fade out.’ Mother said in the rocking chair, swinging slightly. “I mean, I’d make some plans and say, ‘O.K. I’ll make it through this time.’ But then it vanishes into air and fades out; it gets terminated all at once by the ‘FIN,’ telling me to give it up completely.” She told me a painful matter in a mild and low voice. Mother had not once waited for the ‘FIN’ to appear in her life whereas I was always yearning to see it sitting on a hard and uncomfortable chair in the theater. I tried to say it to her, but the words got in the way. “My life would be unbearable if the things were left as it were. I don’t want to let it ‘fade out’ yet.” My mother stretched her hands into the amber light as if she was trying to receive a petal that was falling from the tree, which only scratched her hand and fell on the ground. I wonder if mother was trying to confess to me a very important thing. And I only could understand how sad she would be. As I couldn’t say anything. I knew she was feeling very sad, but all I could do was to keep looking at a cherry petal floating in my tea cup. “If only she weren’t here….” I stopped my hands when I overheard my mother’s voice from the next room. “….only just at that moment ,though.” My mother’s friend was visiting us from her childhood town. She, Kaga-san, was not my favorite person. Because I didn’t like her pursy speech as well as the way she talked to me like she was facing a little child—both of which gave an impression that she was carrying a heavy load all the time. Plus, I didn’t feel comfortable when she said to me “Keep at it! I know you can do it,” meaningfully. I can do what? I mumbled in my mind each time she said that to me. She looked as if she was always looking for the seeds of ‘misfortune’ and ‘anxiety.’ As soon as she found her target, she would run to her side and never let her go. I thought that she herself must have been unhappy.
Above all, what made me uncomfortable the most was that Kaga-san would touch me at my hair and shoulders too often. She was a kind of person whose hands were always sweaty. “You look tired .” “You look pale.” “There must be something wrong with you.” “You can come to me for any help.” Whenever Kaga-san visited us, she said this to my mother and to me as well. And she would report every little thing that was being said about mother back home. She appeared to have made my mother tired intentionally in order to secure her position within my mother. “We had a class reunion the other day, and they were saying all sorts of bad things about you. Well, yes, about you…I got extremely mortified.” When she reported such gossips, her eyes would shine unbelievably. By criticizing the person who was gossiping about my mother and by expressing anger toward her on behalf of my mother, Kaga-san was thrusting her friendship upon my mother; at least, that was my impression about her. That afternoon, mother thought that I was not in the next room. I had left for shopping a while ago but had changed my mind at the train station and returned home. That was when I heard my mother talking about me. Since I recognized my name in the conversation, I naturally turned my attentive ears. I knew it was not a nice thing to do, but I couldn’t help. I was beginning to feel at that time that there were too many things that I didn’t know about my mother. To me, my mother had been always kind, always warm, always bright, and even cheerful. I would roll in laughter watching her dance with a bloom along her favorite Continental Tango records, such as Alfred Hause’s “Blue Heaven” or “Pearl Fisher Tango.” Yet somehow, I felt as if there existed a different mother somewhere out there. I couldn’t hear what mother said after that. Mother might have lowered her voice at that part. “Yes, yes, I see what you mean,” Kaga-san snorted. 80
I did not understand what mother did said and what Kaga-san sympathized with. But the inaudible word came ringing deep inside my ears. “If …not here…I’d rather die.” In fact, I was not so sure; I might have misconceived the word, drawing a connection from the word “railroad crossing” which my mother had uttered afterwards. My mother used to take a walk on the river bank by the railroad crossing, where mustard and radish flowers bloom in spring. Mother and I used to walk together there in spring nights. There was an accident that killed a person a few weeks ago at the railroad crossing. Since it was right after I had heard the news, I must have made a connection between the two incidents. There was a time my mother once thought she would be better off dead had I not been born…. I took the fact not positively—that I had stopped her from committing suicide—but on the contrary, I thought had prevented her from seeking death as liberation. I have no idea why I made a connection between death and liberation back then. Death to me then was extreme horror as well as inexplicable liberation. That is why I thought I had obstructed my mother from seeking freedom. If my mother were to die, she would disappear quietly as if to fade out. And that is the most proper way for her, I thought. I was standing in her way even for that. Perhaps I was horrified but beautifying death by the teenage sentimentalism. Also, I may have thought that death was one of few options left for my mother, for she seemed to have been living life with no agency back then. I found it very sad that I was keeping her from taking the only option she had. Strangely, though, I didn’t think about what would have happened to me if my mother had actually died. Also, it never occurred to me that my mother had regretted that she had me because I was raised by her with abundance of love. “If I didn’t have her….” I think I took exactly what she meant. 81
So, I didn’t get hurt by her words nor did I think that she regarded me as a hindrance. The only concern I had then was that I may have been disturbing my mother’s freedom. “If only I didn’t have you….” I have a friend who was hurt by the words she got from her mother; she says it aches even after she has become an adult. Mine, however was not that kind of pain. If I may say so, mine was a feeling of guilt that I may have obstructed her from taking her choice. After I grew up, I have come to think that what happened on that Sunday afternoon may have been a dream. Kaga-san’s visit, my mother’s frail voice, the fact that I tiptoed back to the entrance hall—perhaps, all that was a dream I saw? Having to return quietly to the entrance after I’ve heard mother’s conversation might have been all a dream as well….Was it also a dream that had thought mother made many sacrifices by giving birth to me? I wish I could have asked if she in fact sacrificed herself for me. Did my mother give up many more things because she had me? All these are mysteries to me which I can no longer ask my mother. “Kaga-san seems to collect other people’s sighs and tears as if collecting mail stamps. When she talks about someone’s misfortune, she seems to take it as her chance to make an appeal; she tries to look really sympathetic, but actually, she looks ever more invigorated to me.” I just said it once to my mother. Mother made no comments but instead said that Kaga-san lost her parents in her childhood and her lover at war as well, keeping a single life since then.
At one point during my teen years, I was a wonderful fiction writer. I was very afraid of becoming the target of sympathy for not having a father. My background could offer many elements that attracted the attention of the girls of my age. Although mother had a ‘certain symptom,’ she looked beautiful, young, and elegant whenever she came to school for a visiting day. 82
And she had this ambience that qualified as the heroine of a sentimental girls’ novel, which the girls, including me, loved to read. Every time I was called as ‘piteous child’ or ‘poor child,’ I got deeply hurt. I was originally a cheerful child, but adults didn’t accept me as such. “She is trying her best to act cheerfully, poor kid.” That’s how they wanted to interpret me. Even my grandmother and aunts saw me that way and, which made me very uncomfortable. There is nothing more annoying than self-complacent sympathy. Those experiences made me up as a fiction writer. Otherwise, girl of my age must have made mother and I into the heroines of a melodrama, although I didn’t have such attributes of a heroine as sickly, skinny, or pale back then. The girls were dying to shed tears for other people besides themselves. The school I and other girls had attended six years for junior and senior high school proudly posted the spirit of service as one of their school policies. For those students who were clad in ugly childish uniform, the quick and easy way to act out their spirit of service was to show their sympathy and cry for others. I, however, did not want to cater to someone’s spirit of service. So, the first thing I did was to avoid talking about my father to my friends, and only if it didn’t work out, then I would present a montage picture of my father that I made up out of my imagination—handsome, understanding, and humorous. He was handsome, understanding, and humorous father. My montage picture was at once completed with a face of an actor, a heart of a popular figure in the novel, and long legs of a rock ‘n’ roll singer, all of which were popular among girls. Whenever asked, I presented the montage to my classmates as quickly as showing a railway pass at the ticket gate. Although the montage was blurry and changed day by day depending on the mood of the creator, the girls did not notice it, perhaps because they did not really care. The classmates never be aware of it. Of course they never listened seriously. What the girls wanted to hear was a story of an unhappy girl instead of a girl like themselves. Besides they were approaching the time when the family matters were becoming somewhat annoying to them. So, their interest left my father and went instead toward a boyfriend of someone. 83
Under the palm roof huts the waiters are swishing by selling draft beer and frappe. As I was returning the empty glass of sangria, I noticed the waiters, who served draft beer and shaved ice at the palm hut, changed their uniform from button down shirts with bow ties for the daytime to marine blue aloha shirts with seashells patterns. At the poolside, there were battles here and there between adults who wanted to drag their children out of the swimming pool and children who wanted to stay longer. Soon, parents with children would leave one by one, and the poolside would be occupied by lovers. From the speakers hidden behind the oleander bush came Astrud Gilberto’s ‘The Girl from Ipanema.’ Tall and tan, the girl from Ipanema goes walking, and when she passes, each one she passes goes ah…. Fully aware of the eyes of other men, the girls with long legs were lying on the deck chairs or walking around with their men at the poolside. Putting on a dungaree shirt over the bathing suit and sneakers on my bare feet, I was about to return to my room. Then I noticed all my body and hair got sticky from the salt air. I love the beach, but this is something that I never get used to. I felt the sand in the tips of my sneakers and change hanged my mind to stay at the pool side a bit longer. In fact, my work was gradually taking shape. I felt I should not leave right now. So, I stopped the waiter and ordered a salty dog. ● I have always thought it unfair to draw a connection between my vague fear toward having a child and my mother’s life. It would be unfair for both of us. It is, by all means, unfair to make an assumption that my mother may have regretted having me, as long as it is based on my assumption. And it is also unfair to draw a conclusion based on the aforementioned assumption that I, her daughter, is afraid of having a child. For, accepting this premise means I allow my mother’s life exercising a control over my life. 84
