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.