About three weeks after our daughter’s passing, Danith had to travel to Japan for a conference where he was a keynote speaker. He insisted that it would be good for me to get away, so at the last minute, we booked a ticket for me. In my oversized white purse that I doubled as a carry-on, I packed my iPad, a book, and one of our daughter’s blankets.
That summer, Danith and I were well into our 15th year of marriage. Before our nuptials, we’d been together for six years. We share goals, values, and principles. But we are also different. Whereas he is mostly a reserved and thoughtful man, I tend to be quick to act and react. He would wait two days before sending a questionable email; I would wait two minutes. My happiness, along with my trove of emotions, comes in bulk. My heart dictates love and anger. He calls it my fire. He was concerned that our daughter’s passing would extinguish this fire. He was concerned that I would no longer be myself.
The conference took place in Himeji City, where the white Himeji Castle stands. It is a grand and majestic castle, designed to resemble a heron and landscaped with cherry blossom trees and even a moat. Even people who have not set foot in Japan have seen it, as it was a filming location for The Last Samurai. In the morning, down in the hotel’s restaurant, Danith and I would eat breakfast of rice, salted salmon, and tsukemono. Then, before he would leave to walk to the convention center for his meetings, he would ask me to visit the revered castle. “Promise me that you won’t stay cooped up in the room,” he would say. I would smile and tell him not to worry about me.
Danith had taken to calling our daughter Daffy as soon as my belly had begun to burgeon. Even though our intention had been to name her Daphne, he prefers to think that “Daffy” is reminiscent of daffodils. When I delivered her and the nurse asked for her name, we decided that she would remain Daffy to us. One reason I had agreed to accompany Danith to Japan was that of its many temples. So on my first afternoon alone, I approached the Visitor’s Center and requested a map. With Daffy’s blanket safe inside my purse, I traversed the main and backstreets of Himeji for temples. Some stood on mountains, others were in a park or on the grounds of the Hemiji Castle or were situated a block from an elementary school, and some were tucked away in the backyard of residential homes. At each temple I encountered, I offered a small monetary donation, sounded the bronze gongs, and fished out our daughter’s blanket that her stillborn body had once been wrapped in. The cream felt measures about a foot long on each side, and on one edge of it is a dot of her blood, which was once a reddish brown but is now a tannish color, and will one day fade completely. With Daffy’s blanket to my face, I spoke her name and prayed for her return.
On the last day of the conference, saddled with our luggage, Danith and I rode the train to Osaka City, where we would depart for home the next morning. Osaka, with its busy traffic, a train station that took us 30 minutes to exit, high-end restaurants, street corners of protestors, multiple-storied malls, and chicly decorated storefronts, resembled Time Square. After we checked into our hotel room, we decided to gallivant the metropolis. Danith hadn’t changed out of his suit, and I chose to stay in my navy shift dress.
The evening in Osaka quickly turned into night, bringing with it the cool night air. Lights from the malls and hotels blazed the streets. Everyone, except for us, was in a hurry to reach their destination. It began to mist. I turned my eyes up at the lights around us and could discern the tiny specks of rain. The drops weren’t even large enough to dampen my hair. They were merely morning dew spraying my bare shoulders. I grabbed onto Danith’s arm and soon became giddy. I felt safe. I felt free. We were young and handsomely dressed. I felt we were living a storybook paragraph. But just as the bulk of happiness was about to overtake me, I remembered that our daughter was gone. The reminder of our baby’s death, and the finality of it, was like a collar around my neck that was being yanked and sending me to a sudden and abrupt halt. I let go of Danith’s arm. Not only had Daffy changed our lives, but our lives would be permanently changed. Our happiness would never be an overabundance again. Or even whole again. My fire would never be as fierce.