Chapter Fifty Three
C-mom has ups and downs, one of us visits every day, then several every day as she needs more palliative treatment. Morphine can be kept at a minimum if we work on her with qi. Alternate shifts, Janah, me, Amaya, Nikko and Chan. Janah and Chan take the roughest patches. Amaya’s presence is frequently requested.
Chris tells me one afternoon, “I don’t know why but having Amaya in the room relaxes me. We don’t do anything special, nothing different from when you or the others are here. Some sort of mystery chemistry I suppose.”
“She likes your stories, both your stories about our family, and your book stories. She is delighted to be taping your discussions. She plays them for me, she’s already started work on your most recent book.”
“I think that’s part of it. With her, I can go into my characters, several show up in all the books. She’s incredibly attentive, I don’t know many people so focused. She has come to understand their personalities. I read a few chapters, made slight changes, explained why. There are things in former books that she didn’t carry over, she’s rereading the novels with a view to understanding my style. I also told her to begin to morph the themes into her own style.”
“That was generous.”
Chris, “The last novel of mine, she’s going to finish in my voice. Then we went back and forth on plots for future books. I gave her ideas and suggestions on avoiding repetitiveness, character development, things I had to struggle to learn. Susan will help with the edits. I guess it’s no surprise to you, she’s remarkably creative. She thought of directions to go with the books that hadn’t occurred to me. It’s like teaching writing to one remarkable student.”
“I don’t see why instruction skills aren’t transferrable from taekwondo to writing. But you’re right, she’s not exactly a beginner. She writes plays and performance numbers all the time. She’s going to publish under your name you know?”
“I told her she didn’t have to do that.”
“She wants to. She hasn’t said so, but I think she also knows it’s better to keep herself low key because of our work. She’s not going to take time to personally promote the books anymore than you did.”
Chris laughs, “My publisher will never forgive me for that. They are stuck in the mindset of promotional tours, interviews, the publicity crap. They make good money off my work, two books have been made into movies. I’m not Stieg Larsson, but I sell a fair number of copies before I hit the remainder bin.”
“Well, you’re going to go on, we’re going to use your jacket photo too. I’ve got a collection, head shots, taekwondo shots, working at your desk. Amaya will decide what to use with what book if that works for you.”
“I want you to make sure she moves to her own voice eventually.”
“If that’s how you want it, that’s how it will be.”
“If she makes a go of my last novel and writes the next in the series, then she should transition.”
“How is Taylor taking it?”
“Pretty well, doing the stiff upper lip. It’s hard for her. She’s a girlfriend, a real friend, and adjusted to a part time commitment. She and Susan are fine with each other, they’ve become friends. Taylor calls Sis, called her even before this business came up. They like each other. Take her in when I’m gone. Susan and I have become more than play buddies for her. She’s walking for big names, gets good magazine work, but it’s modeling. She knows the clock runs fast, and she’s nearly twenty eight.”
“Geez, you know, I never even thought to ask her age. She looks twenty. We should offer her the protein.”
“She’d jump on that. Still, fashion decides it wants some face, and if you aren’t that face, then it’s game over. Taylor is sweet, a little sassy from all the attention, but underneath, she’s vulnerable. She gravitated to me for strength, something solid in her nebulous world of clothes rack. She has no other skills, she’s an average intellect, she’s not going to leave modeling with jobs offers or book contracts, she’s not going to grad school for an MBA. She never went to college.”
“Sis isn’t going to let her flounder. Neither are we. Amaya likes her. Taylor wanted Amaya to go on a shoot with her, said she would get work. Amaya had to talk her down.”
“What did she tell her?”
“That she thought it over and couldn’t warm up to the job. She didn’t put it down, or act like it was beneath her, she’s protective of Taylor’s feelings.”
“You know she was abused?”
“Yes, she told Amaya. Amaya can’t tell Taylor about her former life, but it was easy to be empathetic, she’s been betrayed by parents, Taylor by a brother and parents’ denial. Taylor is also Amaya’s former name you recall.”
“You know, I had completely forgotten. How strange.”
“Taylor can’t know. There was no former life for Amaya, only parents sadly killed overseas and Janah becoming her ward. Still, she has a special spot in Amaya’s heart. Plus, Amaya gets another shopping buddy.”
“That’s touching, Amaya looking out for Taylor, like you guys looked out for her. What goes around comes around.”
