One of my earliest and most relentless nightmares emerged when I was a little girl…when other little girls were dreaming of their “prince charming” I was having a nightmare of walking down the aisle and not knowing who the groom was. When I woke I would be covered in sweat and terrified.
I did know my grandmother was a “mail order” bride and my mother had an “arranged marriage”. All this very traditional and acceptable in Japanese society, but I also knew that my Mom was in love with someone other than my father.
When Pearl Harbor happened and WWII was now an American concern, my mother was just a teenager gathered up along with the rest of her family and the rest of her Japanese community and shipped off to Poston, Arizona (concentration camp)… There she met others from all over the country. The young American-born Japanese still had hope, but their older generations were terrified, they thought they would be shot. Amongst all the shock and chaos of being uprooted from their homes, some sense of calm and purpose came to them. They would endure and organize themselves.
Mom had met a young man from the camp. She would never use the word “love” to describe it…that would not be “appropriate”. But when Mom came to marriageable age in camp, this boy from the camp was not suitable because he was not well educated. My dad was approved because he had been to university in Japan and was a professional writer before he returned to America. Though my mom had the right to refuse my grandparents choice she couldn’t go against tradition.
When I was rummaging through some old pictures, I found the picture of my mom that was given to my dad for his approval of marriage. She was dressed in my Grandmother’s beautiful silk kimono and obi that was her wedding dress. She looked sad and resigned to her fate. I sometimes wonder if when she was taking that picture she thought that if she looked forlorn enough dad would not want to marry her.
Mom and the “ boy from camp” remained “friends” for the rest of their lives. When airfare was not cheap and not the usual mode of transportation, mom’s friend would visit (with his wife) every year from Chicago. Dad would be more gregarious, friendly and drink a lot more when they were here…when they left a huge cloud of silence…dad going back to reading in his chair and ignoring us (as usual)… mom would be quiet and reflective amongst us kids who would play and fight wondering what was going on… then BOOOOOMMMM! …My mom and dad would start fighting in Japanese…boy is that scary when you’re young.
When I was going to college, I remember my mom calling me from out of the blue (very unusual)…she wanted me to take some time off and go with her via bus or plane to Chicago (very,very unusual)…I was in the middle of finals so I couldn’t go. A week or so later she called me again…this time she wanted to leave Dad!!!!… and live with me!!! Now this was very unusual… to tell you the truth, the thought of her leaving dad was not the shocker (what took her so long)…but for her to live with me meant I would have to tell her that I was what she would call a “loose woman”…I told her that I had to go to class but that if she was serious I would have to talk to her and pick her up after classes. By the time I called back she had changed her mind and I had missed my opportunity to be closer to my mom.
A few months later, she had become very depressed to such an extent even my father noticed and started to treat her more gently…doing small little chores to help her out…dare I say, “thoughtful”. Later I found out that that “boy from camp” had gotten sick and died leaving a wife, 2 grown sons, and a very good “friend”…
Most of my adult life I had felt the pressure to marry within my race and with approval from my parents. That “loose woman” statis I mentioned before, was due to me dating men not of my race. Maybe with all I knew of the women in my family, I wanted to marry for love. John was not my “first love” but he was my last. When I had to think serious about the wedding details, the question of the wedding dress came up. I did for a moment think that I would ask Dad for mom’s wedding kimono, but then I thought I needed to symbolically break some very old traditional “chains”. The wedding kimono and obi that my grandmother’s family must have sacrificed so much to give her…the wedding dress that my grandmother gave to my mother in love…having to cloak her love in tradition…never able to speak the word…and the wedding dress my mom wasn’t able to see me wear because of this nightmare I still carried like baggage…
When I married John, I wore a red sheath I designed myself, with an antique kimono jacket that held no family traditions to bind me…we walked down the aisle together giving ourselves away to each other…I knew who I was marrying…and the nightmares ended.