It has been about 10 years since I've come to Japan alone. I was just here with my husband and child this past spring, but this time, I came to check on my 84 year old mother who has been in and out of hospital all year with bowl obstruction and infections. While we were here last, she had a colostomy done which was supposed to improve her condition, but in August, she went back into the hospital with yet another infection. She was released on her birthday in early September, but all of us felt that it would perhaps lift her spirits for me to go there. I have a window of about 10 days to get away from work so I took the opportunity.
As soon as I decided, I was plagued by stress. It was a lot to endure for both my 4yr old daughter and my husband, and for me to see my mother in her weakened condition. As I have chosen to live this far away from them, I have been dreading this sort of trip and it was in front of me. I have no idea what I'm doing. But it was clear that this was the right thing to do.
The trip here was long. There was a delay in departure, then a long wait after landing before getting to the gate, my luggage came out second to last, then the unusually bad traffic into Tokyo doubled the travel time from 90 minutes to 3 hours. But all the while, in the delirium of jet lag, I was thinking about ways in which my parents traveled to see me. After my first year in the States, I spent a summer at a ranch in Sacramento, working for a summer camp to keep up the English. The ranch was in a small, real cowboy town where people have never really seen anyone from Japan. This summer camp was introduced to me through a friend of my mother's and I worked there for 10 weeks. My mother, then in her mid 50s, flew out from Tokyo by herself and rented a car and drove several hours to come see me. She was pretty concerned about doing this (this was before the time of cell phone or GPS), but she did because she hasn't seen me in a year. My father drove me to Narita air port so that I can have an interview with the representative of the boarding school I attended. The school administrator was coming through Tokyo on his way to Hong Kong to interview some more students and had several hours of lay over. And so in an air port restaurant, I had my entrance interview. My dad introduced me to him and then stepped out and just walked around the air port for about 30 min. I'm not sure how or why I passed, but I guess the gentleman though there was enough potential for me to become fluent so I passed. My father also flew out to California and took me to the East Coast to look at colleges during my senior year. And until I was out of college, my parents always flew separately so that should a plane go down, my brother and I wouldn't become orphans. It was totally my time to travel for them.
I got here and went straight to my mother's bedroom. She lost weight even from the time I was here 4 months ago. She looked weak and small, but stretched her arms to greet me. I gave her a hug and sat with her. The next day, as I was thinking about what to fix for lunch, I thought of the soup my mother used to fix when my brother and I got sick. It is a vegetable soup in which you put, potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, and cabbage and simmer it until everything melts in your mouth. When I was less than a year old, I got a stomach flu and got so dehydrated that I was admitted to the hospital. The doctors treated me with some iv fluids but I was getting any better so after a few days, my mom just took me home and fixed this very soup. Apparently, that's all I needed and I recovered. Every time one of us was sick with a stomach flu, mom would make this soup and nurse us back to health and to me, this is the ultimate comfort food. So I asked my mom if that would provoke her appetite. She said yes. I got to work and within an hour, I had the soup for her. She took a bite and said, "this was the taste I was longing to have" and proceeded to eat the entire bowl of it. It was good to know that I could actually help. That I would make her feel better both physically and in spirits. I made it in a large pot twice because it has become a thing I could do well for her right now.
In between doing things for my mom, I have ducked out to see some friends. Taking the subway alone and seeing good, close friends without kids feels a bit like time travel. It's an odd and confusing place to be--to be alone and be here and watching my mother, who has been so strong and active, age rapidly and become small and frail. It's time traveling in both directions.
More than ever, I suspect will feel the pull in both directions for a while. And tomorrow, on my last day, I will cook the soup with my niece so that she can learn it and make it for my mother after I go. Perhaps through that, my mother can feel my presence until I come back again.