Paper Cuts

Dear Ami.

Ami hates where this is going already.  Why would Zac write a letter to her?  She hasn’t received a personal letter since her mother wrote to her at university.  She sits and looks at it and imagines what it will contain: “Oh, I’m so sorry I shouted last night, and you know what I was trying to say.”  Yes, that’s what it’ll say.  It’ll go on about how much he loves her, and how it’s easier to say it in a letter than to her face.

The boy’s a fool to have stuck with her so long, and she’s a fool to have stuck with him.  They’re not “in love” any more.  They’re comfortable, sure.  They’re even happy a lot of the time.  But is this the man she’s going to marry?  He keeps asking about kids.  He wants kids.  Ami’s not so sure.  Is he “the one”?  There was that stupid film with Anne Hathaway where she judged by whether her foot lifted off the floor when they kissed.  Ami’s foot doesn’t budge.  Zac’s good in bed, mind you.  She can’t deny him that.

Ami has a box next to her, from her grandfather’s attic.  She’s been clearing out the house since he died two weeks before.  She’s already taken out some black-and-white photographs of unknown people, and has just found a folded up piece of paper tied with a small red ribbon.  A love letter, perhaps?  Written from Yazuko to Coleman – Ami’s maternal grandparents – and then kept in this box for decades?  Perhaps even written when he was away in the navy, with Yazuko’s loyalties torn?

“Coleman,” it begins, so cold.  Whether it’s premonition, or just the fact that there isn’t any kind of fun name, like “smoochy” or something… she doesn’t know.  There’s a flutter in her stomach – this isn’t right.

“This needs to be brief…”

Nothing is good when it needs to be brief.  Ami remembers seeing an image of her grandmother.  She looked stern.  She looked of a different age, but there had always been that beautiful “love across the continents” thing.  That was unusual back then.  Ami was part Japanese, and was proud of it.  She had a little bit of the exotic east, even though from where she lived it was west.

“…so please forgive my abruptness.”

Please forgive.  Why even say that?  Just get on with it, thinks Ami.

“I have found someone else.”

Ami stops and reads this line over and over.  As if maybe by reading it another time it won’t say the same thing.  She looks at one of the photographs of Yazuko, looking every bit the mother, every bit the woman who would always look after her husband – somehow it didn’t fit.  It wasn’t how she imagined her. 

“I will not be returning to America when the war ends.”

How could she betray everyone she loved like that?  To stay in Japan on a whim, leaving behind a young child who barely knew her?  A child who would go on a pilgrimage to Japan, trying to understand.  A child who seemingly never knew what her mother had done.  A child who would grow up and have her own daughter – Ami – whom she would not abandon.

It was true she didn’t return, of course.  Ami grew up hating the bomb that killed her grandmother, but now finds herself feeling a new hatred – to her grandmother for her decision, even though to have returned then would have meant being sent to an internment camp.  FDR, that great bastion of progressiveness, the only president elected four times, still put the Japanese into camps.  Ami learnt about it from The Karate Kid.  She liked that film.  Miyako was cool.

And even after the war ended, what Japanese person would’ve wanted to come back to America?  To face what?  Racism?  There was plenty of that.  Maybe that was part of it?  Would her grandfather have suffered if he had a Japanese wife?  He still had a half-Japanese daughter.

“Please consider yourself freed from any obligation towards me.  Yazuko.”

What kind of a parting is that?  What kind of a way, asks Ami?  What mother could turn and say that she wouldn’t be coming back, and that was that?  No obligation.  How cold was that?

Zac intrudes into her thoughts, with his letter.  She reads another line, hoping for light relief from her swirling confusion.

“I said the wrong things, and I’m sorry.  I love you, Ami, and you know that.  I may not have said it out loud, but you know it.  If you really don’t think this is working, then that’s your decision, but I think we have a future.”

Not distraction enough, thinks Ami, as she keeps coming back to the people who’d lived for years in America, suddenly distrusted because of something that they hadn’t decided.  Ami had heard her grandmother had returned to Japan to make one last visit, and then the war had broken out and she’d been stuck.  Things changed in an instant, and people didn’t always have control.  People didn’t always control their own destinies.  Not like Ami did now.  Not like her obvious choice whether to stay with a sap who doted on her or remain free.

“Any obligation.”

It was an odd way of putting it.  She goes back to “I have found someone else.”  It was deliberate.  An act of malice.  An act of cold malice.  She looks down into the box and sees more photos, one showing Yazuko and Coleman and other friends, and then one of one of these friends, a woman with a young daughter, looking very thin.  Ami turns the picture over.  There’s a little cross on the back, and a date.  April 1945.  Did this woman die in one of the camps?

Ami pictures her grandmother again, and wonders if she’d known.  Had Coleman told her about the camps?  Had she known their friend had died?  And what happened to the young girl?  She began to think through the letter again.  “Any obligation.”  This was calculated.  Ami realises she was wrong – it wasn’t malice.  She pictures her grandmother, back in Japan, seeing the news reports of what America was doing to the Japanese, and perhaps she knew.  Perhaps even then she knew there was an even more ill wind coming.

She sees Yazuko again, not now calculating or cold, but crying.  Writing a letter knowing she was separating herself from everything she loved.  A letter distancing herself, making it possible for the man she loved to love again, not that he ever did.  He merely wrapped that letter in ribbon.

Ami wonders if Coleman had worked it out.  The ribbon suggests he had.  He certainly had no ill-will towards his wife, although that could have been because of her death shortly after.

Ami imagines writing a letter sacrificing everything you love for the sake of everything you love.

To spend your last days alone, knowing you would never see your family again.

To lose what love you had, to lose a connection to another human being.

Ami pictures her grandmother, writing the words which would end her family, for her at least.  She imagines that loneliness, that separation, that sorrow.

Ami looks back at the other letter she has.

She likes Zac.  A lot, if she’s honest.  There’s no reason not to be honest, at least with herself.  He’s not “the one”.  He’s not everything she’s ever wanted in life, and he’d be a compromise.  Yazuko and Coleman might have been, too.  But Ami likes Zac.  Maybe she even loves him.  They were happy.  Most of the time.

Maybe that happiness, that connection, that compromise, that link to another human being, so fragile and precarious – maybe that’s what love is, she thinks.

Ami picks up the phone.