Anyone who knows me at all might not suspect this, but I am a great believer in giving up. Sometimes there are situations and conundrums that can’t be outright won by any conventional means. The games people play are all stacked to keep the usual suspects winning and the rest of the world struggling to survive their unfair bias towards success. That old song, the Gambler, has been the entire basis for my personal survival philosophy. “You gotta know when to hold em, when to fold em, when to walk away…and when to run…” is sage advice indeed, no matter how hokey it appears to be.
Recently I have felt happier with how things have ended up. I mean I lost almost everything, I am quite the wreck, though neither grand, nor particularly old. I even lost time, and with time and youth there is possibility and hope. That hope that things might improve, that I might meet the love of my life, and have more children is a rapidly out of sight agony in my rear view mirror. I gave up, my body gave up, my hope gave up. I surrendered myself to reality and felt much better for it.
I had always survived thinking that I could still make things good, that I could still start over again and find happiness. Make no mistake, I held up that precious prize of ‘love’ and ‘stability’ and being loved, that concept of a good relationship, up as a symbol to fight for. I longed for a little white wedding in a little clapboard chapel, with a pretty dress and a bunch of wildflowers. I longed for someone to not just care about me, but adore me. It seems pretty ridiculous now, in hindsight. I was never going to be happy. I am not the kind of woman that anyone, male or female, falls in love with. I am not beautiful, and never was. I might have been interesting at best. I am not all sweetness and light, though if I care about someone, if I love them, no matter if they don’t show that back to me, I am devoted and kind. Anyone who knows me might not suspect it, but I am absolutely that girl that will make midnight sandwiches, give my last piece of candy, and clean the dishes when it is not my turn.
In my head, however stupid it might be, I always thought that if I just held on, I would get to live out my dreams. What I wanted was another couple of babies, a farm somewhere very remote where I could play Ma, and a herd of goats. I really wanted a herd of pet fainting goats – I like the way they fall down, then get back up again looking perplexed at others worry. I suppose I feel a kind of natural affinity to them. . Add to that a good dog, a horse or two, a vegetable garden I could use to grow everything I love to eat and a sweet little cabin with gingham curtains and a jug with wildflowers in it on my windowsill, and that was what I thought might bring me happiness. I wanted to walk alongside a river and watch it flow out towards the sea, washing away all my doubts and fears, and only leaving me with the proceeds of hope, which had been planted and had flourished. I wanted a steam cleaner for the bathroom, hating scrubbing baths as much as I do. I wanted domesticity. I wanted a mundane kind of happiness. I wanted someone who loved me. I wanted them to enjoy sitting with me, talking with me, playing the guitar and living the kind of quiet family life that I felt I had lost out on. I wanted a kind of idealized normality and very much felt as if I had paid for it in blood, sweat and tears.
I was a perfect little fool.
That life that I thought I needed, that I believed I wanted was never going to work out. There was simply no time for it to occur. My 20s and 30s were taken up wholly with recovering from childhood abuse, then addiction, bumming around doing dull little jobs with dull little people occasionally, and then that huge block of time where I was married in Japan and trying to be a mother under appalling circumstances. By the time I emerged, I was already middle aged, and all that fake hope I had of being able to have a pleasant and normal life was never going to grow into something tenable and good.
This failure, this perceived waste of my life and time, was something that used to eat away at me. It did not die easy. I remember sitting on a bench in a forest wailing because I would never have any more children. I remember being forced to give up my grip on hope for a quiet and mundane future, like peeling fingers off the edge of a cliff face with a sheer 1000 foot drop ready to greet bones and flesh and breakable limbs, and not even a scraggly tree emerging from the rock to catch a lucky beltloop. I remember mourning my life, except I really had nothing to mourn because I never had it in the first place. I suppose it is indeed possible to miss what I have had and I did, desperately, while being torn to pieces gutted by whatever losses reared their ugly heads along the way.
I don’t owe the page this pain. I am not writing for you. I am writing for me. I am writing to see if I can make sense of any of it before that well padded lady starts to sing her aria, and I head off to the great hereafter, where they had better be tiny little pgymy goats, or else I will pout and demand my money back.
There is one memory that sticks in my mind from those bad years. The children on a hillside in Japan. We had driven out to the inaka, the countryside, and it was a brilliantly hot day. Tokyo was unbearable, but the Boso peninsula was breezy, bright and drenched in sunlight. The children stood on a daisy studded hill, with fields of wild flowers waving in the wind, and the hawks flying overhead, and as I sat there on the grass, the two of them ran away from me, ran downhill, helter skelter, arms flailing, legs flying, whooping with joy and life and youth. The sky was a perfect blue, a stray cloud meandered across it, only for decoration not for rain. Then the oldest turned around and zoomed back uphill towards me, the little one trailing her, their arms flung wide, shouting mommy mommy mommy, and there she sits, crystalized in perfect time. Pigtails flapping, smile plastered across her face, her high cheekbones betraying the beauty she would become, rosebud lips and feline eyes, and skin the color of burnt honey, and she ran towards me, thudding into my waiting arms with the force of love that only a seven year old can summon for a mother they do not hate. The little one followed, giggling, trying to find space in the hug and I swung him up into my arms. “Tree!” He shouted with great joy. “Small tree climbing animal!” I returned and let myself be smothered with kisses. And all the blueberry icecream was cold and sweet, and all the animals in the farm were cute and fluffy, and all the tears were from fatigue, and all the abuse in the world could not take that bliss from me.
