Love is a risky business. If you’ve ever opened your heart to another person, chances are you’ve been hurt. I know this, and yet I knowingly take the risk again and again. I’ve had friends and family chide me for it- saying I’m reckless, saying I have to protect myself. But I don’t want to protect myself from love.
And now, once again, I’m nursing a broken heart.
This is how it happened.
In the Fall of 2009, Troy and I had just gotten back from celebrating our 20th anniversary in Jamaica, our daughter Cristen was beginning her promising career in the music industry, our son Taylor was thriving in college, and Evan was busy learning the countries of the world. Everything in our lives was going as planned. We were peaceful and happy, our proverbial ducks lined up in a row. Ha.
One night that September, with tears in his eyes, Taylor said he had something to tell me. I already knew. His girlfriend was pregnant. It’s one thing to have your college-attending son deliver this news, quite another when the girl is a Japanese exchange student, who speaks little English, is here on a temporary visa and, by the way, had just lost her student housing and had nowhere to go.
So we took the risk…we opened our hearts, our lives and our home to a little pregnant, scared, crying, puking Japanese girl who hid from us in Taylor’s room all day.
On Valentine’s Day of 2010, with only three weeks to plan, I threw a wedding for my son and new daughter-in-law Aya. Over time, I built a bond with Aya. I took her to doctor’s appointments and talked her through her fears of birth and parenting. I introduced her to comfort foods- she loved my homemade macaroni and cheese and especially my brownies. She made us sushi and udon noodles and Kim-chi dinners. We introduced her to Thanksgiving and American Christmas traditions, which she happily embraced. We did art projects together. We lived peacefully together and awaited the baby’s birth.
Ayumu Cameron Dexter came into our lives on June 1st, 2010, changing our world forever. Once again, I was rocking a baby to sleep on my shoulder, carrying a little one around the house on my hip. Ayumu called me ‘Baba”. Aya and Taylor nicknamed him Baba-boy, because he was so attached to me.
In the mornings I would hear his little footsteps running across the hardwood floor, my bedroom door would fly open and he’d pounce. He loved to jump on my bed, count to three, then dive bomb on top of me. In the kitchen, he would push me away from my cooking and stand on his tippy-toes, arms stretched upward to be held. I’d pick him up and his whole body would relax into me, his head nestled into the curve of my neck. I would carry him around on my hip as I did chores or had phone meetings. He watched as I sat with my friends around the dining table, telling stories and laughing, and then would climb up on a dining room chair and tell loud animated stories in jibberish, emulating us, cracking himself up. God I loved that.
He and Evan would chase each other through the house squealing with laughter. He loved to climb into bed with Evan as I read him bedtime stories. He loved to use our cats and dog as pillows. It would make me smile to see him asleep on Taylor’s chest, or playing guitar with Ojisan (Troy).
I loved when Aya would sit on my bed with me and talk until late in the night. I loved that every time she bought Ayumu a new outfit she would run into my room to show me. I loved doing arts and crafts with her, and taking her for knitting lessons and jewelry making lessons.
This house was full with chaos and music and two women cooking in the kitchen and dogs and cats and lots and lots of love. I was so happy. I thought we all were happy.
And then, just before Thanksgiving, Aya told me her Grandmother was having heart surgery, and that she’d be taking Ayumu to Japan to visit. I was fine with that, until she told me they’d be gone three months and would miss Christmas with us. But I understood her reasons, and had to adjust.
In January, Aya wrote to tell me she didn’t want to come back. She was happy being home with her mom and Grandmother - happy to be back where everyone spoke her language, where she could fully express herself. Her mother and grandmother had fallen in love with Ayumu. She had health insurance there, and public transportation. Free schooling, free childcare. She felt free there. Even though she loved Taylor and all of us, the pull of home was stronger.
Taylor flew to Japan for three weeks in February to see his son and try to work things out with Aya. The three of them had pre-purchased tickets to return on Feb 9th.
I had been counting the days until February 9th, and so had Evan. He ran into my room one Saturday morning, “Mommy! Only six more days until Ayumu comes home!”
That’s when I had to break the news to him, the news I had been carrying heavy in my heart. Aya and Ayumu were not coming home.
She says she needs more time. She says she might be back this year. Maybe she’ll come back to Taylor and they’ll get their own place, maybe she’ll just visit. She doesn’t know.
Taylor is absolutely committed to raising his son, and told her so. But what if she never comes back? How do you arrange joint custody across the world when a round trip flight is $1500 per person?
Every morning I get up and pray. I have never prayed harder for anything in my life. I am calling on every angel I have, every ancestor in spirit. I have always believed that love could heal anything, yet Aya was surrounded with love in this home, and it wasn’t enough. How can that be? Is my theory about love wrong?
I worry about my son’s heart- so heavy a burden for someone so young. I worry about my husband who carries this grief so heavily. And my daughter Cristen, and Evan and all of my friends who took Ayumu and Aya into their families as their own. We are all hurting.
Ayumu’s high chair sits empty in my dining room. His toys are piled in the corner of the living room gathering dust. I can’t bear to look at them. My cupboards are bursting with Japanese foods and recipe books. Every time I open them I feel a kick in my gut. Troy and I have been living with this - this dull throbbing ache that has become part of our existence.
We talk about it late into the night. We might as well talk, since neither of us can sleep. Did we do the right thing opening our homes and hearts in that Fall of 2009? We always knew this was a possibility. Were we foolish to risk getting hurt this way?
We came to the conclusion that even though we will never heal from this, we wouldn’t have done it any other way. Even though the grief is unbearable, I couldn’t imagine a world without Ayumu. No matter what happens, I am grateful to have had these two years raising him, and loving him.
I am hurt by Aya’s decision to stay, but I remember how hard it was to be twenty-two, to be young and lost. I know she is afraid and confused by her feelings. We all made impulsive decisions at that age. All I can do is to love her, and embrace her, and hope that the pull of her American family brings her back.
My precious angel
|Oji gives Ayumu a guitar lesson|
|Troy-san walks Aya down the aisle|
|Evan and "his baby", as he calls him.|
|Cristen and her nephew, sitting in the audience before one of Taylor's concerts|
|Stich makes a good pillow|
|Family time doing Christmas crafts|
|Christmas dinner 2010|
|Ayumu in his usual place, right on my hip.|
|Taylor and Aya's first dance.|
|My heart will not heal until we are together as a family again.|