low angle photography of brown building with los angeles led sign

Escape From Tokyo

view of white airplane wing over the clouds

As soon as I left Mr. Charming, taking my children with me, we were homeless. I walked out of the Tokyo apartment, closing the curtains, turning off the TV, having taken a last shower in my own bathroom, used my own toilet and flushed it marveling again at the perfect engineering of the Japanese washlet, pulling the plug on the desktop computer, and switching off the air con; taking a last look around bedrooms and remembering how overjoyed I was when I had first moved in all those years before, closing the door and putting the keys with their little purple horse keychain, into my bag, never to be used again, and remembering all those times I had walked out before. Walked out to go to Higarigaoka park with the children, to go take them to Disneyland in Chiba, walked out to buy food and walked out to try and escape danger. Run down the stairs with our shoes in my hand and a baby on my hip and a heavy toddler under my arm, run down the stairs and hid while he stormed past trying to find us, run down the stairs to go hide behind a pile of tires in the gas station, waiting for him to pass so we could go walk the streets of Tokyo at 1am, with no money, nowhere to go, nowhere that was safe, no family to help us, no one to call, and no hope of somewhere safe, dry, warm or cool, quiet. No hope of a bed. No hope at all, just marching the streets with a stroller and a tired little girl, or a baby carrier and a black eye, and recounting the yen in my pocket trying to make it add up to a cup of coffee so I could go sit in McDonalds for a few hours to let the Pig cool down. Typhoon or heatwave, snow or the mild Tokyo spring, I would be outside walking the streets of Tokyo with first one kid, then two, for hours and hours, beaten and bloodied and tired, chased out of our home by extreme violence.

I closed the door and walked to the closest station, about 25 minute walk. Past the sweet little alleyway with the yakitori sellers, past the small toyshop that sold little water filled colored and painted balloons on a string and a stick, a myriad of kites and gundam model kits, past the shimbun vendors and the cigarette smokers and the hole in the wall izakaya that would soon be filled with middle aged men drinking suntori whiskey and sapporo beer. Past the mochi woman, and her sticky bean filled pounded rice and permanently flushed hands from the heat and exhaustion of her work, and the bookshop that weirdly always had copies of dog eared Stephen King novels, alongside titles I had no hope of ever reading. Standing at the crossing, staring at the train station, I almost turned around and went back home to the little apartment the looked out onto the concrete brown tiled wall of the rabbit hutches next door, my balcony almost jumpable to theirs. I almost turned around and went back to him.

You see I knew what it was going to be like living in campgrounds with two children. I knew how hard it would be to shower, to find bathrooms, to find and afford camping. I knew how it would be travelling place to place, being moved on. I knew how when you are homeless, even in a camper, your space is never your own. There will always be someone banging on your door, invading your privacy, walking through whatever space you claim. Getting clean costs money, parking up costs money, even if somewhere to park can be found, and money was going to be tight. I was under no illusions – I was going to be on my own.

I suppose at this point I still held out hope that I would be able to get a divorce from him. I had tried before, but had been denied by The Man because the man that was beating me and abusing me refused to respond to the court. He ignored it, and I remained undivorced. Billy and I wanted to get married. It seemed like a sensible enough option. Leave, marry Billy, live in a trailer, work in a diner, have a yard with chickens and a vegetable patch. I wanted a steam cleaner and a wood burning stove and to make my own soap. I had designs upon a small herd of goats for milk, a good dog and a swing seat on a front porch. There are worse dreams of domestic bliss to nurture, and making like Ma Ingalls in the green of the pacific northwest is not exactly a lot to ask from life…it is clearly too much to hope for though, when Pa is drinking like he is an outlaw, and laying incoherent upon the floor, or stringing his bow ready to shoot arrows at imaginary commies in a methed-out snit of meanness and meaningless activity.

The children each had a backpack with all their belongings stuffed into the corners and nooks. The choicest of teddy bears, a few clothes. Girl had insisted on taking her jewelry box with the ballerina that spun in circles while swan lake played. I only had a backpack too, no suitcases. We were going to take hand luggage only. This was not a pleasure trip, it was an escape. Mr. Charming had told me to go to LA – I was meant to be going ahead to look at apartments to move into, since his work was moving him – and us – out there for a few years. We would fly back to Tokyo after 6 nights, and then me and Charming, and the children would all fly back out mid summer so he could work.

