D a n c i n g O v e r K y o t o
from Part II, Chapter 6 – “Etsuko”
In the middle of the afternoon Beth and Lisa called from south Hyogo to tell me they wouldn’t be coming to my house after all: They were hanging out at some Culture Festival in Hidaka and told me to come south and join them there. I was exasperated at first, but shook off my frustration, walked to Nii Station, and climbed on the Bantan Line going south towards Hidaka. At Ikuno, the next station on the line going south, a few other friends climbed on the train (also having been telephoned by Beth and Lisa and invited to participate in the festival): Mark, Phyllis, and Phyllis’ dad, Mel. Mel was a widower and a fine soul. He was paying Phyllis an extended visit. We met Beth and Lisa in Hidaka, Sue and Kathy (from other Hyogo Prefecture towns) joined us. Kind Father Daniel was there, too. Father Daniel was Ikuno’s Jesuit priest. Belgian by birth, he was by now well into his seventies and had lived in Japan most of his life. He served a small but devout parish in Ikuno. A piano concert, an enormous taiko drum extravaganza, lots to eat and drink were part of the swirl of the late afternoon and evening. Then most of us caught the train back to my house and the party continued well past midnight. It was pleasant to occasionally get together and relax with people whose cultural reference points, and native language, are more or less in line with one’s own.
Renee telephoned me the following morning, Monday morning. Most of my guests had made their way to their homes before dawn, but Beth and Lisa had stayed over. We were drinking late morning coffee in my cozy living room when the phone rang. As soon as I heard Renee’s voice on the other end of the line, I excused myself from my guests and ducked into an adjacent hallway. With several afternoons and evenings of too much drink and not enough sleep weighing on my body and spirit, Renee’s voice was a gift, a charm, medicine to a man on the brink of collapse. My cobwebs lifted and the sun shone and I was happy. We started with small talk, with Renee saying she was pleasantly surprised to catch me at home on a Monday morning. I told her it was a holiday and blessed our mutual good fortune. After just a few minutes of catching-up Renee’s voice abruptly changed. It began sounding almost mechanical.
“I’ve decided that you need me, and that’s not good,” she said.
“What do you mean? Of course I need you. I love you and I need you and in a few short months we’ll be together again,” I replied. I didn’t realize she was springing a trap, or that I had confirmed what a new philosophy of hers had predicted I would say.
“There. That says it all,” said Renee. She sounded as though she had just trapped a hostile witness in the snare of a skillful cross examination. I could almost see her raising her eyebrows to compliment a knowing smirk. Beth and Lisa chatted in the living room, oblivious to my confusion, while 6,000 miles away in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Renee waited for whatever half-baked reply I would give. She was ready to pounce. I was hungover (again) and confused. An extremely long distance semantic argument commenced, and I didn’t even know how I’d gotten into it.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Renee. What have I said?”
“You shouldn’t need me, only want me. The fact that you say you need me shows what a bad relationship we have.” What made such words all the more jarring was the lack of emotion in her voice. I heard cold automation in her voice that did not sound like Renee and it frightened me. If there was any emotion, it was that of a confident prosecutor who had a defendant on the ropes at trial.
“Well, hell, Renee, ‘want,’ ‘need,’ whatever. I want to be with you.”
“Your needing me is bad. It’s patriarchal.”
“What??? Look, I love you, Renee. Sure, I know that I could breath and eat without you, but I don’t want to live without you. Is that a ‘want’ or a ‘need’? I don’t know, I just love you. Don’t you love me? How’s this gotten so complicated?”
“Well, yes, I suppose I do. But I can’t be with a person that needs me. Only someone who wants me.”
I assured her that whatever word she chose to use to describe my desire for her, it was the good, right and proper one. She sounded suspicious of me, but we ended the conversation on neutral ground. At least our conversation didn’t devolve into shouting or letting loose nasty slurs or any such thing. It ended with me feeling stunned-but-hopeful that I’d dodged some sort of strange bullet. On her end it seemed to end with her backing off a bit and reluctantly giving me a reprieve of sorts. This was all crazy and I knew it, but I convinced myself it was a phase. Patience and love would see us through.
I gave Renee a last, “I love you,” swung back from the hall into the living room, placed the phone back in its cradle and looked over at Beth and Kathy. They just smiled and said, “Who was that?” I said, “Oh, just Renee. My fiancé. She just called to chat.”
They both said something like, “Wow, you and she have such a great relationship!”
. . .
Two weeks later I was in the teachers’ room when one of my colleagues called me up to the front of the office. There was a call for me. I rarely received telephone calls at school. I picked up the receiver and said, “Moshi moshi!” (Japan’s telephone-only “Hello?”). Renee said, “Richard? Is it you?!”
I was floored, stunned. She sounded so happy. So much like she didn’t sound in our last conversation. Hearing five syllables from Renee, sweet, kind syllables, put me in a state of bliss, standing there in the teachers’ room. “Yes, yes!” I said. “What are you doing calling me here? How’d you get this number? This is wonderful, but what’s going on?”
“I was so worried!” she said. I heard about that train accident and I knew that it happened near you and, well. . . ” she started to get choked-up. She couldn’t finish. The day before an awful train accident had occurred in Shiga Prefecture. Forty-two people died in the impact and twisted metal of two colliding trains. It was not only all over the news in Japan, but had made the news in the United States. I had been to Shigaraki, the town near where the tragedy occurred and years later would venture there several times more, but it was between two and three hours away from Asaki. I reassured Renee that the accident had happened far from me and that I was safe and sound. The relief and love in her voice was a balm to my increasingly screwed-up heart. When it came down to it, when the essential things were at stake -life, my voice in her ear and hers in mine, our devotion to and connection with one another -we were rock solid. An awful thing, tragedy and death, had made Renee realize again that I was as important to her as she was everything to me. That’s what her telephone call to me in the teachers’ office on May 15, 1991, told me. . . .
Dancing Over Kyoto is my Ebook, published under my pen name, Richard Russell. It’s a memoir spanning 30 years, taking the reader through Japan and all manner personal experiences there. Part IV takes readers on several India and China (mis)adventures, with the final part, Part V, winding up back in Kyoto, awash in water, ablaze in fire, and, finally, hanging on to hope.