I was an ESL teacher in San Francisco when this starts. I think I was twenty five.
It was only when she caught me leaving the school that I first registered her. That pretty Japanese girl with the crooked teeth. She’d been in my class but you didn’t notice most of the Japanese girls: they’d been trained in invisibility. I realized that she’d been trying to make an impression for a while – asking questions, hanging out after class. She hadn’t registered though. That day I think she gave me her number. Walking away I realized that she didn’t even go to the school anymore. At some later point she invited herself to a party in a friend of mine’s warehouse in the Mission. She showed up with another Japanese girl whose hair was always changing color (which was one way to not be invisible). Around midnight, my former student pressed up against me and said, ‘Will you jilt me once again?’ That made me notice Misako, that and the fact that her stockings were tattered and she felt warm and womanly pressed against me, soft and firm. I was drunk and the easiest thing seemed to be to take her home. We got into a cab.
Misako had come from Japan full of vague but powerful hope. All the freedom you wanted in America. She hadn’t known how much she’d been suffocated until she was in SF for a few months. Always knocking against the corners of Japanese society and bruising herself. Being discussed, censured, not fitting into a society where fitting in was everything. In San Francisco she didn’t have to worry about what she wore or what she said or the company she kept. In San Francisco she got invited to parties. In San Francisco it was okay to be different, especially if you were pretty. All she needed to make it perfect was an American boyfriend. There wasn’t any shortage of men ready to take out a pretty Japanese girl but none of them appealed to her. Then she fell for me. I seemed lively and fun but she’d made a terrible mistake. I would have felt bad for Misako if I was capable of feeling bad for anyone: she didn’t know that the boy she’d fallen for was a zombie.
That first party started the pattern. I’d call her some nights when I was bored. Usually it was a Sunday. ‘Come over,’ I’d say. ‘And bring a pint of Hagen Das.’ And she did. We’d sit on my bed listening to music and eating ice cream as I edged closer. It wasn’t exactly what she’d wanted but she didn’t complain. Sometimes I’d let her spend the night and in the morning we’d eat breakfast at a diner around the corner. Then she’d get on the bus and go back home. While mostly dead in an emotional sense, I still had a craving for flesh. Since her flesh was tasty and I didn’t have to waste any energy to get it, I made use of her.
One night Misako followed me home from another party; I was drunk, very drunk, so that was probably the night that it happened. I don’t remember much because I was pretty drunk but I do remember being annoyed because she was following me and maybe asking some invasive question like: ‘Where are you going?’ Anyway, this conversation took place not too far from my house, on Gough I think, and we ended up in bed. I remember the hunger taking over, that need for flesh, and I was tossing her around on the bed and it was satisfying, a way to work off the annoyance. It was deeply satisfying, because here was a pretty girl sacrificing herself to me. I could do whatever I wanted to her. At 25, I wasn’t usually comfortable with abusing women but I was very drunk and I tossed her around. I remember kneeling on the bed, her body arched against me at a forty-five degree angle, nude and smooth. How Misako felt about all this, I don’t know because I didn’t ask.
I might have been able to do anything I wanted to her, but I didn’t want to get her pregnant. That’s what happened though. Misako called me regularly but one day she called nine or ten times in the course of a few hours. The folks taking my calls finally got annoyed (These were in the days when housemates shared a land line. I know, ancient history). At the time, I had two strippers staying with me. Their stripper names, the only names I knew, were ‘Otter’ and ‘Squishy.’ They had cosmetically bonded fangs and were performing a lesbian-vampire act at one of the SF clubs. Other and Squishy were friends with one of my housemates, which explained why they were living with me. For months. The pair had hitchhiked to San Francisco from New Orleans, mostly with truckers who were of course thrilled to have two twenty-something strippers sleeping in their cab. (We got along until I went out of town and the roommate let them sleep in my bed without telling me. I found out when I noticed the lipstick stains on my pillow cases).
Squishy, the girl-next-door of the pair, asked my why I didn’t call Misako back.
The more she calls, I said, the less I want to talk to her.
I’ll remember that, Squishy said.
[It’s funny. Six or seven years later, I was reading the New York Observer when I saw a gossip piece about an Irvine Welsh book tour in Manhattan. At one point, he’s in a bathroom stall doing some kind of drug, and the woman he’s with opens the stall door and chases the reporters away. The woman's name? Otter].
When I did call Misako back, she didn’t want to talk about Hagen Dazs and my cavalier attitude about sex. She told me she was pregnant. I felt…annoyed. This person who had inflicted herself on me now had a real demand on my attention. Misako told me she was going back to Japan to get an abortion.
