2nd Issue of 2008 No.147

Getting Back on Our Feet After a Long Struggle

Park Touchi

Prize-winning essay in the 34th (2008)
Buraku Liberation Literature Awards, Literacy Section

Mobile Phone Confusion

My husband fell sick seven years ago, and remained bed-ridden since then. While in bed he was never separated from an oxygen bottle. Back and forth between home and the hospital, wherever he went, he always carried the bottle and its large accompanying accessory device with him. He was not in a physical condition to work. I had to take over the work he inherited from his parents. After work, I usually attended night class for junior high school.

One evening while I was in school, I received a call from my son, Aki, on the school telephone. I immediately returned home. When I entered our house, I found my husband in severe pain and Aki crying. "Honey! Are you all right? I will call an ambulance at once." He grasped Aki's hand tightly. I knew my husband would have to be hospitalized again. The ambulance arrived shortly and four crew went upstairs to assist him. While examining him, one of the crew asked me, "What's the matter?" I replied, " The Red Cross Hospital has been taking care of my husband. Please take him to that hospital." They said, "We have already been to the Red Cross Hospital three times today, but were turned away each time as no beds are available. We will call the hospital, but if there are no beds, we will have to go to a different hospital. Do you have a mobile?" "No, I do not use a mobile," I answered. "I am not asking about you, but your husband," he replied. "I am sorry, but my husband does not use a mobile either," I said.

They seemed to notice my misunderstanding, and talked amongst themselves. I overheard one of them say, "Maybe we could use the mobile in our car." "Do you really need a mobile?" I asked, but they ignored my question. I did not understand why. They took my husband down to the ground floor, and helped him into the ambulance. My son accompanied him. The crew began making arrangements on their phone in the ambulance. Meanwhile, I went up and down the stairs, worried I might forget something necessary to take with us. As I was doing so, the ambulance left, leaving me behind. I was left alone with my beating heart, shaking legs, and diminishing strength. I could neither stand up or sit down as I felt dizzy.

Together for 40 years

A telephone rang. "Hello, mommy?" "Where are you now?" I answered. "I am now in the Red Cross Hospital. The ambulance crew told me to call you." "All right, I will go there now. Please wait for me," I answered. I took my bicycle, and rode up the steep road. I was out of breath. As soon as I arrived, I went into the treatment room where I saw my husband with a large mask on his face. I was very upset. The doctor and nurses were examining him. My son was crying beside him. The doctor told me, "If there are people you need to inform, please call them now." I asked him, "Is he in such a bad condition that I need to call relatives? He has been well up until now." I was unnerved and lost all my strength. "Yoboyo (a Korean term of endearment), please open your eyes and help me. If this continues, both Aki and I will be unable to live. Can you hear me?" I spoke to him and shook him, but he was unresponsive.

The nurse said gently, "If you have telephone numbers, I can make calls on your behalf." "Thank you for your kind offer," I said, "but I do not have any numbers with me. I've got to go home." As I had difficulty standing, the nurse kindly took me to the entrance hall and called a taxi. When I got home, images of the machines in our factory came into my mind, evoking memories of my husband who used them as if they were precious treasures. I felt my chest tighten, and tears streamed endlessly down my face.

We often quarreled, but having been together supporting each other for forty years we remained boyfriend and girlfriend. My husband never referred me as his wife, but always "my girlfriend." When he talked with another person, he referred to me as his girlfriend, even to his doctor and aides in the hospital.

Sometimes other people said to me, " I envy that you have continued to be his girlfriend." According to others, he used to say, "I really do not want her to attend to all my personal needs." But, I had to take care of his personal needs for two months, and he always apologized to me saying, "I am sorry, very sorry."

