A notable part of civilian life is the freedom to dress as you please. For today Dana chose a jade sarong and silver hoop earrings, both only slightly dampened from the rain that had started in the parking lot. In her hand she carried a thirty-ounce coffee with extra sugar, since every mental health expert worth her diploma depends on some artificial means to handle her workload.
“Latte?” asked Hollister at the front desk, scrolling through timeslots on his monitor.
“My name is Tamashi, Reid, we’ve discussed this.”
“I just want you to know you’ve adopted your husband’s deadpan humor.”
“Well you’ve picked up your wife’s habit of using lip gloss. Did you intend to glitter this morning, or did you have a date last night?”
Hollister sprung back in his chair, wiped his mouth violently with his knuckles. “That’s why everyone’s been laughing around me. She keeps it next to the chapstick.”
“Mystery solved. Now if we could fix the hair.”
“You don’t like red? I guess that’s why you didn’t marry an Irishman.”
“Well, I just had one explain how he wanted my ‘badonkadonk.’”
Hollister burst out laughing as a patient approached to sign in.
“It’s a little early in the morning for that.”
“This guy had a lot of…energy.”
Hollister sighed in acknowledgment.
“At least he’s honest, I guess.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He spun around to face her. “You know…I mean I’m not going to provide any more details because I’m happily married and I’ve attended enough sexual harassment lectures to be an actual sex therapist, but…”
Dana placed a hand against her ample hip and lifted her eyebrow.
Hollister snickered like a suburban preteen. Dana, catching on, fought to hide a smile.
“Exactly,” he said.
“God damn it, Hollister. I’m going to tell Rebecca you said that.”
“You don’t have the balls, ma’am. Plus I remember that Marine who you said you wanted to cover in honey and…and what?”
Dana kicked the bottom of his chair so patients in the waiting room wouldn’t see.
“Shut up, man. That was a long time ago. And if you were a woman, you’d have understood.”
“Hey, Dr. T., I’m a man and I understood.”
“That says a lot about you, Hollister.”
“That I’m a nonjudgmental and open-minded man of high moral character? Yeah, I believe so.”
Down the hall Dana’s office phone trilled like a lost cormorant. Run to receiver, snatch receiver from desk, suck in a breath to restore calm and control. Why not let it go to voicemail, like a proper psychologist?
“This is Dr. Tamashi.”
A hesitation, as if the caller was unsure he was speaking to a real human. “Uh, good morning, ma’am, my name is Sergeant Arnhauser from Army 8/1, over in Building 3. We spoke the other day. One of my guys came in for an emergency walk-in Tuesday—a Private Margery.”
“Glen, yes, I remember.”
“I wanted to follow up because the man’s, uh, missing.”
“He’s missing, Sergeant?”
“I’m saying the man’s not here. He split. No word to his bunkmate or me or the CO. He was supposed to show up last night for a shift and never fu—ah, never did. I just want to know if he’s been in contact with you at all since yesterday evening, or if he mentioned anything odd you might have forgotten to tell me.”
Dana tapped her pen against her front teeth to the tune of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”
“Let me pull up my notes real quick and I’ll let you know.” The screen stalled, froze. “When the computer decides to get on with it. Slow system. Busy morning.”
Arnhauser just breathed over the line.
“In the meantime, can you tell me if he was acting strangely at work? Before last night.”
“Margery.” The man sighed, as if this was the name of a boulder he had to lug up a hill. “That man hates attention and duty and all the normal things you’re supposed to love.”
Dana didn’t touch the fallacies and judgments implicit in this outburst.
“He doesn’t seem ‘normal’ to you Sergeant?”
“He’s been late for duty multiple times—twice—which gives me headaches of migraine size. He can’t drive for shit, pardon my language, ma’am, and he can’t follow instructions without repeated repetitions. He’s got some problems, you can guess. Not the brightest guy.”
“I take it you’ve spoken to him about these issues?”
