Most of my memories have been eaten away at by time; bits and pieces comes shining through with stunning clarity, but the majority are lost to me.
Just a vague color here, a familiar song there, a smell I recognize but can’t name.
My baachan is sick. She collapsed suddenly a few years ago, and since then, her memories are disappearing. Often, baachan will call to speak to us, repeating the same questions over and over because she doesn’t remember asking them. It’s strange to see this parallel between us; despite the decades separating us, our pasts are lost to us, memories slipping out of our grasp.
There’s a frantic need to remember, now, when baachan can’t. I push, digging deep, desperate to rememeber more about all the summers I’ve spent in Okinawa, sweating in the humid heat, the taste of the sea on my tongue as Japanese stumbles out of my mouth in clumsy steps.
I remember the singing of cicaidas. I remember the quiet roar of the emerald sea. I remember the jungles, the white sands, the seashells and hermit crabs, the busy streets and monorails.
I remember holding onto baachan’s hand as we walked down the street to the store. Ryubo was so big then, to my young eyes, towering over us as we walked in. The grocery market was downstairs, but the books were at the enterance at the second floor. Though I couldn’t read a single thing, I loved to peer into each aisle, surround by books on each side before baachan called me over and lead me down the escalator.
She let me push the cart. She asked me questions about my life, answered my questions about the fish, and stopped every few minutes to chat to an old friend.
“Is there anything you want?” she asked, every time, and each time, I grabbed a box of chocolates, or gummies, or anything else that caught my eye.
“Is there anything you want?” baachan asks now, three times per call. My mom and I share a smile when she repeats the question again, and promise to text a list so she doesn’t forget. But beneath the amusement, I want to cry. The smiles are just a distraction, trying to turn reality into a joke.
There’s a time limit on her life, now. I have no idea how much longer she has left. It terrifies me; to know that one day, it’s all over. Everything you’ve lived through disappears, and it never comes back.
Already, baachan is losing her history. I don’t know how much I can write down, preserve for the future, of all she’s lived through. From the language the mainland tried to beat out of her, to the horrors she’s faced, hiding in a mountain as bombs rained down around her during World War II, to the change from kimino wearing island to modern prefecture. All the places she’s stood, all the streets she’s walked, all the changes the world’s gone through in her lifetime: these are all things baachan experienced in a way that no one else did.
I often wonder if she stood on this same beach, or if she saw the same Shurijo I do. I wonder if her memory haunts her as it haunts me.
I wonder why it feels like I’m chasing after baachan’s ghost when she waits for me at home, with arms open and question she’s asked before.
im practicing creative nonfiction while being homesick for okinawa