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Personal Essay | Hard to Swallow

By Polly Beckmon

Note: the following is a personal essay and as such reflects personal views of the author.

The terrible news felt like a punch in the stomach; it knocked the wind out of me. The blow catapulted my memory back to a Japanese restaurant thousands of miles from home. During happier times, six months ago, I had sat perched on a barstool at the Choshimaru Sushi Bar. My son Alain and his buddy John were seated on either side of me.

“This place has the best sushi in Narita,” Alain declared.

“Is the fish served raw, cooked, or alive?” I turned to look into his eyes, worry plastered over my face.

“All three,” John told me, “Including ikezukuri.”

“Alive?” I asked, rubbing my neck. “The third option?”

“Right.” John nodded his head with a teasing smile of what could arrive on my plate.

The offerings sailed by on a conveyer belt right before my eyes – small plates in a channel circulating the bar. Quite a novelty! Alain spoke to a server and a cold beer appeared in front of me.

“How about starting with some shrimp tempura, Mom? That’s fried.”

He plucked a plate from the conveyer belt. I tasted it. “Gee whiz! Delicious! How do you say that in Japanese?”

Oishi,” both boys answered in chorus.

“Hey, birth giver.” Alain flashed a big smile. “Did you hear that President Obama’s gonna visit Hiroshima in a couple of weeks? They love him here.”

“Man, I wish I could go!” John chimed in, “It’s the first time an elected U.S. president’s set foot on Japanese soil since the bombing.”

Alain snatched a roll smelling of salmon from the belt with his chopsticks, dangling it in front of my mouth. I took a nibble and chewed fast. The rice tamed the flavor. I swallowed hard.

My son used the chopsticks with ease. “You two expats eat like the Japanese.”

“Better than McDonalds and flaming hot Cheetos.” Alain shook his head. “Remember how I used to love eat to that crap back in the states?”

I nodded. “Say, I’ve got a question for you two,” I started. “How do you go about voting in the upcoming election?”

“Gotta look into that, Mom,” Alain said. “But, your son here supports Bernie Sanders,” he said, pounding his chest. “Who knows if the Dems’ll pick him over Hillary.”

“So disgusting,” I remarked, shaking my head vehemently as John placed a second plate of who-knows-what in front of me.

“What is?” He pursed his lips. “It’s steamed eel. The sauce perks it up.”

“No, John,” I said, blurting out my fear. “It’s disgusting thinking that The Donald might be the Republican nominee.”

“Why, I’d be gobsmacked if he got elected.” John’s face was a mask of disbelief.

I struggled to swallow the slimy-textured eel, choosing to wash it down with a gulp of beer.

As their images faded away, at a late hour on election night, I heard John’s final words echoing in my ears. I tried to get my breath, struggling with the news: Mr. Trump. President elect.

On November ninth, the day after the election, I dragged myself out of bed, suffering from sleep deprivation. Seeking consolation, in a daze, I threw on my duds, fueled by the need to visit my 96-year-old mother; grief chief par excellence.

But, as I flew out the door, I stopped in my tracks, whispering, “Mother’s been dead since December.”

I longed to be next to her. To sit by a warm fireplace, eating a bowl of homemade beef stew, heartened by the common-sense wisdom she provided.

Mom lived through The Depression, World War II, and seventeen sitting presidents. A new president deserves a chance to run his administration. I remembered her words. The Bob Dylan song, Blowin’ in the Wind came to mind, with each of its deepening questions. Was I trying to fix myself since she was no longer there? I hummed a few bars and sang… “oh why, oh why did Trump win?”

Later that day I sipped a mug of sweet chai latte in the sunroom.

Calming my nerves.

I nestled in a comfy leather lounge chair with memories of first grade, 1952 ushered in on sunbeams that poured through the window. Twenty-five little squirts faced the flag; right hands on their hearts.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”

Miss Engstrom, sixtyish, prayed:

“Oh, bless the children in the classroom. Please help President Eisenhower to bring peace and prosperity.”

Next, seat work got assigned and she called back my small reading group, the bluebirds.

Miss Engstrom chose me to read first from the primer, Dick and Jane.

“Go Spot, go,” I read correctly, trying to please her. “Run Dick, run. It is fun to run.”

Recalling how life had changed in sixty-four years, I sipped my soothing beverage. Back then, girls didn’t wear pants. There was no television at my house. Our Presidents were respected regardless of party affiliation. No one shouted: Make America Great Again.

The United States held a grand status in the world.

And hadn’t it helped Europe defeat Nazi Germany? Bring Japan to its knees?

We went out to recess, swung on the swings, climbed the monkey bars, played jacks. A happy-go-lucky time. Reminiscing sparked an intriguing question: What was Donald Trump’s childhood in the fifties like?

I grabbed my smart phone, Googled it. An article from the Washington Post appeared on the screen.

A juicy tidbit.

“No way,” I murmured. I read about a shared second grade memory. “Punched a music teacher?” I read more, and mused aloud. “A black eye? Almost got him expelled?”

I found out later his story might well have been all an exaggeration, or even an outright lie. But what would have been worse, socking an adult? Anger control issues? Or lying about that to begin with? And at such a young age.

Of course, what parent won’t break a child, in one form or another? The question is, do our personalities break for the stronger or the weaker?

A little devil prodded me to make mischief.

I created my own Dick and Jane story.

I pretended to read like in first grade.

“Oh no! Look at Donny. He is mad.” I giggled. “Donny hit the teacher. Run, Donny, run!” I doubled over in laughter. Donny is very mad.

Now, I feel as if I am hanging by my knees on a question mark, trying not to lose my grip. I’m mad. Enough to cuss out loud.

All wholesomeness has been stripped from me. “It’s a farce,” I say.

Perhaps it’s time to pack my misgivings, fly off to Japan, soak naked in an onsen bath house.

Steam out the anger.

My country has a black eye for the entire world to see.

Recess is over. Trump’s brutal campaign resembled a back-street brawl. I’m really scared that the Donald will dice, slice, and chop away at the country. A country we both, in our babyhoods, pledged allegiance to. I’m afraid. Perhaps we all are.

 

 

Polly Beckmon is a bilingual educator, author of ESL books for children, and recipient of The Golden Apple Award for teaching excellence. Retired from a career at the American School Foundation, Mexico City and Santa Fe Public Schools, New Mexico, presently she devotes time to writing stories centering around multiculturalism.

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1 Comment on Personal Essay | Hard to Swallow

  1. Well done, Polly. I do think we are better off if we maintain a positive attitude as best we can.

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