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Dear Hideo

The following is my favorite part of a writing project called "Letters to the Loved and Lost."

Dear Hideo,

Has it really been twelve years? Oh Hideo, how you break my heart again. I Googled you last night.

My Samurai, my Sensei, oh Hideo, you are like the mountain cherry blossoms which bloom and fade in a day. When I was fourteen, Hideo, and you were seventeen, you were so much older than me. You were a warrior, eyes sparking like flint through your long, dark hair. Your body was marble, and your voice was lustrous as the red silk characters embroidered on your black obi. Oh Hideo, you broke my heart once with your beauty, and my heart breaks again to see you now...

...a used car salesman.

I didn't recognize your picture at first. But as I stared at the computer screen, wondering how another man in this town could share your name, my eye caught on that sharp canine tooth peeping out of your smile.

Hideo, it's really you! Even the dead are recognized by their teeth, and the shape of yours have stayed with me these years as if they were imprinted in my skin.

Now your face is broad and puffy, your eyes squinted like a Chinese Buddha's. Where is your silken braid? Your temples are receding, your haircut is nerdy, and your tie is crooked. Where are your high cheekbones? Where is the gold earring that sparked at the corner of your jaw like the tip of a blade?

Oh Hideo. Twelve years ago, when you were graceful and quick as a wild stag, I thought you were the age that you are now. The way you looked at me burned my skin, and I feared you. At fourteen I was still a waifish child, just out of middle school, and you were a man, powerful and predatory. How I remember the fainting smell of your aftershave. What could you want with me?

Oh, but then I learned you were only seventeen, a high school prodigy. How easily you redirected my fear into longing in one smooth circle.

I was like a young tree whose limbs are shaped by gentle blows. You formed my stances and trained my reflexes and never let me leave my guard down. You were a naughty teacher, Hideo. You asked me why my parents gave me such a pretty name and what perfume I wore. You stood an inch too close. Your hand rested on my skin a second too long. You told me my strength was beauty and finesse even as you probed each of my nerves for weakness.

Oh Hideo, did you know what you did to me? Did you ever know?

Could you see into my heart that August dusk underneath the oak tree, when sweat polished your bare chest and you watched me perform barefoot in the grass, and I finished and bowed to you, Sensei, and I lifted my face to yours? Do you remember? It was so long ago, but I see it now. Your eyes smoldered like coals in the pink and gold sunset, and the way you looked back at me smudged the whole world around us into smoke--the other students, the burning sky, even the grass under our feet--and you opened your lips and sighed so deep.

You asked me, "Has anyone ever told you that your eyes are just the color of the sea?"

Hideo, you were awful then. Do you remember as well as I do? You filled me so full of your intoxicating spirit that I ran for miles that weekend, barefoot, through brushy woods and broken fences until my legs were flayed bloody and I still could not drive your voice out of my ears or the touch of your hand off my wrist or the smell of your skin out of my lungs. And after that whole summer of working your magic, striking and melting me down like Japanese steel, striking again and folding and sharpening me, shaping me by and for your own skilled hands, only after the transformation was complete, only then, you teenaged moron, then you asked me how old I was.

Oh Hideo, years were so BIG back then. When you asked your question, you answered mine. I had mistaken your age when we met, and you had mistaken mine too. I could not lie to you, Sensei, for you could see the rhythm of my heart. When I answered you, "Fourteen," the look on your face would have been hilarious, oh Hideo, it would have been so funny if I did not want you then more than anything in the world. Your sharp eyetooth retracted as your smile died. My heart turned to lead and fell and smashed my intestines. Hideo, could you see it? You turned your face away and went so white.

The next week you brought your girlfriend to class. Yes, your girlfriend. Do you even remember which one? She was beautiful and voluptuous with flowing auburn curls. If you could have a girl like that, Hideo, tell me, please tell me now that she is not here, why did you bother to make me love you?

On your professional profile, Hideo, you show your martial arts experience. You list the qualities it has given you: discipline in thought and action, honor and integrity. Hideo, do you remember being seventeen? Oh, how you have changed.

Do you remember that autumn, when I punched you in the face? The more I hated you the more I loved you, and the more I loved you the more I hated you! How I longed to touch your cheek, trace your fine eyebrows and lips with my fingertips. At home one day I sketched your face from memory. I still have that drawing, of you with your long hair and Samurai stare. I touched the paper and longed to feel the roughness of your jaw, the silk of your hair. It felt so good, oh so good, to crush your arrogant smile with my fist. The blood shocked you so much, as if your own hand had struck you. I trembled when I saw the wet hurt in your eye, but I lusted to do it again.

Did you like to hurt me, too? When you threw me to the ground, bore down on me with all your weight, kicked the thoughts out of my head, cracked your bones against mine, broke the skin and drew blood, I carried my wounds home like secret gifts. I treasured the bruises blooming on my flesh like blue and purple lotuses, and I pressed on them to feel your touch again. I let the blood drip and stain my gi and my bedsheets like precious rubies, and under the blankets I curled around the smell of your sweat to keep you warm in my dreams.

