Thursday, 21 March 2013

My sister

I've got a bad case of the shakes before I even open my eyes. My stomach is overflowing, urging evacuation through the front entrance. It's like I've got some combination of a hangover and the flu. I don't, though; I'm just nervous. Today I'm going to see my sister.

My Japanese sister, I mean. We're not related by blood. It's only that her family hosted me once, in the ancient past, and we've thought of each other as brother and sister ever since. It only took me three days to realise the depths of my affections, too. A lot of people just don't get how somebody can be your family without actually being your family, and I guess I can understand – if you haven't experienced it, it's probably hard to wrap your head around. It still irks me when people try to argue the point - and I won't suffer anybody who tries to deny the legitimacy of our bond - but I understand it.

She was, I think, not only the first person whose love for me I ever really felt, but also the first I never had to question, ever. Likewise, I love her with everything I have, wholly and unconditionally. In fact I feel more strongly for her than I do for any of my “real” relatives. She's vibrant, beautiful inside and out, and more full of life than anyone else I know. To me, she is perfect, and if anyone disagrees, I don't want to hear it.

Of course as soon as I arrived in Kyouto the first thing I wanted to do was to meet with her. And she told me that, yes of course, we should meet, but she was very busy right now and so sorry but could we put it off for a while? Well yes, of course we could, because she is not beholden to my whims and it's my dearest wish to support her from the sidelines, and sometimes that means stepping out of the way. It hurt a little, though. If it were me, I would move heaven and earth for the chance to see her, but that's ok, I thought. All it means is that she doesn't want to see me as badly as I want to see her. Of course she doesn't, that's obvious.

Months passed with nothing, and I seriously fear, but refuse to believe, that she's just given up on me. But a particularly heartfelt drunken message from me is the impetus for a reunion. I spend the intervening time battling occasional bouts of tachycardia and hyperventilation, and now that it's day of, I'm basically useless. It's an effort just to dither around on the Internet. I feel as though at any moment I may pass out and then die. What if I can't make interesting conversation? What if it turns out that, even after four years, we have nothing to talk about? What if we've drifted apart?

What if she's not proud of me?

I'm not entirely sure why her approval means so much to me. I've basically lived my entire life by my own standards, laughing in the face of anybody who's judged me by theirs. With her it's different. In a lot of ways she's been a moral guidepost for me, a silent hip-check. More than once, I've traversed a difficult ethical decision by stopping and imagining which choice would make her more proud of me, if she were to ever find out. I've come incredibly far since the last time she saw me. I'm very truly almost a different person. I'm more capable, more understanding, more attuned...if she doesn't recognize the strides I've made, I'll be irreparably crushed.

We're supposed to rendezvous for dinner at Kyouto Eki Daikaidan. I locate it with difficulty, but by now I'm already running late. I can't remember if we're supposed to meet at the bottom or the top of this gigantic eleven-storey staircase. A hurried search doesn't turn her up. Where is she? Am I getting this place confused with some other eleven-storey staircase? How long do you suppose she'll wait for me before she leaves in disgust? If I can't find her, if I don't get to see her before she moves back to Toukyou and have to wait another year or more, my heart just might break.

Then I hear her call my name and I know I'm home. The conversation flows like sake from Suika's gourd. She asks me everything about my life from the last four years, and I open up to her about all the stuff I can't share with most people. She tells me I've matured, that I'm becoming a better person, and it's the most validating thing I've ever heard. She's working at one of the most prestigious ad shops in Japan. And she's getting married.


  1. I think it's because she's someone you consider yourself connected to so deeply (and I haven't read your archives yet, but where along the process of deciding to spend a lot of time in Japan and study did you meet her/the host family?) that her opinion matters so deeply.

    And I get you that people who don't make those out-of-blood deep connections don't always get the way that people can still feel like family. People don't always understand what it means to elect someone to the status of being what you consider family (outside of the romantic).

    1. Yeah, I think you're probably right. And I met her almost exactly five years ago, as part of my high school exchange - sevenish years after my first visit to Japan (2001), and fourish years after I started formally studying Japanese (2004).

      What's especially annoying is when people are convinced that I clearly MUST have some latent romantic feelings for her. It's like, what? No. Grow up.