Married Couple Woes is the story of Hannah and Kenji Nakamura who lost their way after years of being married. From the moment of introduction they both knew in their hearts there would be no other love for them but each other. As a married couple they began their life together in hopes that all will be well. Yet, even in a good marriage a time may come when a couple drifts apart and go their own ways. Is there ever a way back to the bond and closeness they once shared?
Hannah Nakamura ~
Hannah Nakamura tossed in her sleep, whimpering and moaning. She was dreaming, a nightmare where she was trapped in a cage and Kenji was going away. She called and called, “We are married, we are married,” but he did not hear her. She awoke with a start and sat up. It had been three days since the funeral. She rang for Haruki, her maid. “Haruki call the car around front and tell everyone I am going out for a few hours. I will be back in time for afternoon tea.”
Kyoto, Japan ~
Hannah sat on a bench overlooking the pond at Saihou-ji in Kyoto, Japan. This is where she often came when she had to clear her mind and listen to her heart. She was born in Kyoto. Her father, Musashi Tanaka, was a famous architect throughout Japan. He designed many temples, office buildings, houses and apartment complexes. Her mother, Hannah Mae Deene Tanaka was born in Virginia, United States.
Musashi and Hannah Mae met in Ithaca, New York at Cornell University. He was studying for his Masters in architecture and Hannah Mae was working on her Masters in art history and design. Five years after they married,Hannah Mae died in a car accident when Hannah was four years old. It was a devastating time for Hannah and her father. Hannah learned quickly that she had to be strong and make decisions. She took care of her father and made sure he always had his meals and teas on time. Junichi, their head house servant, taught her well in the manners and responsibilities of a woman of the household.
Now, on this very bench where her father spoke to her
about the beauty of nature and life in general, she read a letter which brought back memories. So many memories here, she thought, as her whole life began to play before her. This is where Kenji proposed to her in his dignified way with no outward sign of affection except in his deep dark eyes, then he took her hand, bowed and thanked her, promising to give her a good married life. Right here on this bench they spent so many happy hours talking of their plans and future. There were times when he was very affectionate here, then stopped when he remembered he should not show signs of weakness as his martial arts instructor had taught him.
Hannah reached out and touched the smooth wood where so many times they spent peaceful afternoons. She was unaware of the tears till they dropped on the bench, like words of love from her poems dropping on paper. Hannah closed her eyes and let the tears flow. For years of hurt and loneliness they flowed.
When she married Kenji she accepted his lack of affection and emotion, thinking he would change when he became more at ease and comfortable with her, more sure of himself as a married man.
Twenty years earlier ~
Every Thursday Hannah’s father, Musashi Tanaka, had a gathering of several close friends for dinner and an evening of conversations. Hannah joined them for dinner, sitting at the opposite end from Musashi. She was an excellent hostess and Musashi received many compliments about her. After dinner she left the men to their talk and board games and retired to her rooms, where she spent the evening writing poetry or drawing flowers with oil pencils.
On one occasion Hannah noticed that there was one more place setting at the table. Curious, she asked her father who would be the new guest. He told her that she would be introduced to him when he arrived.
Musashi approached Hannah before dinner with Daichi Nakamura and his son Kenji. When they were introduced Kenji took her hand and bowed. “It is a great pleasure to meet the beautiful daughter of such a distinguished man as Musashi Tanaka.” Hannah felt herself blushing and for a few seconds lost her composure. He was about her age and had a deep smooth voice. It was delightful for Hannah to have someone young at the usual men’s gathering. “I am honored to meet you and thank you for the compliment.” Kenji was given the place to Hannah’s right and throughout dinner they held pleasant conversation with each other.
Kenji had recently received his Masters in Engineering Technology and joined his father’s company where he would be prepared to one day take over. Hannah was impressed and congratulated him on his remarkable achievement. He was very pleased how she paid attention and listened to him, showing him respect. She is not like other young women her age whose main interest is fashion and celebrity gossip, he thought.
When dinner was over, Hannah invited him out to see the garden that her father had designed. They walked, sat on benches, and talked the whole evening, not wanting to part.
