to visit my grandparents’ grave. I want to scrub-brush the tombstone, take some pretty flowers, burn some incense, put my hands together and pray.
Their grave is on a mountainside and the view is stunning; however, the sheer size of this cemetery is intimidating. I’ll need a map and it’ll take me twenty times as long to find their grave as it will to sit, pray, think, love.
Some of my earliest memories are at my grandparents’ home in rural Japan.
A single-digit me hangs out in the piney front yard with huge moss-covered boulder-stones, awesome bonsai, random fruit trees, flowers sprouting jolts of color and a little stream running sweet, cold water.
My morning routine: cut through the superskinny passageway connecting our house to my grandmother’s sister’s home and walk around the foresty hill behind the house. I collect various beetles as I get mercilessly bitten by mosquitoes but no matter because I’m off and running to the local candy shop and grocery where the shopkeepers think me a lovable but strange novelty, being reared in the States. I say neighborhood hellos and discover chocolate-covered strawberry bon-bons(!!!) from a vending machine next to the neighborhood shrine; cicadas rhythmically scream-buzz in the humid afternoons, rows and rows of them encircle the tall shrine tree trunks. Finding those bon-bons was a fucking awesome day.
My aunt wakes around noon and I watch her hour-long makeup routine in awe; her lipstick palette alone fascinates me for many minutes. She was a model in Tokyo when she was young; many decades later, she’s no doubt the hippest woman in this quiet town. She loves to tango and has many male admirers; my uncle’s joy over this is easily measured in the cans of beer that stack up, the brick thrown in her face was a little more direct. Sometimes it takes her too many hours to finish her makeup so an impatient me plays in a field, looks for four-leaf clovers and makes necklaces out of weedy flowers. Sometimes I ride the bus to explore neighboring towns but mostly I walk around, suck nectar from honeysuckles, balance on raised concrete borders of rice paddies and stare at tadpoles and frogs.
As the sky starts to turn pink-orange, I buy beer and cigarettes from adjacent vending machines for my uncle and cousin, respectively. They drink and smoke while I light fireworks at night, sometimes with my next-door second cousins, sometimes not.
The family was tight.
So tight that when my older cousin gets too involved with the Yakuza, he lives with us in the states until- years later- he can resume life in Japan.
So tight that when his younger brother gets into rougher and rougher shenanigans at school, it’s his turn to live with us.
So fucking tight that this cousin uses an eight-year-old me for firsthand sex ed.
He doesn’t have to ask me to keep our secret.
I look up to him; I block it out of my mind.
It didn’t happen.
As long as he lives with us, I don’t say anything.
Even when he ‘asks’ me to watch porn with him.
And taunts me (some days I’m really dumb and not cute, other days I’m a brilliant beauty; this confuses me).
And breaks my collarbone.
I don’t hate him.
I don’t know that I will ever hate him.
Even as he continues to mess with a ten, eleven, twelve-year-old me.
Even after a fifteen-year-old me feels immense relief that he has a girlfriend.
Only to find a box of Polaroids that he’s taken of me while I was asleep.
At seventeen I can’t deny what happened anymore; memory flashes disrupt my suburban teenage-hood.
At nineteen I tell my parents.
I still don’t hate him.
Even after my dad confronts him and he calls me a crazy bitch.
And a liar.
My grandparents are dead; it’s no longer their home.
And I’m no longer welcome there.
The greatest irony?
As I’m on this island, many years later and planning to visit my grandparents grave, I miss that family.
I didn’t quite realize the ultimatum: saving myself means goodbye to them forever.
Usually thinking about them doesn’t bum me out but apparently on a night like this, as I reflect, it makes me tremendously sad.
We don’t get many givens in this life.
Family is one of them.