“SANA, CHOTTO. . . HANASHI GA ARUN-YA-KEDO.”
Something big is about to go down.
It’s Sunday afternoon and we’re almost ready to leave the beach at Lake Michigan, where I’ve begged Mom to take me for my birthday. It’s just the two of us because Dad is away on business—he’s always away on business—and I’m crouched at the edge of the water, collecting sea glass. I’ve decided I’m not leaving the beach until I’ve found sixteen pieces, one for each year. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed, but at least I’ll have a handful of magic in my pocket. Sixteen surprises. Sixteen secret treasures I’ve found in the sand.
And now this: hanashi ga arun’.
Mom never asks if I want to “chat” unless she’s actually gearing up for a Serious Discussion. She walks over and stands next to me, but I’m too anxious to look up, so I continue picking through the sand as possible Serious Discussion Topics scroll through my head:
She has cancer.
She’s making me go to Japan for the summer.
“It’s about Dad,” she says.
Dad’s leaving us.
“Dad got a new job with start-up company in California.”
“It’s the company called GoBotX,” she says. “They make the robots for hospital surgery.”
I don’t care what the company makes.
“Did you say California?”
When I say Serious Discussion, I suppose I should really say Big Announcement Followed by Brief and Unhelpful Q&A Before Mom Closes Topic:
“How long have you known?”
“Dad applied last month. He signed contract today.”
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“What do you mean, no need?”
She shrugs. “No need. Not your decision.”
“But that’s not fair!”
“‘Fair’ doesn’t matter.”
“Complaining doesn’t do any good.”
“Are we all moving? When?”
“Dad will go in two weeks, at end of May. He will find a house to live, and we will go at end of June.”
She doesn’t know the answers to the rest of my questions: Where will we live, where will I go to school, what am I supposed to do all summer all by myself. Then she says, “No more questions. It is decided, so nothing we can do. Clean the sand off your feet before we get in the car.”
We don’t talk on the way home. Mom’s not the type to apologize or ask questions like, “How does that make you feel?” My own unanswered questions swim in circles around the silence like giant schools of fish, chased by the most important question of all—the only one I can’t ask.
When we get home, I go to my room to finish some homework. But before I start, I take out a lacquer box that Mom and Dad bought for me when we visited Japan seven years ago. It’s a deep, rich orange red, and it has three cherry blossoms painted on it in real gold. Inside, I keep my pearl earrings, a picture of me with my best friend, Trish Campbell, when we were six, all the sea glass I’ve collected from trips to Lake Michigan, and a slip of paper with a phone number on it.
I pour in my new sea glass, take out the piece of paper, and stare at the numbers. They start with a San Francisco area code. Could this be the real reason we’re moving?
The paper is small and narrow, almost like something I might pull out of a fortune cookie. Like if I turn it over, I’ll find my fortune—my family’s fortune—on the other side: Yes, these numbers are important. No, these numbers are meaningless. But of course the back of the paper is as blank as ever. I bury the phone number under the other things, put the box away, and lie down on my bed to think.
A few minutes later, Mom comes in and frowns when she sees me lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling. Mom is the most practical person I know. She doesn’t sugarcoat things, and she doesn’t look for a bright side. Which is okay right now, because a fake spiel about exciting new experiences, great weather, and new friends would just piss me off.
“I am sorry that you have to leave your friends,” she says, not looking one bit sorry, “ but the pouting doesn’t make your life better. It just prevents you from doing your homeworks.”
Then again, it probably wouldn’t kill her to show a little sympathy. Also, she’s totally off base about what’s upsetting me. But since correcting her is out of the question, I just turn and face the wall.
“Jibun no koto bakkari kangaen’no yame-nasai. Chanto henji shina-sai.”
I don’t think I’m being selfish. But since “AAAGGGGH-HHH! I’M NOT BEING SELFISH!” is probably not the “proper reply” she’s looking for, I just say, “I’m not pouting. I’m thinking.”
“There is nothing to think about. If you want to think, you can think of being grateful for a father who works so hard to get the good job.”
“It’s not that I’m not grateful—”
“Ever since he was teenager,” she continues, “Dad dreamed of working for the Silicon Valley start-up. That’s why he came to United States.”
“But what about me? Don’t my dreams count?” Okay, maybe now I’m being a little selfish. Especially since the truth is that I don’t actually have what might be called dreams. What I have are more like hopes: Straight As. A love life. A crowd of real friends to hang out with. But it’s also true that if I did have dreams, they wouldn’t count anyway. Not to Mom.
“You are too young for the dream,” she says. (See?)
I want to remind her that she just said Dad’s start-up job was a teenage dream. But she has a conveniently short memory about things she’s just said that contradict other things she’s just said, so instead, I switch tracks. “What about your dreams?”
“My dream is not important.”
“Ugh. Come on, Mom.”
She crosses her arms. “My dream is to make the good family. I can do that in Wisconsin or California.”
“Mom, why do you say stuff like that? Like, ‘Oh, our lives are just going to change forever, no big deal.’ It is a big deal! It’s a huge deal!” I can hear myself getting screechy, but I can’t help it. Dad changes our lives around without consulting anyone— well, without consulting me—and Mom just . . . lets it happen. It would make anyone screechy. “
Shikkari shinasai,” she snaps.
But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that: gather myself into a tight little bundle with everything in its place— shikkari—like she wants. I put my head under my pillow.
She’s quiet for so long that I begin to wonder if she’s left the room. When I peek out from under the pillow, she’s waiting for me, her face softer, even a little sad. “Gaman shinasai,” she says, and walks away. Gaman. Endure. Bear it without complaining.
Her life’s motto and my life’s bane.