When I lived on Sado Island, on the 500 year-old estate known as Jinzo, I was for the most part house-bound by my duties. I was the caregiver of the dying matriarch, my husband’s grandmother “Ba-chan,” who was in her eighty-eighth year— a milestone marked by two Chinese characters that resemble two Mt. Fujis side by side . . . a lucky one.
It was a rare occasion then that I left our expansive property. With a temple, tea house, graveyard and gardens galore I generally wanted for nothing, but on one particular day I had a hankering for something tasty from the supaa (market) and I decided to duck out while Ba-chan napped. Because my husband did not trust his own mother to care for the old woman, I was always on guard.
In order to save time I decided to take the household bicycle. The ride down our foothill would be a speedy coast.
It should be stated that bicycles and I don’t mix. It isn’t that I can’t ride them well enough, but since my childhood accident there have been moments . . . close calls . . .caused by my poor eyesight I believe, as by that accident I have just one eye.
It was a fine summer day when I left The House of Jinzo’s drive for, as I recall, some fermented beans if all things. As I neared town, feeling free and fast, a breeze took the hat I foolishly wore to be fashionable and as I tried to save it my feet slipped, caught the asphalt and I flipped. Bloody from head to toe, I picked myself up and limped to a nearby business. My husband was pulled from the class he was teaching at the high school down the street to take me to the town hospital. My face was skinned from forehead to chin and one of my knees was gouged to the point of missing a good bit of its cap, but there were no broken bones.
That evening it so happened that we had a date to meet with a local businessman—the president of the Lions club or something similar. He was looking for us to translate tourist brochures and help with promotion of the island. As enticer the man was planning to take us out and to a pub and later to his second home for a meal he had pre-arranged. Although I looked horrible and felt worse, it was decided that we should proceed with the event.
I cannot express just how painful it was sitting at a low table for hours, bruised and battered, while the men drank beer and sake into the wee hours— ultimately requiring that we take a taxi home. Mid-way, unable to keep the tempura down, my husband asked the driver to pull over. Once home and in bed, I could not sleep for the pain and the constant, exaggerated sound of dry heaving echoing from the toilet closet down the hall.
The next day I was so stiff. Isn’t it always true that the next day after an accident you feel worse? And so it was. My husband had told me not to remove any bandages without him and so while he slept off his bender I waited. Finally after lunch he was ready to have a look.
Dirt was embedded in my cheek that could not be scrubbed out. Rubbing alcohol was chosen treatment. As for my knee, the bandage had become stuck to the wound. My husband elected not to remove it and poured the burning liquid over the top.
I was instructed by my self-appointed physician (who was not medically trained) to leave the gauze be; if I were to mess with it, he warned, I would have a permanent scar. Instead, he would pour alcohol daily over my knee and we would wait for the wound to release the bandage on its own. In my heart I knew this was a mistake. Blind in one eye and scarred from my childhood accident, I did not want another. My legs were one of my better features.
At this point in my relationship with this man it was rare for me to speak up in my defense, but this time I did using a small, innocent voice.
“Why?” I asked softly, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave the bandage.”
“Because, if you take it off you will pull the skin and then you will get a scar.”
I was certain this was not the right way to treat a wound. One more time I tried to explain.
“Please. If you don’t want to remove the bandage I can work on it. I’ll pull little by little. I’ll be careful.”
My husband was emphatic. “No I said! If you take it off and you get a big scar it will be your fault. You already have too many scars don’t you? What are you thinking? Don’t be so stupid!”
And so, every day for several weeks, I received my alcohol treatment poured atop the very same bandage the hospital had applied. When an edge of the gauze pad appeared to have lifted from the wound, my husband would use nail clippers and trim away the excess. So attentive was the doctor that when my knee appeared to be getting more and more tender, he made a makeshift plastic protector that he strapped over the mess of dried blood and ragged pad. It looked ridiculous but I wore the contraption as directed.
It was while I was living with the gauze pad embedded in my knee that there was a noticeable downturn in Ba-chan’s condition. She was refusing to eat and slept constantly. When we reported her symptoms to the nursing home doctor he told us we should admit her again. As I had done months earlier when she was confined, it was once more up to me to drive down the narrow hillside roads and cross the valley to the her facility. I was to stay from lunch through dinner.
Not long after I began my daily treks across the valley to feed Ba-chan, one of the nurses with whom I was acquainted noticed that I now walked with distinct limp. By this time it had been nearly many weeks since I had fallen, and despite being doused with alcohol daily an infection had ensued. Looking closely she was clearly horrified to find the remaining gauze attached; my skirt hem stained from the discharge.
Such was obedience during those Bonsai years when my voice was small—fearful of repercussions. The gauze, still visible, a reminder.