I gave up on the life I should have had, but I never gave up on the life I wanted to give the children. Time and time again I gave up everything and then found some more to sacrifice. I made some huge decisions for the best, and some terrifying ones which were at best, pragmatic and probably the right thing, but devastating nevertheless. I did everything I could to carry them through and out of hell with me. Everything. Time and time again. But it is never enough. I never had the ability for it to be enough. I could not win. Everything was stacked against me. I lost. I made choices that I considered at the time to be for the best, in retrospect, who knows. Not me. If I had done something else, it might be been even worse all around. I never once put myself first, but fucking hell people. Why not? Why should a woman, once she is a mother, never put her safety, or her comfort, or her health or her life first? Why do we expect women to sacrifice time and time again, but men get to scatter children left right and center with barely a raised eyebrow! No man is ever expected to sacrifice himself for his children but no women is ever allowed to put herself before those same babies. Not ever.
And so it goes. That eternal struggle for acceptance, an emotion also known as ‘giving up’. There came a point where something in me just broke. It snapped. I think it was hope dying a death, but it might have simply been an acceptance that this was how things are, that I was very likely going to lose everything and everyone, and that I really did not have the energy to mourn that loss in advance.
I started to take losses one by one, piecemeal, only crying if I absolutely had to, if I could not hold it back. I started to be mean with my energy, preserve it absolutely. I started to accept that eventually I would lose. I accepted the distinct probability I will lose the Boy, and won’t ever get to see him again, at some point. I accepted that a future as a grandma and elderly mother that gets visited in her rose garden, is most likely a pipe dream. I accepted that I lost the battle, and am barely holding on in the war, that I will probably eventually lose too. I simply gave up. I gave up on the life I wanted. I gave up on happiness. I gave up on other people. I gave up on being able to continue.
I have three months left on my subsidy for my apartment. I won’t be able to afford to stay here. It is $2000 a month rent. I was never offered a rent controlled or low income apartment, and by the time I was offered this one I was desperately in need to get out of the shelter, which was about to close down, anyway. I will simply have to accept that my run of good luck, of happiness, of being able to stay with the Boy, of any kind of consolation prize, is now over. I relied on the fact that I had a promise of a job, and took my foot off the gas, thinking I was safe, when that safety was withdrawn, I was left playing catch up. I have been trying my best, but my best was not good enough.
The final little shred of hope: that I can live quietly and peacefully in my little apartment in the ‘Loin in San Francisco is about to disintegrate. I have started to eye what can go into boxes, and what I can possibly put into storage. I won’t take the kid back into a shelter. I won’t take him back onto the street or campgrounds. For his sake, I will have to give up on being with him. I will have to give up on my years long attempt to outrun the man who is allowed to act as if he owns me and refuse to divorce me. I am caught in paperwork and insane laws. I am trapped in a spider’s web of a man who does not feel like allowing me to leave the marriage and so, simply won’t. I am caught up in Japan’s absolutely medieval laws regarding marriage and their crazy assertation that I must attend years and years worth of mediation to try and save the marriage, since Mr Charming won’t let me go willingly. I cannot and will not do that. And my domestic violence support? They tell me to give up and ‘go home’ and that I ‘don’t belong here’, they tell me that ‘they would not get help in MY COUNTRY’. This is my country. I live here. This is my safety and my life and my everything.
You see, totally giving up is never an option. If I can’t pull a rabbit out of the hat then I will make arrangements for the Boy, and you won’t find me in the wilderness where I’ll run to. I will sleep on boardwalks, I will find myself a bush to climb under. I will run and run and run…until my running is all ran out. Totally giving up is just not me. Absolutely conceding, not fighting, being compliant is not my style. I can’t ruin the kid’s future. He is too old to come along with me, if I can’t provide housing and schooling and safety. But I will never go gently into that bleak future. You see I know when to hold em, when to fold em…when to walk away…and when to run. I just had a very hard lesson this past year of never counting my money when sitting at the table…there will be time enough for all that when the deal is done. I am a gambler, and a good one too. I have pulled plays that would make grown men weep. I have stayed steely, stayed strong and smelt the roses when everything else was in ruins. I have survived earthquakes and fire, tsunami and radiation..and a man who thought I was just someone who could be tortured and tied to Japan by her heartstrings. And to a certain extent he was right. But what he didn’t know, was that occasionally, like all good long term gamblers of life and health and future and freedom know…most of the time I get unlucky and have to rely on skill, but sometimes. Just sometimes. I win, and I win lucky.