Every October, I am reassembled.

Photo by K. Bryson

Photo by K. Bryson

For most people, October marks the beginning of fall.  Pumpkin farms pop up everywhere.  The weekends are spent planning for Halloween shenanigans and party invites appear all over facebook. Kids have gotten a groove in school and the complaining about needing a long break is already in full swing.  When is the winter break?

Our house has a steady stream of birthdays this time of year, averaging 23 days in between.  Birthdays with no grandmother to send a card signed Love, Oba.  xo

Birthdays with no ice cream cake and warm fall dinner on the long table.

Birthdays that are just sort of….empty.

October in Virginia, 2004 was damp. The leaves had fallen from the oaks and the sycamore trees on my parent’s lot near Aquia Creek.  My mom was always on top of the yard work. She was always on top of Halloween.  She loved throwing out a bunch of food and her grandchildren could come by, eat something and head out for door to door fun.  She loved the door bell ringing.  She was well stocked in candy bars.  Her favorite was Milky Way, by the way. She kept the large Tupperware cake cover for dispensing candy at the door.  It had long lost it’s bottom and what used to be white had turned to a dingy yellow.

That Halloween, she was listening to children in the street.  We moved her rented hospital bed to the front room, long emptied by my sister’s move out.  I opened the window halfway, the air cool and damp.  Before the sun set, the kids were playing in the yard making piles and demolishing them.  The leaves that needed to be raked a month ago.  The rain in the evening was making them stick to the driveway asphalt.  Mom knew what she was missing. I brought some leaves in, she stroked them with her hand.  Nature had a way of visiting her, despite her being stuck in a corner bedroom. One day in the cold of October, a little yellow butterfly was flitting around her room.  Mom smiled at that.  It was the only smile I saw for weeks and it was the only butterfly I have ever seen in October in Virginia. She smiled once when a black corpman at Walter Reed spoke to her in Japanese. I plated those leaves by her bedside, along with some sage and a few persimmons. It was a compulsion.  I had no idea why I did that. I think maybe I hoped someone was waiting for her and they might enjoy the persimmons with her. It had to be torture to leave persimmons by her bedside.  She couldn’t eat them and they were favorite seasonal fruit. It was Japan to her, as much as the music CD that made her weep for home.  As much as the kimono I found in the closet, lain in a trunk.  I was a snoopy kid. I had poked in every closet and box in the house and I had never seen this kimono.  It was completely hand sewn.  A dark, demure color. The obi was black and had a simple daisy design. It was old. I think it was her mother’s. One of mom’s admissions was her sadness in losing her mother when she was 5. It gave way to her father’s refusal to care for her.  Wartime Japan was no picnic and there is nothing heroic about being stoic and getting on with it.  I had never heard her express such sorrow as I did listening to her tell me how being rejected by her father was unforgiveable.  She gave me 2 things that night.  A carved Hokkaido bear.  And a carved 3 demensional framed face of an Ainu man.  “This is to remind you where you come from.” She passed November 4th, early in the dark hours.   My sister and I dressed mom in that kimono.  We had no guidelines, no direction.  We just did it.  Her body had become so small. It took a few drinks to get the heebie jeebies off of us.  Did we just do that?  Three glasses to the center of the table, not to celebrate, but to finish.  It was done. All done.

I went looking for my birth mother after my mom passed.  I lurked in community forum pages on Ancestry.com looking for similar names or dates. Someone suggested I could contact a person in Japan and send a written power of attorney and Twenty USD.  They would in return retrieve my koseki (registration of birth and death).  

One is mom…the one I came to care for in her dying time.  The one who told me she didn’t want to leave not knowing if I was happy.  Did she think I wasn’t happy?  Who would be happy with this crap ass adventure?  She wanted me to know what disappointed her the most.  She wanted to know, simply: Why is life so tragic?  And she told me, “I hope you find your mom.”  She thought of a woman she didn’t know, who crossed paths with her 40 years before, who gave her a baby she didn’t even want to look at, and she called her mom. I don’t call her mom.  At first, as I looked for evidence of her name, I called her by name. Sakai.  I wondered if she went by Susie, or some other Americanish diminutive.  I looked for traces of her in my own history.  Was she nearby and I didn’t know it?  Were there pictures of her and I didn’t know who she was?  Was she one of the many women in the group photos at the NCO club?  Had she exchanged communication with my parents while I was growing up?  How could she be a person on this earth so exquisitely connected to me, yet invisible and without an identity? How did everyone know I was adopted, but me?  

