Mariko, where are you now? The last time I saw you, I was 8 years old. Your family was so good to me, and we had some fun times together. I remember when you guys took me to a water park, my first time. Surf City. I can clearly picture the fake beach and the tidal waves coming from a far off wall. I'm pretty sure I was thinking, in my 8 year old way, "Oh boy! My mom would freak out if she saw this place! Drowning danger!!!" Of course she knew I was there, but I couldn't help but feel a little like I was doing something I shouldn't be doing.
You and your family took such joy in all things American. All of you smiled a lot. I used to eat at your apartment often, or you would bring me out to a Japanese restaurant with you. What I remember eating is white rice, lots of white rice. You had special little bowls for rice.
When your dad finished college and you left Arizona to return to Japan, your parents invited me to go to Hawaii with you, where you were stopping for a vacation on your way home. I thought long and hard about this invitation, and declined for two reasons. One, I knew my mom would miss me. Two, I was afraid of flying and I knew I'd have to fly home alone. Actually I don't really think I was afraid of flying, I had just heard my mom talk about how much she hated flying and figured it was the thing to do. But the idea of flying solo on the return trip, that did make my tummy do sickening flip flops. The funniest thing is that for years I thought about how I had missed out on a trip to Hawaii. Recently I realized, who am I kidding? My mom would have never let me go on an airplane to Hawaii without her. My mom would never have let me get on an airplane to Hawaii with her for that matter. Not to mention we were totally poor. But somehow I thought that possibility existed and I had blown it.
You gave me your hamster when you moved back to Japan. Poky was a good little guy, and he moved cross country to Michigan with me less than a year later. He rode in the backseat of our crowded car, having more space than any of us in his very own cage.
We kept in touch for years, Mariko, but somehow we eventually lost contact. I wish we hadn't. I wish I knew right now that you are safe and your family is safe. I hope you are.