The title of this post is a literal translation of Yukiko’s name. I’ve posted off-and-on about her, but this post is to tie all that up — and really, so I don’t forget, cause god knows I’ve got a shitty memory.
So Yukiko (also known as Ume, from her family name, Umezaki) was basically my best friend in Japan. When we first met, I asked her out, and was turned down. Later on, we got to be better friends, and I shot myself in the foot regarding getting together with her. Still, we continued to hang out and be great friends, despite pretty obvious sexual tension. In the end, I’d grown accustomed to just being friends with her, and we’d gotten into a comfortable groove. We were both spoken for, her with her boyfriend, and me with Kana (at least for awhile). So, all was well.
About a month before my contract was up, she’d quit her job and started working as a kyabajou at a kyabakura. It was easy money, a lot of it, and she was working at a pretty high-rent place — frequented by the mayor of one of the biggest science towns in Japan, Tsukuba. Her schedule had turned nocturnal as a result, and I hadn’t seen much of her. I was playing sporadic email tag with her, and loosely planning to hang out after I got back from a trip to Hong Kong. When I landed in Hong Kong, to my surprise, I had cell service, and a new message from her:
“Hi! How are you doing? It’s really hot here. I just broke up with my boyfriend. Enjoy HK!”
This, of course, turned the trip into the longest 3 days known to man. Kana and I had broken up many months beforehand, and Ume had been with her boyfriend for so long (was planning on moving to Hiroshima and marrying him), that I hadn’t even had dating in my mind as a possibility for months and months. Now, suddenly it was. Would I even still want to? Would it be weird? Would it be worth it, with just a couple months left in Japan? Would it just be a rebound thing? Lot of questions in my mind.
We met up after Hong Kong at a farewell party for all the JETs in town, at our local party. The school year was almost over, and we were all going to have to split up and go to different towns. She came along, and we sat there until about midnight, talking. Turns out she’d broken up with her boyfriend just because they weren’t in love anymore (which was obvious to everyone who met them). I still wasn’t sure what to do, whether to go for it or not, as our relationship felt the same as before. I saw her to her car without bringing anything up. I reasoned, I was too tipsy at that point to be in any way tactful. As she left, I sent her a message to call me when she got home. I’d have sobered up at that point, and would be in a better position to have a conversation about where we stood.
She didn’t call back that night. Fair enough, I thought. I continued on my merry way, trying to get ahold of her here and there, and figured she was just busy.
Around this time, I was tying up some loose ends, getting ready to move, when I had a horrific bike accident. Suffice to say, certain very sensitive parts of my anatomy were swollen, purplish and black. I had to go to the hospital, and bad. Now, this is not a situation where you want ANY translation errors whatsoever. So I started calling Ume, asking her to come with me to the hospital and help out. She didn’t answer, so I had to go to the hospital by myself.
The hospital visit was actually hilarious, in retrospect. I brought along 3 dictionaries, went through and translated all the forms, diligently noting I’d never been on drugs, that I wasn’t pregnant, etc. I got to the doctor, and very specifically described my problem. I was super proud, I’d made it that far with no problems, although with a lot of work. All this took upwards of 2-3 hours. So he starts giving me his diagnosis, and I tell him to slow down, as I am translating every single word, to make sure I understand, when he looks at me and asks, “You speak English?” in perfect, unaccented American English.
I was about ready to strangle him.
Anyway, I get that taken care of, and still no word from Ume. It’s at this point I’m starting to get a bit concerned, as she’s rarely been this incommunicada for long periods of time. She’s got a new job, and it’s at a kyabakura, which maybe is a little sketchy… just gone through a major breakup… wondering what the deal is.
So, my friends Sara, Kirby, Meg, and 5 of their assorted family members come to Japan around this time, and I go with them for about a week and a half to explore western Japan. Throughout the trip, I’m growing increasingly concerned about Ume, and am asking all our mutual friends whether they’ve seen her. None of them have. I’ve gotten to the point of calling her once or twice daily, but the phone just rings and rings.
This is a major problem, because if, say, she’s lost her phone, I don’t have any other way of getting ahold of her. Nobody does. Nobody knows her address, and I’m the only one who’s been to her house. Even then, I’ve only been once, many months ago, and she drove me there, because it’s very far out. I don’t really remember where it is.
Here’s where it gets heartbreaking.
I decide I’m going there anyways. On bike, because I have no car. Even though it’s miles away. Even though I’m not sure where it is. Even though I’m still banged up from my previous bike accident, and it hurts to ride my bike. Even though it is incredibly, devilishly hot outside (one of the hottest days of the year).
The thing is, in my mind, I can’t NOT go. I’m terrified that she’s gotten into some trouble at work, that she had some bad customer follow her home, or something. She’s reclusive enough that if something bad happened to her, nobody would be able to find her. I’ve got horrible visions floating around in my head. It’s been a month and a half. I have to go out and look for her.
It doesn’t go well. Midway through my trip, I get into an accident with a truck. Nobody’s hurt, but police get called, my boss comes out from work to survey the scene, and I end up standing in the sun for about an hour giving testimony. Amy meets me up, and treats me to lunch. She suggests that perhaps this is God’s way of telling me to give up. I remind her I’m an atheist, and that so is she.
I get back on the road, and get way out to the outskirts of Ryugasaki, around the area with Ume’s apartment. All the houses look the same, and I find myself cycling around the same areas for hours. These are rough roads — bikes don’t come out here, only cars. I’m finding I have to be really careful, often walking my bike instead of riding it.
After 5 hours, I find her house. Dump bike, run to door, knock, wait… knock, wait… nothing.
So I start investigating. No piled up mail. Her car’s there. Laundry’s outside. I can hear her cat, Sakura, inside. I call some more, but can’t hear her phone ring inside. She has no bike, and would need her car to leave… so, given that it’s there, she’s probably inside. I leave notes on her door and her car, telling her I’m worried about her. I even take pictures of her hanging laundry, so I can see if it’s been changed out when I come back.
I go back home, sunburnt all to hell. I can barely sleep that night, partially because my skin hurts so much, partially because I’m worried she’s dead in her own apartment. I contemplate calling the police. I don’t.
Time goes by with no word, and the new JETs arrive. We all go to a festival at the prefectural capitol, and it’s there that Daryle, who’d also been trying to get ahold of her, gets an email from Ume.
Hi, D. I’m fine. Sorry to make everyone worry. I just didn’t feel like talking to anyone. Could you please not call me for awhile?
So I cease all calls, and leave her be. I wait about 2 weeks, until the day before I have to permanently leave Ryugasaki, then I bike over to her house. I have a bunch of CDs she’d lent me, and some small presents I’d gotten in Nagasaki and Hong Kong for her.
As I pull into her parking lot on bike, she’s pulling out in her car.
I see her, and wave.
She cocks her head at me and looks at me strangely.
Then she drives past and goes off on her way.
I leave the CDs and presents on her doorstep, along with a goodbye card.
And that was the last I ever saw of her.