Aug 31

The Lion's Odyssey

     Outwardly, my mother seems pretty ordinary. Miyamoto Mitsuko Suzue commenced life as a second-generation Japanese American. The Suzues lived in a meager
town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Diversity was paltry, and Miyamoto struggled as bigotry became increasingly prevalent. Bowing her head against harsh words and prejudice was her norm, and she desired nothing more than to leave. From day one, she envisaged a world outside her town, fabricated places to explore. There was a hunger in her, a craving to pinpoint where she fit in the puzzle of the universe. 
 
     Her pursuit of exploration swelled when she rocketed out of high school, where she proceeded to formulate her education around photography. Not only did she idolize the art, but she was resolute on becoming a photojournalist. Globetrotting while molding a story behind a viewfinder was a job she deemed her calling. Furthermore, Miyamoto harbored a delicious secret, one on the romantic side. A freshman exchange program had introduced her to Mexico City, and that audacious escapade was exalted by Aaron Torres. They’d dated for five of the six months she’d been there, and Miyamoto planned on returning to her inamorato at the first chance. 

     Little did she know, Aaron Torres hadn’t been thinking of her lately. Of course, Aaron wasn’t unsympathetic. He was genial and benevolent, but he couldn’t await the lambent lady from his sophomore year. Eva Andino, a bounteous woman, snagged his heart. 

     Thus leaving Miyamoto stranded. Her flight to Michigan left in three weeks. Her Spanish was subpar, despite extensive studying, and she was alone. An unfledged baccalaureate attempting to salvage her vacation. She had aspired to take snapshots of the exquisite capital, but she was lost toting a hefty camera bag and suitcase. Companions from her previous Mexico trip were dispersed, barely a handful in immediate reach. 

     Thankfully, Pia Rodriguez was one among that handful. Pia had a dense network of associates, connections to almost every conceivable person. She was astonishingly animated, making all look placid by contrast. Befriending Pia Rodriguez was the ultimate guarantee of safety and piquant dishes. Miyamoto’s expedition persisted, rescued from derailment at the hands of a juvenile boy. 

     She devoted her days to touring Mexico. The sundry hues of the Mexico City houses ensnared Miyamoto. The exotic aromas and customs engrossed her. It was generally a 50-50 chance if Pia accompanied her. Someone so illustrious could only be tethered down transiently. Miyamoto was glad for whatever sporadic company she obtained. Finding a dry hour amidst the summer rains when Pia and she could drink in the sunlight became a jaunty game. 

     Now, I must draw you to the other side of our tale, where Roman Ortega rented a room alongside his pregnant girlfriend, Melina. Miyamoto had passed by their apartment a few times. A mint-green two-story with a faded orange stucco roof and a tiny crimson garage. Miniature Mexican flags were strung along the balcony fencing. 
And as fate would have it no other way, Melina didn’t survive delivery. 

     If Miyamoto hadn’t embarked on an evening stroll, she could’ve avoided it all. If she hadn’t strode outside shortly after Melina’s passing, our paths never would’ve clashed. But Miyamoto witnessed Roman’s harrowing act. She saw the young father, his curly brown locks disheveled and clothes wrinkled. His skin was wan and his eyes red-rimmed, the taint of whiskey weighing on him. He lurched towards the local church, clutching his daughter. Facing the looming steeple and delicate stain glass felt like marching to the jaws of a guillotine. His palms were clammy around the newborn pressed to his chest.

     The baby was whimpering, useless to prevent the approaching calamity. The gentle slope of stairs to the chapel was cold as ice, the dusk steadily seeping the stone of warmth. Roman felt none of it. His eyes blurred when he placed his child at the church doors, his limbs numb. An immense chasm yawned within him in light of his loss. Melina dying had morphed him into a shell, snapped his grip on reality. Roman Ortega departed the church detached from his surroundings. He didn’t see the satiny indigo sky or the glow of illuminated patio lights. He was in free fall, his resolve shattered. 

     Miyamoto saw. She saw the swaddled child and heard the pattering of Roman’s retreating gaits. Miyamoto felt frozen to the spot, petrified by the scene. A deep maternal sense seized her, and she was coddling the blubbering bundle at once. She sat on the steps, stupefied. The crescent moon was sluggishly superseding the sunset. She wanted to hammer on Roman’s door, no matter the early hour, and demand he take his newborn back. But she couldn’t, not when he had deserted her on a whim that the priests may welcome her. 

     The dusk should’ve been temperate, but Miyamoto tugged the baby’s blankets tighter to block a sharp chill. An eerie sensation had filled Miyamoto, an ominous peril constricting her throat. Shadows were awakening on the horizon’s edge, surging up to capture their prey. The engravings on the church façade, wisps of Bible teachings, grew hostile.