When she returned to San Francisco I met her on Van Ness near her apartment to give her money. We walked to an ATM. She had dressed up for the occasion and I abstractly noticed how good she looked – a blouse with broad blue and white stripes showing her breasts, tights displaying her excellent legs. It had no more effect on me than pretty wallpaper. The zombie felt hunger – that blue and white striped blouse – but even zombies have survival instincts. If I had sex with her again, it would be complicated.
At the ATM, we haggled over money. She told me that the trip to Japan had been expensive. I told her that she could have had it done in SF, and then gave her a hundred dollars. She wanted to talk more but I wanted to leave. I think she called me a few times after that but I didn’t call back.
Not too much later I left San Francisco, bummed around for a while, and ended up in New York City. Somehow, Misako and I stayed in touch (I think I called her late one night when I was on speed. In those days, Doctors were throwing around Dexedrine like Reeses Pieces. After a night of drinking and Dex it would be four a.m. and I’d say – Hmmm, I wonder if anyone’s awake now? Who do I know in Australia?). I put together a picture of Misako – she played cello, had a rich father, was a sensitive reader with a quirky sense of humor. She was a cultured and interesting person, a human being. I fantasized a lot about having sex with her. I fantasized about ordering her to get on her knees and unbutton my Levis with her teeth. At one point she went on a trip to Ireland and I almost convinced her to stop in New York. My friend Ying Guo, a transvestite Chinese filmmaker, had lusted after Chieko and he was in New York now too. ‘If she comes here,’ he said, ‘I’ll make a porno of the two of you.’ I didn’t know how I felt about the porno but Misako ended up skipping New York.
Around the time Misako was considering her New York visit, I was dating another girl. Lisa was a med student who’d wanted to be an artist, but her mother had insisted on medical school. Since her mother had attempted suicide several times, Lisa had obeyed. I’d met Suzanne at Max Phish; Suzanne loved poetry and I seduced her by whispering Yeats in her ear. Then we started making out in a booth. She wanted to give me her number but we didn’t have a pen, so she took out her lipstick, unbuttoned my shirt and wrote the number across my chest.
(Farewell Max Phish! I just read that it shut down for good).
I was living on the corner of 169th and Broadway in Manhattan, right across the street from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. It was loud there, traffic down Broadway and ambulance sirens day and night. It was a Dominican neighborhood. During the day, you heard meringue and shouting from the Dominican markets. At night you saw the cars lined up at off-ramps from the George Washington Bridge. People drove in from Jersey to score crack. The bus shelter at the bridge was designed by an Italian Brutalist architect, Nervi; it looked like a spaceship, and sitting in my room I felt like I was floating over an alien planet. My room had scarred wooden floors and a bedsheet for a curtain. When I brought girls there they’d look at the bedsheet hanging from the curtain hooks and say, ‘Really, Robert? A bedsheet?’ It was a fitted bedsheet, because the elastic clung to the hooks. I turned twenty-nine in that apartment.
One night in my room, Lisa told me that she would have sex with me but that I would have to ‘talk to her’ first. I didn’t know what she meant: we talked plenty. What it meant was that she was going to talk to me.
She said: Don’t you know I’ve met you before? You’re the kind of man I want to be with but this is what I keep getting. Some people get their hearts broken but they get better. You got yours broken and you stayed that way.
I was flattered: she’d cared enough to lift up my rock and see what was crawling underneath. I’d never mentioned Sarah to her but Lisa could tell; she could see the zombie. Her words thrilled me – I was broken, damage you could see from five years away. I didn’t feel broken though. Girls liked me, I had plenty of friends, I had writing. If being broken meant that love couldn’t tear me apart anymore, then it was better to be a zombie. We ended up just going to sleep. I don’t think I saw Lisa again after that night.
From what I could figure out, Misako’s life in Japan didn’t bring her much happiness – she worked in an office and then for a literary magazine. Her father died. Her friends and lovers told her for years that her mind was still stuck on America.
Eventually, we fell out of touch.
It’s been at least five years since I’ve heard from Misako. I feel bad for her. She got badly hurt, by me, and nobody deserves that. I don’t know if I ever felt guilty though. Misako had decided to play in traffic and a hit-and-run driver had flattened her. It must have been obvious that she couldn’t get what she wanted from me but she’d persisted. I’d been broken by someone, and so I turned around and did the same thing to someone else. It was the zombie way and by sacrificing herself to a zombie, Misako had become a zombie too.