What I wanted to inherit from my mother was not certainly her sadness but rather her calm and peaceful personality, as well as her sense of humor and boldness which she showed when she was in good health. Mother’s sadness may cast a shadow over her daughter’s life…. That is the view many people wanted to take, which offered enough elements to make them say “I knew it!”—and that is exactly why I wanted to resist. Mother’s life belongs to her; mine belongs to me. It was smothering to sing a sad blues from one generation to the next. To assume mother’s life was a tragedy filled with tears should be an insult to her. I thought of it as an insult to consider my mother’s life as a tear-jerking tragedy. At the same time, I didn’t want to back up what my mother had failed to do in her life. I have never wanted to dig a deep hole together with my mother out of the constraints of our blood relationship. If I had to, I always wanted to dig my own hole all by myself. Even so, whenever I recall my teenage years, during which I was caught by the unreasonable fear, I have found myself bound by the unfair thoughts for both of us. I was leading a rather unhealthy life at some time in my teenage years. In fact, when I was a freshman in high school, they found a sign of calcification in my chest at the checkup. I always had a slight fever and got tired easily. It was considerably hard for me to get up in the morning. That was mostly because I had stayed up late to read novels, but my mother got worried and wanted me to stay home. When mother was at work, I spent my time reading, sketching with fusain, or just fooling around with playing the mandolin that I just picked up. Sometimes I went for walk to the nearby park or to the library. One thing I did regularly when I stayed home was to take a nap in the late afternoon. And each time I woke up, I was caught by the terror that a man might have sneaked in and raped me during my nap, and that I ended up getting pregnant. Even though I was in my room in my house with the door tightly locked and found no difference before I took a nap, I was caught by this same terror again and again. I had to check systematically if my clothes were fine, if the 85
windows upstairs were closed, if the book that I was reading was left at the same place with the same page open; otherwise, I couldn’t get relieved. If I had ever told anyone about the fear I had back then, I would have been taken to see a shrink just like my mother. When my period was delayed, I thought I really got pregnant even though I didn’t have any boyfriend whom I could have an intimate conversation with. To me, pregnancy was a terror, an absolute taboo. “Men are dangerous. You’d better be careful.” Grandmother’s constant warnings may have played a role in my distorted fantasy somehow. One summer day when I just turned fifteen, a stranger approached me on the street and grabbed my breasts while passing, which were beginning to develop. The memory of that physical pain and the humiliation I felt then also may have contributed to my fear. But why did I, at fifteen, fear pregnancy that couldn’t be possible so much? And why had I been captured by a state of apparent by the apparent neurotic symptom? I know that it is unfair to draw a parallel to my mother’s life, but when I recall those days when I couldn’t even make a wry smile, I cannot help but doing so. And it is precisely because I was still preoccupied with the fear of pregnancy that I was disinclined for sex even after I had fully grown up. I thought that pregnancy and child birth deprived women of any opportunities and possibilities. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, mysophobia, hand-washing phobia…these are the diagnosis my mother got. I was nine years old when I first saw mother gripped by in this condition. Since I was a child, I didn’t know what was going on with my mother and got confused by her sudden change. I felt nervous and angry for being left behind. Mother was sleeping in a white bed in the white room. Putting her head on a white pillow, mother looked very beautiful and quite lady like in a quiet painting. 86
I was sitting on a round wooden chair by her bedside with an open book on my lap. It was a quiet afternoon. I wanted to decorate her bedside with a bunch of pink and blue cornflowers but was told by the nurse that I couldn’t bring a vase in the room. So, I had no choice but to put the flowers in the vase by the reception. Just as the scene from a movie I had seen before, I remember there was a green apple on the shelf next to her bed. So, the time must have been summer. I looked up from my book and often peeked into mother’s face. It was the first time I had seen mother’s sleeping face this close. Mother usually got up much earlier than I and went to bed after I fell asleep. “Don’t wake her up until she opens her eyes.” Was it grandmother or was it a helper who said that and left the room quietly? Everyone spoke in a hushed voice here. Mother didn’t open her eyes for a long time. I heard a bell ringing nearby. “That’s the bell from the Nickolai-do Cathedral (Holy Resurrection Cathedral),” a man taught me in a whisper, while walking down the linoleum hallway. His footsteps were absorbed by the floor, and only the voices stayed hovering in front of my mother’s room. Mother still hadn’t opened her eyes. Suddenly, I fell into the bottom of fear. I felt as if my mother would never open her eyes anymore. The image of the sleeping mother overlapped with two other memories of deaths I had experienced that summer. It happened just at the beginning of the summer vacation. It was right after I finished running across the big roadway with my playmates when I heard a bizarre noise behind us; I heard a car slamming the brakes and someone screaming at the same time. “A boy got run over!” yelled someone. Then I heard a mixture of voices and screams, followed by the siren of an ambulance. “His head is totally crushed,” someone cried again. What my friends and I saw was the tiny soles of the sneakers as well as two skinny bare shins below the gigantic wheels of a bus. 87
It was my friend’s younger brother who was crushed under the wheels. He was trying to catch up with us and was hit by a bus. “Wait!” we heard him say in a shrill voice. We, however, did not stop to wait for him, hearing the voice of the weak and young in a feeling of superiority. The boy wearing the sneakers still kept his head on the ground below the bus, never made any motion. I lost my memories after this incident for a few days, or even for a few weeks. I believe I must have gone to his funeral with my mother, and she warned me about a few things on the way there. But I remember nothing. That part of my memory has simply been lost. Strangely enough, nobody talked about the accident up after that. It was not that we were prohibited by adults from talking about it. Although we liked scary and horrifying stories, we spent that summer not mentioning at all about the death of a brother of our playmates as if we had promised. That means, we probably shared a feeling of guilt among each other. Everybody heard him screaming, “Wait for me.” Yet none of us, who were running across the road at the time, stopped and tried to waited for him. No one else knew this fact. That may be why we kept our eyes away from the recurring flashbacks of the boy with tiny sneaker soles and skinny bare legs. One of our playmates brought a weekly magazine from somewhere. We all gathered under the big ginkgo tree in our playground as usual. In the magazine, there was a composite photograph of the earth hit by another planet. I saw on top of a tall building—was it the Empire State Building?—quite a few people stretching their arms toward the sky, crying for help. Big waves were reaching toward the bottom of the building. We stared at the picture in silence for a long time. I shivered at the thought that we might be the first ones to die when another planet hit the earth. That was how, I thought, we would be punished for dismissing the boy’s desperate cry, “Wait for me.” There was another death. Someone got drowned in a swamp. Passing through the fruits shop, bakery, grocery store, etc. on the other side of the railway, there was a swamp at the end of the busy shopping 88
district. It was a small swamp with barbed-wire fencing stretched around the area. It was a small swamp—said to be bottomless, though—fenced with multiple layers of barbed-wire. Although teachers and parents warned us repeatedly not to go there, older kids used to get in there anyway, carrying a fishnet to catch crawfish, crucian carp, and big carp. A little girl was drowned in that swamp. She was from a different school, so we didn’t know her. Later on, we also heard a rumor that her mother went mad. When I was watching my mother sleeping in the white hospital room, it was these two deaths that came into my mind. I shook mother’s shoulders with all my strength trying to wake her up, until someone came into the room and stopped me. At that time, mother worked as an office clerk during the day and worked in a small factory which manufactured clasps for tabi socks in the evening. Mother was enjoying a brief but peaceful—though artificially induced—sleep in the white hospital bed. Watching my mother sleeping, I felt a kind of fear that if I didn’t distract her peace, I could never be blessed with it. After all, it was I, in the cold winter night in January nine years before, who tore up my mother’s body and came into this world, too impatient to wait for the doctor’s arrival. But I had remained as her eyewitness and an onlooker. What else could I do? “Please, mother, go to the hospital.” I tried to convince her to get a treatment. I also went around to see a doctor with her. Thanks to these experiences, I had come to take the sign of Psychiatric department at the National Hospital as casually as that of Surgery or Pediatrics departments. Come to think of it, though, why is it that Psychiatric departments are always placed at the far end of the hallway at any hospital? It was all mystery to me in my childhood. Grandmother told me not to tell anybody that my mother had developed symptoms. 89
“It’s not something that you have to hide,” mother said, which I totally agreed. I don’t quite remember since when, but I started to accept my mother’s behavior. Perhaps it was when I saw her losing her expressions and emotions gradually in proportion to the amount of pharmaceuticals she received from the hospital. Then, she started to reject all sorts of “treatments” whatsoever. It was the first act of rejection that mother was finally able to express, for, up until that time, she was always obedient and attentive to others’ needs. Grandmother got confused, but still, she managed to have a full control over my mother. However, mother had come to show adamant refusals to all medications and treatments. I soon became to accept mother’s condition as a part of her personality itself. Grandmother said mother had gotten worse. Maybe so, but mother’s change, which was at times got even aggressive, made me happy. Because that was exactly what had been missing in her life. “I said I’m not going to the hospital. Period!” “I said I’m not taking medication. Period!” I felt happy to see mother speaking up for herself no matter what. So, it was not really hard for me to accept the whole of herself including her symptoms. No matter what the doctors inscribe on her medical records behind the curtain, she was my mother after all, and she was who she was. Nevertheless, there was one thing I couldn’t understand about her. “I think there’s a difference between a person who takes possession of neurosis and a person possessed by neurosis.” When I heard my girlfriend, who happened to be a therapist, say this, I had to face again with the mystery I had kept inside me for many years. That is, which applies to my mother. Is it mother who is possessed by neurosis, or is it mother who possesses neurosis? If it’s the latter case, then her neurosis was one of a few things that mother had actually decided to take hold of during her passive life. Then, my mother’s so-called “neurosis” would never be subject to treatments. In fact, we got worn out by the treatments that included seeing the doctor for ten, fifteen minutes a week, plus the medication we finally received after waiting 90