     Miyamoto bonded inexplicably with the child, pitying the abandoned girl with an accompanying sense of reflection. Miyamoto understood being an outsider, battling with demons of identity. Throughout her toils, she’d at least had her family for support. She retained the assertion that his disparities made her distinctive. She had history. If she left, the girl wouldn’t have that. No priest or foster care personnel would tag her as Roman’s offspring. There was no promise of anyone would bother to tell her what occurred on these steps. She’d have no background. To combat those plights at an early age was plenty gruesome, but to have no one would be arduous. 
She wasn’t brought back to Roman’s apartment, instead to Pia’s scantily furnished flat. Miyamoto clambered inside, hastening to escape the beasts of the blackness. Pia was like a cat, always landing on her feet, and seldom disoriented. But when Miyamoto showed up with a baby and a dreadful tale, she was baffled. Pia paced for an eternity, striding back and forth in front of the coffee table. Silence oozed between the cracks in the walls, poisoning the air with uncertainty and unrest. 

     Two weeks later, a plane carrying Miyamoto Suzue arrived in Michigan. She was a hot mess, overwhelmed from the plunge into an unfamiliar lifestyle. Pia had been a monumental help, but she was gone now. Pia belonged in Mexico as much as the sun belonged in the sky, and Michigan was out of the question. Miyamoto could only replay their final moments together, Pia embracing Miyamoto at the door and swiping at escaped tears. Pia didn’t normally cry, but she could scarcely think what trying years waited for her friend. 
     “You can still see the world, Miya. Hoshi isn’t the end of your fun.” Pia murmured. 
     “I wish that were true,” Miyamoto replied, pulling Pia close. Pia’s eyebrows knit yet didn’t voice her doubts. Pia was soon whisked away by another group of comrades, Miyamoto waving woefully to Pia’s retreating silhouette. Miyamoto knew Pia’s apathy wasn’t intended to harm, merely as a shield against worse emotions. Pia had endured far too many farewells to not have a defense mechanism assembled.
    
     Miyamoto’s Mexico crusade was a rollercoaster of phenomena, beginning with schoolgirl heartbreak and concluding with a baby. Miyamoto Suzue was nothing short of a dreamer, ambition coursing through her veins. There was no staying put for her, not while her unremitting thirst for pioneering remained unquenched. How could anyone lacking such a headstrong mindset and robust fortitude walk in her shoes? It necessitated the lion inside her to shoulder through. Coming forth from that atrocious evening true to herself was no easy feat. Because if I’m being honest, there was considerable creative liberty on my part painted into the portrait of that night. My mother has spoken sparingly on the sensitive matter, and I do my best to complete the picture. I do know the subsequent events of Miyamoto’s arrival, a bit worse for wear and discombobulated due to her new travel mate’s frequent crying, in Michigan. 

     She never revisited Mexico. Miyamoto Mitsuko Suzue moved to Sunnyvale, California, on a job offer. There, she met and married Dr. Bradley Lane in a whirlwind romance. Dr. Lane was the gentleman of all epic fantasies, a superb partner to Miyamoto. He was a radiologist with a wiry frame and gleaming copper hair. Dr. Lane didn’t care that his beloved daughter Hoshiko Roman Suzue wasn’t of his flesh and blood. Miyamoto gave a perfunctory explanation about me, and Dr. Lane was wise enough to not pressure her. 

     Miyamoto went on to have kids with Dr. Lane in her thirties. My first sibling came when I was eleven and another at nearly fourteen. Dr. Lane is more of a father to me than my biological one, having nurtured me since age six. Roman Xavier Ortega wasn’t informed of my existence until I turned nineteen and mustered the courage and resources to track him. We have a detached relationship, an annual birthday card and Christmas card with his kids plastered on it. Last I checked, he has a whole slew of children. Five to be exact. I suppose I’m happy for him, but I can hardly focus on that Christmas card without anger twisting a knife in my gut. Abandonment isn’t cured with biannual Hallmark cards. 

     Abandonment, however, is placated with my family. And what an odd bunch we are. Kaiyo is the middle child, my mother’s stab at a conventional infant. His name means ‘forgiveness’. Carter is the youngest, a notorious ladies’ man. He snagged the prime features of both his parents, ending up with a rich black mane and blue-green eyes. His name means ‘one who transports goods by carts’ because at that point my mother yielded the naming reins to Dr. Lane. He didn’t apprize meaningful names as she did. 

     Miyamoto’s adventurousness was deprioritized thanks to me. In adopting me, she was flung into a spiral, making tremendous sacrifices to atone for a man who didn’t provide a thing for me. But the spark of discovery refuses to stray far from my mother. It attracts to her like a magnet, undeterred across her euphoric decades of life. The minute Carter graduated she was off, lugging her camera bag and Dr. Lane in tow. I’ve pored over infinite pictures, enraptured by how her gaze translates to the camera lens. I wonder if she regretted rearing me, a topic she regarded most exclusive and never discussed with me. Wonder what journey she is on now, soaring loftily above the clouds.