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On Isolation

I saw her picture on my computer screen after I pseudo-accidentally hacked into my boyfriend’s Facebook account. When you’re sharing a disintegrating relationship and a tiny bedroom with a partner, social networking sites left unattended morph into mere temptations of privacy invasion. By frequently using my laptop and forgetting to log off, he had unintentionally left me the option to find his guilt-ridden messages of infatuation to Amalia Sajaro—a gnomish yet striking violist he met at music camp that summer. Although the pure-hearted Leah inside of me frantically scolded that reading another person’s mail, no matter the circumstance, was wrong, my ura self proceeded to snoop through his sent mail box without hesitation. The ura self, according to my mother, is a weaker “shadow” self who hides in the souls of all human creatures. My ura self is cowardly, paranoid and distrusting. My mother’s, in contrast to her benevolent nature, could be called a hardcore kusobaba. She had, however, dumped her own ura self years ago after becoming a born-again Christian.

Ura self is bad,” she’d say. “Jesus Christ say put your ura self away.”

I remember the day when my mother’s ura self poured a can of beer over my father’s head for drinking in the morning as well as that time she slapped me across the face for calling her a certain bad name. This fragment of her personality was frightening yet strangely admirable in its boldness. Standing at only five feet and three inches, my mother’s ura self could chill the bones of the tallest giant, including my six foot six father.

“Do you remember when your mother ABUSED me? ABUSE! ABUSE! I’M SCARED OF YOU AND I’M CALLING THE POLICE,” my father would moan referring to the beer can incident every time an argument occurred between them.

Before her days as a Christ follower, my mother would often threaten divorce—a notion that my sister and I encouraged due to a growing exhaustion from my father’s incoherent arguing about government spies and shrimp quiches. However, since she started attending church, she seems to have molded her feelings for him into something that resembles love and hope.

“No more ura Miyoko who thinks of divorce,” she says, “I pray to Kamisama that your father to get better. Jesus take care of everything if you ask!”

My mother’s determination to nurture the very union that has tortured me since I was born could be considered beautiful in its adamancy. I personally find it horrifying. The peaceful depths of my sleep are often interrupted by dreadful images of my diapered father wearing a baby bonnet, squinting underneath the florescent lights of the nursing home I plan to put him in as he becomes immobile. He helplessly cries out for my mother who scoops out feces from his anus with a floral napkin while singing Christian rock. I don’t know which is scarier, my diapered father or the holy music. Both give me no choice but to keep my ura self around at all times for protection.

So as to why I invaded my boyfriend’s cyber-privacy, ura Leah is to blame. Together we fumed with jealousy and fear as we clicked on Amalia Sajaro’s photograph. She wore a black dress as her tanned body leaned up against a tree. Her lips curled into a nonchalant smile boasting a secret.

“Looking at this picture of you diminishes any regrets I may have harbored,” he had written.

Ura Leah is furious from the initial shock. She dramatically cries those half-bitter, half relieved tears her mother usually cries at the end of happy movies and love songs while stumbling around the apartment like her father does when he’s had one too many Bud Lites. I swallowed those tears like a samurai soldier but couldn’t stop my ura self from reaching for my cell phone in blind rage. I am a robot, she declares, A hybrid robot! Muahahaha! The mountains of Eastern Kentucky and the ashes of Unzen fall from the sky forming a dark cloud that could destroy the universe! Nothing will stop my anger! Nothing I tell you!

“Tell me everything that happened between you and Amalia Sajaro,” she asks.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says.

Both ura Leah and I know immediately that he is lying. So I left.

Or at least I tried to.

I initially broke up with my boyfriend after his dishonesty was confirmed but my cowardly ura self had plans of her own. She predictably took him back and forced companionship where trust was broken. My racial un-identity has always fed my tendency to cling to relationships even in the midst of failure. Often deemed an exotic outcast from the communities that made me who I am, I quickly fell into the habit of channeling my desire for acceptance into a single person. No matter how badly a romance gone wrong pulled me into an abyss that made every interaction with my significant other feel like a black hole I would eventually die in, I held on for dear life to the good qualities. I had become addicted to the sense of belonging I could feel by sleeping next to a warm body.