The fathers were very pleased with their plan to bring Kenji and Hannah together as a married couple. Hannah personified feminine beauty and grace. She was tall and slender with very long silky hair which was thick and lustrous. In the evenings she wore it up in back, wound in a figure eight and held in place with kanzashi (hair sticks). She was bright, soft-spoken and very attentive to the person she was talking with. She would personify a married woman.
Kenji was almost a head taller than Hannah. He was slender with broad shoulders. Hannah thought he looked very strong and he was. He worked out in a gym every day and kept up with his martial arts practice. His hair and eyes were so black and his movements so precise and smooth he reminded Hannah of a black leopard.
Much later, as she bid her father and Daichi good evening she did not notice the pleased look on their faces,her mind was full of Kenji. He was waiting for her by the door to the hall as she bid the other gentlemen good evening. He took her hand and thanked her for a pleasant evening and said, “I hope to see you again soon, Hannah Tanaka. May I call upon you for a drive this Saturday?” Hannah was delighted. “I would like that very much, Kenji Nakamura.”
Hannah continued her studies at Tokyo University of the Arts, where she received a Masters in Fine Arts, specializing in aesthetics and art history. Kenji occupied every moment of thought in her life, at night she dreamed of him. She wrote poems to him every evening before she slept. Each page of a poem had beautiful cherry blossoms on it. He would thank her kindly and take the poem home with him.
A married couple ~
Kenji and Hannah were married a year later. She could hardly believe they were now a married couple. Once they were settled in their new home the affection they had during the courtship changed to a very routine and rigid schedule. At the time she accepted this part of him, his lack of emotions – thinking he would change over time when he became more at ease and comfortable with her and married life. She yearned for the affection that would sneak through his masculine manner when they first met.
She thought the birth of their son a year after their wedding would bring out some emotion and affection in Kenji. Yet the years went by and little changed at all. He was very passionate in bed at night and their love making was always very good. She would wait all day long for that affection and passion to captivate her.
In the mornings she would awaken with the warmth and glow of their love lingering with her. Kenji had always left for work long before she awoke, so she would get up and start her daily routine. It was as if she lived in two different worlds with two different men. Her days were a boring routine of strict schedule and proper etiquette to follow. Kenji would get very upset if she deterred from the schedules he set for her and the household, especially when it came to how she raised their son, Oda. A strict father and husband during the day, at night, with the lights out, he was a passionate and caring lover. Maybe if she had not left him when Oda left for University their life might have changed, been more relaxed and enjoyable. There were too many “maybe” excuses in her life. She often wondered if private life was like this for their friends, most of them a married couple.
Hannah turned more and more to her writing and art when she had free time in late afternoons. Eventually most of her evenings were also free as Kenji devoted more time to business meetings. He was seldom home for dinner and she ate alone when he was late. Often she would go to bed without him and he would come in late and not wake her.
New York ~
Hannah decided a separation would be good for them both. Kenji seemed to be tired of her and she could no longer tolerate being ignored and left out of his life. She told him she wanted to go to New York where her mother had majored in fine arts. She would take some courses in creative writing and write a book or two, maybe publish her poems.
Kenji hid his sadness well, just as he always forbid his emotions, and agreed it would be a good thing for her to do. He loved her poems and would like to see her get published. It was hard on both of them to part, but neither backed down and Hannah left. With Oda at University in Tokyo the house had become too lonely for her. Kenji said he spent most of his time at her father’s home anyway, so he would be fine.
After one year Hannah had taken several courses and published two books of poems. She was in the process of writing a book on the simplistic beauty of Japanese home decor when she met Julienne Watkins, head of the fine arts department at the University. He told Hannah he purchased and read her poetry books and was very impressed.
They became good friends and he encouraged her to continue writing. She told Julienne her wish was to open a small publishing company and focus on books of poetry and beauty to help other women achieve their dreams of publishing their creative work. Julienne helped her by introducing her to the right people who could advise her and get her started in the business. Another year passed and Hannah saw herself as a professional woman. Her agency grew fast and was very successful. She hired a secretary, Maureen, and a small team of editors.
Her only problem was Julienne, who had fallen in love with her. She could not return that love. She did her best to maintain the friendship, but made it clear she wanted no more than that.
