Sakawa MONOGATARI
 

IV  PERSONA

 

Setsuko


~~~~~~~~~~
It might be silly, Thomas started pretending hesitating through the telephone, but I miss the two of you and your new Japanese family in the manuscript. It's not my intention to be witty, but without your parents-in-law: NO Fumika ! He paused for a dramatic reason. Indirectly you-two come down handsomely, but I assume, that a straightforward portrait would be adequate.
We know Thomas already for ages. Sometimes we don't hear from each other for a year or longer, but that proved in no way a hindrance. Time anyhow is a construction, a fiction, which   -it is true-   occupies a dominant position in our lives, but nevertheless a fully fledged fiction. Also in terms of space we find ourselves in far remote positions. Turns out to be no obstacle either. Our 'contact-line' remains. Thomas compelled our opinionated characters respect in a systematic way.
He made us blush with this invitation to present ourselves in a direct way. That's also one of our angles.
If this chapter will be criticized, I'll point to you, I try to grumble weakly.
~~~~~~~~~~

I have a mother in law,

That's not so exceptional if a person is married. I am married with a woman who has the Japanese nationality.
My mother-in-law is born Japanese and her name is Setsuko. She was a teacher.

 Fumika, my spouse, told me, that her mother was in a great state, when she confessed to feel love for a non-Japanese, a gajin. Setsuko knew, that all dutch persons have a brown skin [....] What that had to mean never became clear. Fumika caught it, understandably too, because she wanted a divorce. Except being disgraceful and non-moral, Fumika was supposed unwise as well, marriage defining as a life-insurance. After all -difficult to get the precise picture- there was something diffuse around a foreigner as such, in principle however not trustworthy! rapists also. Anyhow not a Japanese standard.

 During world war II the Japanese population was systematically indoctrinated about what kind of beasts Americans would be. Better to die than to admit them on Japanese soil. Among others on Okinawa many citizens are unnecessarily perished with this warning in their memory. Could it have a connection with this ? I will never be able to find out, because Setsuko-san now, six years later, keeps in the possible blessed state of Alzheimer's company.

From the time the unavoidable proved to be inevitable, Setsuko-san sulking fixed a strong requirement: first I had to put my pedigree on paper.
Do I have a familytree ?
It is to say, your father and your mother, their parents and your sister who has a child.
To be honest I thought it would be quite chic to construct my own pedigree. Fumika had a useful form available for it.
We needed a large sheet of paper: A 1.
My father came from a stock of 16 children, who all were pretty active in reproductive terms, later on. But also a couple of them had passed away.
My mother's mother has passed away at a very young age. As a toddler my mother was sent on a holiday and returning, there suddenly was a woman she had to address with 'mamma',  my grandfather's second wife.  The past was not anymore  subject of conversation.
My father, though he preferred to forget this,  -this subject was taboo-  had been married before and was father of 2 children, whom he choose to neglect. From the marriage with my mother also 2 children were born.
I myself got married on my twentieth and got 2 children! one of them unfortunately died before his first year. Some years later I divorced. I have a third child, but never married his mother, as was a pretty common habit in the seventies. This woman was completely independent and a 'husband' was not exactly 'necessary'. However unexpectedly and unfortunately she died all of a sudden, my son being 14 years of age. Actually I had an active role in his growing. up
My sister was divorced, had a son and lived together with a man, whom she did not marry.
Pretty normal Dutch relations, I would like to say. Altogether the tree became a wide crown.

On a certain afternoon I paid my respects in Setsuko's old and draughty house, where already several generations had lived. She sat at a low table near an extremely disorderly, really not clean, that is, a Japanese kitchen. The large paper was spread in front of her. Fumika began the explanation. After having listened for some time, Setsuko apparently lost the thread! she was baffled. The paper had to be taken from the table, she decided determined.
This topic was [definitively] removed from the agenda.

After this presentation we  -formally  were expected to eat in a distinguished restaurant. On my account; not a no token for an answer. Setsuko-san suffered from her hips and had trouble walking. Getting out of the taxi, having to make some steps up, as a reflex and spontaneously my hand laid hold of her uncovered under-arm as a support. As by undergoing a wasp-sting she averted me fiercely.
Later I understood the full ambit of this occurrence. Setsuko-san had been widowed unexpectedly at the young age of 47. Since then she never did touch another man's skin and surely not a man her naked skin. This skin-skin-contact, though meant for the best, was an affront and something that was banished from her live.
Several times I blundered again, spontaneously and by reflex, it goes without saying, wanting to help her.
During the dinner Setsuko was restrained. May be she also did not know well how to handle all that.