I had other plans. I would fly to LA, meet up with Billy in his camper van and me, Billy and the children would skip northwards and ditch California, Mr. Charming and thus put and end to me being raped and beaten on a daily basis. It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was all we had. Mr Charming ended up in a different US office in the end.

They each held one of my hands, both squeezing tightly, hanging onto me for dear life. The Boy’s easy smile had set into a determined scowl. “Hey guys…listen….maybe we shouldn’t do this. It might be too difficult. Maybe we need to just go home.” The children looked at me, and I smiled back. “You don’t understand, guys, this isn’t going to be fun. This is going to be really really hard.” The Girl put her hand up to my bruised face. “No, Mom…we want to go. We love you, besides, my brother…he doesn’t like being called Shy Boy and Nekko-chan, and …we love you mom. We love you.” “He said he was going to kill, you Ma,” the quiet little Boy chimed in. “He told me, he was going to kill you. He might kill us too.” “Yeah, and he left my brother in the middle of Shinjuku all alone!” I winced. He had taken the boy out, insisted on it, and then just dumped him alone in the city, riding off, leaving the kiddo alone on his bike, because the kid wasn’t keeping up with him. The kid was only 4 at the time. I never let him take him out again, and as a result took many fists to the face and chairs broken across my legs and back. Thank heavens a kindly woman had picked him up and delivered him home in her car, unharmed just terrified.

I looked at the children. The boy was 7. She was quite a bit older in chronological years, but not in her abilities or maturity. I remember looking towards the station across the road, then back up the alleyway towards our apartment, then leading them to the ticket machines, buying a one way fare to the airport at Haneda, and letting us be carried along on the tide of people drifting in the same direction. Onto the underground subway, onto the green Yamanote line out to the monorail, and feeling weak and sick and scared, thankfully carrying very little with us, finally out to Haneda Airport. I pulled out printed out details, and the children dragged me towards check in.

A smart young lady asked us for our checked luggage. We had none, so we were given our boarding cards, and were just about to go through into the inner area, when my email flickered – I had no cell phone, my husband would not allow me one. It was Charming. He was on his way to the airport to say a quick, temporary goodbye, and have some food with us before we headed off for our ‘short trip’…my heart sank.

The children started to panic, a state of high excitement, a nervous disbelief at our bad luck. We thought we were clean away. The girl started to cry and her brother joined her in hot thick tears running down his face. I knelt down quietly and hugged them close to me. I stroked their hair, and kissed their tears away. Telling them we were on a secret mission, mission save the three bears, and we were going to be just fine, and we could do this. Pretend happy smiling faces, fake carefree happy, just gone for a few days subterfuge. We were spies on a mission to see what happiness we could find in the New Country. We were agents of a forward party, striking onwards in our search for safety and freedom. We were invincible because we had right on our side, and this was a final parting shot from danger, designed to make us give up, and we were not going to. I rallied the troops. I gave them speeches about bravery, about pulling the wool over the eyes of Pigs, about being tough in our fight, about sticking together. The family creed of “we don’t have much but what little we do have, we share” made material, buying a bag of rice crackers and a can of green tea and sharing it. I replied and told Charming we would meet him by the café on the mezzanine level, in about 10 minutes time. A little bathroom break, some water on flushed faces, and we strolled nonchalantly out, spy names carefully chosen, and code words for ask to go to the bathroom so we could escape and try and get on the plane if our intentions had been rumbled. “Listen guys, if he is coming to drag us home, and he has suspicions, we will go back, play dumb, and work out another way outta here. Promise. Just smile and be cool. We cool?”

They both assured me they were cool, and we walked up to find him coming up the moving stairs, waving as he walked towards us. The anger rose in my chest. The kids holding hands with each other trying to look unconcerned. I told myself this was good – anyone could see I had permission to leave, he was here in person with a list of apartments I was meant to go and check out in LA.

He sat there a while with us. He was just marking his territory, clearly feeling out the situation, questioning the kids, but satisfied I was trustworthy and suitably broken, he went to the money exchange, changed up a little extra money and gave the kids a hundred bucks each “to spend on their treat day at Californian Disney” that would never happen. As soon as he left, they both pushed their $100 dollar bills into my hand – “For the revolutionary fund”. I laughed at my little freedom fighters and their earnest dedication to the cause.

