April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
Last week, when I took Ai to kindergarten for the first time, and her sweaty hands clamped onto my fingers – as she buried her nose in my belly button, looking for a way back in – I couldn’t help but notice how much she glowed. Ever since I first kissed her squint I could feel her tiny face spark gold back at me, I could see her shimmer like the setting sun through cherry blossoms, but holding her head in front of the classroom – as she gnawed at the ghost umbilical cord between us, savoring the final taste of the womb – her shine nearly blinded me, and I had to let her go before our love fused us back together. Between the tears that salted my T-shirt, and the chill morning air that reddened her ears, it took all the strength in the world to bend down and sniff her neck – Mommy’s a doggy she would say to Pyr, can I pet her? – smelling the baby shampoo and bubble bath that marked her as my own. The sun hung frozen in the sky, trying hard to clear the breath that trailed off my lips while I nuzzled against her, whispering a trail that would lead Ai back to me in the afternoon. Listen to your teacher I said, but all she could feel was the tickle of the words that blew past her chin, bringing forth a giggle-smile that lit up the world like a TV set does a dark room. I put that smile in my pocket as she floated off into the class, and when the door finally closed, followed by a bell that bounced between the buildings, I could still feel her warmth against my thigh.
That lingering heat reminded me a little of lazy afternoons digging up carrots in our garden, Ai resting her head against my leg while she pointed out the good ones. Also of the monthly runs to the beach, when Pyr would walk back and forth all across the sand, looking for those clear, little, pink rocks that we keep at home in a jar. Keeping one eye on him sifting through pebbles for the occasional treasure and the other on Ai, cautiously approaching the undulating water line, naked yet hardly concerned, I would lay on our towel – the blue one we stole from that hotel years ago – as the high clouds mingled with the seagulls swarming overhead, waiting for something, anything, to wash ashore. Every so often, when the waves she taunted started to eat at her toes, Ai would run back to me, gathering sand with every step, and plop down on my belly. Clean my feet! she would demand, pouting as she straddled me like a merry-go-round horse, my armpits serving as stirrups and stretched shirt collar her bridle, riding me until I grabbed her ankles and brushed everything away, making sure to tickle as much as possible. She would roll off in glee, crushing the sandwiches as she kicked off my grip, and after catching her breath would crawl back over to my side, sticking her hands up my shirt in an attempt to retaliate. I’m cleaning Mommy she would say, brushing against my breasts, pulling at underarm hair, and I always made sure that she never missed a spot.
Even so, I felt so dirty when school swallowed Ai last week. Walking back home underneath trees that couldn’t wait to get their yearly trim, their sagging leaves fading if only in spirit, I found myself reaching down to the space she was supposed to be in, hand patting only the remembrance of a head. At the first stoplight I went so far as to hold back Ai’s shadow from crossing, fearing that even the semblance of lowering my guard would take her away from me forever. When the light turned green and I didn’t feel her tug, this itchy feeling rushed up my back, like a night sweat from too much tossing and turning, and no matter how much I tried I just couldn’t find the right place to scratch. Something was snaking up my spine, its fangs anticipating the sour swallow of every collected nightmare and almost was, where Ai lay bloody in the grass, or under the wheels of a car, or swimming in a sea of strangers, trying to find a familiar leg to grab onto. By the time I reached the other curb whatever was affixed to me snapped off, overextended and bored, for there’s only so many ways to make a mother squirm, and it’s better to save the best ones for more stressful occasions. Besides, Ai was back at school, ripe for awkward feelings as she introduced herself to the class, or practiced writing her name on her e-slate, drawing stares from the teacher as the strokes grew and grew. I tried to teach Ai her name in English but she wouldn’t have it, already attached to the complex beauty that was Ai. Was love. Was her.