in line for a number of hours. Since my mother made a decision to own “neurosis,” her symptoms were her belongings as well. I had no way of knowing whether mother possessed neurosis or was possessed by it. At such times, I could do nothing but just to keep an eye on her, who was trying her best to escape from a trap like a struggling small animal. At other times, it was clear that mother was in charge of her neurosis, depending on the day, the time, the condition she was in, and the condition I was in. If mother possesses neurosis itself, I started to think that it was her way of expressing subjectivity in her own right, no matter how bizarre it would appear to others. “Woman’s madness is a label inflicted by the sexual norm itself as well as the deviation from it. Put differently, it is a form of punishment for those who want to be—or not to be— a woman.” I found this notion in a book I read in order to understand better my mother’s condition. If I took this notion, then, the symptoms my mother possessed seemed to mean her rebellion, protest, and objection against all sorts of social norms imposed on women. It was her impingement, and retaliation, against the gender ideology and gender role imposed on women by society, which my mother had unconsciously imbibed. But it seems too romantic to dramatize her sufferings as a way of revenge. It is just a reflection of my fantasy toward my mother. Rather, it is more natural to think of her condition as what Shoshana Felman rightly said, “being chased into the dead-end street and grabbing at a piece of straw.” Deprived of all means of self-expression and protest, my mother fit into Shoshana’s words perfectly. One can easily imagine how women with neurosis had been treated if you think about the fact that the terms such as “hysterical” or “mad woman” are still effective to silence women even today, which, in fact, were used to label the British suffragettes and Japanese ‘Seito (Blue Stockings)’ women. It is said that suffragettes went on hunger strikes in prison, strategically adopting anorexia as a means to fight back. I believe there is a connection between hunger strikes of suffragettes and anorexia of contemporary 91
women—both as a means to express their anger and resistance to prejudice, neglect, and oppression. Rejecting food intake can be regarded as an intentional strategy on one end of a line and as “a piece of straw to grab at” on the other end of the same line. Mother was also experiencing days of anorexia and bulimia periodically. “Compulsive neurosis is expressed in such a way that the patients become obsessed with a previously unconcerned way of thought and get driven by the unreasonable impulse that give them no satisfaction whatsoever…. The patients get completely consumed and enslaved by it against their will.” I think I’ve read a passage like this in Freud’s work. But, to think of my mother’s endless obsession toward “I want to escape from uncleanliness,” her endless act of defiance and defeat…. Taking up more than half a day to wash one pair of chopsticks, one spoon, one plate; taking up the whole morning to wipe the kitchen counter over and over again, repeating it day and night; washing her hands after receiving a package until her fingers get wrinkly white; drawing the curtains with a slipper to avoid touching them; yet, not minding the grime around the collar of her blouse; having alternating bouts of anorexia and bulimia—is it really true, just as Freud says “unreasonable impulse,” that these acts of my mother have nothing to do with her nature or her past? I don’t agree. Sometimes mother looked like a tree, a very helpless yet stubborn tree. Say that her never-ending impulsive acts are comparable to ever-growing lush leaves that never fall from a tree, if you dig deep under the soil that supports the roots of the bough, the bough with the branches, the branches with the leaves, I can see a plethora of blood vessels and thin water veins that run though the cleavages that connect my mother’s “unreasonable obsession,” lush foliage, branches, boughs, and roots to the earth. And I can surely feel the moment in which the sound of droplets that run through my mother’s cleavages coincides with that of mine. Mother was born in 1923, the year of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Her father was a young—in his twenties—head teacher at an elementary school and her mother was a teacher of Japanese dressmaking. Mother, the eldest daughter, was daddy’s girl. 92
Wearing a velvet dress with a velvet hat, three-year-old mother was standing by the gobelins chair, holding a bunch of lilies in her hands. It was a black and white picture taken at a photo studio that apparently showed a “daddy’s favorite child.” Her big black eyes shining brightly under the thick eyebrows, she is looking straight at the camera. Mother was a tomboy, stubborn, easily excitable, and loved music in her childhood. Even though she could not read the score, once she heard the music, she could reproduce the melody on the organ and made her sweet father happy. Her happiest moments are kept frozen in a number of keepsake pictures in the album. The page before that was a picture of grandfather and grandmother who appeared to be students. As for my grandmother who lost her father when young and was left behind by her mother for remarriage, it must be the picture from her happiest days as well. On the next page was a family picture of my mother with her three younger sisters, followed by another family picture of one summer vacation with a caption “at Ōarai Beach in Ibaraki prefecture.” On the next page was a funeral picture of my grandfather, decorated with a mourning wreath. In the previous picture, he is showing his back in a dress shirt at the beach, and now he is smiling with his mustache inside the wreathed frame. He died at the age of thirty-five, leaving behind my grandmother at the age of twenty-seven, my mother at seven, my aunts at five, four, and two. Mother did not understand the meaning of death then. She was said to be so excited throughout the funeral and went so far as to play the tune on the Taishōgoto (Nagoya harp) that she had recently picked up and ended up being scolded by my grandmother. At times, she pretended to be crying like others by putting her saliva around her eyes with her fingers. To her, the relatives came one after another and said: “Since you are the oldest daughter, you must help your mother and take the place of your father, all right?” “Your father was the first man in this district to become a head teacher in his twenties. Don’t put your father to shame, O.K?” “You were your father’s favorite, weren’t you?” 93
“Your father has always told me, since you are bright and active, you would definitely become somebody if you were a boy.” Mother took the words of the relatives seriously and accepted the heavy responsibility as the eldest daughter of the family with no father or husband. A dependable ‘son-like daughter,’ ‘brother-like sister,’ ‘father-like daughter’—that’s the role she thought she had to play as the oldest daughter. Thus, my mother had grown into a faithful model student internalizing the teachings of family-ism. “I wished I were a boy so that my mother and my sisters could have been depended on me more. I’ve always thought I missed out a lot being born as a girl,” my mother told me once. Perhaps for my mother as a child, a perfect human meant “Father,” who represented “Man” in general. I feel bitter at the thought that mother had imbibed, though unconsciously, the social value that indicated the superiority of men. As an oldest daughter of a family without a father and husband, she may have thought that it was her role to become like a man, to get assimilated to men’s culture, and to live like a man. “Women are no good. They tend to depend on someone. But there is no difference between men and women at work. Women can work as much as men can.” Long ago, I remember my mother making an unusual complaint about her female co-workers. The way she sounded was just like a man putting down on women. When mother said women were no good, she may have said it from a man’s point of view. On the other hand, when she said women can become like men, she may have said it from a woman’s point of view. Perhaps my mother was torn apart between the two sexes. Mother, who wanted to be a man, soon found out that she wasn’t a man after all. “I used to enjoy swimming naked with boys in the river and caught fishes in water by using the wooden box with a glass at the bottom of it.” When she told such a story, her eyes were beaming. “But your grandma stopped me from playing with boys because, according to her, it was disgraceful.”
Reluctantly, mother began to accept the fact that she wasn’t a boy. And finally most of all, mother who wanted to be a boy was betrayed by her body itself. Menstruation. Grandmother said to mother, “Your hardships as a woman has only begun. How disgusting.” Did my mother become a teenager without given a chance to embrace her body as a woman? She got pregnant at the age of twenty-one and gave birth unmarried. The man who showed up in front of her was her boss at a small company he owned. He may have fitted mother’s image of a father or a strong man she once wanted to be. She, who was a daughter as well as a self-inflicted protector of the family, may have returned to a three-year-old girl when she met this man, a girl in the photograph who was fully protected and loved. It can be said that her father’s death elicited the spirit of independence from her by force, not by her own volition. Therefore, no one can blame her for giving up her independence after meeting this man since she had been carrying too big a burden for a child for so long. Mother was in love with this man. She loved the man as she would love her father, just like many women who fall in love with strong men. Mother knew he had a wife and children. She voluntarily violated the code of society, which she had once wished to get accepted. Her sufferings deepened because she took them as a result of her own failures instead of taking them from a societal/universal point of view. Being conflicted, mother may have struggled to become a perfect career Woman, a perfect mother, so as to recover herself from the misery of “I, who could not become a man.” She may have tried to combine this conflict. That was the only way she thought to get accepted by the society which she once betrayed and got rejected as a result. Before realizing that the male society that she wanted to get in was in fact the wall that blocked her, mother must have set her goal to become a member there and worked like a dog, which eventually tore her apart. 95
She tried to play two roles perfectly—a woman wanted by society as a mother, and a woman who patiently waited for the man who commuted back and forth between two women. In order to keep her already disgraceful status in society as a woman who gave birth out of wedlock from getting even worse, she decided to gain financial independence and to play a role of a strong-willed “woman in the shadow,” who never asked any assistance from a man. Because that was the way society would reluctantly accept a disrespectful but piteous woman. Mother became exhausted gradually then rapidly. No matter how hard she tried, the stigma that she gave birth to a child out of wedlock remained. “During the second World War, we felt so out of place because we were just women and didn’t send out a soldier. ‘How lucky that the war passes by you since your family is just women,’ that’s how people use to speak at us,” mother told me. The second decision that my mother may have made by herself after childbirth was, ironically, to take a possession of neurosis. What if she had acquired that symptom as a chance to overcome the roles she had been given, such as a mother, a daughter, an oldest sister, a career woman, a woman who gave birth out of wedlock…. What if, by possessing neurosis, she decided to break away from society which she once yearned to belong but got rejected anyway…. Then mother’s symptom could be seen as her rebellion, an attack, and a break-off letter to society as well as a divorce letter to her family as a daughter, mother, and the oldest sister. If that is the case, then her symptom is what she wished to acquire; thus, giving her a “treatment” could be a serious violation to her choice. That is the conclusion I’ve boldly reached in the dark impasse. “Your mother seemed to have no intention of getting better. For a doctor, I’d say your mother falls into a kind of the most difficult patient,” said a number of psychiatrists with a sigh. I have tried to accept these words in a way that would be beneficial to my interpretation.
