Do you want to know how I got these scars – Part four

“Don’t look at that right now.” The doctor placed her hand over the illuminated image on the light box in the wall. She could see that I was transfixed by what I saw. My eyes were locked on the MRI scan, and the prominent dark spot it revealed growing inside my head. I realized in that moment that my life will end too soon, and I won’t be ready when it happens. She must have seen that realization in my eyes, so she simply placed her hand over the dark spot.

Sometimes I can see it in people’s eyes when I’m talking with them, even if they don’t say anything. On occasion they’ll cut through the veil and ask me, totally out of the blue: are you okay, is something wrong, are you upset? They’ve detected something in my face—an unexpected trace of sadness or dismay in my expression.

I can feel it in my face when it’s happening, a kind of tingling or numbness along my cheek and the corner of my mouth on one side. It’s more pronounced when I’m tired, or when I’m feeling stress, or when I’m thinking intently about a problem or complexity I’ve encountered. Most concerning is when it happens for no reason at all.

The neurosurgeon told me that his biggest concern wasn’t the challenge of drilling open my skull behind my right ear. Nor was it the delicate task of slicing through the labyrinth of my inner ear to expose the tumor, or the mind-bending prospect of safely cutting it out and removing from its deeply embedded resting place without damaging my brain. His biggest concern wasn’t even my severely damaged hearing, which is what first alerted me that something was wrong. His biggest concern, he told me—the biggest challenge of my upcoming surgery—was the facial nerve. The tumor had grown completely around it.

If the facial nerve is damaged during the surgery, if it’s stretched, or nicked by the scalpel, or in the worst case scenario, severed, the right side of my face will lose muscle control and my eye, cheek, and mouth on that side will permanently “fall” or slump downwards, he said. He put his hand to the side of his own face and dragged his fingers down down his cheek to demonstrate. His eye and mouth melted grotesquely down on one side, like a child making a funny-sad face in the mirror.

I try and fail to pretend that I’m not a vain person. I’ve come to terms with this personality trait, or flaw, depending how you look at it. I work hard to minimize the worst aspects of it in myself without killing the positive ones, and I do believe there are a few positive ones. It becomes easier to manage as I get older, in part because every day I learn I have less to feel vain about as I once thought I had.

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Myles and me on the balance rings in 2004, a few years before my surgery.

I’ve learned that vanity is an especially unbecoming companion as I grow older. Maintaining dignity and pride in oneself and appearance is important, but as we age we should know better than to allow our vanities to go completely unchecked, lest a candid moment in reflection give the lie to our illusions. After a few dozen torrid trips around the sun—and we all make the journey every year—the stamps on our passports become plentiful and obvious. The pages grow more dog-eared and rumpled with each handling. Eventually we all run out of room for another stamp. Eventually we all come to the last page.

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Under the bridge in 2017.

Part five coming soon

My heritage

 

These photos are of my grandmother when she arrived in America in 1950. My maternal grandmother was born in Japan; my maternal grandfather was American, of Louisiana Cajun French. My grandparents met during the Korean War. My grandfather served in the Army during that time. He met my grandmother, all of 18 years old at the time. They fell in love and he brought her back to America with him as his wife. These photos were taken shortly after they returned to America for the first time. After the war, my grandfather was stationed at Ft. Sill Army Base in Oklahoma. They later were stationed in Germany, then Oakland Army Base. My grandfather was honorably discharged from the military from Oakland. My grandparents, like so many other young veteran families of the era, sought to buy a home in the East Bay Area and raise their family there. Unfortunately at that time (early 1960s), discriminatory legal “covenants” prevented any and all non-whites from buying homes in many neighborhoods. My grandparents tried to buy homes in San Lorenzo and San Leandro, but were turned away when the sellers or realtors saw my grandmother and realized her race. My grandmother still vividly recalls and occasionally tells me the story of how my grandfather once had made all the arrangements to buy a brand-new home in San Lorenzo. The deal was basically done, but when my grandfather and grandmother arrived to sign the final paperwork, the realtor took one look at my grandmother and literally waved them away. Eventually my grandparents were able to buy a home in unincorporated Hayward just outside of San Lorenzo village, where the covenants were not in effect. Even then, my grandparents and their family daily faced shocking racism and prejudice. This is how my mother’s side of the family came to settle in Hayward. Many years later, I rented that same house from my grandmother and started my own family there.

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My maternal grandmother arrived in America by sea in 1950. She and her father, a Japanese restaurateur and political dissident during the fascist era of the 1940s, were forced to flee their home in Japan to Manchuria in the 1940s. They later settled in Korea, where my grandmother met my grandfather, an American serviceman serving a tour of duty during the Korean Conflict.
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This is my grandmother in front of an Oklahoma barracks shortly after arriving in America in 1950. My grandfather was stationed at Ft. Sill Army Base in Oklahoma when this photo was taken. They later were stationed in Germany, then Oakland Army Base. After he was discharged, the family tried to buy a home in the East Bay Area. At that time (late 1960s), there were discriminatory covenants in many neighborhoods that prevented non-whites from buying homes. They looked in San Lorenzo and San Leandro, but were turned away when the sellers or realtors learned my grandmother’s race. Eventually my grandparents were able to buy a home in Hayward. This is how my mother’s side of the family came to settle in Hayward.

 

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My grandfather and grandmother in 1950. He was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana; she was from Saga Prefecture, Japan. He was overseas serving in the Army when they met. They were married and he brought her home to Louisiana. Later they relocated to Oakland, then bought their first and only home in unincorporated Hayward.
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My grandmother with her children in Oklahoma in 1958. My mother is the little girl in front, along with my aunt and uncle. This photo perfectly captures their personalities! Unfortunately prejudice against Japanese-Americans was intense and pervasive when this photo was taken. My mother, aunt, uncle, and grandmother have shared with me many stories of discrimination, fear, and hate that was daily aimed at them back in this time.