The only thing worse than letting your daughter out into the world is letting the world into your daughter. I wouldn’t give a fuck if she wrote everything in Japanese – her grandmother would hate me for it – but as soon as she tried to really do anything all the keyboards would be foreign to her, all the net-ops language police too lazy to think in any other way. The electron has become synonymous with ASCII – 26 ugly letters and the numbers behind them – and no one has thought to ask why. Her only refuge are the e-slates and nihongo-ware that I snagged the last time I went back – the first time since I was 3, when my mother deemed it proper to make me a gaikokujin, a foreigner, before it was too late, before my mouth and brain reached the point of no return. Looking at the pictures of me waddling in front of Hachimangu – my mother to one side with the strangest look on her face, my father implied in the snap, in bits of his shadow peaking into the frame – I can almost hear my running giggles, almost feel my spoiled pout when I didn’t get a window seat on the train, but I can’t understand the whispers of my blooming heart, I can’t place my mind back in that space, that place, and twirl in the wonder that pervaded everything. When I finally walked those gardens again – Pyr playing my fathers role, only in Hi-8 this time – I couldn’t help but skip along with Ai, floating in the essence of the moment. Her feet were my past, her smile my regret, and even though she was only there for one summer I promised myself to never take that time away, from either of us.
Instead of going back home and painting everything Japanese with broad strokes, I put it to myself to be more insidious, and more thorough. Since Pyr has a lot of my mother in him, especially when it comes to assimilation, I made sure to speak in English to Ai while he was around. However, whenever he went off to work or Ai and I had some time to ourselves I would introduce a Japanese word here, a sentence structure there, concurrently with the English equivalent. After she learned her ABC’s it was only a small step to group the letters together into kana, the hiragana serving as much as an art lesson as script practice. When she was about 2 and fully versed in the basics of both tongues we would talk to each other in a peculiar mixture of the two, and when Ai would answer my questions with a robust Hai Pyr assumed that she was being overly friendly, constantly greeting me. Of course, when Pyr came across Ai sitting in front of a sheet filled not only with kana but a few basic kanji as well, and told her to Stop messing with Mommy’s stuff she replied curtly mama no hanashi jya nai, I wrote it, you wanna see? After regaining his composure Pyr hollered at me to come in the kitchen and see why Ai’s turning Japanese, and when I saw her scribbling away at her story about A-chan, her imaginary friend, I was too proud to deny what had been going on.
If only Mother could have found it in herself to feel that way about me. Wanting to make sure that I spoke English instead of Japanese was not the real reason that she convinced my father to move back to America. Even though he didn’t have too much trouble finding cultural spheres within which he was accepted, once he met my mother all bets were off. His understanding of Japanese culture and clear strengths in communication – which were what allowed for his success as a translator – did much to endear him to the Suzuki clan, but in the end all they saw in him was his foreignness. Not that the racial difference bothered them extremely, it was just that they knew far too well that if he married their daughter – their only daughter – relocation back to the U.S. was very likely, thereby endangering Atsuko’s inheritance of the family estate – what amounted to little more than a moderately sized home. Tradition would have them live with Atsuko’s parents, so that their care in later years could be assured along with their investment. Being truly in love with their daughter, and understanding their position, David offered to meet their terms and remain in Japan indefinitely. It was quite possible that given time, and subtle coaxing from their daughter, the arrangement would have become acceptable to Takashi Suzuki – his wife Yuuko was prepared to go along with his decision – but Atsuko was never one to understand the necessity for diplomacy.
Ever since she was very young my mother has had an attachment to all things “American”. Old enough to have experienced the seemingly beneficial effects that the U.S. occupation produced, but too young to have lived through the military buildup culminating with the wholesale destruction and “revision” of Japan that centered around the unprecedented attacks of August 6th and 9th, 1945, Atsuko knew only of the strong country across the Pacific that was leading Japan hand in hand down the path to economic superpower status. The incredible expansion of the 60’s, combined with the “obvious” Western brand of refinement that was being infused into the country daily, was enough to make her wish quite often that she had been born an American. This desire, while shared to certain degrees by a number of her generation, usually was tempered with a desire to work as hard as possible on Japan’s behalf, so that perhaps someday it could stand on the world stage with a status equal to that of the U.S. Atsuko, however, simply wanted to promote the American way of life, irregardless of what happened to Japan and its people.