One night, which was three years after her father passed away, ten-year-old mother heard through the fusuma sliding door that the second sister might be sent out for adoption. A relative was strongly suggesting this plan to my grandmother, and she seemed to be unable to resist it outright. Exercising her authority as the oldest daughter, mother called up her sister to the yard and tried to persuade her to stay. “You must not go to other family no matter what. Whatever your mother would say to you, just say no, O.K?” Overhearing what the eldest daughter said to her younger sister, grandmother decided to decline. After the death of my grandfather, all the sisters had to live with a relative for a while until grandmother found a new house to settle in. To the eyes of their cousins, though, the four sisters probably appeared like intruders. “When we small children tried to climb up into the house by putting our hands on the edge of engawa, our cousins used to step on our hands from above. Then the eldest sister always came around to help us,” said my aunts. The Mysophobia is said to originate in the fear and conviction developed through one’s childhood that “the world is full of enemies.” I remembered the words of a feminist therapist I had read in a book somewhere. As a child, mother had been careful of everything in a very adult-like manner and she was good at them—perhaps that was who she was back then. I can now see why my mother, who had been living such a life since childhood, was attracted to a “strong man.” Only when she was with him under his protection, she felt relieved from the familial responsibilities of making decisions in a manly way. Although the relief was momentary, it was the relief from her family which put heavy burden on her. “Why were you attracted to someone like that?” I once asked my mother using the word ‘someone like that,’ insinuating my discontent to him because, in my opinion, a man who goes back and forth between two women is unworthy of love. 97
That was when I believed that most of my mother’s suffering was caused by the man. I don’t quite remember if she had replied to me or not. Now, however, I could see a better reason why she was attracted to the man. It was not coincident but inevitable that mother was attracted to the man, who hold in held the strong position socially and mentally. Mother had desired to be strong and obsessed to become strong, which made her totally weary. She found that the strong man in front of her would release her from her obsession toward “strength.” The man was sufficiently strong and lived the kind of life which my mother wished to have lived; for, he was a man. I am sure she would not have been attracted to a powerless man, who would merely serve as a mirror reflecting her own reality. She loved the man and had a child out of wedlock; then again, she must have realized, as was written in a book somewhere, that “the world is full of enemies that destroy you before you know it.” Well, I don’t want to find a causal relationship in there, but the reason why I don’t feel comfortable with a “strong man” is perhaps due to the irritation and rivalry I feel toward the man she has chosen. I feel reluctant to accept this as an inevitable consequence because doing so would unjustifiably bind me to my birth, which I am not responsible for. Between late teens to twenties, I was going out with men who were somewhat deviated from social norms. That which society regards as deficit or defect was the most fulfilling quality of a man to me. For a man to be attractive to me, he must have some kind of lack or deficit required by society. An attractive man to me was someone who lacked a financial ability, a career, a respectful honor or status, or a place to belong such as society or a company. It wasn’t difficult for me to find such a man in 60’s. Because that was the time when society was going through a big chaos, and the gender roles were, though mostly superficial, beginning to change. Some clever young men were starting to take on a new life style that was considered undesirable by old society as if they were putting on a new pair of basketball shoes. This was the time when both men and women wished to play the role of a dropout. Come to think of it, however, it was ironical because women who 98
were competing to become social dropouts had already been marginalized to begin with. It was merely a joke to graduate properly and get a job in a traditional way. Still, I tried carefully at times and unconsciously at other times to find a man who lacked something and gave my love to him. A man who is different from him…. I noticed it out of the blue. Fame, power, financial and social statuses—these were all measures of a man whom I rejected as an imperfect person. This may also count as a type of reverse discrimination, so to speak. So, the men I was in love were perfect to my eyes but imperfect in terms of social norms. “Guess what? I can’t stand the hierarchy in the campus club activities. Freshman as a slave, sophomore as a servant, junior as a citizen at last, and senior as an honorable citizen. The old boys walk with their noses high up in the air, and when you visit them, you are required to wear a school uniform…so stupid! What’s the use of putting up a huge sign demanding ‘Democracy to our Campus!’ ” A sophomore man said to me at a coffee shop in the basement of a building near the campus. It was the time when we only drank black coffee, which in fact we seldom found tasty. He went on. “They don’t allow any criticisms, you know? If I ask ‘How come?’ and they reply ‘That’s the rule,’ and that’s all you get. One time you asked why there weren’t any girls in the committee, and this is how they responded, remember? ‘Because there have been no girls in the committee,’ that’s all. So, that’s why you created an all-women committee this year, right? You’d want to stay here and change it from within, but I don’t have that much energy and don’t want to waste it either. So, I submitted my resignation. I don’t think it’s worth it trying hard to win a victory seat in such a small organization, you know what I mean? Senior guys told me, ‘So you’re one of the dropouts, huh?’ But what’s wrong with it? It’s perfectly fine with me.” That’s how he became my boyfriend during the last two years of college. I was going out with this dropout while I myself was staying in the small 99
organization. He became all the more important to me simply because he was a dropout. “Everyone changes in a year or two after getting a job,” a man said. I was looking at the droplets forming on the glass of his iced coffee at a coffee shop in the basement of a radio station. “I just don’t feel like taking an employment exam. How could I put on a suit and go seeking a job at a place where we used to see it as our enemies? That’s why I am still hanging around like this.” He comes in and out of the radio station as a script writer for young idol singers. “I come here almost every day, but the guard still asks me each time persistently why I’m here or whom I’m meeting with. For the guard, I guess I look suspicious and unreliable. “I guess I’ll live my life as a wanderer for good,” said the man somewhat proudly. That night after my work, we went to see the documentary film ‘Woodstock’ in Shinjuku and ate Korean barbecue for dinner, both of which, by the way, was my treat. While belonging in the small radio station, I chose an “outsider” as my boyfriend. It was not as clear-cut as to be called a rebel against my father, but somehow, there was this immature tendency within myself that made me disdain or avoid someone who had properly registered in society. A man who has got at least one vulnerability—with that I thought I could be finally on the equal stage to him. In fact, all the men I chose in my teens and twenties were like that. You got it right, I’ve got the choice; I didn’t let the man choose me. It was me who loved him. Being loved, for me, meant to surrender. Soon, however, I began to realize the bitter fact. That is, being a man itself—the most important space of affiliation to them. Whether or not they declared to destroy the establishment, they, just like their opponents, would never question their affiliation to the men’s world. For them, being a man naturalizes them to their common land. Here again, karmic retribution seemed to be at work. The thought made me feel extremely suffocating. But now, I think of it this way. 100
It is not really a big deal who I chose to love back then; now I can say that a man who turns his back to the promotion game appeals to a certain kind of women at any era. So, I am not bound by karmic retribution. My aunts later told me that my mother’s “condition” had begun at the time I was getting ready for junior high school and that she started to worry that I might get hurt by knowing from the family registry that was required to be submitted to school the fact that I was born out of wedlock. In a way, all children are illegitimate children of women, so to speak, since men are only cooperative at the conception but are rarely involved in child-rearing. That said, then my mother didn’t have to feel guilty at all, did she? Without knowing where my mother’s guilty feeling comes from, I have turned into a spoiled brat, getting so much affection from my mother. Although we weren’t financially well off, I was the first one among my playmates to get a baby doll that drinks milk, a Hula-Hoop, a pogo stick, and many books that I have never read through. Every time we dined out, I had more than two entrees ordered for me. “I’m all right. I’m not hungry,” said my mother, ordering drinks only. I was too childish and insensitive to wonder why mother didn’t order any dish for herself. At times, my frustration was targeted toward my grandmother, who always depended on my mother as an outlet for her discontent, as if spilling all her complaints to a saucer. Yet, neither my grandmother nor my aunts paid any attention to my mother’s needs. As for my aunts, they always asked my mother to take care of their mistakes and failures—employment, love affairs, switching jobs, even illnesses. Reluctantly, but willingly sometimes, my mother gave helping hands to them, taking the role of the “saucer” to receive all their discomfort. My aunts—my grandmother as well—always regarded my mother as their caretaker, a nearly impossible role for a child to take. It may be true that my mother had found fulfillment in taking care of her family, even after the aunts got fully grown up. My mother would listen to other people’s needs before her own. Perhaps she trained herself to do so. At times she found it fulfilling, at other times, she got frustrated and worn out. 101
Sometimes I find someone among my girlfriends having a similar tendency like my mother before—a woman who tries to stand out by being excessively patient. It is not that she does not speak out; she makes a statement by not speaking out. Initially, I get angry at those people around her who force her to persevere unfairly. However, I end up getting mad at her because even though she is fed up with the role she is taking, she doesn’t seem to make an effort to change the situation; rather, she seems to be happy with it. She is so much like my mother up until she developed her symptoms. Although I find it really sad, I admire my mother since she totally abandoned the responsibilities she had been taking—as a saucer—fast and furious by gaining possession of neurosis. Just as destroying a stack of saucers one by one, my mother destroyed her role as a saucer altogether. Now my mother does not put up with anything anymore. She does not care what others think of her. She does not listen to others’ needs; she listens to her own. She will not stop speaking out loud now that she’s got a full possession of her neurosis. She does not get tired by others but tire others now. Now she is hopelessly and beautifully egoistic, appallingly aggressive and self-centered. She never let others disturb her time while others may be disturbed by her. She never listens to others’ concerns while others have to inevitably listen to her anxiety. She does not listen to others talk. All she listens is her own inner voice. This, to me after all, is a whole new discovery of my mother. When she is obsessed with “the compulsive thoughts” and imposing herself to the compulsive deeds, she is preoccupied with her own needs. All she can do is to face her anxiety, that’s all.