Chapter Fifty Four
Janah, “This is the first death in our immediate family. It was sad when Tan died, sad when Master Chu and Zhang died defending the temple from Chinese determined to get to the secret teachings. Master Hue passed peacefully, he taught me, then David, the gardens and his potions. I think I want to simply be sad, not philosophize about life and death.”
We are in the room with C-mom. She’s unconscious, has been all day. It’s hard for all of us, a few months earlier she was a vibrant athletic woman, today a shell of that person. I’m reminded of Ms. Alva, not really there in the end.
Susan comes in, takes Chris’ hand, strokes her head, “I’m gonna miss my girl, I’m going to miss her a lot,” tears fall.
I go to her, my arm around her waist, Sis rests her head on my shoulder. Kara and James are outside, so are Taylor, Amaya, Nikko and Lacy. Taylor has been crying on and off all day, and can’t face being in the room with Chris. Amaya’s with her on the couch, they talk softly, Taylor speaks of Chris, how much she appreciates Susan. She needs to keep up a narrative.
I go to the family, “She’s gone.”
Stoic is out of the question. Nobody goes hysterical, but everyone cries. We do things any close family does, hug, weep, hug, sigh. It is part of catharsis, not closure, I despise closure, a catch all for nothing. I don’t want closure, I want to fondly recall my second mother, laugh about her direct, no nonsense language, her contrasting tenderness. My family has lots of contradictions, me most of all I suppose.
The undertaker comes. Chris is going to be cremated, and the ashes disposed of. She wanted no memorials, certainly not an urn full of burned up body. She left a legacy of books, martial arts instruction and novels, a school that will continue in her name and a protégé who would keep her alive in new novels.
After the necessities, we stay for another hour, then start to make our way home. Lacy is staying with Susan, Kara and James are right upstairs.
As we walk out, Taylor seems confused, Janah fixes it, “Taylor, come home with us for tonight. None of our family needs be alone.”
Taylor, “You sure? I…well…I …”
Amaya takes her arm, “I want you with me. Don’t worry about clothes, or anything else. Come on, no arguments.”
Taylor is still a little dazed, she goes along with Amaya. She appears to be glad someone is telling her what to do.
I’ll sleep with Janah and Nikko tonight, take care of her.
Amaya, Got it. She kind of frozen, I think she needs sleep, I think we all need sleep.
Use qi to relax her, you know what to do.
Amaya takes Taylor to her room, after bathroom necessities, I hear Amaya talking to her, “My mothers have taught me relaxation techniques Janah developed. We use them all the time if we are restless at bedtime, or to chill out in the afternoon if it has been really crazy.”
“I don’t know if I can sleep. I hope I don’t keep you awake. Should I move to the couch?”
“Lay down and be still. Feel what you feel, it will make no difference. Trust me, my friends are skilled, they know what they are doing.”
She sits cross legged with a pillow in her lap, lays her hands on each side of Taylor’s head.
“Your hands are so warm, God that feels good.”
It’s the last thing Taylor says. Ten minutes later she’s out. Amaya moves out from under the pillow and makes sure Taylor is covered, then slips to her side of the bed.
I come in the room, Now you.
I kiss her forehead, then do the same thing for her. Now there are two sleeping beauties in Amaya’s bed. I return to my girls, we snuggle, relax into each other, merge for a time, then fall away.
Chapter Fifty Five
I’m doing my usual tea and breakfast routine. It takes my mind off Chris, and would get us back into normalcy. The four months at her bedside are over, C-mom’s death wasn’t a surprise, we grieve, life moves on, we move with it.
Janah appears, “I’m going to the temple this morning, then to see Mrs. Fong, then yoga.”
“Amaya will be up for that. This morning she’s due to write, she wants to finish Chris’ last book. It is ninety percent complete, they swapped ideas for the remainder and Amaya wants to get it to the publisher next month.”
Janah, “Good. You and Nikko can occupy yourselves, what about Taylor?”
“Don’t know. I’m going to see Sis after breakfast, I’ll talk to Taylor when I get back. She may just want to go home.”
I have fruit and rolls out, scrambled eggs for Janah. Nikko joins us for coffee, says she isn’t hungry, not uncommon for her. I leave them at the table and check on Amaya and Taylor, return to the kitchen.
“Our ladies are out, I don’t sense any immediate movement. I’ll leave a note about food, there’s yogurt and fruit in the refrigerator, rolls, Amaya can handle it.”