Since she regarded things Japanese as being necessarily inferior to their American counterparts, a large part of her adolescence was spent in the acquisition of not only American cultural artifacts, from records to clothing, but of anything and everything in English. Besides the typical language study in school, she spent inordinate amounts of time plowing through novels, newspapers, textbooks, whatever she could get her hands on. Her parents paid little attention to the content of her studies as long as her grades were good, and prospects for a lucrative career strong. Actually, Grandpa Suzuki – that’s what mom makes me call him – told me that all the photo magazines sprawled with katakana, and the snatches of English slipping from under Atsuko’s door kept him up at night’s worrying that the neighbors would regard her as some sort Shinjuku jyoroo, an American groupie or worse. So he and Yuuko always made her sit down in front the television and watch the daily cooking shows or the national news, no matter how banal. This is your country he would say when Atsuko fidgeted, Rice isn’t just going to jump in your mouth, especially if you don’t respect the fields the harbor it, the farmers who collect it, and the factory workers like me who heap it steaming into your bowl. Atsuko would rebound by stating that In America every family has so much rice that even the factory workers throw it away when it get’s cold. It took all of his concentration for Takashi not to slap her after she said that, but instead he pictured the Tokyo Tower in all of its glory – an image which always relaxed him as well as his fellow foundry workers – and simply said that The Americans wouldn’t know a cold piece of rice if it was stuck in their throats. He nearly died laughing when he told me this story, and Pyr had to help him back into his chair while Ai stared at his wrinkly red face, transfixed. Atsuko’s response was much more subdued, and typically American: she ran off to her room and slammed the door, cranking up the first LP in English that she could find.
Of course, it was expected that she would marry soon enough, so the emphasis upon making Atsuko a well-rounded person who followed her parents’ wishes down to the letter took second place to her homemaking skills and overall appearance. Thus, when she would dress up in the latest American fashion after high school and on Sundays, her parents frowned to themselves but put on airs of approval, particularly when they saw the large number of Japanese boys that were attracted to such clothing. While neither condoning nor allowing dating at such a “young” age, they were nevertheless relieved that their daughter wouldn’t suffer for a lack of suitors. Of course, when it came down to it, all the boys in the world wouldn’t matter one bit if none of them exhibited traditional values, and weren’t clearly involved in an enterprise that could take care of not only Atsuko, but her parents as well. Takashi told me that Yuuko would judge all the boys that came by not by their demeanor or physical appearance, but whether their shoes were shined or not. If they don’t care what impression they give to me when I bow to them at the door, she would fuss while washing the dishes, Then they can keep their shoes on and walk right back past the gate. For some reason, Takashi grinned, Most of Atsuko’s friends wore sandals when they came to visit.
After finishing her university work – majoring in English Literature, much to the chagrin of her parents – my mother went to work as a O.L. for Sony, using her language skills to great success in the International Marketing department. That is, as much success as an Office Lady was allowed to have, arming the telephones and making copies for her male “superiors”, who took her ideas as well as the credit. Even though she was involved in a number of long-term relationships with “promising” Japanese men, both in and out of the office, none of them struck her fancy. Everyone looks the same, so plain, she told her mother in a moment of desperation, Not like American men, with their colored hair, tall, strong bodies, and independent natures. Yuuko couldn’t find it in her heart to reply, certain that something was seriously wrong with her daughter. So she took it upon herself to set up an o-miai – an arranged marriage meeting – in the hopes that an exceptional Japanese man would finally bring her to her senses. Mom didn’t even show up to the first meeting, offended that her parents would interfere in something as personal as love, particularly with anything less than a Western man. This sort of sentiment was way before its time, and it took weeks of consoling by Takashi for Yuuko to finally throw up her arms in disgust, telling Atsuko to Go to Tokyo and pick up the first sailor you come across. I suppose the only reason she didn’t was that she was too busy at work to run around looking for the kind of man she desired.
As luck would have it one Friday night in late 1970, the movie my mother chose to go to was the same one that David Watson had picked. Poking around in the darkened theater – mother can’t help but be late to everything – she noticed the silhouette of a man who clearly didn’t belong. Almost a head taller than those surrounding him, not wearing glasses, and far more relaxed in appearance than the usual student or office worker, he was clearly a foreigner even in shadow. Being the first American that she had ever seen in person, Atsuko was drawn to the seat behind him like a mosquito to a sleeping body, darting to the left and right as the image flickered in front of them, trying to get a good look at his face. The strange thing about that night, besides what happened after the movie ended, was that Dad swears that the movie playing was Violence At Noon by Oshima, while Mother insists that it was Dr. Strangelove. I find it hard to believe either of them, because Mother never would have went to a Japanese film, no matter how good it was, and there’s no way that Dad could have confused the two. Anyway, something was playing, and all during the film Dad felt like someone was staring him in the back of the head, but since that what was usually happened wherever he went, he tried his best to ignore it. Once the movie ended, however, and the credits started rolling, the same sensation persisted, and since hardly anyone stayed for the credits, particularly for foreign films, he concluded that whoever was observing him was more than merely curious. Turning around, expecting to see a bratty student or the like, he instead came face to face with Atsuko, staring intensely.