I never artificially took efforts to try to ingratiate me with her. Her peevishness never touched upon a tender string at my side.

Fumika and her mother often vigorously collided with each other. They were well matched and pretty able to upset the other, fast and effortless. I was surprised by what I saw, but also felt, that Fumika loves her mother. In the course of time Fumika had told me how her mother had helped her very realistically, going through thick and thin with her. Not to give myself a little feather, but several times I let Fumika have it and stated that she should take up her position. Fumika changed and her relation became smoother, less explosive [the fuse had been taken out] and more enjoyable. Stress disappeared.

Fumika and I were in Holland for a longer period of time, actually we lived there. Female-fully Setsuko endured that, though Fumika being her only one 'child', but also, not unimportant, her confidante. Financial matters she did not understand and also her aptness to forget raised. Sometimes she made a call to the Netherlands just for a social talk.

Being back in Japan we sometimes took an outside dinner. Fumika tried to clean Setsuko's house regularly, however not requested service was not appreciated- "it is my house!". At this point Setsuko was right. We took her often to the supermarket were she studied anything carefully, leaning on her shopping-trolley. She took her time liberally; a real outing. Sometimes she ate at our place and afterwards she sat the other way around, her knees on the couch, watching me.
My view is, if Fumika cooks, the least thing I can do is washing the dishes. Setsuko could not stop looking at me doing the dishes.
Some help came from the social service; sometimes also being picked up to enjoy a nice afternoon with others. Conform her condition she was entitled for more help, but, during the social-service-head's visit to test her condition, health and mobility, Setsuko-san always boasted perky, that as a matter of fact, nothing was wrong with her.

At that time she got a wheelchair and sometimes we took a walk for quite a time. Riding, riding in a cart....We halted for any excuse: a flower, a tree, a garden, a person. Setsuko volunteered into a role, teaching me whatever name and i. e. the function of something. My Japanese is under-minimum and from little I had, I regularly answered with hay, hay. Fumika often said: this is a perfect marriage: you are driving her around, Setsuko does the talking and you never contradict her. Such a thing never happened in her life before, a person always agreeing with her and for sure Fumika not. Together we were the perfect example of wa. I always enjoyed to have a stroll with her. It never felt like a task.
More and more and without any planning we became stronger palls.

In the beginning of December 2004 we had to travel to Japan head over heels. Setsuko was found alone in her house, laying on the floor for a long time; a stroke.
Her second one. She had to be admitted. All did not look very pretty.
Fumika was a beauty of care and coordination. Setsuko stayed in two hospitals, recovered and got a privileged space -without a waiting-list- in Helios, a care-house, beautifully located, around the corner, so to say.
A huge break. More and more Alzheimer came in sight.
One day we visited her house with her. Bored and loudly she asked herself what for heaven's sake we were doing at this strange and unknown spot.

Finally we emptied her house, cleaned it [not having to ask her permission..] and did some repairs. There was no way of return anymore.

 August 1st [2005] we would definitively immigrate into Japan. Two days earlier Setsuko had to be admitted again as an emergency: water in her lungs. Heart worked badly. Intensive care. An almost dead body connected with rubes and wires. To a miracle she became conscious and could return to Helios. The doctor-director decided for unknown reasons, that she could make a leap over forty waiting patients. Setsuko was admitted into a luxury,  Japanese-style care-house at the same ground. My hypothesis is, that the director just likes Setsuko.

Now our communication is solely physical and direct. Touching a naked arm and stroking: that's the most common thing on earth. Tickling her side makes her chuckle and move in a comical and playful way. Massaging her neck and bring her hair in order is routine. She forgets her grandsons' names or interchanges them. Especially the youngest cannot stand that. All the time Setsuko forgets with what they are occupied. The lady also cheats continuously,. When Fumika talks about subjects, which Setsuko has forgotten -and there are many, if not almost all- she pretends to know everything very well. Also staff-names mean nothing to her anymore. On the sly she inspects first the name-cards being attached on everybody's revers and then acts memorizing. Everything is forgotten and forgiven.

Tickling under her feet, she always reacts very energetic. Good to see, that there is live in her.

When I don't join Fumika, she always asks where I am and what I am doing. Most of the time Fumika answers: Dolf is studying. Then she nods and feels satisfied; that is the way it should be.

I have a mother-in-law. We have a good time together.

If anybody would get the evil idea to tell a 'mother-in-law-joke', then I will stand firm in front of her and announce, that she does NOT fit into it.
 

Previous page 

Next page 

Back to begin