by Emmalynne Arita
It was December 7, 1941. I was just a 6-year-old girl when Japan bombed Hawaii. My family and I were so scared of what could happen. In fact, it was a frequent conversation at the dinner table, but daily life must go on. Some time had passed since the bombing, and we began to adjust to our new normal.
Until the bomb was dropped.
My sister and I were at the market one Sunday afternoon. I was wearing a pink dress with white stripes. It had extra poufy sleeves. I had gotten it for my 10th birthday that morning. I remember how hard my family worked so I could have that dress. My Mother and Father had worked three extra shifts just to get that dress for me.
I got three gifts that day. One from my parents, which was the dress. One from my Aunt who lived in Switzerland, a beautiful box of chocolates. And one from my sister, a silver necklace in the shape of a heart. It made it all the more special knowing that they got me presents even though the war was still ongoing. I offered to go to the market that afternoon so my parents could rest. My sister offered to go with me, so we gathered our bags and headed out the door.
At the market my sister was reading off a list of groceries. We had stepped into a corner to figure out what stall to visit next, then all the sudden…
Japan had just been bombed. The last thing I remember seeing was my sister disappearing into the smoke. Then my mind went black.
I woke up to a thread pulling through the gaping wound on my face; a small man with a neatly groomed beard was tending to my injury.
I said, “Where is she?” my voice weak and shaking. I reached for my necklace but I didn’t feel it.
The man looked frightened and confused. He looked down and said, “Where’s who?”
I struggled to say the word. “Jong.”
He looked and sounded very puzzled. “I’m concerned you may have some brain damage. I’m going to send you to the hospital.
Before I could get a response to my question, I passed out again.
When I woke up, I was in a hospital bed. The sheets were white with thin blue stripes on them. The walls were painted white with blue baseboards. It reminded me of my school. On one of the walls there was a small window with navy blue curtains. On the window sill there was a mini succulent plant. I looked down at my arm and there was an I.V. I glanced up, and I was shocked to see my parents coming through the door. My mother rushed over to me, grabbed my head, and started kissing my forehead. Then she wrapped my hand in hers and began sobbing. My father was on my other side hugging me tightly. In the spot where my parents walked in there were two suitcases that appeared to be full.
I asked wearily, “Where’s Jong?”
My mother’s quiet sobs became a guttural wailing.
My father, tears in his eyes, said “Look, sweetie, your sister is no longer with us”.
I said, “What does that mean, Daddy?” I could tell something was wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
My father wiped away tears from his eyes and told me in a sad voice, “Your sister is dead, Yuri.”
The words I said just shot out of my mouth like a bullet, “WHAT? NOOO! SHE’S NOT DEAD! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” I started screaming at the top of my lungs, sobbing hysterically. I could feel my chest heaving up and down, up and down. I was like this for about an hour until I fell into a restless sleep.
When I woke up it was dark outside. My parents were talking to a nurse. I overheard them saying something about Switzerland. My parents looked at me and excused themselves.
I said very shakily, “What’s in Switzerland?”
My mother told me “Darling, during the blast you sustained damage to your organs and the hospital here is all but wiped out and doesn’t have enough resources to heal you, but Switzerland does.” My mother added, “Plus, it’s not safe here.”
I said, “Wait. You’re coming with me, right?”
My mother looked at me with a brave face, but deep down I knew she was hurting. She put on a fake smile and said, “Darling, neither of us are coming. Your aunt is in Switzerland. It’ll be some time before you see us again, but you can telephone us.”
I stared at her in disbelief. I said, through my wailing, “Mommy, I don’t want to leave you.”
My mother looked at me and said the sweetest thing I had ever heard her say, “I won’t leave you. I’ll be with you everywhere you go. A mother’s love has no conditions, no boundaries, no limits. Every time you think of me it means you love me even though I’m far away, and every time I think of you it means I love you even though you’re far away.”
Even today, those were the sweetest words I’ve ever heard, but at ten years old they couldn’t have been more perfect.
I looked at my mother and started crying uncontrollably, “But mommy, I don’t even know what to do without you.”
My mother gave me a pained smile and said, “You have an aunt. She will take my place while I’m gone. When you come back, we will rejoice and be happy.”
I looked at my suitcase and said “If I have to go, I will ask only one thing.”
“Of course. Anything, Yuri”.
“Will you look for my necklace?” I struggled to say these words but it was the only time I could talk to my parents before I left.
My mother replied with her voice trembling “Of course sweetie.”
I was scared and sad, but I knew my mother was only doing what was best for me.
My Father looked at me and said “You’re leaving tomorrow at 10 am.”
“WHAT?” I screamed at the top of my lungs, “NO! SO SOON? WHY, WHY, WHY!!!!!”
A nurse ran into my room. “What’s wrong?”
My father begged the nurse to give me some morphine or something that would knock me out.
While she was giving me the morphine, I could hear my own screams become more and more distant until there was nothing left, only pitch darkness void of anything at all.
When I woke up, I was in a different hospital room. This one was painted yellow and had pink bunnies along the edges of the wall. The sheets this time were plain white. There was a thick blanket, a sheet made of cotton, and an uncomfortable plastic pillow. On the left of me there was an enormous window. Outside the window flew the Swiss flag.
I panicked, and started to hyperventilate.
On the desk next to me there was a note from my mother reading, “My dearest, Yuri. Your father and I miss you already. Remember, no matter how far you are I’ll always love you. Please call me every Friday. I love you to the moon and back. Also, Your aunt will be coming to see you on Friday.” I looked at the note, grasping the lifeline to my mother, and started sobbing. I wondered, what would happen to me?