Follow your heart ~
Coming back to the present time, we find Hannah in her office in New York. She was going over a portfolio of a prospective client, a young woman who was enthusiastic, very creative and had a promising career ahead of her.
Maureen came into the office with a telegraph, moving more quickly than her normal careful and slow walk. Hannah looked up at her in surprise and noted the gentle caring Maureen had beneath the stoic professional persona. “There is something wrong, Maureen?”
“A telegraph, Ma’am. From your husband,” Maureen handed her the message and quickly turned around and left. Hannah knew something was wrong, for her secretary never showed her emotions, but her eyes were teary as she handed over the telegraph.
“Honorable Father Musashi Tanaka departed this world at 8:37 your time this very morning. Funeral arrangements have begun. Will you be here?” Kenji Nakamura.
Hannah’s first thought was, that is so like Kenji – always proper, serious, lacking emotion and affection. Then it hit her. Father! My Father is gone? No, no!. She started to stand up to get some tea, then felt so alone and lost. She collapsed in her chair and broke down, sobbing.
It seemed like hours she sat there, crying, unbelieving that her father was gone. She knew he had been ill and weak, but did not expect anything other than his healing. She had visited him last month and promised to come back soon to spend as much time with him as needed. His death was a great shock to her.
For the first time she could remember her mind could not function. She reached for the phone several times to call she knew not whom. Then her father’s words came back to her, the words he said to her so many times in her life. “Hannah, you will always do the right thing if you follow your heart.”
Strength from within ~
Hannah pushed the button for Maureen. “Yes, Ma’am?” The familiar, steadfast voice calmed her. “Maureen, send an answer to the telegram. “Yes – making flight arrangements now.” Hannah.
She told Maureen to make arrangements for a flight to Tokyo as soon as possible, one way, and to send flight details to Kenji. “Maureen, then call Lilly to pack my usual.” Again she reached for the phone and dialed Julienne’s number. When he answered she hesitated only a few seconds. “Julienne, I have to cancel any plans we have made,” again she hesitated when he asked why. “I have to leave for Tokyo – my Father died this morning.”
“Hannah, darling … I am so sorry. I will be right over. Shall I go with you, my love?” This time she did not hesitate. “No, Julienne. I must go alone. Remember, I am married still.” Julienne started to protest, then stopped, sensing that Hannah had made a firm decision. “Okay, Hannah. You seem sure about that, so I will wait for a call.”
After they hung up, Hannah felt a sense of relief. She had depended on him for so long, now it was time to let him go. She pondered that for only a few seconds, staring at her hand still on the phone, knowing that he would find another to love. She got up and gathered her things then called in Maureen.
“Maureen, as usual I must depend on you to fully take over business. I will call you in one week and we will talk,” Hannah slipped on the coat that matched her sheath and started buttoning it. “You can call or telegraph me anytime you need something from me.”
“Yes, Ma’am. I am so very sorry about your father. You can depend on me as always. Are there any special instructions?” Hannah stopped buttoning and looked at Maureen thoughtfully. Yes, Maureen can do it without a hitch in her daily life. “Yes, Maureen. Be prepared to take my place here permanently.” The two women who had become friends dropped the professional attitude and hugged each other. A sob escaping from both.
Hannah left for Tokyo that afternoon, not knowing what was ahead for her. only that her and Kenji would always be a married couple, regardless of what happened.
Going home ~
On the flight to Tokyo something changed in Hannah. A new energy filled her and it was different. She felt peace, like a heavy weight had dropped off her, even though she was deeply saddened over the loss of her father. She knew that in her absence, Kenji would have taken care of all the arrangements for Musashi’s altar, wake and funeral.
She thought about Julienne and knew she would not see him again. He had been a dear and comforting friend to her when she was so alone and in great need of guidance. He always wanted more than what she could give him. She could not bring herself to an intimate relationship with Julienne. Even though she no longer lived with Kenji and only saw him twice a year, she loved him still and honored their marriage vows. They were married still.