As most men would do when encountering an attractive woman staring at them, Dad smiled and bowed slightly, popping off a Konban wa for good measure. Atsuko returned with a big smile and a How are you tonight? in an accent that most Japanese today would die for. Suffice to say that Dad was doing just fine after that, for as would be expected Atsuko latched onto him like there was no tomorrow. Which actually wasn’t that bad of a decision, for they had a good deal in common, albeit in rather unusual way. David liked everything Japanese, but not simply because it was foreign. Ever since he was conscious of the existence of different places than the one he was born in, Dad did everything in his power to visit as many states, countries, and continents as his parents and finances would allow. There was the cross-country trip at 16 to visit Uncle Rob, the German, French and Spanish home stays during the summer after graduating from High School, and the year abroad in Osaka during his Junior year in college, which caused his latent affinity for Japan to well up and nearly consume him. If it wasn’t for subtitled movies, Japan Town and the Asian Library then Dad would’ve never come back to the U.S.. Of course, a Japanese fortune teller on the street swore up and down that he would come back to Japan in one year if he kept a copy of the train schedule in his wallet at all times, and woke up in time to meet the earliest train to Tokyo every Monday. Desperate and not just a little bit suggestionable, David did exactly what she said – of course it wasn’t that difficult considering the time difference – and two weeks before he graduated a friend of the Tanakas, the host family he had stayed with, offered him a lucrative translating position out of the blue. The occasion that you toured our offices, this friend wrote to David’s glee, Was the first time I witnessed a foreigner do justice to the Japanese language. David felt honored enough by this offer that he was on the first plane to Japan after his graduation ceremony, not even bothering to get drunk with his friends. The fateful movie took place 4 years after he began translating in Japan.
Atsuko, as can be expected, was itching to meet an American man, no matter what he was like. Fortunately for her Dad is probably the nicest, considerate, loving man she could have possibly met in all of Japan, American or not. And Mom, well, she’s driven to say the least, and won’t settle for anything less than what she considers the best. Once they spied each other there was no separating them, and after then filed out of the theater to the neighboring coffee house, Mom wouldn’t drink any of her tea because she wanted to have her Palate clean to fully taste his lips against mine. This suggests an supernatural degree of confidence on her part, but hands held across the table turned into walking arm by arm to the subway station, evolving with her prodding into a sweet touch of mouth to cheek to lips which Raised me at least 100 feet into the air, I felt like I grew high above the train tracks, ready to step over them. Like I said Mom’s not the most realistic person in the world, but she did get what she wanted, for within a year’s time they were engaged, pending the approval of Atsuko’s parents.
Which brings us back to the big decision. Takashi and Yuuko Suzuki were this close to allowing the marriage, especially since David had offered to remain in Japan. Strangely enough, he met their image of a perfect Japanese man more than most Japanese men did, especially when it came to traditional values. He knew exactly what to say and when to say it, understood the concept of respect better than their own daughter, and had a fine job that would easily take care of the four of them. Atsuko, however, had no intention of staying in Japan and O.L.-ing herself into a stupor; David would be her ticket to greater things in the country where she should have been born in the first place. She knew that her parents wouldn’t allow them to marry unless she stayed, and since eloping was out of the question – David wouldn’t support that in a million years since it meant disrespecting her parents’ wishes – she seemingly acquiesced and promised to stay with her parents. That settled, Takashi gladly took in David as the son he never had, and Yuuko thought that she would finally have opportunity to get close to her daughter.
