Japan Stories -
8-29-14 Comments on this story cut from Thank You and OK! (1994)
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April 20, 1990 - LOSING BALANCE
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Often I bike up the street to the dead end where I gear down and hop onto the dirt trail which goes up to a reservoir filled with runoff from the woods. There begin the winding paths behind the shrine-topped hill. These days I go slower than I used to, especially near the driving school when I approach the ten foot wide mizo that I fell into peddling cavalierly one day.
I had been freely weaving through this charming maze of paths behind the streets when I swooped onto the narrow white granite slab that bridged the mizo. Looking down as I sought to right my balance, I instantly realized I'd leaned too much too soon to be able to make the left turn a split second away on the other side. I needed a place to set my foot but I was too close to the edge and there was no solid matter to meet the sole.
For years as I biked around I had imagined falling into a mizo, into the foul muddy water full of trash and the homogenized grey and black mixture of home discharge and mountain runoff. I would mention it to Elin as we rode along together, possibly adding a morbid subplot such as being impaled by a semisubmerged protruding umbrella. Elin claimed she never had thoughts like that, that it was my naughty gene at work again. She said it was especially devilish when I'd involve others in the plot, like when I would look at her with furrowed brows over intense eyes as we stood on our driveway's bridge over the mizo in front of our home pretending I was taking a picture.
"Move back just a little more darling, just a little more," I'd say and then laugh fiendishly.
"Naughty gene," she would answer shaking her head.
My murky fancies might include an old lady sweeping at mizo's edge in front of her house or an innocent child throwing rocks in as we peddled by. "One well-placed kick," I might suggest on the approach, zeroing in and positioning the foot. Maybe it's a male thing. On Kelly's last visit we shared a few dark secrets and found that we both harbored dreadful beckoning images of toppling into mizos and submerging in slime.
In that extended hovering instant, however, when I actually was about to go down, I was truly disappointed not to see those dirty depths but only a thin film of water and sludge covering the cement bottom faraway from my eyes.
This is no daydream - it's real... oh no, no... this will not happen. That's too far... I searched for redress, for another chance, for alternatives, for a more pleasing reality, but each report came back with the same undeniable conclusion: that I was falling where I had delighted to fear. As much as I dreaded the prospect, I was beyond the point of no return and could only prepare to land. I thought of John Wayne in The High and the Mighty, then gave my power to the little boy asleep in the back of the plane. Angels assisted my automatic pilot. Then the heavy thud of contact. The turkey had landed.
I lay there motionless, seemingly imbedded, afraid to move, rolled my face up higher and spit out effluent. I probed: the fingers worked, the right arm moved, no bad signs so far. I had hit solidly on my left shoulder and thigh. Slowly I moved the bike off my body and got up on my knees. Nothing seemed to be broken. With effort I could stand though I was dizzy. Mild shock, but I could tell I wouldn't faint. I spit again. My right eye was dripping. I wiped it - blood, blood falling into the mizo from my eye and next to that more blood pouring from my ankle. It was torn open. There were deep holes leading to the gash - spoke marks. Only the bike had hurt me, not the hard bottom - ironic. Weak. Get the bike out. No one around. The street was head height. Somehow I managed to thrust the bike over the edge and climb out.
Why didn't I get out on the other side? Back over the same bridge, leaning on and moving the bicycle toward home, aching and in a daze. After five minutes of dazed, slow trudging I found an old lady in back of her house putting underclothes in her miniwasher. I must have been a frightening sight, large, foreign, and covered in sludge and blood from feet to face, torn shirt, using my bicycle as a walker. It took her a moment to gather herself enough to get her husband to come out. He called Elin. I could hear him say "accident" and "injured." I yelled out from the fence that I was okay, hoping she could hear me from the distance over the phone.
How sweet and concerned she was when she found me. We walked our bikes home slowly. She wanted to call an ambulance but I insisted I could make it. Now that I didn't need anyone, people were everywhere, coming out of their houses, worried, questioning, obliging us to stop and explain what had happened, that we needed no assistance, that everything was alright. I was too dizzy not to stop and answer them. At home Elin bathed me, dressed me in clean clothes and walked me to ever-helpful Ishitaki's waiting car. She drove us to a nearby clinic. Still dazed, I gazed at Elin's horrified face as the doctor repeatedly stuck the needle in my ankle, cut away at and cleaned my wound, and sewed it up.
The following week I proudly showed my ankle stitches, eye patch and massive thigh and shoulder bruises to the Monday Morning Class. To me they were like decorations of valor, proof that I had been to hell and back. From the kitchen Elin suggested I pull my pants back up which I did.
"I thought Buddhist's were supposed to be mindful," said Etsuko. "Don't you learn that from zazen?"
"Where'd you get that?" I asked her. It didn't sound like a Japanese approach to Buddhism.
"One of the French monks at the temple next door told me." I remembered she sometimes went to the Sunday Zazenkai. "He said that if one practices Zen correctly that one doesn't have accidents."
"That's pretty idealistic... but, but of course I should have paid more attention," I acknowledged, irritated with the direction of the conversation.
"Then I have an excuse," said Morikawa-san, "because I'm not a believer. I fell in a mizo as a young lady when I slipped on ice. After that I went home and took a hot bath."
I was immediately upstaged by everyone's mizo stories and had to listen rather than explain. What to me had been a singular experience, to them was no more than another initiation.
"My daughter fell in the shallow mizo near my liquor store two years ago," said Shimizu, his hands on his knees. "Good thing the water was low or she may have drowned."
Kubo said, "My boy rides his bicycle into the mizo by our home about once a month. I make him clean off his bicycle himself."
"This happens all the time?" I asked.
Elin stuck her head in. "Den-san, the blind nun at the temple next door, walked right into the mizo over by the pharmacy."
"Oh that's terrible," said Mrs. Morikawa, "When did that happen?"
I sat there listening to everyone elaborating on their mizo stories till the topic was exhausted and we moved on to fresh territory.
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