We never fight. Sure, during the first year we lived together we had our clashes, some epic. We were 30 years old and trying to get used to living with someone else, butting heads over territory like a pair of mountain sheep. After we knocked each other silly (figuratively) a few times, we worked it out. So no, we don't fight. Over the eleven years we've been married, we've polished the code of our disagreements until a rolled eye (me) or flared nostril (him) can contain the sum of our frustrations with one another. But that weekend, we were fighting.
And we were fighting over not very much. A misunderstanding. A gallon of milk. The holiday blues. A bad mood. I'm not even sure where it started, but with startling speed a minor breach of the usual happiness in our house descended deep into some bubbling pit of anger. I had a vivid image of myself throwing a dozen eggs at him, one at a time. He had a flash of absolutely startling fury. We went to bed riddled with anger, and woke to a fresh day without speaking.
He was taking the older children on a day trip, and after they left I took Indiana and went to have some photos developed. Of course, that takes an hour whether you're in Japan or Jerusalem, so I wandered the PX annex killing time. The annex is an adjunct to the base shopping center, where independent vendors have small shops and kiosks to sell not-terribly-expensive items from several parts of Asia to an American audience held captive by their fear of walking into a Japanese store where people may not speak English. I looked at all of the titles on the sale table at the bookstore. I admired the embroidered tablecloth, but decided it was too small. I watched the Hello Kitty clocks wag their tails. Even so, I still had 40 minutes until my pictures were ready, and Indiana had fallen asleep in the stroller.
After the great explosion of anger had passed and all the fires had burned themselves out, I found myself settling into depression. And so I wandered in and out of the annex shops, tired, hungry, depressed, wheeling a sleeping toddler. In one store, I read the cards next to the displays of little Chinese zodiac symbols carved out of various stones. One of the cards read: "Jade --- for happiness in the house." My fog lifted, slightly, and I thought, jade . . . maybe I need some jade. But none of the little carvings seemed like quite the right thing, even though I circled the aisles three times (keeping the stroller in constant motion). But at least now I had a goal. Jade. I needed to find some jade.
Nothing seemed right. None of the jade zodiac symbols were our signs. The dragon balls seemed too intricately twisty to promote family harmony. Jade bracelets didn't seem helpful. Finally, I wheeled cautiously into a store overflowing with Asiatica, from the great (gigantic enameled vases, statues of Kwan Yin almost as tall as I) to the small (lotus flowers carved out of semi-precious stone, tiny golden dragons).
"I need a piece of jade," I told the woman busily trying to bring some order to the chaos. And then I recognized her. She also ran the "good jewelry" kiosk, and she'd helped me before. In the disorder of our first weeks in Japan, my amber bracelet had broken. I never take it off; it was the last straw in a difficult week, and I'd been near tears then, too. She restrung the bracelet, and so I associate her with both kindness and a change in luck. "I need a piece of jade. There's some bad luck in my house."
"What kind? What you need depends on the problem." So I explained. "Oh," she said, "you need something with a lotus flower on it. You know, Buddha is often shown with a lotus flower..."
"And Kwan Yin," I said.
"and Kwan Yin, too. It's a symbol of peace. Let me look in the back and see if I can find something."
I looked around while I waited, and found a little, disk-shaped jade perfume bottle with lizards on each side. It was almost invisible, displayed on a shelf behind a pillar, crowded in with a hundred other things. The price sticker was so yellow and faded that it was hard to tell what its original price had been. Not a lotus blossom, but already I felt better. It felt like that perfume bottle had been there for ages, on that shelf or others like it, waiting for me to see it. My advisor came back with a jade charm with Kwan Yin and a lotus blossom carved on one side and said, "This was the in the first box I opened, and I have a good feeling about it."
As I was paying, she offered me some advice. "There are many ghosts in Okinawa. We have the highest divorce rate in Japan --- Japanese people, not just Americans. We have people who go crazy, kill each other with knives." This I knew --- the local English-language paper carries stories every week of sons killing fathers for beating them, grown brothers stabbing brothers for shirking the burden of caring for older parents, husbands beating their wives because dinner was late. "But," I said, "our building is new. It can't have any ghosts."
"Oh, sure. It's the ones who used to live where the building is, they come back to see what's happened to their land. They see people living there, and they cause mischief.
"Some people," and here she was being cautious, in case I was likely to be offended by non-Christian advice, "some people say that the way to get rid of ghosts is to sprinkle salt in the corners opposite all of your doors --- don't forget the sliding doors. You sprinkle salt, then you light incense or candles and say some prayers. Japanese people believe that on New Year's you should clean your whole house and sweep all of the dirt outside, to get rid of the past year's bad luck, and open the windows to let in good luck for the new year." This reminded me of something my husband told me once, about his mother washing their home with holy water. It all made perfectly good sense to me. There are some times when it seems obvious that something is not as it should be, and if it takes jade or holy water to set it right, that's what you need to do. "But don't forget the salt."
As soon as I got home, I sprinkled the salt, burned the incense (and carried it into every room, including the showers and closets, just to be on the safe side), put the jade on the alter between Buddha and Kwan Yin, and spent some time meditating on the four immeasurables (May all beings be endowed with happiness/May all beings be free from suffering/May all beings never be separated from happiness/May all beings abide in equanimity, undisturbed by the four worldly concerns) --- which seemed to apply equally to family harmony and to soothing restless ghosts, and opened the windows to blow away the old air.
Who knows? Ed and the children came home, we stared at one another for a minute, and made up. The gallon of milk had turned back into a gallon of milk instead of looming on the horizon like a harbinger of doom. We've been fine ever since. Was it the jade, the incense, the salt, the four immeasurables? Did jealous ghosts stir up whirpools of anger with their insubstantial fingers, or was it only low blood sugar and the holiday blahs? It hardly matters, I think. We've been returned to ourselves: best friends, lovers, twin pillars holding an endless golden sky over our children.
But you know, at New Year's I think I'll get out my broom.
* * * * *
Was it because I stopped scattering the salt and sweeping the corners at every new year? Or did we bring an angry spirit back with us?
There are many ghosts in Okinawa.