These are the main events that have defined my life so far, even if one sounds ripped out of a Hallmark Movie…
A large reason for my infertility traces back to an event that happened when I was not even six years old. That was when I was diagnosed with late Stage 3 cancer.
To save my life, the right side of my body was bombarded with radiation and chemical toxins to stop the cancer’s spread and forced its retreat. My hair fell out, I thinned, and I spent Christmas and my birthday inside the children’s ward of a hospital. I had playmates in other rooms, bald children like me, but some of them left without saying goodbye. My parents told me they went home. In my adults years, I learned several of them did not go “home”. They went to another place.
The doctor warned my parents that the treatments could sterilize me. There was a possibility I would never have a period at all. Years later, my cycles did start and the doctors were relieved. My right ovary recovered, but my egg supply was damaged — the price for my life.
For my first Christmas after returning home and surviving cancer, my parents spent big on presents. They bought a game system for my brother and I.
My brother and I were in the middle of playing Super Mario brothers went a giant Ka-boom shook the house beneath us. We whipped around to see fire belching out of the kitchen entryway. A fiery paper towel fluttered out, twisting in the air like a butterfly in flames, before landing in the middle of the grey carpet.
Setting down our remotes, we raced over and stamped it out. Just as we started toward the kitchen, our mother burst in from the garden, yelling, “Have you been slamming doors? What was that sound?”
We pointed at the soot mark the incinerated paper towel left behind, then at the kitchen. My mother’s eyes widened with shock and she rushed over to see the melted front of the fridge and a kitchen that had been roasted by a powerful explosion from a leak in the dryer.
Minutes before the explosion I had been in the kitchen pouring a glass of orange juice. It’s terrifying to think how close my life came to ending just after surviving cancer. Would the headline of read: Girl Beats Cancer, Dies in Fire.
Quickly ushering us out, she yelled at my dad in the garage to hurry over. We protested that we wanted to see, yet she made us wait outside. Hours later, from the picnic table of my grandfather’s house, we would watch our home burn to the ground in a billowing column of black smoke.
All my “Get Well” cards, toys from Christmas, and albums of our baby pictures would go up in flames.
I didn’t like school.
Actually, school was fine, my peers weren’t. They were a year older since I got held back a year due to my illness. The girls always coalesced in cliques that I was never allowed to join. After trouble with public schools, my parents sent me to a private school.
Often it was my dad who accompanied me on the field trips. The mothers went for all the other kids. My dad didn’t mind, he just enjoyed the museums and places my class went while the mothers hung back and gossiped among each other like school girls. Sometimes they giggled and whispered so loud they’d interrupt the tour guide.
Much of their gossip was about who did their 11-12 year old son or daughter like. They talked about setting up their children on dates at the mall and whether their children had kissed. My father said their conversations made his stomach turn. The one time they inquired about me, my dad politely rebuffed, “My daughter is eleven. She has better things to worry about then boys.”
You’d think he’d slapped them from how they hemmed and hawed about that soft rebuke.
However, their dating fever trickled into their daughters who all became determined to pair up with the best-looking boys in our class. There was a school dance that year. Valentine’s Day was quite an event. The one time I got invited to a sleepover, the girls begged to know which boy did I like. I panicked and gave the first name that popped in. The next day at school they had spread the word to the whole class that I liked that boy.
I wasn’t allowed him, because the popular girl had claimed him for her boyfriend. Instead the girls pushed for me to date a boy named Paul, the least popular boy in class. I didn’t mean to hurt Paul’s feelings when I was paired as his dance partner for our Elementary School Prom, but I felt embarrassed as the kids giggled and called “You two look so good together. You should get married ~”. Then they hummed the song of a bride walking down the aisle.
Finally, I begged my parents to let me be homeschooled. I promised to study on my own and graduate with a high school degree through an over-the-mail course. My parents agreed, and I began homeschooling at twelve.
My reading level soared as I devoured Stephen King, Tolkein, Issaac Asimov in the countryside. In my free time, I would go on hikes through the forests around our home, fish in the pond, wade in the creek, collect dewberries, and sometimes help my dad assemble furniture.
No longer was I being pressured by my peers to date, but I was isolated. I had no friends for this period in my life. My friends were books. I discovered Sailor Moon on our cable. Anime and manga captured my imagination.
