have no daughter so you must marry a Japanese girl," my mother used to tell me. "I want someone to talk to when I get old."
I was too young to question her assumptions or to point out that she herself had married a caucasian. My natural father had died in my infancy. My mother came from a noble family that had become impoverished after falling into disfavor with officials of the American Occupation Forces. But thanks to an expensive English education, my mother could support us by working for a translation service. A few years later she married an American businessman who had used the bachelor businessman ruse of having her assigned to all his translation jobs. My real father had died before I got to know him. At the age of five I had no trouble accepting the friendly American as my father.
I wanted my mother to be spared loneliness in old age, but I was not given to making easy promises. Not even when my mother tickled my ribs mercilessly did I make a promise about the nationality of my future wife. In those days I expected to marry a kind and proper Japanese woman like my mother, but I felt it was premature to make such promises before I had received my primary school certificate.
I attended a foreigner's school in Yokohama along with the kids of other American and English businessmen and diplomats. I had the odd experience of growing up a minority in my own native land. I came to understand that the caucasians in our land enjoyed a higher status than native Japanese due to the powerful hand of military, economic and political forces. Even I came to feel myself above the other Japanese. It was natural. I spent my days in a westernized world that was off limits to other Japanese. In those days Americans were nobles and Japanese were paupers.
It's a remarkable blessing that adult-world social status and politics are not allowed to dictate interactions among school kids. I was made to feel accepted and my talents valued, so much so that I saw myself as enjoying a higher place than many of my western schoolmates. On some level I must have known that their acceptance was conditional, but I was either oblivious or secure enough to flirt with and date the white girls in school. I met Melissa in the tenth grade. I was taken with her delicate complexion, bright blue eyes, and most of all, her sweet Georgia drawl. She saw something special in me as well. To this day, I can only speculate that it may have had something to do with my strange artistic temperament.
This is all just background. Flash forward fifteen years. Melissa and I had both left Japan before graduating high school and had kept in touch only sporadically over the years. By sheer coincidence we met while matriculating into the same medical school. It was an unexpectedly happy moment for me. Maybe because being close to her again meant so much, I made a heroic effort not to intrude into her space. I made a show of dating other women so she wouldn't feel any pressure about being in the same school with me. I am one of those strange people who insists on denying himself every normal pleasure just to have a shot at perfection in the big things. Despite all that, by our second year I could sense that she felt something for me as well. For lack of a better expression, you could say we let each other drift together.
Before I continue with how Melissa and I came to be engaged, I should mention that by then I had fathered a child with a college girlfriend. Addy had become pregnant toward the middle of my senior year. She was not the girl I had expected to marry. I was not the guy she had expected to marry. These facts were established through a series of stormy scenes. I was both hurt and deeply relieved. I hadn't wanted to devastate my mother by announcing that I was marrying a Dutch American girl in her fourth month. I am sure that in the pretty picture my mother had painted in her mind, I was saving myself so that she could pick me out a nice Japanese girl after I finished med school and set up a lucrative practice.