Even when I am right by her side, she seems to be playing in her own tiny universe, existing in another dimension away from the past, present, and future. At such time, I find a see-through shutter between us, unable to take part in her agonizing play. Being left alone, it makes me sad, laugh, irritated to learn the fact that I cannot find any common bond with her when she is in that condition. It reminds me of the horror and irritation I felt when I saw her lying in the white bed in the white psychiatrist’s room. I feel like grabbing on to her body and shake her just as I did long before. “The happiest few”— free from understanding, acknowledgment, and evaluation from others, they live sweet but the most agonizing moment. These words come to my mind when I look at my mother. Inside her own small universe, mother is playing a beast of burden with no interference, no restraint. Mother has become an elegant martyr. She looks like an Epicurean who finds pleasure in pain. “Cut it out, Mother, you’re washing that dish for more than an hour.” Hearing me say this, mother raises her head abruptly, as if she has noticed me right at that moment and becomes sulky, like a child whose favorite play is interrupted all of a sudden. At such times, she appears to have locked the door firmly from inside so that the play she proactively acquired, called “neurosis,” won’t be taken away from her. A play. Or a refuge. A room of her own. An alter ego that can proliferate by itself. “Unlike physical pain or injury or illness, no one understands how painful neurosis is,” cries my mother at times. “I want to wash out what’s inside my brain,” mother yells at other times. She knows that she is “the prisoner of stupid notions and acts.” Most likely, she knows it better than anyone around her. Still, she doesn’t want to let go. By taking hold of neurosis, she may have found a place to unload the burden she has been carrying. 103
“Neurosis for women can be seen as an expression of passive protest to the gender role assigned to them in patriarchal society….” says one book. Lucy Blair. I think of a woman I’ve never met. Having schizophrenia, she spent twelve of her thirty-eight years of life in a mental hospital. After giving birth to an unwed daughter, she was said to have forced a sterile operation. “It is a kind of therapy that does not just see such things as depression, lack of confidence, low self-esteem, etc., which comprise the main part of the emotional life of a woman as merely a personal problem but takes into consideration the social and cultural pressures inflicted upon women.” My girlfriend, who is a feminist therapist, explains her work as such. But what do I make of this unjustifiable fact that a woman has to become “mad” whether or not she abides by the gender role imposed by society? The strong wind was blowing. Strolling along the beach, I looked up to the sky, finding myself unable to locate the sun. The whole sky was covered by the clouds, but it was bright enough. From time to time, I could hear the noise from the hotel carried by the wind. I’ve come so far from the hotel. I turned around. I saw cars driving fast on the state road up above. I’ve caught by a feeling that I want to write a letter to my mother, which I am not going to send anyway. I cannot make of what it is, but perhaps I am driven by the urge to write a raison d'être of myself. ●
Just like my mother, I’ve had this ambivalent feeling toward my grandmother. When I think of my grandmother as well as all the women whom I can trace back from her, I try to get a hold of them with empathy as a woman myself. My grandmother lost her father from illness much younger than my 104
mother. My great-grandmother was sent back by her husband’s parents to her parents’ home. “You are not related to us any longer...only if this was a boy, you know what I mean?” If it were a boy, they would have taken his custody as an heir. Under the rubric of patriarchal blood relationship, the wife and daughter were discarded. However, my great-grandmother’s parents were already deceased, and her elder brother was the head of the household then. One night, young grandmother was told by her mother, “Remember, I am your mother even if I’m sent to another house.” Her remarriage was arranged regardless of her will. She was to marry a man who lost her wife very young and was raising two kids. He was looking for a woman who would take care of his kids and the household in general. Thus, my great-grandmother was forced to remarry, leaving my grandmother, her only child, behind. My grandmother noticed right away that she was deserted when she saw the horse carriage picked her up and ran away. Grandmother ran in the mountain caught up with the horse carriage. She blocked the way and said, “Mommy, come down here!” Meanwhile, her mother had her face down, never looked up at my grandmother. After she got remarried, my great-grandmother came to visit her daughter a couple of times a year, bringing a whole lot of one-of-a-kind souvenir from town. A kimono collar with golden embroidery. Bean cakes with delicate flowery design. Although her mother was trying to offer them, my grandmother refused to accept them no matter how much she wanted them. While looking at the bean cake, she got her mouth full of saliva. “Go ahead, take a bite,” said her mother, sticking it to her nose. But my grandmother held back, thinking that if she ever took a bite, it would mean forgiveness…. “Mommy deserted me.” Grandmother’s heart was torn apart by the mixed feelings of love and hatred toward her mother. No matter how much she hated her, she wanted her to stay even a day, or an hour, longer. She didn’t want to let her go. She faked illness, hid her kimono, threw her sandals away in the pond. One time, before returning to her new home, her mother gave her some allowance at the back of the storehouse. Grandmother took it first but thought otherwise, called her mother at her back and threw the money at her face, crying. “I don’t want money. I want you back, mommy.” Grandmother was raised by her uncle’s family. Even though she got sick 105
and threw up, she couldn’t ask for help and slept in the bed full of vomit. I heard this episode of grandmother from my mother. Perhaps my grandmother was also “a mother’s daughter” who could not get abundant affection and security from her mother. Although my mother told me the hardships my grandmother had gone through, she never talked about her own. Could it be out of her will, or could it be something inside me that deterred her from doing so?
Strangely, I don’t remember when I realized that I was born illegitimate. It must have been quite a shocking discovery to me, but I just cannot recall how I felt then. This may be one of the biggest things that I have to thank my mother. Since I had never once thought of it as a detriment during my childhood, I didn’t take it as a shocking misfortune at the time I discovered the fact. The fact that I don’t remember when I found it out proves that I didn’t take it so hard. That’s because I was raised in a fully affectionate environment which my mother provided for me. To my disappointment, though, she didn’t give birth to me intentionally for protest. She was not a dedicated feminist, nor was she a resistant against social mores, as my girlfriends would want to expect. What’s more, since she had a child out of wedlock, she imposed an overly ascetic life to herself. It was her way of making compensation for her transgression, she thought, by trying to abide by the social image of a good woman as much as she could. She had to pay a high price for seeking freedom and got herself cornered in privations. If she was truly a wild woman, then she might not have had me, or else, she might have left me to my grandmother and lived a new love life, neither of which she had chosen. It makes me laugh to say this, but she was a perfect “woman of the shadow.” Moreover, she was a perfect mother and a career woman. As for me, I was also a model student in all aspects for a long while. She made me do so, at school and at home, just as she did. In a way, this is how a mother and daughter acted out as a role model and put a restriction on each other, ironically. 106
If only my mother was freer, I could be freer as well…. That’s how I felt, not just for my mother but for myself as well. Had she been freer, then I don’t think I could see her the same way I see her now. But I could have been freer from the guilt that I was feeling toward my mother—the guilt that matches that which my mother felt for making me an illegitimate child—for depriving her from choosing her other possibilities much sooner, much easier. How funny and ironic that both the mother and daughter keep holding the guilty feeling toward each other.
I must love you—Mother. When did I start feeling this? Was it when I became conscious about love? It was so easy to love you when I was little. I wanted you and loved you outside the consciousness of love. Love, however, has become mandatory somehow, even though it should not be an obligation. Do I, as a daughter, have to love you just for that reason? Do blood relations require unconditional love? There must have been days when you felt love as mandatory and obligation as well, for, you were also “a mother’s daughter.” To the question “Why do you love your mother?”, I wanted to reply like this: “Because I want to love her, that’s all.” Even if you were not my mother, I would have loved you and will love you. I’ve found the common horizon there where you and I can choose and meet again. Getting there close a number of times, however, I could not land there. The moment I felt close to you, you stepped back. Or maybe it was I who have done what you did. When loving you became a duty to me, how much did I wish that you were my friend. Then, I could take you as you were and loved you as you were more easily. Or else, I could reject you and turn my back against you…. 107
I wish I could find you as one woman not as my mother. There was certainly a moment that I could feel that way. But it came as a blink and vanished like a bubble. At that very moment, I could love you and accept you much easier than usual, just as I often did so to other injured women. Perhaps. Perhaps you are my mother…. And I am your daughter…. This fact keeps you away from me and at the same time takes away distance between us and suffocates us. Obsessed with compulsive neurosis, you keep washing one glass the whole day. Your mysophobia allows you to wear stained clothes while horrifies you with the stain you find on the cardboard parcel. You have nothing to do with the outside world. Once in a while you glance at outside through the five-millimeter gap between the blind. That is your brief encounter to the outdoor world. Your interest mostly resides within yourself. You are a daughter of a mother. You are a mother of a daughter. You and I were born from a woman and you furthermore gave a birth to a woman. I am a mother’s daughter. But I didn’t become a mother. Probably through being a mother’s daughter, I came to know the heavy burdens of being someone’s mother and being someone’s child. That’s could be the reason for me not to be a mother. Love is neither instinctive nor natural. Love comes not automatically but could be developed by constant nurturing and will power. Thus, it shall be reproduced and continued…. I came to this realization through the relationship between love and its crack to you, and love and its crack from you. I am once again trying to face you who are not my mother but as a woman…. As a woman born out of a mother. ●
Could it be really true? There are among married women who regretted 108
having a baby, that I know. But she said she didn’t. If that’s the case, I feel sad.“ Maybe just once I felt that way,” mother admitted this long after I forgot my own question. When I asked what she was talking about, she reluctantly repeated my question without giving me her answer. “When?” I probed further. Don’t remember, she replied, which I doubt. “That is a healthy reaction, I guess,” I responded. That’s what I really wish, but I know she didn’t have a moment like that, which, on behalf of my mother, I feel sad and sorry. ….
The wind from the ocean became wilder. But the cloud in the sky didn’t change its shapes. The cloud covered all over the sky and merged into the horizon. Reciting the letter to my mother in my mind along the beach, I was getting ready to go back to the hotel, when I found a letter from G in the pocket of my yacht jacket that I received at the end of spring. I read it again and wrote my reply in my mind after a couple of months. I don’t know how distant exist between us. I saw the shape of a ship moving as fast as I was although I didn’t know how far it actually was from me. Dear G-san Thank you for writing me. I think that I can probably understand now some parts of your letter that sounded mysterious and also problematic to me. I don’t think, though, that my response is not necessarily give you any solution. Rather I am afraid to bring you to the corner. You said you don’t ever remember to be loved by your mother and furthermore said you had hated your mother since you were a child. Your mother loved a man outside of marriage. You and your siblings were aware of it since the beginning years of elementary school. Your father also knew it and couldn’t express his anger other than to resort to violence. You, your older brother, your younger sister grew up witnessing the wretched strife of your parents day after day. This was all new to me. I sometimes wondered why at the age of twenty-three you 109
suddenly had disposed all your works, metal carving, that were highly evaluated and held the exhibition in young age. You were full of curiosity during your college days, taking an interest in politics as well. But since then, when we got together, all you could talk about was your husband and a new-born daughter. I had been wondering for a long time not knowing why. “Talk about my husband….” “As for my daughter….” “At work, my husband did this and that….” “At kindergarten, my daughter did this and that….” “The wife of my husband’s co-worker did this and that….” “My daughter’s classmate has this mother who….” Indeed, all your topics involved “my so-and-so” that your old friends started calling you “G of ‘my so-and-so.’” When you were a student, you used to say a wife/mother/woman who only talks about her husband and children were despicable. Therefore, your transformation—it was nothing but transformation to me—was all mystery to me. At the time you married all of a sudden, your former friends were still single and working. Whenever you met us after a long while, you used to bring a huge baggage full of family albums, essays and drawings of “my” preschool daughter. You used to spread them all over on the table at an urban hotel coffee lounge or on the round table of a Chinese restaurant. They were some tulips, her friends and teacher’s faces that were drawn by your daughter. Honestly speaking, though, now I can finally confess that it was really hard for us to come up with some nice comments that would not disappoint you on your daughter’s drawings of tulips, friends, and preschool teachers as well as the letter you received from her on mother’s day. “What’s the matter with G?” “It’s really absurd how she has changed so much.” “Wait to see, you’ll be like that not too long once you get married.” “No way.” “Way. You see, G’s the last one to become like that.” While saying this behind your back, it was tough for us to 110