What I would find is her birthdate is October 21.  I would discover her immigration to the US via marriage.  I would encounter her husband via telephone.  I would be left skinless and bleeding when I hear the words, “Well, that’s my wife’s birthday, but she didn’t have any children.”

My 40 years of life smudged in a sentence.  A mother who will deny me until she goes to her grave.  And a mom who would leave wondering if she had ruined a life.

I think I’ll go see if there are persimmons in the Asian Market yet. Maybe there’s a lingering spirit around here that will appreciate them.

About kat9090

Hafu (Half Japanese), Late Discovery Adoptee, Sister, Mom, Daughter, Wife, I cook, look back, look forward, lean left, drive a lot, write a lot, wish a lot, I will be square with you if you are square with me. Find me on Instagram @shojikat and Twitter @biteme9090
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6 Responses to Every October, I am reassembled.

  1. Wow, Kathy, this is a poignant post. I’m suffering my own little pain as my mom’s birthday is Oct 6 and she died last Thanksgiving. I am thinking of your birth mother and the pain she might have felt giving up a baby after carrying her for nine months, that is no easy thing to do emotionally. Then there is the pain and guilt she must carry if she knows you are looking for her – if the man on the phone even told her about your call. Too many secrets, there is plenty of pain to go around in this world. Persimmons so bitter and sweet.

    • kat9090 says:

      I’m so sorry Linda. I hope the 6th is a day for good memories. I think sometimes I spend October with these thoughts so that come November, I am better stitched together. Hugs to you, there is nothing like having your Okasan come around once a year.
      Yesterday, I was on my way out the door to meet a hafu friend for lunch. We hadn’t met before, only online. I opened the door to the garage and clearly heard my mom say, “Did you have a gift for your new friend?” It stopped me dead in my tracks. Really, on my way out the door? No Mom. I said that outloud. You don’t have to bring a gift to everyone. “You should look and see if you have something. Just a little something for her. It’s important.” I really did have some very pretty ohashi in the drawer. I either bought them in the airport in Narita or they were a gift. I found a sheet of red tissue and a piece of tape. And I left. When I gave the little bundle to my new friend, it went like this:
      Here’s a little something for you.
      What? Gift is not necesssary!
      I know. It’s nothing. Really. Please.
      Thank you so much! Our hashi are in terrible shape, I really needed new ones.
      No problem! Thank you for coming to lunch!
      But the gift is not necessary.
      I know, it’s just little.

      So. So. Japanese. Thanks mom.

      • kat9090 says:

        and btw, she knew. I heard her voice in the background. Turns out, she has been passing herself off as someone 10 years younger. He believes (maybe his ignorance came by honestly) she is 10 years younger than she really is. Now, could a Japanese woman pull that off? Ubetcha.

  2. lynnemiller says:

    That’s a very touching post, Kathy. I think it hurt your birth mother to give you up. Even for adoptees, it’s hard to understand what the experience of surrendering a child to someone else must feel like. I feel fortunate I’ve never gone through that trauma.

  3. Hi again, Kathy. I just saw your reply – equally touching! Regarding your birth mother, there was no birth control in those days, Japanese women did what they had to after the war to survive through the devastation and rebuilding, and an unmarried woman having a child with a gaikujin soldier – an enemy at that – was shameful, like being branded with the scarlet letter. My Japanese obaasan was upset and fearful when her daughter went to work on the US air base. Your mother probably learned after the first child that there was only greater pain in seeing the baby before giving him up. You were an awesomely adorable-looking baby, you know. BTW, my mother passed herself off as 6 years younger than she really was to be more acceptable to her new in-laws. She could have gone for ten. (My father did know, but I didn’t until years after I was grown.)

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