When the plane landed, Oda met her in the passenger terminal. The chauffeur picked up her luggage and drove them to her father’s house in Kyoto where Kenji was waiting for them. They gave each other a brief hug then he took her arm and walked with her to the butsudan (Buddhist altar room) The altar was elaborately decorated with flowers in a tiered display. A photo of her father sat at the top with the Ihai (spirit tablet with his name) just below it. The effect it had on Hannah was a shock and she nearly collapsed. Kenji caught hold of her and held her up till she could walk to her father’s bedroom.
Kenji left her at the door so she could be alone. Before he closed the door he said, “We will leave for the shrine after a meal and rest for you.” She nodded her head and walked over to her father’s bed. Beside the bed Kenji had sat up a small table with a flower, incense and candle on it. An embroidered pillow was on the floor in front of the table. Feeling so grateful for Kenji’s thoughtfulness and organization, she knelt, pulled her Mala (Buddhist prayer beads) from her pocket and prayed.
A few hours later the chauffeur drove Kenji, Hannah and Oda to the shrine for the wake. Kenji placed the traditional six coins in the coffin for Musashi when he crossed the River of Three Crossings. Hannah placed a white kimono and sandals in the coffin and Oda put in the lemon drop candies Musashi loved. This is a Japanese Buddhist tradition. It is preparation for the way to the afterlife for the deceased. After the guests departed from the ceremony, Kenji, Hannah and Oda kept vigil with Musashi overnight. The kokubetsu-shiki (funeral proper) was held the next day. Musashi received his “precept name” (new Buddhist name) after the priest chanted a sutra.
Letter from Musashi ~
After the fourteen hour flight, the ceremonies, keeping vigil and the painful sorrow, Hannah was exhausted and collapsed when they returned to her father’s home. Kenji carried Hannah to her room and placed her gently on the bed. She awoke and tried to get up, but Kenji gently put his hands on her shoulders. “Rest now, Hannah. I will send the maid in to help you undress and get in bed. I will send your dinner up. Rest now.” His voice soothed her. She knew Kenji, too, was in deep mourning and wanted to comfort him, but he left quickly.
Hannah stayed in her room for three days and dutifully ate the meals Kenji sent up on schedule each day. She slept a lot. When she felt better she dressed in a brightly colored kimono, no more black she said to herself. Father would like the colors. There was a knock on her door just as she was ready to leave. “Yes? Come in.” The door opened and Oda walked in. “Good, you are up, Mother,” he kissed her and handed her a letter. “This is a letter from Grandfather to you, Mother. He asked me to keep it safe till the time is right and wanted you to go to the pond and read it. Is this the right time, Mother?”
She looked at the envelope then put it in her purse. “Oh, my goodness, Oda. I was just on my way out there to have some time alone. I already called the chauffeur around. So, yes, your timing is perfect”
“Shall I go with you, Mother? Are you sure you will be okay?” She hugged him. “I will be fine, darling. I have had a good rest and I feel energetic, but I will take it easy. If you really don’t mind, it would be nice to have you wait in the car for me at the pond. I will have the chauffeur park near enough so you can see me at all times.” She patted his cheek and pinched his chin. Oda blushed and hugged her.
The ride out to the pond was pleasant and she felt relaxed. She sat on the bench by the pond and read the letter.
My Dear Hannah ~
I love you, my child, with all my heart. After you were born I had hoped our next child would be a son, but that was not to be. It was not till you married Kenji that I felt I had a son. That is the way of things. Kenji is like my own son and I greatly love him.
I must tell you something that I pray will bring you and Kenji back together. I made a promise to him that I would not tell you what he confided in me about. For your sake, and his, I should not have made such a promise. However, I did and honored that. I am ready to break that promise in hopes it will heal your marriage, and I believe it will. I would rather him be upset with me than to see your marriage destroyed. For all of us I wish for you to stay a married couple. I believe that once two come together as a married couple, it is for eternity.
Several years ago Kenji came to me and told me he had a serious problem and asked my advice. He said that a few months before that time he began having pain in a very sensitive area and it hurt him greatly during his private time with you at night. The pain was getting worse so he had to let go of being a full husband to you, which hurt him deeply. I urged him to see his doctor immediately and he made an appointment that afternoon. The next day he had an examination, tests and a biopsy of a small tumor they found. When the results came back he was told the tumor is benign, but it was pressing against a nerve which causes the pain. His options, the doctor said, was to have the tumor removed. If surgery was done there was a 50% chance it would leave him impotent. If he chose to not have surgery, he could take medication daily for the pain, but was strongly advised to avoid sex.