make comments on your daughter’s poor drawing of your portrait. But once and only once I made a complaint to you. You remember M, don’t you? She was living with her boyfriend who made documentary film back then. While working at a foreign trading company during the day, she worked at a bar at night to support their income. In the lingering heat from the 1960s, both M and her boyfriend were aspiring to live their ideal lives. Do you remember one night when M complained to us about her boyfriend, saying that their argument always revolved around their financial situation and that she found it sad to think about it since she understood his dreams well enough? Then what happened was, right after that, you started talking about the amount of your ‘master’s’ (husband) bonus. Moreover, you mentioned that your husband’s salary, which was incomparable to that of M’s boyfriend, was not enough, and that you would get an assistance every month from your parents. How dare you could say that! What a nerve! I got angry. I remember pointing it out to you like, “Don’t you ever feel ashamed of getting an allowance from your parents even after you got married?” Everyone knew, including you, that M had lost her parents long ago and had no one to count on; and even if they were still alive, she wouldn’t ask them for help financially. Also, we knew that M’s boyfriend lost contact with his parents after he got arrested a number of times for his protests. At the same time, we, the daughters of the 60s, held up as our immediate goal our independence from our relatives both financially and mentally. It just didn’t make sense to us to hear the word ‘master’ from you, the most powerful believer of autonomy among us back then. Hearing you say that you were depending on your parents in addition to your ‘master’ depressed me so much. You boasted to us at every occasion how generous and kind your “master” was. You reported to us every time we met how smart and cute your daughter was, as if it was your duty to do so. 111
Have you ever wondered how bored we were? You never showed any sign of knowing it. When we were students, it was unimaginable that you—excessively attentive and sensitive to people’s needs during parties—would change so much. We were informed such small details about your daughter’s getting scratches at the sports meeting or your husband’s 250-word report on the company newsletter about his business trip, sometime by a mid-night call from you and other times by your illustrated postcard. Why were you so anxious to tell us about your lovable family affairs? I wonder if people were really happy, would they become so anxious to tell others about their happiness? It didn’t make sense to me. The letter you sent me this time finally made me realize how much you and your siblings yearned since early childhood to make “a warm family” once you were grown up, which you were not endowed with. When others were dreaming about becoming a pilot, flight attendant, baseball player, or preschool teacher, you were longing for having “a warm family.” That’s what you wrote in the letter. On the Christmas Eve, surrounded by affluence but with no parents around, you and your siblings talked about your dream of “making a warm family when we grow up.” You tried so hard to make an ideal ‘household.’ You became a mother who would wait for your child with a hand-made snack to come back home from school, which you wanted in childhood. You became a wife who would place your husband’s needs above you, simply because the person, who happened to be your mother as well as your father’s wife, never did so. Still, you were nervous somehow. Perhaps that’s why you were anxious to present the image of a happy family to us. Unless you are acknowledged by others, your happiness is not complete. That is because you yourself used to acknowledge your unhappiness in childhood by seeing others’ happiness. It is time, I think, that you enjoy your own happiness no matter what. 112
As long as you make a comparison between happy-me-now and unhappy-me-then, your happiness involves an obsession. It is too unfair that a life of a child depends totally upon the status of her parents. Why does a child have to take a responsibility of inevitable events? I don’t think the whole of myself was created by my mother. Otherwise, I feel pity for myself. Even though I’m living my life, if it were determined by my parents way before I was born, then what would be the point of living my life? If a child, three or four-years-old, didn’t bump into me, I could have missed the hotel. The child fell on the ground on her behind, appearing as if she was wearing a swimsuit made out of black sand. I asked her if she was O.K. Looking up at me under my shadow, she didn’t reply but kept looking at me with a grumpy face. Since I walked too much on the beach, my body was still hot after taking a cold shower. I changed into a white cotton shirt and white denim pants and left my room. I went into the hotel dining room. A waiter was setting up the tables and told me apologetically that they were not open yet. I noticed a bar counter down the dining hall and asked if the bar was open already. “Yes, it is,” said the waiter, leading me to the bar. There was a guest at the bar drinking beer. After ordering a gin and tonic, I sat on a high stool. I thought the guest was a man but actually it was a woman. Tanned in bronze, the woman with short hair reminded me of a friend of mine. I guess I’d better write a letter to her as well. Dear Y-san, You asked me once, “How could you stay so easy when you talk about love?” You also said, “Probably…since you have a memory being loved so much that you are not hungry for love, are you?” 113
I cannot tell what you mean by “easy” or “not hungry” for love; I find it imaginable but difficult. I do remember having been loved by my mother. At the same time, I don’t have to keep checking on how much love I’m getting. You may say “It’s not like you,” but long ago, there was a time when I started living with this man that I felt anxious about getting his love all the time. We started living together, both in our twenties, never changed my name, never did anything ceremonious that was thought to be associated with marriage. We don’t need a third party to acknowledge our love…that’s what we thought, I guess. Or rather, we didn’t even think about it, I should say. All we wanted to do was to live together. To me, he was the best person. And I knew that I was the best for him as well. But still, I was nervous. What if he fell in love with another woman? The anxiety I felt was not that kind. What if, all of a sudden, he disappears with no reason, as if he was kidnapped? I was caught by this sort of anxiety all the time. I was worried even during our happy days. I was caught by the thought that someday, an unavoidable force would tear us apart…. It may be because I was not used to own something, not used to share something with someone. On the night he stayed out late, I imagined him at the hospital bed each time I heard the ambulance. I guess all my worries didn’t make sense to him because I myself did not understand why I was that way. He had put up with me patiently; he had enough positive gravity that could beat the negative charge I had. Could it be that my anxiety originated in the distrust I felt toward men in general, growing up witnessing my mother’s unfortunate life? Wouldn’t it be the clear-cut analysis? Definitely not, for sure.
The offshore is pitch dark already. Orange lights from the fishing boats are blinking where the sky and the sea merge. Another night has come at the hotel. There still are some couples hanging out by the shimmering blue swimming pool, making loud splashes occasionally. Sliding the glass door open, I stepped out to the verandah. The smell of the sea was not as strong as usual. The wind may be blowing in a different direction. Looking at the dining room, I can see the waiters going back and forth among the tables with a tray in their hands. The noises of guests’ conversation and dishes being carried away came to my ears as one big block. I closed the glass door and went back to the desk. I brought here some other letters that I picked up from my mailbox. I selected one of them, the thickest one, whose envelope was made out of Japanese washi paper. The addressor was unfamiliar to me and there was no address written on it. It was postmarked at the home town where my mother and I used to live.
“I hope this finds all well. Day lilies are in full bloom at your hometown, in which I was also born and raised and am still living now. You must remember how beautiful those yellow-orange flowers bloom all at once under the summer sky. A week ago, I went hiking on a mountain to do some sketching. It’s been a while since I hiked on a mountain, so I had a hard time going up and down the stairs for several days afterwards. Nothing is more important than physical strength—I can hear you say that. Four months ago, you came over here to give a talk. I was one of the audiences and visited you at the waiting room after the talk. There were a number of other women there, so you may not remember me, but I am the one who gave you the clumsy hand-made paper hina dolls.” Paper hina dolls…. 115
Looking at the beautiful calligraphy aligned on the green lines printed on a Japanese washi paper with a matching envelope, I gradually recalled a profile of one woman. Although her visit was brief, I remember her well. Perhaps it was because of her urban ambience that appeared rather unsuitable to the hand-maid paper dolls, which gave a strong impression on me. Since I’m not very fond of this kind of things, I felt at a loss how I should receive the dolls wrapped in thin paper. The memory brought me back the perplexed feeling I felt then. Except for my childhood, I am not particularly fond of dolls. The only memory I have about dolls is that I cut the hair of my aunts’ dolls short and made them cry. That’s about it. ●
I was in the six-mat tatami room. I had a pair of scissors on my right hand, and on my left, two big Japanese dolls. Both dolls were dressed in kimono, wearing a high-waist obi belt with silver and gold checker-pattern. It was a mid-summer afternoon. I could hear no sounds other than cicadas singing. My grandmother was taking a nap in the next room. First, I started cutting the bangs of Chi-chan, the second aunt’s doll. Then I trimmed the hair around the cheeks of Teru-chan, the younger aunt’s doll. I found their straight black hair rather stifling, that’s why. The deep and heavy sound of hair-cut was heard in the room where I was alone. Starting from the bangs, I moved on to the hair around the cheeks, then to the neck. Cut hair was falling on the knees of my shorts. The shorter I cut, the scragglier the dolls’ hair became. “How come you are making such a frowny face?” Coming back home together, my aunts immediately realized what was going on and started screaming. The aunts looked at each other with a blank face. It was Teru-chan who cried first, then Chi-chan sobbed. That’s when I realized the consequence of what I did. Coming in to the room, grandmother moaned and stood still. 116
While looking at my aunts, who were much older than I, crying, I could do nothing but to gather the doll’s cold and stiff hair scattered on my knees and on the tatami mat. I don’t think this is the reason, but I find it eerie to look at Japanese dolls with real human hair implanted, or Western antique dolls, or the dolls that are made just as heavy as the human babies. I never wanted to have them near me. It’s true, I have a picture of me carrying a Kewpie doll. And I didn’t dislike stuffed animals. So, I guess what made me nervous was the dolls that were made to look like a human. Therefore, I didn’t really feel attracted to hina dolls. Their smooth faces looked like boiled eggs, thin eyes and eyebrows showed no emotions, their small mouths looked bloody red—I couldn’t figure out what was on their mind and couldn’t trust them. That was my impression. When I entered high school, grandmother told me that she would buy me a set of hina dolls. What she said was if I were not an illegitimate child, I would have gotten the dolls for my first hina festival from my other grandparents. What a pity, she continued. “All those dolls that represent the ancient court system, like the women in waiting, the court musicians and so on, they’re just showing off their class status, and I don’t really like them,” said I, a cheeky high school student, disappointed my grandmother. I had an acquaintance who would visit the households here and there to see hina dolls during the hina festival season which were passed on for generations. She worked at a publisher, twelve years older than I. She would talk about her parents, who died long ago, as if they were still alive. At such times, she talked like a little child. She was living in a huge condominium alone and had one room entirely occupied by dolls. She named each doll with a different name taken after the name of a flower. She had their hand-made dresses changed every season. “We’re enjoying tea now. We’ve got cherry-mochi pastry. Why don’t you come over and join us?” She called me one day. It was in the spring evening when the warm rain was falling. I thought some of our common acquaintances were having a tea party, so I asked her, “Who’s there?” 117
She told me many names, which I didn’t know at all. It took me a while to realize that those were the names of her dolls, more than twenty of them. A woman who drinks tea and eats cherry-mochi with her dolls. I was totally shocked and declined her offer right away. “I know no one will visit me after I retire,” she said. “They only come to me now because I’m an editor at a major publisher.” Her ironic tone sounded like she knew everything, and her voice changed as well. “Everyone approaches me for jobs.” It is your ironic perspective that is chasing people away, I said in my mind. After a while, she got retired. And just as she had predicted, people left her one by one. “That’s how people are.” I got a late-night call from her complaining. She mentioned about a person to whom she offered a job to write a small column. But I found out later that it was more than a decade ago. “See what happened? Just as I predicted,” said she, telling me a gloomy subject with a passionate voice. I gave her that job, I brought her up, I helped her from scratch…. She continued all these miserable words, so different from the way she talked about her dolls. I lost my words against her passionate but depressing tone. One time I was having a tea with her at a hotel in the city. “And then there was no one, you know?” After hearing her usual laments, I couldn’t come up with an excuse to decline her invitation and ended up meeting her. “I knew this would happen.” How can she talk so passionately the topic that is so unpleasant to herself? “I knew it, but pretended that I didn’t.” I was overwhelmed by her energy to rebut every unpleasant incident she remembered. “On the contrary, my girls are so nice.” Suddenly, she changed her tone. I was so dumb that I forget about the phone call I got from her in spring; she was now talking about her dolls. 118
You’re right. Dolls have no emotions, they don’t betray you. They don’t love you and don’t leave you. Because they are not alive. I didn’t say my thoughts to her. Instead, I was thinking about an excuse to leave. Perhaps it is because of her strange personality that many people have left her. Not many people would get along with a person who takes dolls and humans alike. Someday, I would become one of her “I gave her a job” person. I wonder if she wanted to make sure she was superior to every person she met through work. Looking at the dry crumbs falling from the fork on the dish, I was only thinking about leaving as soon as possible. But why did I remember her now? The letter I left open on the table had the name of an addresser, Masako, which happened to be the same name as hers. “Masa-chan is,” she said sometimes, especially when she talked about her childhood. I guess her parents used to call her like that. But to me, it sounded too unnatural and painful. Surrounded by many dolls, what is she doing and thinking in a huge high-rise condominium? “Write to me sometimes.” She called me by phone. Honestly speaking, however, I don’t really want to do that.