Boredom drove me to get my High School Diploma by the age of sixteen.
Finally, I noticed boys. What made no sense at eleven was crystal-clear by sixteen. Since I started college early, I was again the youngest in my classes. During my isolation in the countryside, I had no income but what I made working for my parents. Being a tomboy, I had never really used make-up. My clothes were boyish.
I also suffered from crippling shyness, to the point that I could not make eye contact or speak above a whisper. I walked head-bowed and hands in my pockets trying to be a small as possible. I wasn’t ashamed or uncomfortable with myself, I was just easily embarrassed and overcome by flushes of emotion.
I thought I was ugly. For the first time in my life I wanted to look better and be more attractive. I wanted certain boys to notice me, but how? Suddenly, I didn’t want to be a tomboy anymore. I wanted to be “pretty”.
At eighteen, I transferred from Junior College to a university and moved away from my parents’ home to a dormitory.
The College Years
Living on my own excited me, yet scared my mother to death. In the first two months she fretted if I would be okay. When it was clear I would, she left me alone and called rarely after that.
There were so many options for friends in college. I settled on joining the anime and Science Fiction club at first. This would affect my life in the years to come because this would be the first group of friends I made.
I had this idea that nerds banded together to defend each other. They don’t. They simply form cliques of their own and exclude others. The anime club was mostly comprised of boys and it was worse than any clique I’d ever seen girls form. At the time, I had a crush on this one member, but he ended up liking another. Most of the women joined the club for the same reason as me. They liked anime and they liked him.
Eventually, I realized I was unhappy with this group. I was a periphery member of a clique, my place low on the hierarchical rung. The leaders got all the privileges and the lower members were left out of most events.
I moved on to other groups, slowly meeting a wide range of people. I shed my shyness and learned how to make friends and be confident in myself.
To save money and stay out of debt, my parents lent me their camper and I lived in an RV park for a summer and semester of college. It was a rough time when I took on over 16 hours and worked a job.
I had never dated. Only once had a crush ever liked me back and we never even exchanged names. Everyone seemed to have a boyfriend. They would gush on and on about how happy they were, how perfect their love story was, and then ask, “Why don’t you have a boyfriend? Is something wrong with you?”
I got depressed, and researched studying abroad. The stock markets were good that year and my mother managed to earn enough money that my parents agreed to fund me studying abroad in Peru for one semester.
A semester that changed my life. It was there, in Peru that I fell in love with life in Japan through the Blog of a female friend I had met in the anime club. She had joined the JET program and wrote about her life there.
I also had become close friends with one of the Japanese Study Abroad students at my university.
I was sitting in the computer lab of my university in Peru when I had a revelation.
I realized that I wanted to live in Japan.
The JET program has a lengthy application process. Few are selected for the interview, and even fewer are selected for the program. I hated every minute of that paperwork, every damn minute of it. I especially detested the Letters of Recommendation.
After checking every detail for even the slightest mistake, I sent off my package and waited. I waited for months until I received an email and a letter notifying me that I had received an interview.
I was ecstatic, over the moon. This was my chance. A peer of mine was also selected and we carpooled to Houston together for our interviews.
Walking into that interview my legs felt ready to buckle and my heart thudded fast. I could hardly breath. Somehow I calmed down and sat in my seat before three interviewers — one former JET and two Japanese representatives. They asked me questions about my Statement of Purpose, and my philosophy on teaching. They asked what I thought was my greatest weakness and what I thought was my greatest strength.
The question that changed everything was, “What is the most important quality for a teacher to possess in your opinion?”
I answered, “Patience. Patience with yourself and patience with the students.”
From their body language and the smiles that tugged at the corners of their mouth I knew I had nailed the answer.
Of course, that did nothing to assure me I had been accepted. I waited for months to learn if I had passed. I wondered what I would do if they declined me. I was close to graduation. I could try again the year after or a I could go to Japan by other programs.
If they had not accepted me, I would never have met my husband. I would likely not be living in Japan. I didn’t know how much my whole life hinged on their decisions.
They chose me. I received an email while at work. I cannot describe in words how overcome with happiness I was in that moment. I had never wanted anything so bad before in my life. Everything I had wanted before always seem to go to another.
The friends I wanted chose others.
The guys I wanted chose others.