There was some strange fake matsuri celebration going on in the airport, actors playing the roles of sideshow performers and ninjas, the usual happy hokey stuff for the tourists. With my face being what it is, I was pegged as a tourist and targeted for Japan-themed fun. Shaking off some guy dressed like a samurai, and feeling faintly aggrieved that no matter what me and the children would always be seen as gaijin – outside people. I could take it for me, but for them it seemed quite unfair and ostracizing, in short it boiled my piss. It was just about the push I needed as I held their hands in mine and we dragged each other through the security line. It all passed quickly. I had the letter I needed from Pig this time, made to pay for a re-entry visa on my alien card, and we pushed through into the gate to wait for the flight.

Walking through the expensive airport shops, scented with designer fragrances, leather, hermes scarves and money, in our ragged clothes, backpacks slung across our shoulders, and cheap, old dirty shoes on our feet, sweeping past men in suits and women in linen, past the duty free booze and the discounted cigarettes, brushing off looks and judgements, pushing away from people with their sullen teens sporting expensive headphones, and the splatter of materialistic open maw of grubby money, dirty travel for the sake of it, jet fuel and the tears of two children who were looking to me to be brave for them. I couldn’t find a warm thought, or a shred of enjoyment. I couldn’t find a future between the shiny clean tiles and vuitton leather and logos. I couldn’t go back to the past. I pulled them closer towards me, shielding them from these people who had while we had not. They had safety, they had homes, they had futures, they had money to buy bathrooms and showers and bedrooms and schooling, and I had nothing but myself, three backpacks, two children and approximately six teddy bears that could not be left behind.

I didn’t have my dignity, I didn’t have any make up to try and hide the black eye and cut cheekbone. I didn’t have any way of hiding the way I winced as people brushed past bruised legs and arms. I had no means of hiding my shame. I had a good story of trying to get something off a high shelf in my kitchen and falling nastily, hence the cuts and the bruises and the burst blood vessels around my eyes from being strangled. It was good enough for people who didn’t care to look any closer, yet wished to have the box ticked that said ‘they tried’.

Finally making it to the gate, way too early, but happy to wait and be closer to being away, I sat the kids down and whispered to them, “As soon as we are on that plane, and in the air, we can’t be pulled off it. We are outside of Japanese territory. We are closer to being safer.” They looked at me and nodded.

The flight moved slowly up the list on the screens, the lines formed, I pulled out three boarding passes, and tried to hold myself upright while surrounded by normal people with normal lives. Passports, hard won, costing nights of ‘being nice’ – rapes and beatings and infections and devastations, presented to the people who demanded I obtain them in order to be free. I slapped them in the hands of the final check, in my head screaming, here you go, fucking piece of shit, do you know what this cost me? Do you care? Could you care if you knew?…while outwardly politely thanking the mild mannered man just doing his job, like all good authoritarians demanding papers do, and we strolled down the tunnel, the two children holding onto me so tightly I winced. Me hauling all three backpacks by now, all six teddy bears, myself and them, into our seats.

You see the thing is I hate flying. I actually detest it. I am terrified of it. If I had my way I would never get on a plane, ever. It doesn’t make sense considering the amount of travelling I have done by air, but there you go. My legs were jelly, my breathing ragged, in my head hoping hoping for a quiet night flight with no turbulence or trouble. I slid into the seat, one child either side, putting the backpacks in the overhead lockers. The Boy was silent, stony faced except for tears falling down his face. He didn’t like flying either, and he didn’t like me looking scared. I tucked him under my arm and squeezed him close. The Girl was chattering quietly but steadily about nothing much in particular. I shushed her, softly. Of course the turbulence was almost immediately unbearable, tossing and turning above the Pacific Ocean. A Japanese girl behind me started to cry out of fear. I held the sides of my seat, and asked the cabin crew if it was ok. Severe turbulence on the way out of Tokyo seemed to be about par for the course, it was not going to let me leave that safely or easily. Severe turbulence was as good a leaving theme as ever.

The plane landed in the early afternoon of an LA late spring day, we disembarked, I told the men at the gate we were there for a short vacation, chattered about Disney, and reassured them that we only had hand luggage. I always feel sick telling white lies to immigration. Yes I am coming back, no I am not staying, my mother is sick I have to return for a few weeks, just going to visit family…they don’t particularly care, but I do. It gives me The Fear. We were challenged once more on having no suitcase. I should have bought one just for appearances sake, I suppose and then headed out onto the bus to the airport hotel.

Now all I had to do was herd Billy towards Los Angeles, and put us into his RV and point it northwards towards something other than what had been and was going to be: possibilities, futures, happiness hopefully. Success.

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