Hiro sits beside me in the rented Altima. He sets the air-conditioning to maximum levels; the heat and humidity in Jersey City this morning are pitiless. I haven’t lived through an East Coast summer since 1988, and Hiro left Tōkyō’s brutal summers behind when he followed me to the Pacific Northwest in 1998.
Siri’s driving directions frustrate as highways weave among each other. Which left? Wait, merge? It is miles before familiar landmarks in Fort Lee appear, and Siri guides me across lanes to the Palisades Parkway entrance. Hiro puts down his cell phone, alert as we travel north, ready to leave New Jersey behind for New York, the second of six states on our itinerary; he sits ready to read welcome to the Empire State.
Exits and place names conjure memories. Mr. G, my art teacher, lived in Stony Point. My family lived off Highway 303 in Tappan for two years. Hiro groans when I remind him how much six-year-old Kevin and eight-year-old me laughed in the Chinese restaurant in Orangeburg. Daddy’s favorite appetizer was the pu-pu platter!
The hill before Marycrest and the Townline Road exit was where our car once struggled in the snow. It was the night in early 1970 that Mommy and Daddy had flown home from their one trip to Copenhagen. Too tired to panic, I had curled up against Mommy, drawing comfort from the Jean Naté scent within her faux leopard coat.
We take the exit for Highway 59 and I find Rockland Bakery. I look for parking in the scant shade before walking in to the production area for fresh kaiser rolls. Hiro grabs my arm. Are we really allowed in here? I nod and grab a brown paper bag, adding bagels to the haul.
Saint Anthony’s cemetery waits, minutes from the bakery, and I find more shade in the far corner, near Daddy’s headstone.
Why are there rocks on the grave? None of the other graves have them. Hiro’s voice is hushed as we exit the Altima.
My cousins are Jewish, and that is their tradition, but this is a Catholic cemetery.
I bow before Daddy, Deacon Charles M Watson, 1942 – 1980, and Hiro takes my right hand in his left, watching for a moment as I fight the tears.
Gobusata deshita, otōsan.
Hearing my husband apologize for our long absence, hearing him refer to Daddy as his father too, lets loose my tears. I succumb to sorrow, feeling it swell. Hiro’s grip on my hand grows a little tighter, and then he slips from my grasp. His hand rises up to caress my left shoulder, to embrace more of me; we stand before Daddy, waiting for the lump in my throat to diminish.
The tears pause, and behind the waning grief waits a small happiness. I look at Hiro and see him as he was twenty-nine years ago, when we first met. I sigh. Arigatō.
For coming with me.
Thank you for bringing me. A pause. Do you remember where the other graves are?
We stop before the graves of my maternal grandparents—Hiro had met them at my sister’s wedding twenty-one years before. My cousins had visited them, Vincent and Mabel, too. Two stones and a seashell rest atop the glistening black headstone.
My fraternal grandfather, Frederick, died in 1955 and my fraternal grandmother, Mary, in 1990. I regret that Hiro never met her. Born to Irish immigrants in 1909, only to lose them both to the Spanish flu when she was ten, Mary was my first confidante when I was a child: she taught me the power of secrets.
As we return to the car, Hiro stops at the end of a row. Do you think we could borrow this watering can?
I think so. I wouldn’t want to walk back here in the sun, though.
If we leave it by the faucet near your father’s row?
There was one?
Yes. We don’t have a brush, but we could still rinse the headstone.
He lugs the full can, asking me to navigate back to Daddy. My cousin’s stones beckon, and Hiro and I take turns, cascading the water over the warm granite. We bow, deeply, once more when done, my tears welling again. Hiro waits for my shuddering gasps to ease before prompting me. Mata kimasu.
Yes, Daddy, we will come back.
My dear friend Kaoru waits at my old day-school’s entrance.
We walk past the little library, pointing up at the gabled second-floor room where I took computer science on an Apple IIe.
Photos are taken of Kaoru and me, Hiro and me, and my long arms let us laugh for a picture of the three of us. Kaoru waves as she heads back to work, and I turn to Hiro. Let’s stop in Nyack.
Where you used to live?
I want to see what the house looks like now.
Siri chooses a route; I obey. South on Kings Highway. Before we pass into Valley Cottage, it strikes me. This is the way Mr. Eccles drove me home.
My day-school’s headmaster. Daddy died while I was at school. Mr. Eccles drove me home.
So little has changed. The same houses, the same railroad crossing, the same traffic lights.
As we turn onto Christian Herald Road, Hiro’s iPhone, connected to the car’s speakers, selects a new song. I startle. Yellow Magic Orchestra?
Yes. Citizens of Science, from the Zōshoku album.
Didn’t that come out in 1980?
I think so.
Such an odd coincidence.
Because it’s the year your father died? Did you listen to YMO then?
No. I think I was in college when I first heard their music. I’m imagining you listening to them during middle school.
I smile as we pass Nyack High School. This used to be up the hill from my house. I wonder when they relocated it.
It’s not the high school I’m smiling about, though, and my eyes suddenly glisten.
Why are you crying? Hiro’s hand rests on my thigh.
I just realized something. Something that makes me very happy.
What is it?
My past is here, and my present is here. I quickly meet his glance. And my future is here.
Always here. With you.
Brian Watson is revising and querying his first memoir, Crying in a Foreign Language: The Deity That Answered my Plea. Originally from New York State, he lives near Seattle after years in Massachusetts, Japan, and British Columbia. His essays and book reviews appear in Brevity’s online blog and in Hippocampus magazine, and he also authored an article on marriage equality for JETs on Japan magazine. He lives online at iambrianwatson.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @iambrianwatson. He is looking forward to the thirtieth anniversary of his first date with his husband Hiro in late November of 2023.
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