Hi! It’s me! Lily!
OH GOD what a day. What a wonderful, terrible, awful, amazing day.
I got through work today. Somehow. The owner asked me what was going on, and I told him I was meeting my long-lost birth mother that afternoon. He sighed, and said “nothing boring ever happens to you, does it, Lily?”
I shook my head. Then I told him that my SSN, birthdate, and even given name were probably wrong. He sighed, and complained (only partly good naturedly) about how much work that was going to cause him. But, he said I was a good worker, so we’d figure it out. He’s a good guy. I can’t pretend I was very cheerful. I was more businesslike than usual. A couple of karens tried their stuff and I just shut them right down. I told them that my job was to sell them horribly unhealthy food and fuel and I frankly didn’t care what they thought their supposed relationship with the owner gave them, they could pay me what they owed or they could walk out without the food, I didn’t really care either way.
The owner smirked, but told me to tone it down a little. He doesn’t like them but they’re still customers. I grimaced, said okay, and all was good.
So next time, I just plastered on a fake cheerful voice, and shortened it to just repeating “that will be $xxx, please” over and over again until they demanded a manager. That was apparently good enough. His attitude is, apparently, that I’m not paid enough to argue with them, so as long as I don’t actually argue with them while sticking to my guns and staying barely professional, I can say whatever I want. Good enough. It’s the arguing and snark that he gets a little tetchy about. Snark is fun, but I don’t blame him. It’s his business, not mine.
But, he also knows we’re still getting to know each other, so he’s not worried about it. I’ll figure out his limits and he’ll figure out mine and everything will be fine. He’s a nice man. I think my limits are actual verbal abuse. Thankfully most karens are just annoying and try to wheedle their way into discounts or free stuff, and save the abuse for the owner.
The real interesting stuff happened after I got home. I was so nervous and, frankly, angry that I was shaking. I could barely eat. Sabby told me to go upstairs and put on some nice clothing. I started to protest but she just fixed me with one of her glares. “It’s not why you think,” she said. “This is one of those situations where you want to send a bit of a message. If you dress nicely, you’ll send the message that you’re doing just fine. Without her.”
I had to agree, both because she was right and because she was Sabby and glaring at me, so I went upstairs and put on my nicest dress and thigh socks and shiny mid-heel shoes. I even did some makeup and put my hair up with a bow. When I clomped downstairs, Sabby nodded in approval. “That’ll do. Try to stay calm. It’ll be fine.”
A few minutes later, there was a hesitant knock on the door. My stomach was so full of butterflies, but I sat down as primly as I could manage, knees together, hands in my lap, feet to the side, just the picture of a proper young lady.
Yeah, me, proper young lady. Pfft.
And there she was.
She was a little shorter than me, very definitely Japanese, and looked pretty youthful. She looked as nervous as I felt. I stood up, and she gave me a little bow. I returned it awkwardly.
“Hello,” she said, rather awkwardly. “Yuriko?”
“It’s Lily,” I said, as politely as I could muster.
Her face lit up. “You kept the name!”
I’m sure I looked about as confused as I felt. “Huh?”, I said eruditely.
“The name! Yuriko means Lily! You… you didn’t know?,” she said, a little more hesitantly.
My mouth dropped open. “I… I had no idea,” I said. “Quite honestly, I didn’t even know my given name until this week.”
“Oh,” she said, her face dropping.
Sabby and I sat down on the couch and she sat down on the chair.
“Mrs. Johnson,” I said.
“Emiko,” she interrupted. “Please call me Emiko.”
I sighed. I really didn’t want to, she hadn’t earned that yet, but that was not the kind of fight I wanted to engage. “Emiko. I don’t know where to start so I’m just going to come right out and ask. Why did you abandon me?”
She was fidgeting with her hands in her lap She looked very insecure. I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe a woman who was proud of what she’d done? Maybe a woman who didn’t know the impact of what she’d done? But she didn’t have either of those airs. She looked like a woman who knew exactly what she’d done – and hated herself for it.
And she started to speak. She spoke in a Japanese accent, but it was clear she had been in the US for quite a while.
“I was student in college at the time. I was about to graduate. At one of the end of year parties, I met the boy named Robert, and he swept me off my feet. A little too well, actually,” she said sadly. “He, well, he got what he wanted and I never saw him again. I found out… I found out a few weeks later that I was pregnant.” (I left in her slight grammar errors as much I can remember, I think it makes this more authentic.)
She looked down, like she didn’t know what to do with her hands, like she really didn’t want to tell this story.