Hideo, did you ever love me? Did you start to hate me, too? You tried so hard to throw the judo master at our final class. You were so sure of your skill, but I had never seen you so powerless. You shoved and strained and bellowed like a bull until you went red in the face. When my turn came to try, you turned your back on me. I was nothing to you then, only a small, skinny child, not even jailbait, a little girl starting high school while you applied to colleges. I was nothing, nothing but the student you had outgrown. And though you did not deserve it, my Sensei, I wanted nothing more than to honor you.

Oh Hideo, did you hate me when I threw the judo master? You didn't see the mountain man, 300 pounds of flesh and bone, tip over my swiveling hip. But when he came down, the dojo floor shook, the glass rattled in the window frames, and dust sifted off the trophy shelves. It was an earthquake, a tsunami in one smooth circle turning patience into force. Do you remember, Hideo? You spun around so fast your braid cracked like a whip, and the look on your face would have been so funny, even funnier than when I told you I was fourteen, if I did not want so much to make you proud of me.

"She didn't," you said, you foolish teacher, and you punched the wall by the weapons rack and locked yourself in the bathroom like a child.

Oh Hideo, how I loved you still. You started college and didn't teach me anymore, but I came to your dojo week after week and taught self defense to people older and weaker than myself. It was good work. Sometimes I practiced kata. It was good practice. But the only reason I came was to catch glimpses of you. Though we never spoke to each other again, I positioned myself by the mirror every time so I could see you in the periphery of my vision, my deadly Samurai. And you filled my eyes so that I could not see the blows coming, and my head went dizzy with punches, and the calluses on my feet grew thick from turning, turning to follow your reflection, so that I could not feel the wooden floor or the drying grass outside.

Did you ever watch me, too? Did I haunt you while you tried not to look? Did you see the ghost of your own form in my stances, Sensei? Did you notice when I bowed at the door one night and walked away barefoot into the ice and snow and never came back?

Do you remember me now, Hideo, now that you are a doughy car salesman with a dorky haircut?

Well, Hideo, after all of this, I have only one thing to say to you, and you may be ready to hear it now: Thank you. Thank you for telling a fourteen-year-old girl that her power was grace and beauty, for making the lie true in one smooth circle. You took down my heart’s defenses, but you gave me weapons of the body.

It was you, Sensei, who taught me how to kill an attacker with a set of car keys.

It was you, Sensei, who taught me how to break a man's neck with my legs.

It was you, Sensei, who made me vulnerable to nothing more dangerous than a mysterious Samurai smile.

My victories were not your failures, Sensei. Why couldn’t you see? My fist in your face, my twisting thighs bouncing your head off the floor, my hip tumbling the judo master to the ground--these were gifts you gave to me, and I honored you with them.

You shaped me in your own hands, Sensei. You fired me hard with your Samurai gaze. I am a woman now. Would you recognize me? I have lived through Catholic school cocaine parties, sat in the classrooms of child molesters, surfed the mosh pits of the angriest metal concerts, stared down a college serial rapist twice my size, thrown a man who belittled me to the floor with one arm, gone out walking to art galleries and movies late at night in six inch heels and a miniskirt through frat house alleys, and never, not once, did anyone ever touch me without my desiring it.

Including you, Sensei. You gave all this to me. Do you know that?

You sell used cars now. I don't know why that is so strange. I am a church secretary and a wife. I live in a ranch house with roses in front. I hope you have married well, Hideo. I hope your wife keeps you in line.

Whenever I am startled and the heel of my hand moves faster than the eye, whenever I feel wary and my big toe traces an arc toward fighting stance, I think of you, Hideo. When my husband caught me one day in the kitchen, remembering what I had long forgotten, performing No Hi and making my jeans snap with the force of a pantomimed femur break, and my bearlike, hulking man stood slack-jawed in amazement and never again worried about leaving me home alone, Hideo, I thought of you, and I thanked you.

I bow out respectfully now with my palms together. I bend low, but I keep my eyes raised always, as you taught me. Farewell, Sensei. Domo arigato gozaimasu.


  1. Can I just tell you how gorgeous and funny this piece is? I've told you before and it's just as true now. Matter of fact, the way you've rewritten or edited it, it sounded so much like a traditional Asian narritive that I got confused if this was the same story you'd written before. Maybe it hasn't changed much or maybe it just struck me now. This is stunningly gorgeous. I especially love how the HATE/LOVE intertwine to the point of wanting to punch him, feeling bad about it and then wanting to do it again. Ahhhh youth.

    You are one of the most talented writers I've ever had the pleasure of reading. We need to start that writing group.

  2. Aww, thanks! And yes, we do. I need more Miss Moppet love stories in my life.


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