My husband will stay in my heart forever

On that day, he called Aki and me to his bedside. He held Aki's hand with his right hand and my hand with his left hand and said, "Keep holding my hands forever." Aki said to him, "Daddy, you will be all right. I will be with you." As he repeated those words again, I told him, "Honey, take heart, I will always be with you wherever you go." In reality, I had to work to earn money. As we had no pension program nor savings, I had to work even if it was to earn just a single penny. His doctor told me he might not last until the end of the year. The doctor said he might die.

I heard Aki and my husband talking to each other. My husband said to him, "If something happens to me, please support your mother." "Nothing will happen, daddy. Where would you go that you would leave me behind? Please do not leave me," Aki said. Their conversation continued very quietly. It was just like a scene in a dream. My husband fought hard, but eventually passed away. I am sure he left with many regrets. People said to me, "I am sorry about your loss, you must be very lonely." I answered, "No, he is alive in my heart, and I never feel lonely."

If I could forget

Returning to the topic at the beginning of this essay, some people from the hospital came to our house to pick up the oxygen bottle several days after my husband was admitted to the hospital. The bottle was essential to his life. His life depended on it for seven years. After they took the device to their car, somebody asked me, "Where are the bottles?" "What bottles?" I asked. "The mobiles," they answered. "Do you mean a mobile phone?" I asked. "No, mobile oxygen bottles," they replied. "Oh! The mobile you asked about when you came with the ambulance the other day. Now I understand why it did not make sense. I am sorry. Here you are, we have five or six bottles." Later I told the story to my husband, daughter, grandchildren and sons. Everybody laughed. My daughter said, "Mommy you did it again! You should not say anything when you do not understand. You may embarrass yourself." My husband said, "It's good she has a good sense of humor. If you are not embarrassed to do so, you should write this story in an essay."

I wondered if these things had really happened. I found it very difficult to get over the loss of my husband. How easy it would be for me if I could forget everything. Every morning, Aki left home at 8am to go to the hospital by bicycle, which took him about an hour. What did he think and feel on his way to the hospital? What was he thinking as a disabled child? I asked him, "What did daddy say to you?" He answered, "He will wait for me tomorrow, too." Hearing our conversations, my elder son told Aki, "I am afraid you may get into a traffic accident. You do not need to see him every day. Even once a week is enough." But Aki had a hard accepting this. I told Aki, "Do what your elder brother told you to do. Even if you do not go every day, your daddy is always beside you." "But, I can't see him. Can you see him?" "Yes, we can. Even if we cannot see his body, he is and will be with you forever." That is how we spent those days.

Flowers for the altar

Every morning, I serve a hot tea for my husband at the altar. I say to his photo, "Good morning!" The photo does not say anything, but smiles. I buy fresh flowers from a florist before the old ones die. Once I went and there were five or six people in the shop deciding what to buy. I said to the florist, "Give me this and that." Lilies and chrysanthemums are very beautiful. "How much?" "Nine hundred and fifty yen." As I was handing the money over the florist said, "I am sorry, but I made a mistake. It is one thousand two hundred yen." I said, "It's all right. I appreciate your mistake." Everybody in the shop laughed at me. I did not realize the people in the shop had been listening to us, so I felt ashamed and rushed out of the shop at once. I believe I should not complain when buying flowers for a dead person. I should select and pay for them without any problem.

I wrote this essay upon his request

This essay was written at the request of my husband. When he was alive he said, "I want to read your new essay." He looked very happy in bed. When I finished writing it, I said to Aki, "Aki, I am going to read my essay. Please listen." After I read it I looked at Aki. He was crying and covering his face with a big towel. "What's wrong?" I asked. "My daddy died and broke his promise. He said he would never leave me. He is a liar!" I tried to appease him, "Do not think about it like that, he suffered very much, struggled very much. But, in the end he just could not keep breathing." I remember my husband used to brag about me to his doctor while I was next to him. "Doctor, my girlfriend is very good at writing essays. Some day, I want you to read her masterpieces." He teased me like that in front of the doctor. "Please stop it, otherwise I will blush with shame." He enjoyed seeing me in that way. I was proud of him in such a way.


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