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The Asian American Literary Review

Compartment Comportment - Part 3

>> Part 2

It was not for lifestyle reasons that we weren’t married. Even today, I’m unsure as to what the holdup really was all about, though I know it has something to do with the nemesis of all modern and sophisticated women who outwardly abhor Kate Hudson’s latest bridal film while hoping to cement a relationship as “committed.” Why did I never issue an ultimatum? He was beautiful, smart and kind and I loved him and he gave me plenty of space and time to work out my “writing thing” which past boyfriends, hungry to cement their lifestyles as “normal,” had not always done. I am not the ultimatum-issuing type because it isn’t something I would ever accept from anyone else.

Our professional friends—bankers and consultants—thought we’d been cohabitating for a little bit too long, but chalked up the delay to free-spiritedness while occasionally letting me know they felt sorry for me. Again my gay friends stalwartly defended my right to be unmarried. I appreciated the support, but felt like a fake; I wasn’t unmarried for political reasons. I rarely shared my complete feelings on the subject with anyone because I thought that everyone was right.

But understanding everyone’s point of view can start to mean that you don’t have one of your own. Now the Japanese way of vagueness, the beauty of “no category” was starting to make me impatient. The subversive humor I’d enjoyed in playing the hotel game, and blending in a crowd in Kyoto to get a discounted cab fare, were all a cheap substitution for definition. I turned to my boyfriend and asked: could he not just end my suffering?

“Your family should just be happy that you are happy,” he said.
“They don’t think the way you do.”
“We can’t get married just for other people,” he rightly pointed out.

And there in the quagmire I stayed.

* * * * *

Except, reader, I married him. Who knows what inner mechanism slid into place so his heart shifted from loving me to wanting to marry me? What a relief it was for my mother to be able to tell her father, now 95, that in fact her daughter had had a boyfriend all along, and would be getting married. “Just in time to have children,” he said. Our wedding would fuse our various traditions: American, European and Japanese. There would be kilts and kimonos, bagpipes and jazz, and bridesmaids wearing whatever shade of red they wanted.

A few months before the wedding, Hiro called with an emergency. “Ohno has made a mistake with the laundry.” The casualty: one limited edition summer 2007 Ralph Lauren Rugby polo shirt. It had been purchased on a trip to Honolulu, and though Hiro and Ohno had called the Ralph Lauren stores in Hawaii and Tokyo, there was no replacement. Could I help? Two JPEGs were immediately beamed to my computer via the magical Internet that connects my clunky PC to their sleek Japanese cell phones.

I scoured ebay. Every day, sometimes several times a day, I ran the same search. Once I was tempted to offer to buy the shirt from a guy wearing it on the subway, then remembered Hiro’s aversion to anything used. After two months, the shirt turned up on ebay and I pounced. I expected Hiro to be elated, and he sounded pleased on the phone, but not nearly as excited as I had anticipated.

A few days later, Hiro called again and confessed that his frustration with Ohno’s careless laundry technique had just been a symptom of a greater problem. The real source of the tension? Hiro was finding it difficult to persuade Ohno not to attend our wedding. His reasoning went something like this.

My mother was angry at him.
My mother did not know he was gay.
If Ohno came to the wedding, it would be obvious they were partners.
And eventually our mothers would meet face to face.
“She will tell my mother the truth,” Hiro sighed. “Why would she protect me? She doesn’t even like me.”

Despite this, Ohno refused to skip our wedding. He loved travel. He loved us. He’d never get to see another real American-style wedding again. I listened and sympathized with them both. For once my American self won over and I insisted that Ohno be allowed to attend.

“He can just be another friend,” I said. “One that I met in Japan that summer when we all went to the matsuri.”

My fiancé agreed. There had to be some limit to how Japanese we were all going to be at a wedding taking place in California. Outnumbered and, I suspect, in deference to me, Hiro finally relented.