Reminiscing such things, I looked down on the letter again. I told you at the waiting room that I was an avid reader of your books and that I succeeded my father’s photo studio in the town. Well, what I mentioned were true, but I couldn’t tell you what I really wanted to say because you had to leave for the four-o’clock bullet train, so I saw you off at the stage door. What I wanted to say may not be something that you want to hear. And I don’t expect that I get suggestions from you. I am fully aware that this is bothersome to you and that it has nothing to do with you as well. 119
Yet, the person whom I can express my honest feelings is you and only you, I think. I am very sorry. You may be getting a letter like this from so many people; if you feel uncomfortable, feel free to throw this away. On that day, while I was listening to your talk and after I met you briefly in person on the way back home, I couldn’t stop crying somehow. That said, I don’t know why and for what I am writing a letter like this to you. Still, I cannot stop writing to you, I am sorry. Since I was a teenager, I have been reading your books and wanted to be like the women you write, who struggle at times to live their lives in their own way. I can say I tried my best to be like them. A year before I finished my college, my father passed away. My mother, two sisters, and I were left behind. So, I came back to my home town and succeeded his photo studio right after graduation. My mother was sickly and not good at socializing. She was suffering from depression and was frequently in bed. My two sisters were still in high school and junior high. At the age of twenty-two, straight out from college, it was tough for a young woman to succeed and run the studio, no matter how small it was, that was doing business since my great-grand father in a small community. Now that I look back, I was so involved in taking care of business that I didn’t really have time to think about it. Then three years ago, when I was twenty-five, I met this man who just turned forty. I had a boyfriend in college and was seeing a man about my age for a while after I came back here. To my surprise, however, I found myself totally in love with this new person. I’ve got no reason. When I realized, I had come all the way to the point I can’t go back. I knew he had his family. This may sound all too common, but this love was too precious to me.
I won’t get anyone into trouble. No matter how much I get hurt, I’ll be responsible. The resolution I made have supported me all through the past three years. He also says he loves me and I believe his words for myself. However, I can hear a voice inside me that asks me if I am alright as it is. I don’t care that I’m passing what people say marriageable age. Since childhood, I don’t dream about marriage so much because I saw my parents in proximity, especially my mother, having an unhappy marriage life. My father was seeing another woman, and my mother was aware of it. Being an old-fashioned woman, my mother had never once seemed to get a divorce. For her, being in marriage was the only way to make her living. In my childhood, I didn’t understand why my father didn’t take care of his family even though he was successful in business. Moreover, I couldn’t feel empathy toward my mother, who could do nothing but to emphasize her weakness as well as her stubbornness and obsession as the weak. Both my father and mother were living life with no pride, I thought. After graduation, women work a little while, quit, and get married…that was so common in a small community like this. But probably, observing my parents since childhood made me want to get autonomy since young. I’ve always thought I don’t want to live a life like my mother. Neither did I want to love a man like my father. I’ve never wanted to marry the man I’m seeing for three years. It’s a bit embarrassing to say this, but if we could meet between our daily lives, if we could enjoy our brief moments together…I thought that would be enough. Through the relationship with him, however, I’ve got to know that extraordinary experiences would turn out to be ordinary if it continues and that women cannot get strong just by having a financial autonomy. I’ve come to realize perhaps my mother couldn’t break up with my father not solely from financial reasons. My mother must have loved him in her own right after all. 121
“Your father cannot go anywhere anymore…. Finally, he came back to us,” said my mother at the wake of my father’s funeral. I still remember my mother’s back clearly. She said “he came back to us,” but what she truly meant was “came back to me.” It’s sad to me, but I wonder if my mother had ever felt fulfillment. As of me, by being in love with my man, I make his wife wait for him, just like my mother, and wait for him myself as well. Now, it has become my ordinary life to wait for his call. Perhaps I’ve come to realize now what our love means to me and to him are too different and that I can no longer take this fact. You know too well by now, you may say. In fact, I’ve sensed it long ago but pretended my ignorance. To him, our relationship may be just one of the episodes in his life. I don’t want to exaggerate, but to me, he is the only one that I don’t want to lose. If only I could face him as he does to me…. I wish I could make it a small episode in my life. Otherwise, I think women and men cannot be on the equal stage. On the other hand, I cannot make out whether it is happy for a human being to consider a precious love as just one episode in life. Probably for the last three years, I have been intoxicated in a situation that I’m in love with a person who has a family, and I’m still suffering from its hang-over. As long as I made a decision, waiting for someone is not really passive—I’ve told myself like this and tried not to see an objection inside me. We always meet outside the city to avoid being seen by someone. It’s hard to come back by myself on a taxi while he drives back himself. One time I took a taxi in front of a hotel we met outside the city. “Don’t stay this late, young lady,” an elderly taxi driver told me. Usually, I would say none of your business, but that time, it hit me hard somehow. When I go to see him, I get so infatuated. But on the way home, I always say to myself, this is it, this is enough, this would be the last night. 122
I have a feeling that I would break down from inside. But then on the next day, I’m already waiting for his call. If he doesn’t call me for a while, I get so frustrated that I cannot work, though I pretend I am all right. I’m fed up with myself. I have no clue, I say let’s not meet any more, but I keep waiting for the phone to ring. Why am I doing this? “We should have met earlier,” he says. “I wish I have met you sooner.” He says this out of his weak and sly heart. Half may be true—I say it for my sake. Of course, he does not wish to break his family, and neither do I. But I am getting tired of not being able to call from my side. No one knows—including he—that on the surface I act busy at work but in fact wait for his call all day long. But I know myself; this is not the kind of woman I wanted to be…. I told him once, but maybe I shouldn’t have. He showed me an unusual anger by asking, “You want me to get a divorce?” I never meant that. I knew from the beginning of our relationship that he had a family. And I don’t want him to get a divorce, really. Honestly speaking, I don’t know if I feel attracted to him once he gets a divorce. But then why does he get so angry? When did I ask him a divorce? Not just a divorce but I’ve never asked him anything. What on earth is he thinking, don’t get carried away! Looking at the man enraged, I cried in my mind, felt awfully vacant. So, he wants to keep “this” after all. What I mean by “this” is his family or his social status or things like that. I was trying to love him outside of “this,” but I guess he cannot imagine myself outside of “this.” The man I fell in love was actually an ordinary man after all…. It may sound stupid, but that’s how I feel. And I am an ordinary, boringly ordinary woman after all. 123
Once he said to me that he had succeeded his family business, walked on the rail his father had set up for him, and married a woman his father had selected. It was a marriage of convenience. He was just an epigone of his father; he lamented in front of me. “Marriage of convenience? That’s not a nice thing to say to your wife,” I protested. I don’t know if he took it seriously, but I said it from my true heart. I know that I’m not in a position of saying this, but it hurts me to hear him making complaints about his wife. If I have any feeling toward his wife, it is only a guilt. I don’t envy her nor feel jealous of her. He may think that I am simply jealous of his wife, though. Anyway, whether he laments or hates the situation he is in, he is not willing to let go of it. These are the elements, and conditions, that make him. Without any of them, he is no longer who he is. There is someone inside me who is looking down on him and looking down on myself as well. But the fact that he is an ordinary man with a sly and naive heart attracts me all the more. You may wonder why I am writing this to you. The person I’m referring to you is your step-brother, Koji. He often says he wants to see you. Although the mothers are different, I am a big fan of an author who has the same father as my man, your brother, whom I’m in love. And most likely, the author despises a woman like me. What an irony. Perhaps I’m writing this letter to you knowing that I make you ever more tired because I want to let someone know my love. I can no longer handle this by myself. Enclosed is the picture I took at the waiting room. Please take care. I wish you the best of luck. You don’t look alike to Koji-san, but I noticed your ears are just like his.
