“I Did Not Know” (fiction), Part 9: Melting Snow

"Hikosan Jingu Omotesando 01" by STA3816 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons. This is the set of stairs which goes up to one of the Hikosan shrines.

Hikosan Jingu Omotesando 01” by STA3816Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
This is the set of stairs which goes up to one of the Hikosan shrines.

March 25, 2003

Ana was free the next day, so she took Myrna to Soeda, the town where her father grew up. None of her family still lived there, Ana explained to Myrna, so she took her to the best-known place in the township: Hikosan, a sacred mountain.

Myrna had already seen Shinto shrines in Kyoto, but this was different. First of all, it was on a rural mountain, not in a city. Second, there were a lot less people around.

The weather was good, so they decided to go on a hike around the mountain. As they were walking, Myrna asked herself, should she tell Ana about Sebastian?

Myrna knew that she had been different ever since Sebastian had done … what he did. She could not have imagined herself rushing off to the other side of the Pacific Ocean alone, camping alone, or sleeping in a train station before. She also knew she had not been emotionally reacting to things, both good and bad, the way she did before, and that she now had a persistent sense that, is she was not careful, she would be ambushed.

They walked through a cedar forest. Ana pointed out a cliff face which had water dripping from it. She said it was a sacred water source, and that they should drink from it.

When Myrna thought of the way Ana talked about how the survivors of the atomic bombings are hurt by the way other people use their stories, should could not help but think about Sandy in Beppu. Indeed, it was only after that, and after seeing Urakami, that what Ana said during her outburst in Mojiko began to make sense to Myrna.

Myrna felt viscerally that what Sandy did was wrong, and yet, to be entirely honest, part of why it stung her so is that she could not argue against Sandy’s logic, that `if she had not consented, then it was … she still wanted to stay away from the word ‘rape’, and yet now, there was a part of her which said that she no longer had permission to stay away from that word.

Ana pointed out a particularly old cedar tree, which was considered sacred.

From the story of the woman who was kicked out by her husband’s family, and also from Ana’s own story, Myrna understood there was a stigma to being the survivor of a horror. To be known as a survivor of the Kokura or Nagasaki bombing was to have everyone who learned that fact reduce you to that one tragedy, and to have them ignore what you were before, and what you were now.

This was something Myrna felt she could discuss with Ana, so she did.

“Yes,” said Ana. “And I even do it myself. What do I know about my grandmother? That she died a painful death and left my father an orphan? To me, she might as well just be that shot of her in Ghosts. What she liked, what her personality was like, anything. I don’t even know what she looked like before the bomb. Heck, I don’t even know her name. I get upset when people just reduce Kokura to the bombing, but I am sort of the same when it comes to my grandparents. My family doesn’t talk about them, so there’s not much I can do.”

Myrna was also aware that, if it became known that someone had been raped, then they would just be seen as a rape victim, and other things about them would be ignored. It would be a stain which blotted out everything else in other people’s eyes. Deep down, Myrna understood that because she knew that she herself saw rape victims that way. Was that why she was so resistant to calling it ‘rape’? Was she resisting being reduced to a ‘rape’ victim?

They reached the south peak, and looked at the view before them. Ana pointed out several notable mountains, including Aso-san, which Myrna had passed by three times on train. One time Myrna had even gotten off the train and taken the rope-way up.

Myrna knew it was a beautiful sight … and yet, once again, she felt that she was not responding emotionally to it. Or rather, she had emotionally responded to it, and then the response … stopped. She had thought that, after Nagasaki, she was feeling things again a bit more like she had before, but … maybe not? She felt that she had to perform an emotional response to the vista to fit with Ana’s enthusiasm.

As they (or rather, Ana) took in the landscape, Myrna went back to her thoughts. Kokura and Nagasaki were both more than atomic bomb victims, and she also was more than Sebastian’s victim. Just in the past few weeks, she seen many new places, made new friends, and survived a rainy island with vicious deer.

They went on to the middle peak, where the upper shrine was. Ana described all kinds of things about the shrine and the landscape. Myrna was satisfied with resting from all of the physical exertion.

After passing the north peak, they found that the trail was buried in wet snow.

“I thought it would be snow-free by now,” Ana said.

Neither Ana or Myrna had any experience with hiking through snow, and the fact that the trail was so steep did not help. Eventually, they ending up sliding rather than walking down the trail, gripping the chains as their clothes got covered with mud and the cold wetness reached their skins. The snow was slippery, and already being at ground level seemed safer than standing upright and risking a fall.

At first, Myrna had panicked when faced with the prospect of getting through the trail, but as she slid along, her body became numb. It occurred to her that this might be a metaphor for her life.

Eventually, the snow disappeared, and they were walking – cold, dirty, and wet – through a cedar forest once more.

As they moved on the stone path, Myrna asked herself – should she tell Ana about Sebastian, or not? Talking about these things was the proper thing for someone recovering from trauma to do. And Ana shared her story about her family – did Myrna owe her a sad story in return?

Myrna tried to imagine how Ana would react…

I did not know, Ana says. Now I feel even worse about what I said to you in Mojiko. A different Ana appears in Myrna’s mind, shouting “Sebastian is the worst! If I ever see him, I’ll make him pay for what he did to you!” A third Ana appears, and says “You think that is sexual assault? Ha! That was just a misunderstanding.” A fourth Ana appears, and says How dare you compare what Sebastian did to you to the Kokura bombing! Nobody died. Nobody even had to go to the hospital. You still have your family. You’re just a privileged, spoiled brat…. A fifth Ana appears, and says You are my friend, and always will be. I support you. And those magic words cure all of Myrna’s problems – she is just as she was emotionally before the relationship with Sebastian, she is no longer concerned about her economic situation when she returns to the United States, and she feels safe forever.

Myrna did not believe in this magic. And she was not going to tell Ana about Sebastian now.

Maybe, some day, Myrna would tell Ana after all. Or maybe she would never tell her. But Myrna felt that this was not the time.

***

THE END

As I said in the introduction, I am very interested in feedback.

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