“I thought I could start graduate studies, have my baby, and then I’d figure out what to do. And that worked out. Until Katrina came along. I was forced to flee with nothing but a few personal belongings and the clothes on my back. I went to Houston to ride it out. And… and you came along.”
There was a tear in her eye. “I was already having very hard time, starting new classes, and I knew that there was no way I could take care of you, I could barely feed myself! I… I just couldn’t keep you.” Her lower lip was trembling. “I loved you,” she said. “I wanted to keep you, so much. But I couldn’t. I didn’t have the means, I just… I wasn’t able.”
Sabby gave me a look, as if to say “okay, she’s selling it.” I gave her a look back, as if to say “dammit!”
“I didn’t know what happened to you after I gave you up, and there wasn’t the day, not the night, that went by that I didn’t wonder how you were doing, if you were okay, how you were turning out. And then.. and then I got a phone call, and here you are.”
I sighed. “When I found out…. that you’d abandoned me, it hurt me. A lot.”
A sob escaped her. “Oh, Yuriko… Lily.. I’m so sorry. I didn’t want that for you.”
“But it’s what you gave me,” I said, but with far less hurt in my voice than I thought there’d be. I’m sure there was some in there, though. I was certainly feeling it.
“It is,” she said. “How can I say it wasn’t? But if I could have thought of anything else, any other answer… I would have. I promise you that with everything I have. I would have. Yuri – Lily, I can’t… I can’t… I can’t make up for…” She put her head in her hands and started to sob. “How much I regret… if there had been any other way… I’m so sorry, Lily. So sorry.”
Now the emotions were warring inside me. I still hated her for what she’d done, but I believed her. She didn’t want to. She didn’t feel like she had any choice. What would I have done in her situation? What could I have done?
Finally I just settled for the truth. “I believe you,” I said, quietly.
Sabby offered her a tissue and she blew her nose delicately.
“I don’t like it,” I said. “A part of me wonders if you tried hard enough. If you could have found an answer. But I believe you. You did what you felt you had to.”
“I’d dreamed of this day,” she said, softly, sniffling. “For sixteen years, every day, I dreamed of this day. I dreamt that I would finally meet the little girl I had to let go. And I didn’t know what I’d find. Would you hate me? Would you not even want to talk to me? And the worst part is… the worst part is I couldn’t blame you. If you didn’t. I couldn’t blame you at all.” Her voice hitched. “I don’t know if you could hate me more than I hate myself…”
I’m sure the conflict was written all over my face. It was quiet for a moment. Finally I stood up and walked over to Emiko. I offered my hand. She took it and I pulled her up. And then.. and then I hugged her.
“I forgive you,” I said quietly.
She dissolved into tears for a few moments. But after she pulled herself together, I let her go.
“Ariga – thank you,” she said simply.
“dou itashi mashite”, I responded.
Her eyes lit up. “You speak nihongo?”, she said, her face full of surprise.
“Chotto“, I said. “I’ve been studying for a few months. It seemed like an interesting thing to do.”
“Ureshii“, she said. “I’m so happy.”
And we sat down. I told her about the last few months – about how I was found on the side of the road, how I had trouble adapting to my family, how they adopted me, about Lily Day, about how I met Jack.
She told me she has a couple of younger children, around David’s age, two girls. After she finished her graduate degree, she found someone, fell in love, married him, and settled in Houston. She offered to help me with Japanese, and I thought that seemed like a good idea, so I accepted.
Eventually, after promising to come back soon with her family, she left.
Sabby sat down next to me. “Are you alright?,” she asked.
I looked at her with wet eyes. “No. But I will be.” I smiled. “I will be.”
I don’t think I want to meet my birth father. Not now, maybe not ever. It might be good to know his medical history, but he doesn’t know about me, I was just a good time, and, well, he either has his own life now with his own family, or he doesn’t. My birth mother is one thing, but he… he doesn’t deserve me.
He doesn’t deserve me.
I can forgive Emiko. I’m not quite as sure about him. About the only good thing to say about him is, he didn’t know.
I don’t love Emiko. I may never love Emiko. I forgive her, but she abandoned me once, I can’t trust her not to do it again, even though I know it was a sad set of circumstances. But maybe, at least, I could grow to like her. And, well, what more could a girl want?
Sabby says tomorrow, after work, we’re going to set up the Christmas tree. This will be my first Christmas as an actual Smith, and I can’t wait!!! Maybe this time it will be relaxing and uneventful??
And there is one question that I think might be important. Why did I choose the name Lily?