From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

Forty-Five Years and
Six Thousand Miles Apart

Invisible threads are the strongest ties.

Friedrich Nietzsche

It was a time near the end of the American occupation of Japan that followed World War II. My mother, the oldest of three siblings, gave up a rare opportunity to go to college so that she could work two jobs and support her family after her father fell ill and couldn’t work. Her mother had already died when she was only twelve years old. She was not only the sole source of income but also a sister and mother to two little girls. Amidst all of this hardship, she fell in love with an American soldier. With a mind filled with hope and determination, she left wartorn Japan for the bounty of America with the dreams of being better able to provide for her family and, in particular, a better life for her two little sisters.

Life in America didn’t turn out so well for my mother. The man she married turned out to be a severe alcoholic. Her survival and determination to provide for her own children rivaled any challenge she could have faced in her homeland. With constant pressure, her dreams moved from hope to long days of labor. Years went by, and she never wrote home. More years passed, and she became afraid to write. She wouldn’t be able to bear the news of anything bad happening to the two little sisters she left behind. She couldn’t bear to tell them that anything less than good had become of her life.

I had always wondered about the relatives that I must have in Japan, and as my mother never spoke of them, it created an empty space in my life. I assumed it was painful for her to bring up the past so I respectfully thought it was better not to ask. It took a long time, but finally I had the chance to go to Japan for a three-month project. Would I be willing to open the Pandora’s box sealed by my mother’s silence? I told my story to a charming Japanese family that had befriended me. They sensed my need to know about the relatives who were missing from my life. My new friends took on the quest of finding my lost relatives for me, as it would be too difficult for me as a foreigner to do it alone.

My time in Japan was passing quickly without news, but the hope of meeting at least one of my relatives never faded away. Two days before I was to depart Japan, Yokiyo phoned me and exclaimed, “I’ve found them!” Of course I was thrilled but had to ask, “Were they happy about it?” My mother had feared that maybe they had buried their emotions for her and didn’t need a wound reopened. Yokiyo explained to me how the first aunt she spoke to immediately broke into tears, unable to speak with the joy of knowing her lost sister was still alive. My aunts were on the bus from Tokyo the very next day to meet me. They hugged me and were moved by the few characteristics I bore of my mother. They told me a day hadn’t passed that they didn’t think of her. They had a strong need for closure, and I promised to bring their sister to them.

My sixty-eight-year-old mother, after having outlived her husband, became a reclusive little old lady. We both knew the trip would be difficult for her, but she told me she swore to her sisters over the phone that she would swim to Japan if she had to. I told my mother that I would take her in the spring, giving us six months to prepare and save up for the trip of a lifetime. Her heart started to fill with childhood memories, and she began to tell stories about her past. Both of her sisters started to call her every weekend to make sure the plans were on schedule. My mother was excited but nervous, as she emphasized it had been forty-five years without any contact with her sisters. In reality, these women were total strangers to her.

On the plane ride to Tokyo, Mom confessed it was exactly forty-five years to the month that she last saw Japan. As the sea of lights came into view, her face was pressed against the window. She remembered a sea of lights fading away forty-five years ago, thinking that would be her very last view of her homeland. I silently watched her fight back the tears.

In Narita Airport, my mother eyed her sisters in the crowd and snuck up on them in a jovial way. The sisters wanted to laugh at her prank but broke into tears at finally being united with their long-lost sister. Too emotional to speak, the three of them mostly looked at each other on the train ride to Tokyo. At Aiko’s house, over cups of green tea, the women began to talk.

Our week in Tokyo passed quickly. The two women ushered us around like two mother hens, taking us sightseeing and feeding us every delicacy they could think of. It didn’t take long until the three sisters acted like sisters again, teasing each other, laughing and talking late every night. The atmosphere filled up with a priceless joy that fed everyone’s heart. You couldn’t tell that they had spent the last forty-five years apart. I took lots of photographs of the three sisters sitting in the park, singing childhood songs, cooking together.

I witnessed how their love for each other erased the forty-five years they had lost. Every moment together was precious for them, as we all knew this could be the last time these sisters would be together. What was important was they were sisters again, sisters forever. They had proved that time or distance could not damage their sisterly bond.

L. J. Wardell

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