Free To Be Myself
“You can’t save someone else. You can only save yourself,” Kazue says as she guides her pen purposefully across the scrap paper. Her hair is tightly pulled back, exposing concentration on a face of timeless youth.
The diagram complete, she pushes the paper across the table.
Boxes connected by lines and arrows form a wide smiley face. From the “Now” box, one path arches up to “Auto Mode” and an endless path of “negative patterns”. In the opposite direction, the path hits “Manual Mode: Learn about your machine (mind & body) and become a master of yourself”. This path leads to a “Surprise gift from the universe” wrapped in a red package.
“Mom,” a little ten-year-old girl pads over the smooth wooden floor to Kazue’s side. “Can Rio come over after dinner?”
“Let’s see, okay Sayo?” Kazue responds, wrapping an arm around her to play with her light brown hair. Sayo is quiet, very shy, and a bit self-conscious. She has her mother’s eyes and complexion, her father’s hair and frame.
Kazue speaks of her ex-husband, a famous British DJ, without reservation. For ten years, Kazue lived a comfortable—most would say enviable—life in London. But when Sayo was five, Kazue filed for divorce and returned to Shuri in Okinawa, Japan. Sayo sees her father every few months when he comes to visit.
“When I was with my husband, I met Sting and loads of famous musicians,” Kazue says. “They would look at me and think, so what can you do? And I’d start asking myself, so what can I do? I’ve always liked music, so I went to jazz singing and piano school in London. I tried. But I couldn’t find anything in competing. And I couldn’t feel so fascinated or impressed by the famous people. I kept thinking, why do we all try so hard to prove ourselves?”
“The environment surrounding us was toxic.”
Kazue sits in her apartment, a second-floor walk-up tucked away on one of Shuri’s many winding alleys that nest around Shuri Castle. Spacious, bare wooden floors give way to white, unadorned walls. A skylight in the vaulted ceiling welcomes the sun; its rays settle on the single wooden table and four chairs. Tea leaves fill the cupboards and a pot sings on the stove.
Kazue’s voice echoes in the space she worked hard to make empty.
“I tried to explain it to him for ten years. He couldn’t stand the fact that I wasn’t trying that hard. He called me lazy. But the only thing that mattered to me was to observe what was going on. It takes time, you know? It might have looked like I was lazy because I wasn’t producing anything tangible.”
Over the years, Kazue became disenchanted with the perpetual dissatisfaction and insecurity that drove her husband’s career. She hated how he turned to marijuana to cope with irritation and jealousy towards others who did better. How one success after another were never enough to make him happy.
“In the end, he couldn’t understand that it was freedom I wanted most,’ she says, lost in thought. ’Freedom of being myself, it was violated in that marriage.”
Kazue and Sayo are meeting friends for dinner tonight. Kazue has known the young couple for years, and their daughter is about Sayo’s age. As the group eats, talks and laughs together, it’s clear these two families see each other regularly, if not every day. After dinner, Kazue invites everyone over for tea and dessert. They stroll together, taking time to admire the lights of Shuri Castle from the pond below along the way.
Back at home, the girls find a Korean pop song on Youtube, position themselves in front of the laptop, and start to mimic the dance moves for what looks like the hundredth time. Without reservation, the husband of the young couple decides to join in. His frizzy hair bounces and his lanky body flails behind the girls, matching their preteen sass with goofy humor and antics. Before long, the mothers join in.
The girls’ faces are set with concentration, but the three adults are laughing so hard they can barely follow along. Their socks are slipping and they purposefully aim to slide into both daughters. Kazue prances unabashedly in the back, behind at least a beat on every move, a look of pure glee on her face. Sayo glances at her and a small smile comes to her lips.
As they dance, the apartment feels full. And Kazue’s words from earlier hang over the scene:
“So many people couldn’t understand why I left him. They would say, ‘You were so lucky to be able to marry a wealthy man with fame and all’. But money and fame means nothing, nothing to me. You can’t take that to the grave, can you?”