“I’ve talked to him, sat down with him, written him up. I’m only surprised it took him this long to crack and go to you lot.”
“Had you recommended that he see us, Sergeant? I can see from his intake he was self-directed, but sometimes patients leave out the person who encouraged them to go.”
Arnhauser chewed on this for a moment. After a pixelated shudder, Dana’s screen leapt into action.
“I told him to get his ass in shape,” said the sergeant. “Butt, I mean.”
“You can swear around me, Sergeant, I don’t mind.”
“Thank you ma’am. Now, I don’t know if Margery talked about going anywhere, but he wasn’t around for morning drills, and he wasn’t in the barracks. He probably went out and got blasted, skipped out on his shit, so he’s sweating his balls off trying to figure an exit strategy. When I got my hands on him—”
“Understood, Sergeant. You expect he went out drinking, and that would fit with my intake notes. He mentioned problems with alcohol. History of ADAPT six months ago.”
“I sent him in when he showed up blitzed. He went to all the meetings. After that he never did it again.”
“It is what it is. So he never mentioned nothing about leaving?”
I’m afraid I’m going to do something very bad.
“No, Sergeant, I don’t recall him saying anything of the kind. Nothing in my notes.”
“You understand if he doesn’t show up soon I’ll request my CO to have a look at his records?”
“I do, Sergeant. Have a good day.”
“Oh, you bet.”
Dana stewed in the room’s warmth, sweating, sensing a tremble in her stomach without knowing why. She sat down, hard, and the chair’s springs groaned like a lonely child. She bit her lip; took out a pen, started to write; stopped and shoved a stack of reparenting books to the side. Thoughts were blocked in her. Weather changing, aches in the bones. She needed a return to sleep.
I’m dying inside. I lost two children and I’m dying, I can’t move.
It’s not true. You’re alive, it’s okay to feel depressed. Being a psychologist doesn’t make you immune to struggle and grief. You’d be a shitty provider if you believed that.
But I ruined that kid’s…no, don’t think of that now, you can’t process it yet.
Dana gripped the arms of her chair and examined her framed degree from Mississippi State and rotated her neck and wrists and ankles slowly, breathing in counts of five. You can make atonements later. She composed a smile for her next patient, a master sergeant and mother of two with ongoing marital problems, and waited for the door to open inward.
A memory: Haruki and Dana at the Churaumi Aquarium, winding up Route 58 to 449, hugging the turquoise coast, hands near each other’s knees. In the parking lot a field trip of schoolkids in blue, wrapped in the festive stress of petty drama.
A low hum as they entered the building; electrical output, keeping creatures alive. On the right wall a petting station for snails, starfish, etc. The potential lovers leaned over the tank and wrinkled their noses at the same time, as if for a play.
“You want to touch this?”
“Generally when people ask that I say no. Especially on a first date.”
“Live a little, you American.”
Dana braved the smell and stroked a loitering sea cucumber. Rough, mushy. Not worth the effort, per se. She smelled her fingers.
“It’s no grosser than preparing meat for dinner, right?”
“You touch it, then.”
She forced his arm in. Overpowering, to show she could hold her own. Haruki splashed her with the musky water and a staff member hustled over in alarm.
“Sir, please, you cannot do this.”
The professor hanging his head in a parody of shame: “Sorry, sir. Won’t happen again.”
They scrutinized shrimp, rubbernecked for jellyfish of exceptional luminosity. The hall dumped them in a gloomy, crowded vault full of echoes and stuttering cameras. An acrylic window the size of an IMAX screen enticed them with deep-sea life cut off from the natural world. Manta pups dove and swooped; spotted groupers gummed the bubbles of fake waves; and whale sharks made their ponderous circles, too mute to protest, forever spiraling in a scientist’s engine.
“Pretty here,” said Haruki.
A woman brushed by Dana’s shoulder and glanced back. She grew dizzy. She was suffocating, trapped behind the teal screen.
