"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Aftershocks, Part I

(Note: This story is the first of several that will appear here in the days ahead. I am starting it on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1941, for reasons that will become apparent in the series.)

I reach up, turn the doorknob, and open the door to my mother’s bedroom. I walk silently on bare feet across the darkened room to her bed. I put my hands on the bed and lift one leg to climb up on it. Suddenly, two heads rise from the pillows, and one of them has dark curly hair. Definitely not my mother. A strange man is in bed with my mother!

I run back to my own room and hide under the covers. My face is scalding hot and I don’t ever want to come out from under the blankets. Who is that man and why is he in my mother’s bed?

Then, they come for me.

Sometime later the man with the blue eyes and dark curly hair sits on a window seat and opens a large dark green canvas bag. He pulls out clothing, all the same color. Then, he hands me something. I draw back.

My mother takes it from him, saying it’s a present that he made for me. I want no part of it or him, but my mother slips it on my wrist. It is too large, but the intertwined bands of thin silver-colored metal catch my attention, and I let her put it on my wrist. I feel a nudge on my back. I look down at the floor.

The man reaches for a light brown hat with a funny-looking medallion on the front, and puts it on my head. I can barely see out from under the dark visor.

Another nudge.

“Thank you,” I mumble. And so I speak my first remembered words to this man who is my father, now home from the Philippines where he was stationed with the Army Air Corps. He looks just like the portrait photograph that my mother keeps in her room—the black and white one tinted with color, showing his blue eyes but making his cheeks impossibly pink.

He had lived with us the first years after my birth in 1941, two weeks exactly before Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese military, and I had seen the picture often. But the whole idea of the man in the picture being someone who belongs in my life is too abstract a concept for my young mind to grasp. Now, here he is, sleeping in my mother’s bed, monopolizing her attention, intruding into our lives. And it looks like he intends to stay.

He had something else in that duffel bag, something I didn’t see until fifty years later when my mother passed away and my siblings and I were cleaning out her apartment. My father had died ten years before, and my mother started whittling down her possessions until she had only those things she used regularly, some keepsakes, and a filing cabinet that contained important papers—all organized and labeled.

In the closet in the spare bedroom were boxes of photographs and 35 mm slides. I reached for a small envelope stuffed with black and white photos. I gasped when I looked at them. He had brought these photos home from the war, and I had never seen them. All but one apparently were taken in the Philippines. There were photos of ruin and destruction, of warships anchored in a tropical bay, and bodies—lots of bodies of enemy dead and some that might not have been the enemy.

There were a couple photos of my father posing with fellow soldiers.


And last, one that was a different size. This one I recognized immediately. The photo was taken on board the battleship USS Missouri. This was the iconic photo of the civilian and military representatives of Imperial Japan, dressed in top hats and formal attire or uniforms, surrendering on board an American warship. In Japan, Nagasaki and Hiroshima lay in smoking ruins, demolished by the first atomic weapons ever deployed.

I’m pretty sure my father wasn’t there for that surrender. I imagine that this photo was reproduced by the tens of thousands, and he came into possession of a copy.

Forty-three years after that event, I stood on a concrete slab that was the only barrier between me and the demons of hell, demons much like the ones that were loosed on Japanese cities long ago, demons that forced slender men in top hats to affix their names to documents that decreed their country’s unconditional surrender.

But, I was nowhere near Japan, the Philippines, or the Orient.

I was in Alaska.

(to be continued)

1 comment:

  1. You look like your father, Gully.

    You sure know how to hook your readers. "A strange man is in bed with my mother!"

    I look forward to more.