The wedding was a traditional Japanese ceremony, and David’s mother and father, along with their 15 year-old daughter Jessica, flew in to see their son off. Progressive enough to accept Atsuko as part of the family, yet American enough to miss a church ceremony – the trailing white gown, the bouquet, the English – Tom and Mary Watson nevertheless cried their heads off, and if the pictures are to be believed the Japanese flying back and forth didn’t get in the way of their happiness. Dad was clearly ecstatic, staring at Atsuko lovingly, drinking his sake lovingly, even bowing to the Suzuki’s lovingly, if that’s even possible. Atsuko, however, was less than pleased. This is only speculation on my part, but considering that when she broke her parent’s hearts and moved to America anyway, the first thing she did was make sure that she had a “proper” wedding ceremony, church bells and four-tiered cake, her smile increasing with every step down the aisle.
Not that my parents left immediately, mind you. Quite the contrary, they waited until 3 years after I was born – November 17th, 1972, for those who give a fuck about such things – before Atsuko tried to convince Dad that The best thing for her now is to be around people speaking English, so that she won’t be at a disadvantage. Dad had a fit and for the first time in the marriage openly disagreed with his wife, reminding her of their pledge to the Suzuki’s. The look in my mother’s face in the temple pictures, that’s the face of someone who’s about to steal her daughter and fly off to America, barging in on her in-laws and twisting things around so Dad’s the evil one, chasing her away from happiness. Torn between Atsuko’s parents and his responsibility to his wife and daughter, Dad made the best decision he could, arranging for someone to stay and look after them when he went back to the U.S. Takashi understood Dad’s choice and did his best to adapt, but Yuuko was devastated, losing not only Atsuko but seemingly her granddaughter as well. Knowing that Atsuko would never come back home save for their funerals, she went into a period of morning for her daughter, dead in spirit if not yet in fact. In fact, until Yuuko died in 1987, the whole neighborhood though that I was orphaned, Atsuko dead due to “American Flu”. If only things were so simple.
Forced to give up his dream job, Dad soon found work with Matsushita – Panasonic over here – serving as interpreter between the U.S. and Japanese arms of the company. Mom was happy enough just to stand on the soil, breathing in the air of freedom, and had no desire to work whatsoever. Once she finally got to the land of her dreams, English skills in hand, she found herself moved from the role of extraordinary citizen to unimportant commoner, and yet this didn’t bother her one bit. She had me to convert to the “proper” American ways, and was committed to see that every last vestige of Japan was sucked out of my soul. “Japanese-American” is an excuse for failure, she would always tell me, That’s why I made sure to give you a normal name. “Normal” meant Laura Elizabeth Watson, carrots instead of daikon, hamburgers instead of tofu, no kanji, no kana, no me.
When I was Ai’s age, on my first day of school, Mother took away my pencil box, the one that Yuuko gave to me, saying that American girls don’t need to be ordered. My favorite bag was Too Japanese, I’ll get you a Star Wars one or something, so you’ll fit in. My hair was Too straight, are you sure you don’t want me to put a curl in it for you? It’ll be cute. My cheeks were too round, my eyes wouldn’t open far enough, I was defective, even my voice sang of the other. When she dropped me off at school, not walking me to the door of the class to promote “independence”, I found myself among girls and boys that almost resembled me, that seemed to want me to fit in. The teacher – Mrs. Addison, tall gray hair and glasses – put me next to Yuki, the only real Japanese girl in the class, who’s mother wasn’t ashamed to give her a real name. I guess she thought that we could relate or something, but when I tried to bring forth nihongo – my lips quivering as my tongue sought almost familiar places – all that came out was watashi. All I could say was “I”, and she sat staring at me, her perfectly straight black hair brushing past round cheeks, waiting for the qualifier. What about you? she frowned, and all I could do was stare at my construction paper. My mother says that only Japanese people should speak Japanese, so you better be quiet. I wanted turn myself inside out and show her the tag that I imagined hanging off my heart – made in Japan. I wanted to fly her across the ocean and show her my grandparent’s house, the corner store, the cars running the right way. She’d never even been there, hadn’t even felt the feeling, and yet seemed more Japanese than I would ever be.
I never spoke Japanese to her again, never spoke it to anyone except my imaginary friend, and even she told me to shut up after awhile. This is America my mother would yell, When are you going to grow up and just be normal? I wouldn’t bother to cry a response, instead scrawling unimaginable curses in shaky kana on bits of paper, burning them with a lighter I found on the street, and brushing the ashes in her shoes. She would complain to Dad how her stockings were always dirty, and I would hide a knowing smile. Her native soil was coming back to haunt her.