“You all right?”
Dana half-sat, half-fell. Her stomach attempted to climb up her throat. When she was nine her pop had taken Bernice and her to the Alabama Shoals Aquarium and stood by the tiger sharks and said, “Your mother’s dead, ladies,” and then left to use the restroom. He came back with a girl’s number, a guaranteed musical genius in the making.
But this was not the source of pain; all strategies for handling loss and emotional withholding and resentment had been practiced in graduate school, so she was well-prepared for the panics when an offhand snicker brought her back to Alabama’s curses and quality bourbon. This was just pain.
“Can we go outside?”
He helped her to her feet, propped his hand against the small of her back. Outside the rain veiled the shoreline and darkened the foliage to silhouettes. Haruki squeezed her hand.
“I’ll drive us home.”
“No—if that’s okay, let's wait. Not feeling hot about sitting in a car for two hours.”
“It’s only an hour and fifteen when I drive.”
She led him to the beach, which gave off a hazy, white, timeless glow. Without umbrellas they trembled in the downpour, ignoring the mothers and kids who ran for shelter. Dana failed to suppress a low giggle.
“No. Well, yes, mentally.”
They watched Ie Island, where the journalist Ernie Pyle had been brained by a machine-gunner, warp in the haze. Their clothes sagged, clung to their stomachs, weighed them down. The air warmed them as the rain cooled them off.
“I love it here,” said Dana finally.
“I can think of a few better places than this on the island, but I love it, too. You think you might stay out here a while?”
“Contract’s for a year. I’m six months in.”
Haruki’s wink, which was to become famous in conversation. “You may need an extension.”
A burgeoning need to take random routes by car. Dana has not done this in some time, much less during a crisis. Military personnel are forbidden from driving in a typhoon; Okinawans bunker down only for the worst of the onslaught. Dana falls somewhere in the middle. She plays the American stations on the radio, waiting for something to calm her heart even though she knows the work must come from her. The wind is picking up; TCCOR3. The threat of danger stirs up the past, makes her feel loved and comfortable. Stupid, she knows. She has all the love she needs at home: droll husband and silky cat, three pristine rooms to call her own. When you heal, though (we never finish, it is just one of a million spectrums we all slide along), sometimes you crave the contours of your old injury because you were with it for so long. Dana feels the shape of her empty belly, the luck left over from growing a set of twins. Elia and Jun buried in a turtle-shell grave along the highway, four months early, too late to grow and absorb their own hurts and victories, or branch into the network they deserved. People rarely see what they are owed.
“You should get me cigarettes. You should get me a drink. There’s a good girl.”
Her sister Bernice and pop and her, in their unweeded town house, peeping through a smeared window at a chain-link fence in sore need of replacing. Pop always had money rolling in but he kept it rolling out. Every so often at work he’d throw her a twenty and say, “Go to Burke’s, buy yourself some new jeans. Can’t have you looking dusty.” Right around the corner from Lion Recording Studios, where dad offset Bob Dylan’s career-wounding switch to gospel music. Dana’s pop met Etta James, Wilson Pickett, caught a glimpse of Aretha Franklin after she recorded “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).”
“You see that lady right there on the record, with the short hair? I was fixing to marry her and make her your momma, before she became a worldwide sensation.”
Pop fixed no such thing, and Dana’s only relationship with the woman was over the car radio.
She lets the air in through the driver’s side window, smelling exhaust and tempura and the sickly pall of the sea.
Florence, Alabama. Humid, like here. You leave your wash on the line and it doesn’t dry. Mosquitos and thorns and dank-smelling pools of water in the marshy earth. Pick a leech off your ankle, swat a bug on your arm. See the sun go down over Cypress Creek. Watch out for every poisonous snake and spider known to mankind. No wonder she’d moved to Okinawa City; you can’t escape the past, you just find a place that rhymes with it.