When I read through, I got awfully exhausted. Before I knew it, I was pulling my ears that she said looked like Koji’s. 124
The more I read, the clearer the memory of the woman has got. Her hair was in light sauvage down by the shoulders, wearing a simple and chic pant-suit, not talkative but precise. I remember having a favorable impression on her. There was yet another reason why I remembered her appearance so clearly. Somehow, I found her liberated and natural posture rather intentional. She had this disposition that was quite different from other women who visited me at the waiting room with their children. Her rather calm demeanor and low-tone voice gave me the impression that she had acquired them after the long incessant training over the years. I might have been like that during my early twenties when I was extremely self-conscious. Anyway, so she is Koji’s…. Getting two women involved, there is a man who walks the same life as his father. And the father of this man happened to be my father as well, and the man is my step-brother. There is a kind of love that strikes an earnest woman like an accident. It may be more advantageous for a man if the woman is financially independent because she is so proud of herself that she wouldn’t ask him anything for compensation. Most likely, the author despises a woman like me the most…. That’s what she wrote. It was certainly a depressing story. But who am I to get depressed, the man, or the woman, or myself? Why do women tend to go extreme? A failure, setback, misstep, sadness. Is she the one who blames everyone but herself so as to excuse herself? Or is she the one who takes all the responsibilities and suffer? I can see the process of the latter’s mind, who gets used to taking the all the blames and eventually feels fulfilment in such state of mind. Both the former and the latter are, I should say after all, easy ways out. They grow out of the same root. 125
I don’t know what kind of a man Koji is. There must have been days when he was distressed over the fact that he was a mere epigone of his father. But that is not uncommon. After all, he did not change his life anyway. That is all too common, too. But then which requires more will power, is it the haves who tries to abandon it, or is it the have-nots who try to get it. Perhaps it is more difficult to abandon what you have already. I have come to think like that. Anyhow, why are women so vulnerable to men’s whines? A man’s secret, his sadness, his eyes that ask for her understanding, his fatigue, all of which he only shares with her. A woman may fall in love in the space between fantasy and the myth of love, thinking that she cannot leave behind the man who is exposing his weakness to her. It is not that “I fell in love before I knew it”; it is rather “I know that I succumb to this love.” The hindsight that “I happened to fall in love” is not correct in terms of love. One voluntarily falls in love. It exposes the moment when she succumbs to her slightly conceited misconception that she could save him from his tiredness. ● “I am worried,” the man said. “that we gradually distance each other, you know what I mean?” Sounding like a man in his twenties, I was listening slightly on guard to what this forty-something man had to say. “I love you. But, there’s no way out. If so, we have to keep our distance, that I know. And I don’t want that. So….” Can we keep seeing each other as friends without having a male-and-female relationship…. That was what he said. At the coffee room at a city hotel. The way he said “male-and-female relationship” old-fashioned as well as too graphic. 126
“Well, we are female and male anyway.” I would usually make it a joke. But I didn’t. I allowed myself to take it seriously. Because I loved him. To be more accurate, I wanted to fall in love with him. I wanted to have a moment that I could set aside my work schedule and everything else. I wanted to encounter myself who can forget about everything momentarily, of which, in reality, I had to carry out anyway. I wanted to see whether I could still fall in love like in my twenties. He must have felt the same. So, we kept on seeing each other that winter. Everywhere we went, the Christmas illumination was shining. The fresh Christmas tree was cut down from somewhere and was decorated with artificial ornaments of silver and gold. I found it so matching with us, who started the relationship by accepting the end of it in advance. We lamented that there was no place where we could feel relaxed. By saying so, however, we were actually enjoying that lament. Both he and I were at ease because we knew we would never give away what we already have. We were certain that whatever we have already, we would never let go of the load, whether we like it or not. For me, and probably for him as well, it gave us a sweet euphoria and fulfilling sadness, mixed with a bit of disgust. Although he was trying hard to hide it, I could see that he was tired. My tiredness reacted to his. His tiredness made him look ever more attractive. To me, who always hid my fatigue back then, I found his fatigue rather relaxing. Carefully but boldly, we were absorbed in measuring, polishing, and mixing our fatigue. “A career woman who has not used her sex as a means to fight still keeps in her heart, what should I say, a genuine girlishness, or boyishness, or something of that sort, I wonder.” The man said. I tried not to take it personally but failed. “It’s hard, but fun, too,” said he, and I agreed. I enjoyed the pain and pleasure I found within myself. The man called me every day, sometimes more than once a day, from his office or from a nearby public phone. It made me laugh to imagine him making sure no one is around and calling me from the meeting room during lunchtime. It was all too common, 127
all too cheap. But I realized that being common could sometimes mean relieving. Just as the woman wrote in her letter, I enjoyed seeing this man as an episode in my life. When I tried to make time to see him, I thought of him doing the same to see me. One hour, two hours, we tried hard to see each other for a month and a half as if we were under the spell or some sort. “You don’t get crazy, do you,” said the man in a bit disappointed but reassured way. “By saying so, you are stepping on the brakes for both you and I, right? It’s not that I don’t get crazy but you are asking me not to get crazy so that you don’t get crazy. It’s your wish, or maybe request? Or demand?” I replied. I understood what he meant clearly. For me as well, it was a disappointment and reassurance at the same time. “O.K. let’s not get crazy, for our own sake.” “You are with me, always.” “You are with me, too. Sometimes it bothers me, though.” We competed each other verbally how honest we could get. Nevertheless, we never touched our hands. At some time, I found within his eyes an incontrollable desire. I had it too in myself. Although we recognized the same desire within ourselves, we had a tough time controlling it but found a pleasure in it as well. I, who can still fall in love. I, who can still have a desire. And I, who can have a control over it. “It’s so unfair,” said I in a rough tone, walking along the windy street with him. The street changed the decoration from Christmas to New Year. The man said he left early from the end-of-the-year party from work. “Say that you were a woman, and in a situation just as you are in, including your family,” I continued with a slight hesitation. “If you have that load, in other words, if you were a wife of someone, could you actually say let’s keep on seeing each other without becoming a male-and-female? That lightly?” “Lightly?” Said he, slightly offended. Thinking that it was just a tiny joke, it stabbed my heart as soon as I said it. Right. If his wife were in his position…. 128
Can she make an excuse to get out from work and take a taxi to meet a man for thirty minutes? Can she leave the end-of-the-year party early and meet the man waiting at the coffee shop? Can she stay out until two in the morning saying that it was work leaving the husband and children home? Can she make a phone call for two hours from the public phone at midnight? Contrary, it was impossible for me to chat with him for two hours late at night if I were a wife of someone. Even if I wanted to. He can enjoy this recklessness because he is a man. And I can take his recklessness because I am no wife. On behalf of his wife, I was getting mad at him, and mad at myself. “Let’s not see each other anymore.” I said it on the night a month and a half since we met. I told him on the phone he called from Tokyo Station on the arrival from a business trip. My feeling toward him was the same. But something within me was crying loud that I could not keep on going like this. And I remembered having a similar experience before…. Am I repeating the same stupidity? I was caught by the strange feeling. It was the first time for me to have a relationship like this with a married man. I had carefully avoided it, and besides, there had been no one whom I was attracted to so much. However, I had a strong feeling that I’d had the same experience before. And now I finally knew what—I was going through the vicarious relationship of my mother and that man. There was this me who was waiting for a phone call from him. And for that, I had to change my whole schedule. It might have been the same with him. But I could not think of anything other than myself that time. I’m enjoying what I’m doing right now. But sooner or later, I won’t be able to forgive. Forgive whom? The man, and myself. The man who goes back and forth between his wife and another woman…. I fall in love with a man just like my mother…. It’s nothing but a bad joke that mother and daughter make the same mistake. “It’s just inevitable for me,” I told him on the phone. This is how our month-and-a-half relationship had ended.
I should have had sex with him at least once, then it may have not lasted that long. I didn’t have to control my desire after all. Somehow, in bitterness, I was thinking like that. I got a call from him a few days later. “It must have been good for us this way,” he said just this, and hung up the phone. That was it. And so this became one episode in my life. The same with him probably. It is not just men who cannot give up what they already have. Women, as well. And I don’t want to describe it by using such words as sadness, heaviness, or slyness. All I want to do is to accept it as a fact. “Unless you put a period for the situation you are in, nothing will ever change. Whether or not you continue your relationship, it’s up to you.” So I mumbled in my mind, put the letter from Masako back in the envelope, and discarded it in the trash can.
Four o’clock in the morning. The resort hotel was still quiet, keeping the languorousness of the night before. After taking a hot shower, I changed into a T-shirt and shorts and went out to the garden. A tiny green grasshopper jumped out from the grass below and went right back in, which was wet with morning dew. The sun was already up and strong as if guaranteeing the heat of the day, slightly different, however, from the mid-summer rays. I took slow steps toward the poolside and found the left-behind of the fireworks from last night. Something crossed in front of my eyes—red dragonflies. A number of red dragonflies were flying just above the swimming pool. The color of the sky and the ocean deepened the past few days. The new season was right around the corner. I crossed the state road and walked to the beach. The salty smell of the ocean became less strong now. It was just the matter of a few days, but the season was surely changing. 130
I sat on a driftwood that would make an interesting bench if I were to take it back home. There was no one at the beach. Two dogs were playing around by the seashore. Their size, the color, the shape of floppy ears were all alike, but one looked a little childish than the other. Perhaps they were a mother and child. Two dogs were jumping toward the coming waves, shook their bodies at times, and went back at the waves again. Finally, I was organizing the plot of the novel. But I didn’t feel up to it to actually write it down. I know it was not because of the plot but because of the theme. If I were to write a story about myself, many a readers would take it as the story of an illegitimate child, which I didn’t really like. I thought about asking for advice from my editor, but then I realized it was I who had to make the decision.
I thought about the letter that I would not send to my mother. “If the symptoms that you owned, which troubled me, were the means you acquired as your self-expression, then I would fully embrace it. It has been nine years since your mother, my grandmother, had passed away. Shi-chan is living at her own pace, getting along with her illness. Teru-chan has got a two-year-old grand-daughter. She had made the land she got little by little into the parking lot now. The two children Chi-chan got were already married. Soon after they got married, Chi-chan got a divorce. These are all you know, but they don’t matter to you anymore. What matters to you now is the dirty dishes. And you keep on washing them. You are still caught by neurosis; no, I should say you caught neurosis. I’ve come to realize that now. If you say that that is the way you’ve finally acquired to express yourself, then I would take it as part of your personality. 131
That being said, however, I would only take it. I will make sure I don’t get disturbed. For, I have to live my own life. That is the only gift I can give you for sure. But I do appreciate the fact that I’ve met you. Absolutely. Now I know how to keep the appropriate distance toward you. You are you, and I am I. I decided not to be the “Mother’s daughter” anymore. It took me too long to come to this simple fact, though. Now I think I live my life very happily.”
The two dogs are still playing around at the ever brighter seashore.