Unfortunately, my mother doesn’t scare that easy. In fact, thanks to her undying commitment to Americanize me through and through, I did the appropriate thing and ran away from home as soon as I turned 13. I don’t want to get too much into it now, but sufficed to say that all the elements that she worked so hard to repress suddenly welled forth, splattering her with the foam that laps against Honshu on all sides, where Japan juts upward and parts the still waters with its brilliance. I was flowing with potential, more than I could ever possibly use, and the only thing I knew to do with it was ball all my hatred of her up into a pulsing little sphere and run with it for the endzone, throwing aside her multifaceted tackles with the sheer desire to be free, to be myself, to shine. Sure, she caught me after a few months, sicking the Thomasonites on me because it was For your own good, just you wait and see, and wait I did, like I had a choice to do otherwise, and through the drugs and “therapy” and restraints and fence hoppings, it all came down to the quiet room and me. Sitting in the dark on a urine-encrusted mat, waiting for them to bring my meds so I could spit them back in their faces, crying for the street, for a window, for any sign of the world beyond the six walls and industrial-strength door, I saw the truth through all the tranquilizers, past all the pain. Everyone was so dark, so red, it hurt to just to look at them, to witness their anger. Fuck it. You’ll hear about it soon enough. Besides, Thomason is long since past, and now I have Ai, now I can right every wrong that my mother perpetrated with glee.
Which brings me back to last week, to Ai’s first day of kindergarten. As soon as I stumbled back home – the desire to turn around and run for her tripping me up – I noticed that there was a letter still in the mailbox from Saturday, a corner sticking out past the box door. As soon as I took it out I had a funny feeling that something was up, there was no return address and they used my middle name – no one knew my middle name except for family, Pyr, and the odd bureaucrat. And the font looked so familiar – I couldn’t exactly place it, but I knew that I’d seen it somewhere before. If I had looked at the postmark right away then the mystery would have been solved, but impatient person I am, I tore into the letter right there on the front porch. Inside was a yellowed envelope, seemingly stepped on a few times, which obviously had been diverted from its destination. The return address was in my writing, or at least what it was when I was in Jr. High School, and the address was of our old house up north. It was addressed to me.
I guess a little explanation is in order. When I was in Jr. High, before I ran away from home, I had the urge to write my future self a letter, and since regular mail isn’t delayed more than a few days, I decided to stuff it in a library book at our school, one that no one ever read, so it would take a while before it was found. Then, according to my optimistic plan, someone would find it and place it in a mail box, thereby completing the circle. After things got all crazy and I left school I had more than enough on my mind to worry about the letter I planted, and I soon forgot that it ever existed. But here it was, staring me in the face like I don’t know what, and I had no idea what it said.
What did it say? The following:
You must be freaking out about now. I know I am, with Mom on my case, Dad long gone, and this buzzing in my ear that won’t go away. I guess I was listening to my Walkman too loud, or not loud enough. Anyway, it really sucks and I wish that it would just go away. I wish that I could just go away, but I can’t, and you know that, because you already have. You’ve been there and back and there again, and have already forgotten about me and what I’m going through now. I’ve been waiting for signs and all that shit but all that came to me is the frisbee which hit me in the head today at lunch, stupid Greg wasn’t looking where he was throwing. Or maybe he was, because after it bounced off he and Steve were cracking up, on the cement even, and they made me so mad that I picked up the frisbee and walked over to where they were sitting. I told Greg to apologize and he called me “a flat-chested Hello Kitty,” and Steve started to laugh again, and even though I don’t like Hello Kitty that much something snapped inside, deep down underneath my stomach, and I took the frisbee and smacked him upside the head with it. Steve started to crack up even more then, and a crown of people had gathered around us, going “ooooh” and “damn” while Greg got up to feet and walked over to me. He said “who do you think you are?” and I said “a frisbee that going to keep whopping you upside your head until you apologize.” “Frisbee, huh?”, he said, and then he turned to Steve and gave the “she’s crazy” look, and Steve started to laugh even harder and so I hit Greg over the head with it again. He was all red now and said “O.K. Frisbee, you better fly off now before I kick your ass.” Everyone was all “oooooh” all over again, and I knew I couldn’t back down now, or I would be a Hello Kitty after all, so I turned like I was going to leave and then spun back around and popped him on the head three times. “Say you’re sorry Papa Smurf, or I’ll stuff this frisbee up your ass.” He looked at me, looked at Steve and the people around him, and looked at the yard monitor coming over to the crowd. “I’m sorry Laura” he said, trying hard not to look like too much of a sissy. “Call me Frisbee, Papa Smurf, and you better not laugh at me again if you know what’s good for you.” And with that I walked away, before the yard monitor could tell that I was involved.
