14 May 2014

A Quaker faith


Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.
When someone asks, why are you here, it's always a long story for me. How far back would you like me to go, I want to ask. To the beginning? Which beginning is the beginning of this?

Somewhere in the course of today, I told the story of my failed honeymoon, a story Yoko doesn't like me telling, but one I have perfected over the years: starting with us standing in our apartment in Matsuhama in Japan — Yoko having been so sick from the pregnancy — plane tickets in hand and trying to decide whether or not to go on... and ending with me walking alone around Rome, angry and displaced. Look, the Sistine Chapel. Great. This last line is the laugh line, delivered deadpan and sarcastic, the ending that draws it all together before moving on or back to whatever prompted the story in the first place.

That night that Naomi was born, we were still in Matsuhama, in the small 2DK apartment where, if you craned your neck looking from the bedroom window, you could see the Agano River flowing into the Sea of Japan. I paid 42,000 yen a month for it, and when Yoko and I got married, we moved her out and into my place. The night we completed the move, I remember shutting the door with all of her things piled in the kitchen and thinking, this is where we will start. We had been cat-napping in the bed for six months, Yoko always going home around two or three to avoid the appearance of staying over, but we were married now and this was where it was all going to happen. We shut off the lights and opened the windows and although I don't remember being able to hear the water, I can remember it now. That bed we had, we had bought it together, and it was so big, I remember, bigger than any bed I slept in for years. 

Naomi came, as I've said again and again here, unexpectedly both in the first instance and in the last, when at 1:30 in the morning, only 40 minutes after Yoko and I were happily chatting and waiting for the doctor, I saw her face emerging and suddenly there and in my arms. Look at her and how much she looks like me: my own little girl, after so many months of only resenting her and hating everything she had done to my wife and marriage. No, how stupid that had all been, I remember thinking as I left the clinic early the next morning to go home and shower and stand in front of the teacher room at Meikun High School and announce that she had come in the night. Everyone pitied me, I think, a silly gaijin assistant language teacher with a year-to-year contract and nothing to speak of in the works. At least his wife has a good job, I could imagine them saying right before I came in the room: at least they have something.

And then, seven years later, this morning, standing at the top of Bristol Rd in Selly Oak. It was bright and clear, and I had just been in Sainsbury's looking for a birthday badge: Naomi said that she wanted a badge. I came down past a part of the University I hadn't seen yet, another series of buildings on both sides of the road, and finally at the bottom of the hill, the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, and that question, at reception, why are you here? There's no good answer for that question, not ever: I don't know, I want to say, somewhere I took a wrong turn and ended up here. Here is as good a place as any, isn't it? If you don't mind and it isn't too much trouble, I'd like to do a bit of writing and stay, at least until I can figure things out.
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