* * * * *

Invariably, the gay men from New York who attended our wedding guessed the nature of Hiro and Ohno’s relationship. What gave it away? Perhaps it was the fact that Hiro arrived on the beach in California with a home-baked cake in a box wrapped in a beautiful blue and gold textile (which he gave to me). Or perhaps it was the methodical way in which Ohno photographed Hiro at every key moment of the festivities: (piñata, sunset, ‘smores). “Why aren’t they out?” asked my New York friends.

I tried in vain to explain the complex social ramifications of not only being gay but crossing an ocean and carrying your identity with you. Hiro, I said, was trying to save my mother from a potentially embarrassing situation.

All the drama could be solved, they insisted, if Hiro just came out to his family.

I gave an abbreviated version of Hiro’s background and his place in Japanese society, but this did not go over well with the Americans. The gay men they knew were out and proud. What was with this wimpy, furtive Japanese guy? At best, some found it fascinating that a country as wealthy and developed as Japan could have such backward pockets of thought mixed in with Pikachu and the bullet train. They turned the story of Hiro and Ohno into a game.

“Is Hiro gay?” asked one.
“Ohno!” another wagged a finger.
“Is that Hiro’s boyfriend?”

The stress of being found out plagued Hiro throughout that weekend. “She knows, doesn’t she?” It was late in the evening when the ceremony was over. I looked over at my mother. She was radiant in her white, red and gold kimono. I thought to myself, as I often do these days, how age and a slight frailty have refined her vivacious, mischievous face into an elegant and heartbreaking beauty. I doubt I will be so lucky.

“She’s spent over thirty years in America,” I said. “Don’t you think that she has secrets she has to keep when she goes to Japan?”

He pondered this. “But when she has to look my mother in the eye . . .”

“She’s your friend,” I insisted.

* * * * *

The final day of the wedding weekend, my parents hosted a brunch. We served Hiro’s cake, hyping it up as having been smuggled through customs. He’d used California oranges and Japanese chestnuts, a testament to the international flavor of the occasion. The other Japanese guests piled envelopes festooned with origami cranes and red and gold ribbon on the dining room table. Later, when most of the guests had left, my mother and I opened up the envelopes. They were filled with money.

“I told you that when you got married that you would get rich.” Her nimble fingers flew through a stack of 10,000 yen notes as she jotted down the amounts and the name of the gift-giver in a notebook. For her, there was nothing incongruous about engaging in such a practical task on such a personal day.

“It’s a lot of money.” Secretly, I was relieved to have some cash to help defray the cost of our wedding, which, as is often the case with these things, was more expensive than anticipated.

“Yes, well,” she sighed, “traditionally, we have to give half of this back.”
“That’s why I’m writing everything down.”
How, exactly, were we to return so many thousands of dollars?

She wrinkled up her tiny, enviably slim nose. “Not as money, silly,” she chastised me in Japanese. “We give back half the value. Presents. Dinners. But I’ve already taken care of that for you. I paid for their hotel rooms.” She handed me the pile of cash. “Here you go. Use this when you visit Ohno and Hiro in Japan. You can take them out to dinner.”

 “About that . . .”

She waved her hand dismissively. “Hiro seems much happier now than when he was in New York. Ohno has been good for him.” Then she looked a little sad. “It’s too bad his mother will never know. He at least keeps in touch with her though, doesn’t he?”

“Yes,” I said, for he had recently told me as much.

“That’s good. No matter what, you always have to keep in touch with your parents.” She counted the pile of cash one more time, and began to prepare a pile of thank you notes for me to write.

(The End)

* * * * *

* “Compartment Comportment” will be published in The Asian American Literary Review, Issue 1 (April 2010). AALR is a not-for-profit literary arts journal, a showcase of the best of today’s Asian American literature. To learn more about the journal or purchase a subscription, visit at, or find it on Facebook.

© 2010 Marie Mutsuki Mockett

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The Asian American Literary Review is a space for writers who consider the designation “Asian American” a fruitful starting point for artistic vision and community. In showcasing the work of established and emerging writers, the journal aims to incubate dialogues and, just as importantly, open those dialogues to regional, national, and international audiences of all constituencies. It selects work that is, as Marianne Moore once put it, “an expression of our needs…[and] feeling, modified by the writer’s moral and technical insights.”

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