You better remember this day Frisbee, because I know I will. I’m never going to be anyone’s Hello Kitty. Even though my ears won’t stop buzzing, I know that when they do, when I come back to school tomorrow, no one’s going to mess with me again.
Anyway I just wanted to remind you why you’re Frisbee, because I know it’s gonna stick. If anyone ask’s you why just say “Wham-O”, and they won’t know if you’re talking about the company or hitting Greg, and they’ll back off because they’re scared to get hit. If only Mom would be scared of me like that, then everything would be perfect.
Is everything perfect now, Frisbee? I really want to know. Write me a letter and leave it in the same book, I’ll get it some how.
Laura Elizabeth Watson
(I mean Frisbee)
P.S. What ever happened to Greg? Don’t forget to tell me about it.
For those that care about the particulars and all that shit, the letter was sent from my old house up north, by my mother, who tried to be sly about it but has no idea that I know her old manual typewriter like the back of my hand. I used to use it while she was taking a shower or vacuuming or something just as loud, so she wouldn’t hear it bite the paper as I imagined my future exploits, or wrote love letters to the librarian, either creation being burned and flushed down the toilet so she wouldn’t get the right idea. Still, I have no idea why she sent it to me, especially after all these years, and without even opening it. It’s like throwing a frisbee up into the air at the perfect angle so that it comes right back to you, and after you catch it you just stand there, holding it in awe. You don’t exactly believe it, but the clouds pass on by anyway. That’s what all of this was like.
Anyway, I had almost forgotten why everyone always called me Frisbee, especially when I was in High School and Greg and Steve still hung out together. Greg was the quarterback of the football team and Steve kind of a nerd, but they always found time for each other, hazing freshmen or harassing me in the halls. I wasn’t afraid of Greg hitting me or anything, but since I knew he liked me some, ever after that day in 8th grade, I always kept one eye behind me when I opened my locker, because he was known to be an ass-man, his hands finding their way on the rear of more than half the girls in our class. Still, he never got a piece of mine, and I guess that’s why he still called me Frisbee, because he was frustrated, with me not being a flat-chested Hello Kitty anymore and him not coming anywhere close to scoring. I have no idea where he is now, probably in the NFL or some shit like that, like I could really give a fuck anyway.
But I guess I do give a fuck, because without Greg then I wouldn’t have snapped, I wouldn’t have confronted my mother, and I never would have hit the streets. Of course, no streets means no Thomason, but without Thomason I doubt I would have ever met Pyramid, and without him then I wouldn’t have Ai. And I wouldn’t have her first day of school, when I went at noon to meet her, watching the other mothers line up one by one next to me, trying to peek in through the blinds for a sign that their boy or girl still existed, and more to the point, still recognized them. It’s the last thing I would have expected, but the first little figure out the door was Ai, beaming from ear to ear, e-slate under her arm. Mommy Mommy look what I did. Look what I learned! and she ran over to me simply radiant, stretching out her e-slate for me to look at. Did you have a good day? I said between kisses, and she laughed See what I know! while she nodded. I crouched down to her level and took the stubby stylus out of its well, pointing it at the blank screen. Suddenly Ai’s face appeared on the tablet, in black and white but her shine came right through, and she looked me straight in the eye and said:
My name is Ai. I am Japanese. Yoroshiku o-negai shimasu.
Holding her deep with my arms, tears wetting both of our hair, I finally forgave Yuki for her kindergarten slight. The screen continued:
My mommy is Japanese too. But don’t tell her mommy that. It’s a secret.
Somewhere, Yuuko was smiling.