This left him in a highly emotional dilemma. I advised him, as the doctor did, to have the surgery. To not have surgery would mean there would be a risk of the tumor starting to grow and cause even more problems. Kenji was ready to make his decision for surgery when you left him to live in New York. He lost all hope and gave up, choosing not to do anything for there was no need to, he said. I argued with him every day when he came over, but he was stubborn.
Please, my dear, understand that you are in no way at fault for Kenji’s decision. He made life miserable for you by not being able to confide in you. He told me that to confide in you would make him less of a man and feared that you would see him unworthy as a husband. He handled the whole thing wrong in my opinion, but then he felt he was doing the right thing by avoiding you as much as he could. You know how strongly he adheres to pride and protocol. In fact I told him that he was stubborn, not being fair to you and should discuss this with you and not be so thoughtless, to which he became quite angry with me.
I believe strongly it is time to bring this issue out in the open between you and Kenji and he must swallow his pride and allow you to become part of the decision process, for you are married. I pray you do not in any way feel guilty, for your right to be of help to your husband has been denied you. I know you are wise and will use your good judgement in how to handle this with Kenji.
I do not have much longer in this life and I cannot leave this world without hoping to set things right for you and Kenji. I hope this letter will help. Soon I will leave to rejoin my Hannah Mae in spirit.
Your loving father,
Is there a way back?
After reading her father’s letter she was not sure if she were angry at the two men she so loved or deeply hurt for them, or both. She felt the full impact of the unfairness of it all. If only Kenji had come to her and explained it would have saved years of hurt and loss. She had even thought he might be having an affair and no longer loved her. She gave herself time to let the anger work itself off. Thinking deeply she came to a decision and left the pond to return home.
When she entered the sitting room she was met by Junichi. He was preparing the tea cart. “Junichi, where is my husband?”
“On the deck, Akiko. Shall I bring the tea service out there?” She smiled brightly at him. He had been in her father’s service since before she was born and still called her by the childhood nickname he gave her, which meant “sparkling child”, for she was always a perky and happy child.
“Yes, Junichi, thank you. I will serve the tea.” She walked out to the deck, her heart pounding.
“Kenji, I need to talk with you, but first I want you to read this letter Father wrote to me,” she handed him the letter. He picked up a book from a table and handed it to her. It was beautifully bound in leather with his and her name printed in gold Japanese characters on the cover. She was very touched by this unexpected gift from him. When she opened the book she read the title page which Kenji had designed himself. The page was pale pink bordered in cherry blossoms. The title was, “Love Poems by Hannah Nakamura”.
She started to thank him, but when she looked up he was walking down to the garden where he sat on a bench and read the letter. Kenji rose and slowly walked around the perimeter of the garden, contemplating Musashi’s words and deep feelings. At the far end of the garden he turned towards the deck and watched his wife, his hands holding the letter behind his back as he studied her.
He saw she had sat down and was crying as she turned each page to read the poems she had written to him so many years before during their courtship. Several minutes passed and he felt peace enter his heart. He quickened his steps and returned to the deck. When he stood in front of her, she looked up at the man she so dearly loved.
“Is there a way back, Kenji?” Kenji relaxed, the tension eased, leaving him feeling free. A tear escaped and dropped off his cheek.
“There is no way back, Hannah.” She clutched the book tight to her breast and hung her head, knowing she had just received the answer she dreaded to hear.
“But, there is a way forward, my Love,” Kenji held out his hand. She looked up at him, her eyes wide open, lips parted and cheeks wet with tears. “Hannah, I hope someday to be as wise as your Father. We are and will remain a married couple. I deeply love you and ask your forgiveness. Come home to me, Hannah, I need you,” he could barely speak those words as he saw the love in her eyes.
Hannah rose, went into his embrace and felt as if she had never left. Their mingled tears washed away all the sorrow.
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© Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved Phyllis Doyle Burns
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