My boyfriend and I tortured each other for months attempting to fix the unfixable until he eventually left me. Shortly afterward, I came across photographs of him and his new girlfriend kissing on a rooftop underneath the stars. That’s when crisis mode began.

The first plan of action my ura self took consisted of a merciless dating rampage. Through various outlets that ranged from belligerent nights in local bars to asking unsuspecting friends to set me up on dates with “anyone who isn’t mean or an idiot” she began searching for a replacement to fill the void. When that didn’t work, she went as far as creating a profile on a popular dating service website and hypocritically touted the very exoticism I whine about as bait (I.E: I’m Germanese! How quirky!). I spent many free nights by the keyboard patiently awaiting the anime obsessed Williamsburg hipsters to bite. There was no time to lose. Christmas was just around the corner.

The holidays are especially brutal for those who come from a world of extremities and in-betweens. To whom would I cling at my Kentuckian Grandmother’s overstuffed living room where the Winklers would sit in a circle blankly staring at each other while my two illegitimate cousins take turns tugging on the beard of a dancing Santa beaver toy from Big Lots? To whom would I talk instead of listening to my one-legged aunt from Ohio ask my mother how to say ‘tits’ in Japanese for the seven millionth time? With whom would I eat gyoza and country ham during the same meal? With whom would I appease my father as he forced me to play house with the wood people he had carved out of sticks from the backyard? And who would attend Japanese Christian Unitarian church with me where my mother and sister will interpretive dance?

In keeping with my existence of extremes, I transformed overnight from a serial monogamist to a game player where juggling three or four dating prospects at a time became my norm. Some men were nice, some men were terrible and all of them could tell that I carried an obscene amount of relationship baggage. Much time was spent worrying about what they thought of me. But as the seasons changed somewhere between smoking Marlboros with a handsome aspiring rapper and watching countless YouTube videos with a sociopath I didn’t even like, something stopped. I realized that I was neglecting one of the simplest yet important questions I should be asking myself: Do I actually need another person to validate who I am?

Though society tells single women that life without a partner is filled with tears spliced with Reese Witherspoon movie marathons, to my surprise, I came to realize the empowerment of my isolation. While my mother used faith in religion to eliminate an entire element of her personality, I chose faith in my self to integrate the sides of myself into one whole. And for the first time in my life, I may even be learning to take care of my ura self by loving her a little and aiming to get her under control. The feelings of distrust that made me read my ex’s messages are learning to be secure enough now that she stays away from those who are hurtful and that helps me gain the power I need to leave bad situations rather than reaching the point of destruction.

I stopped dating and went home to Kentucky alone that December. For the first time in a while, I traveled without the guise of love I hid underneath that enabled me to avoid dealing with issues that my ura self feared. It was difficult, but I learned in that time to take in the cold air and come to terms with the fact that nobody can understand you better than you can understand yourself.

So I played with the wood people with my father without anyone else there and I sang Christian rock in Japanese at the top of my lungs. And at a second look, my two illegitimate cousins are adorable and so is that dancing Santa Beaver from Big Lots. My one-legged Aunt was always hilarious.

Then I cleaned my room.
And eventually stopped writing love poems.
And started writing about self-realization.
I remembered a man holding me and validating me.
I remembered him telling me my mixed features are beautiful.
Now these are all things I can tell myself from time to time and if someone else agrees, what a treat. How rare and valuable.

As I write this, I am in my aunt’s apartment in Kamakura visiting relatives. My mother plugs in the sempuki to clear out the humidity in the dining room. I’m on my laptop as usual, enjoying a raw egg and natto while my grandfather rests on a futon on the floor. I turn my head to see my grandmother walking toward me with a grand gesture, imitating a ballerina. She smiles and covers her face. These are the moments that I must treasure and explore. They don’t last forever. I see their value now and it’s easier because I’m not waiting to go home to someone.

I do however, almost log on to Facebook to send a guy I like a message. But instead, I stop myself, and close my eyes and listen to the sound of the semi bugs buzzing from outside the window. It’s hard to believe that insects can make so much noise and sound so peaceful at the same time. I open my eyes.

© 2009 Leah Nanako Winkler

hapa identity multiracial relationships