The jobs I wanted chose others.
This time they chose me.
Arrival In Japan
It was a thrilling time. I called my dad and told him the news. He was so proud. My mother was so anxious. “Would I be okay in Japan?” she asked.
The semester passed in a blur. Japan was on my mind. Where would they send me? Would I live near Tokyo? In the countryside? Would I meet a cold-but-sweet-inside Japanese guy like in the shoujo comics?
Everything felt alive and vivid in those days. I sold off much of my stuff, tragically my Final Fantasy 7 game. I began saving and planning out what I would need in Japan. I would burst into a random fit of giggles in the oddest of places.
Finally, the day of departure came and I said my goodbyes to my family and kid brother. My dad drove me to the airport to meet the JET leader who would fly with us to Japan. We were only allowed two large suitcases, a carry-on, and one small bag. I crammed my whole life in those suitcases.
I don’t remember who I chatted with for most of the flight, but she was also a JET. They seated us all together. We never met again after that flight. Upon arrival in Tokyo, we went to the Keio which is located in the heart of Shinjuku.
I remember a world of light and color. Texas had nothing like the center of Tokyo. It was alive and humming with the beat of a city. I shared my room in the hotel with another JET as we went through two days of training before being shipped off to our assigned prefectures.
It was there in my prefecture group that I met a new friend, one I’d do everything with in Japan. She ended up living in driving distance of me. We spent weekends meeting for karaoke and going to theme cafes. It was a dazzling time.
I met an old friend in my prefecture, the one from the anime club who inspired me to go to Japan in the first place. She would also be part of the reason I’d meet my husband.
Love and Marriage
I had a vision of myself going clubbing and dating. I had hardly dated in college. Now I was near Tokyo and it was time to go wild. Or so I thought.
I met my husband within three months of moving to Japan at a coffee shop. We exchanged no information, but three days later, while meeting my old and new friend for nabe, we passed a Starbucks coffee. I saw him through the window and suddenly abandoned my friends while they were in mid-sentence without a word why.
My heart pounded as I ran up to him and asked, “Do you remember me?”
He turned around and broke into a smile.
“Of course. I never forgot you.”
Our moment was broken when my friends followed me inside, asking, “What’s going on?” I introduced him, and he quickly offered to buy all of us drinks if we had a moment.
They looked impressed by his manners. (Back then, he dressed well. Now he dresses in sweater vests and looks so plain, but he used to spend big on fashion.)
My old friend winked at me and said, “Well done.”
I reddened and said, “W-we’re just friend.”
She gave a loud, “Uh-huh. Friends.”
And the rest became history.
My family and I almost died in a flood.
After I finished with the JET program, I returned to Texas. My husband and I entered into a long-distance relationship for about a six month period until I returned to Japan.
A month after my return, a hurricane hit Texas and moved tons of rain inland. That night the sleepy creek near our home roared like the Mississippi. I heard a sound at the front door and got up to me my dad standing there, staring at me in horror.
“The water’s coming,” he said.
Then lightening flashed out and I saw a wall of water heading straight for our house. My dad slammed shut the door. I raced into my room, throwing everything into my suitcase as my kid brother helped me rush my few belongings upstairs.
My mother and older brother rushed out into knee-deep water to save the dogs and free them from their kennels. They carried them to the house and we herded them upstairs into the bathroom.
Then she and my older brother went for the cats, but the water was waist-deep and rising fast. Three feet of water slammed into the front door and it buckled. My dad shouted from the upstairs window, searching desperately for my mom as our house became an island.
I was watching the door from the staircase when it exploded open and the water sloshed inside sweeping up the living room, the dining room, and turning our house into the inside of a washing machine.
My mother and brother were swept inside and slammed into the back wall like dolls thrown against the wall. We rushed down to help pull them up the staircase. Both looked in shock and were soaked to the bone.
The water kept rising, passing the landing and inching closer and closer to the top of the second floor. I felt sure I would die, I would never get to say goodbye to my boyfriend. He was probably in Japan at work with no idea the woman he wanted to marry was about to die along with her family.
These were the thoughts that filled my head in that moment as I listened and watched for signs of our home buckling from the force of the flood. I began to cry. I couldn’t believe this might be the end of all of us, of my whole family. There was nowhere to run.
