Six months had passed since the four of us moved to this house. I liked our new house, particularly our tatami room (room with dried rush straw mat flooring). When I opened the shoji door (sliding paper door), the scent of the green tatami grass filled the room. The room had an alcove in which my mother displayed a fresh flower arrangement. The rectangular table was matched with the burgundy red zabuton (Japanese cushion). This room felt solemn and austere. It created a wabi sabi space for me.
No one was at home. My mother, brother, and stepfather left early in the morning for their “family” vacation to Kyoto. I didn’t identify with this “new family”, so I decided to stay home by myself. It would take them five hours by car to get from our house to Kyoto, and they would be at a ryokan (hotel) by now. The trees of Kyoto would be ablaze this season with orange and scarlet-tinged leaves. I love Kyoto, but I needed the solitude.
These days, my mother seemed happier than before. I saw a calm smile on her face often. Her former husband was now history and part of her past. She didn’t even bring my father’s Buddhist altar with her. The altar was “moved” to my mother’s brother’s house. She no longer needed to pray to my dad’s spirit nor did she pour water and steamed rice into the miniature sized cup and bowl. Despite the butsudan, in death her husband had not been able to help her when she needed protection. He didn’t speak to her when she wanted his conversation. Now she had a real person who could take care of her, one who ate the rice she prepared from an ordinary sized bowl, not the doll house-sized ones on the altar. Whenever she said something to him, he could answer. When she needed help, his hands were there for her. My mother had already passed through her own dark tunnel. She found a new purpose for her life in taking care of her new husband.
How could I blame her? Who wouldn’t want help and companionship when needy? In this life we live every day, facing challenges, feeling sadness and happiness, and wanting to share our thoughts and dreams. We have living bodies; we are not dead, and I understood this. Yet, at the same time, I was not moving forward. I was still grieving and morning from my loss.
I wanted to know the reason why I had to keep living. In my lifeless body, I was just going through the motions. I wanted to know if there were gods or Buddha or whatever or something else with more power than human beings. If so, why weren’t our lives and our world a pleasant utopia? What is the borderline difference between life and death? Why do we see so much aching sorrow, agony, brokenness, and conflict? Were the gods able to hear my cry and see my misery?
I was still in a tunnel: not a pretty pink one made of sakura blossoms, but a black, lightless one. It was pitch dark, so much so that I could not even tell if my eyes were open or not. How long would I have to go through this disconsolate corridor? Who could rescue me from this suffocating darkness?
Suddenly I felt I was alone and left behind in this world. I didn’t fit in this new family or anywhere else. Where did I belong? I didn’t cry loudly even at my father’s funeral, but the dam of my grief and wailing, finally overflowed with copious tears. My tears were salty and bitter, and they soaked and washed away all of my sweet memories of my childhood with my daddy. I wanted to hear my father’s voice tonight and not that trumpet sound. I needed to hear his real voice.
I gathered up all of the tapes of his trumpet music collection that I had listened to incessantly in the past fifteen months. The tapes had gotten worn out, but this was the only tie that had bound me and my dad together. I grabbed the scissors and pulled and yanked the tape from each of the cassettes. I wanted to be free from the tenacious bondage of my grief. I needed to pass through this incoherent tunnel. It was time to say good bye to the painful past. This ceremony of sorts was my personal funeral for my childhood as well as for my dad. With the scissors, I cut the tapes into many pieces. Snip, snip … the memories of dad were transformed into innumerable tiny pieces, and I would never restore them anymore.
Sayonara otousan, arigatou … Good bye, my father, thank you …