He stands in the corner. Straight, jet, black, short hair, almond shaped brown eyes. He is 5ft. 7.5 inches. Not showing any facial emotion. Surrounded by ten women, 25–45 years old, ten different nationalities, chattering in varies different levels of English. He slices onions, potatoes, and carrots. He applies oil to the frying pan. The oil begins to sizzle. One by one he tosses in the onions, potatoes, carrots, and thinly sliced beef at a very calculated speed. The smell of the food fills the air. Some smoke arises from the pan and dinner is ready. He was invited by one of the women to cook dinner at our weekly Sunday event in our university dorm common area. He never said a word.
The phone in my dorm room rings. I answer. I am not sure if I am being invited for a date or speaking to a foreign salesman who wants me to buy a new car. He speaks slowly and carefully. We meet at the fountain in the middle of the university. It is him. He opens the door to his red Toyota convertible and off we go to lunch. He knows exactly what to order, the only menu item that has a picture. He can’t read the menu. Our conversation is limited. We continue to go out every night for two weeks.
December 8, 1980. We stand in front of a Christmas tree with two of his good friends and two of mine. We recite our vows. He has memorized them and requires some language support. “… for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part…” We are now pronounced husband and wife. A quick kiss on the cheek and a celebration with our friends. No family members invited.
January 20, 1981. I have been sitting for thirteen hours. A voice announces that we are landing in one hour. I receive a quick Japanese language lesson from the man next to me. I don’t speak any Japanese. We descend from the plane. There is a written message in Japanese on a bulletin board from him. My seat friend translates it for me. He is waiting. The smell of tobacco smoke overwhelms me. I begin to cough. He is standing patiently waiting for me to exit immigration. The doors open. Floods of people pour out at once. Everyone looks alike. He finds me. We have a quick embrace and head to the train station. A four- hour train ride to our destination.
I enter the room. His four brothers, mom, and dad sit, legs folded back, and backs straight up. The table is small and only about 1 ft from the floor. The floor is a tatami mat. Sushi which is a ceremonial food served on very special occasions in Japan is in the center of the table. Everyone stares, emotional expressions hidden, and a great sense of embarrassment on my part. Mom gets up, bows, says something in Japanese, and my husband leads me to my seat on the floor. Mom serves the food, dad makes a toast, and everyone eats. I am good at using chopsticks. Dinner ends and the family leaves.
My phone is beeping. I look down and see my husband calling. I answer. We are 1,871 miles from each other. He is in Michigan and I am in Arizona. My job took me away from him after twenty-seven years of living in Michigan. The conversation did not end well. He is diagnosed with lung cancer. Given nine months to live.
He moves to Arizona. We go fishing, camping, and travel as much as possible.
March 13, 2015 life ends. He goes to heaven. Five years of cancer, thirty-five years of marriage, one child, and an incredible adventure later, I am alone.
The journey continues.