The phones were down. Only 911 worked and they told my dad they were overwhelmed.
Thankfully, the water stopped rising just as it was half a foot below the banister of the upper floor. Then it began to recede and I started to believe we would survive.
Hours later, it dropped down to only a foot high in our house. Our home remained in the center of a small lake. Rescue workers came in rubber boots with rubber rafts and asked if we wanted to leave.
My dad said, “Hell yes.”
With our dogs, we sat in the boats as they carried us from my parent’s home.
The Earth Moves
A few months after the floods, I returned to Japan with my kid brother in tow. We had plans. We were going to sightsee. We arrived on March 7th, 2011.
Then this happened:
The Great Tohoku Earthquake was the first earthquake was my kid brother ever experienced in his life.
When it started, I reassured him not to panic. I told him it was a tremor, then all hell broke loose. A dish shattered in the kitchen and the staff screamed. Suddenly, everyone look terrified.
We grabbed onto our booth seats for dear life as the ground swayed beneath us. It was hard to stay steady as we went for the entrance to get out of the restaurant. Neither of us had any idea a tsunami was coming. It was two days before we even knew there had been a tsunami.
Life in Japan had become a nightmare.
Fire, Water, Earth, and Air (I didn’t mention the tornado) seemed to be after me. We were unwilling players in Disaster Bingo.
We caught a ride with a former co-worker to get my fiance’s home. There was no power, no phones, and no internet. We waited in lines for food and water. We ate cold curry from the instant packs. It tasted horrible.
Our neighbors let us use their solar panels to power a heater and cook some food. That helped a lot with our spirits. Finally, the power came back after two days and we learned of the tsunami, of the devastation.
In the dead of night, on fumes (there was no fuel) my husband drove us to a bus stop where a bus would take us to Tokyo. From there we caught a Shinkansen to Kyoto and stayed there for the next two weeks. My parents gave me the green light to pay for my room with their credit card.
My brother and I went ahead and saw the sights in western Japan. Many Japanese cried and thanked us for staying. Many of the inns and services had lost all their customers. Normally, thriving tourist stops were dead as a doornail.
The streets of Kyoto had never been so empty. We got to see everything without having to wait anywhere. The only time that’s ever happened to me in Japan.
As Japan recovered, my husband and I decided to marry.
A Wedding Miracle
After the floods that ravaged my parents’ home came a drought that turned the land to dust. Farmers sold most of their castle and prayed for rain day after day. The Lakes shrunk to ponds throughout Texas.
Japan was in the middle of recovery.
My husband and I flew to Texas in the autumn. We would only be there for two days and three nights for our wedding at my mother’s church. The day we arrived an overcast darkened the Texas skies.
Nobody believed the forecasters when they said “30% chance of rain”. They had heard all that before and the rain never came.
But something was different the day we arrived. The wind kicked up and the air smelled like rain. People would look up, shake their head, and say “It won’t happen”.
Now this part of my story might be the most fantastic to believe, but it happened.
I got up that early morning so my mother could drive me to the hair salon. Overhead, the sky blackened and rumbled. People kept looking up around us with anxious looks. When we entered the salon, the staff and customers were looking out the window.
No sooner had my veil been wound in my hair and the last pin put in place then there came a crack of thunder that shook the salon. What happened next was surreal. God turned on the spigot, because it fell in a downpour.
The workers paused and started to laugh. Everyone watched in wonder. It was raining. The rain had come.
All I could think though was, “Sh**, my hair.”
They gave me a plastic bag and an umbrella. I ran out in that storm, feeling like I was running through a waterfall, as my mom raced to unlock her car. Then we headed for the chapel.
My mom had this owlish look and kept saying, “It’s a miracle. It’s raining.”
By the time we reached the church, the rain had lessened to a mist. People were by the entrance, clapping and cheering at the sight of mud. There hadn’t been mud in a long, long time.
They told me that it was an old myth in Texas that if it rained on the bride the day of her wedding she could become very rich. They told me, “You bring good luck.”
I don’t know about that…
As we read our vows and said “I do” our words were sometimes punctuated by dying thunder. At our reception, the farmers joked, “Would you mind getting married again next month as well? We could use more rain. We’ll make a fund.”
And that’s how I became a “Lucky” Texas Bride.
Well, I don’t know if I’d could my life lucky.