Moving day. In the last hour before our family embarks on the first leg of our journey halfway across the world, I walk from room to room in our little Japanese house, photographing emptiness.
The bulk of our belongings have been shipped or sold or donated or thrown away, save for one pile of airline-allowable luggage stacked high, a lonely mountain accentuating the absence of (typical) clutter. Boy and Girl dart in and out of spaces made new, laughing and screaming (mostly screaming). Every photo I take is blurry.
The house is clean — as clean as an old Japanese house can be, that is. But as I enter the final room of this one last tour, I sigh. I still can’t quite get over the damaged shoji. Admittedly, I’ve been avoiding the ruined rice paper that, until today, has remained neatly hidden behind innocuous taupe drapes — installed to provide insulation against the extremes of Kyushu’s mushiatsui summers and chilly winters (cue Junichiro Tanizaki’s slow posthumous roll).
I’d meant, for months, to mend this hidden eyesore. I strategized about sandpaper, glue, the properly angled pull of parchment against wood frame. Later, Koun and I started discussing repair shops we’d noticed on the way home from work. But time got ahead of us, as it so often does, and no such heroic efforts were made. The destruction remains.
“Kids — what can you do?” This had been our landlady’s response to our bowed heads and apologies.
She was right, of course. Shoji is no match for temper tantrums, overzealous miniature vehicle play, a newfound love of somersaults. Nor is it a match for Papa, tumbling into it by accident during impromptu sumo battles with Girl. Nor an exhausted and weeping Mama leaning against it at 3 a.m., Boy asleep at her feet, night terrors momentarily vanquished.
As I stand here with my camera in this beautiful and imperfect house, I don’t know what I’m trying to capture, really, and maybe that’s just it: there is no fermata that will hold us, no image that will anchor us to this place and time. The taxi will come. We will get it in. We will leave. Maybe someday, I’ll learn how to let go.
Kneeling in a corner of tatami, I frame the light coming through shredded shoji as Boy wanders in and spots sky behind naked glass. “Hey, Mama,” he says, “look!”
“Don’t move,” I say. “Stay just as you are.”