Life Topics

And Then There Was Life

You think when you’re 21 that you will live forever.  Life seemed simple, as you did anything you wanted. If you gained a little weight, all you’d have to do is skip a meal or two and the pounds disappeared.  If you messed up, a simple sorry (not sorry) would be enough.  You were still considered “a kid.”    You went to work, did your job, and went out for the night, every night.  At that age, you knew everything, and weren’t afraid to act like it.  We thought people over forty were ancient, and our parents were relics, who knew absolutely nothing.  Smoking seemed harmless with merely an afterthought, no matter what anyone said about it.
And then there was drinking.

Nearly every time you saw your friends, which was most nights, you would be drinking. Being drunk was often a side-effect of the two ugly sister’s; anxiety and angst.  Parties were planned at the drop of a hat, if planned at all.  We wiped the slate clean using alcohol to erase anything ugly. We’d stop just in time to start a new day looking fabulous after 3 hours of sleep.  We never thought there was any harm in overindulgence, wishing the nights would last forever.  But the nights didn’t last forever.  The years passed quickly, and those nights of destruction paid a toll on all of us.  For some there were mild effects, enough to make you cut down or stop.  For others, there were more serious consequences; DUIs, family and career issues and at the worst, self-loathing.  Then, in a blink, we were fifty and alcohol-soaked relics.
And then there was the liver.

No one saw it coming, except those who really cared. They could see that he was poisoning himself, one sip at a time.  Long ago were the days of not caring.  He was loving, devoted and hard-working; a superhero, and everybody loved him.  He was an intelligent conversationalist, fun to be around, with a hilarious irreverent wit.  A glass of gin was his silent sidekick, full of confidence and ice.  We all drank with contempt, like we were going to war the next day. Alcohol consumed all of our free time, like in the early days.  I must have been in denial, ignoring signs.  Time and consequences could seem like a myth, stealing your breath away.  Until, finally his handsome complexion and brilliant eyes turned the shade of a lemon.
And then there was “the List.”

After a couple of hospitalizations, things were dire.  We had to face the prospect of death, although he never did.  “There’s nothing we can do” said the ICU doctor after he told me the kidneys were shutting down. The liver was struggling, and the doctor explained that liver patients can’t go on dialysis.   I wailed in front of the hospital elevator doors, a totally broken person.  The love of my life was going to die.  If my tears were prayers he would be well by now.  God, luck, whatever, helped him miraculously turn a corner that night.  Each day that followed was a little better than the last.  There were so many doctors and nurses caring for him, like he was their only patient.  So after 10 days of sleeping in a hospital chair, I started to have backaches and hope.  We were going home.

We packed up the few things that we grabbed in a frenzy on the way to the hospital.  I was full of anxiety, as we were starting a new kind of life.  Things were going to be different.  Countless doctor’s visits followed in the weeks after we left, and he was put on “the list.”  I kept telling myself that the list was a promise that nothing could take him away from me.  A lifeline made up of faith and belief he could one day be healed.  However, there was a catch, “He can never drink again” said the doctors, “or he will die.” 
And then there was life. 

Twelve years later, and he hasn’t had a drink.  This superhero, witty, intelligent, love of my life, relic is here to stay.

We are no longer broken people.

Life Topics

Have Mercy

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I woke up surrounded by strangers.  We boarded the boat at 10pm the night before, in Tokyo Harbor.  My son and I were visiting my brother for 10 days, and my sister-in-law, Hiromi, thought it was a good idea for me to visit her friend on a remote island.  Her friend, Raymond, was teaching English as a second language to the native children of Nijima Island. So, my son and I, alone, boarded the ship not knowing where we were going or who we were going to see.

In the bowels of the boat, we carved out some space on the floor amongst hundreds of Japanese travelers.  These were the economy lodgings; a few square feet of carpet.  Shoes were removed and left in the small aisleway.  Adam and I took our spot, sitting indian-style, and tore open a bag of cheese doodles.  While we crunched on our snack, I could hear muffled conversations that had the word “Americano.”   They were talking about us.  Adam was 5 years old, and gave little notice to his surroundings as he chomped on his food.  But, I became worried with the chatter, as well as the captain rattling off life-saving instructions in Japanese over the loud-speaker.  People listened intently, as they moved their heads from one point of reference to the other.  Obviously, I did not understand where the life jackets were, or where to go in the event of an emergency.  I was screwed.  After realizing this, I nervously glanced over at my sweet child with his face covered in cheese dust. I couldn’t help but smile.

The 10 hour journey was uncomfortable, but we managed with what we had, rolling up our sweatshirts to make pillows.   I opened my eyes in the morning to see palm trees through the portholes.  What an amazing sight.  People were snoring all around me, when in my half-conscience mind, I noticed that Adam was not there.  I momentarily panicked, but realized he couldn’t have gone far.  He was always independent, so his absence was not really a surprise.  I jumped up, put my shoes on in the aisle, and headed to the upper decks.

As I emerged from below, I was in awe of the sight of Japanese fisherman coming from around an island cove.  I squinted in the sun, while watching their tiny boats bobbing up and down in the rough waves.  It looked like at any time one of these waves was going to break the boat into pieces. Each boat would emerge from around a shoreline and speed past our ship every two minutes or so.   The wind was gentle and kind, keeping the air crisp but not cold.  I had one eye on the fisherman and the other looking out for Adam.  He finally appeared chasing a boy a few years older than him.  I turned to embrace him, as he smashed into my legs.

After calming Adam down, we walked along the pristine deck, stopping every few minutes to soak in the sight of the chain of islands we were passing.  The boy and Adam decided to continue their game of chase, as I stood at the railing of the boat.  A Japanese woman walked up to me and started a conversation.  She told me that she was on the boat with her boyfriend, and that they were very happy together.  As the conversation continued, she mentioned that she has a little boy, who she sent away to live with friends in Georgia, USA.  This was important to her because she now had a boyfriend and there was no room in her life for her son.

I listened feeling a bit odd, as I am a single mother and would never send my child away for a boyfriend, but OK.  She then asked me if I was a Christian.  I said yes, and she requested that I pray with her.
I figured it is a duty to pray with a fellow Christian if asked, so I accepted.

She began, “Dear God”
I followed with, “Dear God”
She said, “Have Mercy on Me”
“Have Mercy on me” I continued.

She stopped me right there and corrected me, saying, “No, No, Have Mercy on ME!”
My mind came to a complete halt.  I thought, this woman just deliberately dumped her kid to take on a lover, and she is looking not only for mercy from God, but wanted me to have mercy for her too.  That was too much to take.

“Lady” I said. “You just got rid of your kid for a guy, and think that you need all of God’s mercy for yourself.  It sounds to me like you have everything figured out to suit your needs.”  She implied that I wasn’t worthy to receive mercy, it was all about her.  I was disgusted.

She looked at me with feigned shock, as her boyfriend stepped closer to her.  Why didn’t I keep my mouth shut I thought.  I had a grave vision of this tall, strong guy throwing me overboard, to defend his love.  And me, not knowing where the life rings were or how to scream help in Japanese.  I slowly backed away and said, “have-a-nice-day”, as I tensely shuffled away to collect Adam at the other end of the deck.

We had a wonderful visit with Raymond on Nijima Island, going to the public baths, singing Karaoke and drinking sake.  Adam and I toured the small island, meeting craftsmen in the village.  We enjoyed local treats and traditions.  We even watched the world surfing championships on the beach one day.  So when it was time to go home, I silently asked God for mercy as we boarded the ship to take us back to Tokyo.  I said a few prayers for our safe return, and for the safe return of all on board.

We didn’t have cheese doodles for the return trip.