I ask Nikko, “I told Janah earlier I’m going to see Sis. Do you want to come, or stay with Amaya? Janah is going to the temple soon, then to Fong’s.”
“I’ll stay here. Amaya is working this morning, yes?”
“Yes, on the book.”
“Janah and I were just talking about it. I don’t know, she’s welcome to hang here, she may want to go home. Amaya says Taylor is kind of at sea right now. She may appreciate being around us, not in an apartment alone. Chris always said Taylor was a sought after model partly because she wanted to be told what to do when. She’s not so good at thinking things up on her own. Underneath the elegant strides, long legs and shape shifting face, she’s an ordinary human, not dumb, not an intellectual either.”
Janah, “Let Amaya handle it. If she waits a day to start the book project, it isn’t going to matter. I suggest we don’t do anything but let her know she’s welcome.”
And we do, nothing, frequently the correct course of action and one not taken nearly enough. Nikko changes her mind, decides to go with me to see Susan. Janah to the temple with Chan. I check in with Amaya just before we leave, she’s stirring, give her the plan and a kiss.
Amaya, "Let me know how Susan is doing. I’ll entertain Taylor. She’s in a frail situation, her lover is gone, she lives alone. She has a couple of friends but they’re models, I think it’s more like work acquaintances than real friends. Shall we meet you for lunch someplace?”
“That might work. I’ll let you know in an hour or so, good?”
“Good,” another kiss, Nikko and I leave.
Susan is up, naturally. Lacy still there.
Susan, “How are you doing?”
“Lingering clouds, I can’t just switch it off. Sorry for us all. We decided life needs to be lived, and Chris would only be aggravated if we mope around.”
“I’m going to suffer my loss, I know she wouldn’t want me hiding out in a black veil though, so I won’t. Lacy and I curled up together and bawled for a while. Then we decided to quit feeling sorry for ourselves and went to sleep.”
James and Kara come in, James, “I’m going to the hospital unless there is anything I can do here.”
Susan, “We just finished saying we know Chris would think it foolish to sit around and self indulge. We had a remarkable life together. Like Daphne said, there’s lingering sadness, the death happened yesterday, but the inevitability has been there for some time. I am grateful we got plenty of goodbye time, not an accident out of the blue.”
“Good perspective. And you Lacy?”
“Oh my, Chris will always be inspirational. She was direct, loved to live, crazy about Susan and Daphne. She told me she felt like she fell into a fairy tale. It ended too soon, but she was deliriously happy with her life. Not a lot of people get that. I think it would be a denial of everything she is to us to get stuck in grief.”
Nikko, “Daphne and I have said much of what Susan and Lacy did, Janah as well. We will honor Chris by living, continuing her legacy at the dojang and in her books.”
Susan asks me, “Chris and I had time to work out the dojang schedules. When do you want to open up the classes?”
“My thought was to post a notice on the site and at the school that it will be closed for a week. With the comment C-mom wanted posted as well, I have it in my head so I regurgitate it for them, ‘I have been privileged to instruct you. Now, Masters Susan Sylk, Daphne Sylk, Nikko Murakami and our other black belt instructors will continue our tradition. I expect you to train hard, be diligent, and rise above petty worries and problems. You have heard me say it enough, I’ll remind you anyway. In taekwondo we learn several aspects, forms, Korean terminology, sparring, breaking, how to judge a match and how to help our fellow students. You may not be an A student in every aspect, but you can be an A student in one. Never settle for being a C student in everything.’
Susan laughs and gets teary eyed, “That is so her. You’ll take care of it?”
“Nikko and I will go to the dojang when we leave. We’ll put the notice on the door and do the website.”
James, “The people here are all perfectly normal. Better go to the hospital where I might be able to do something for people who can use my help.”
When James is out the door, Lacy says to Kara, “James is remarkable. I always appreciate his plain good sense. There’s no psychologizing with him. Only how can I help? We have a couple of shrink parents at the school. I have more difficulties with their children than most of the others.”
Kara, “He says that isn’t unusual. He loves his profession, but he isn’t crazy about all of its practitioners.”
Susan, “I hadn’t thought about Taylor. Where did she go last night?”
“Home with us. She slept with Amaya. Taylor is younger than her age, Amaya far older. ”
I check in with Amaya, What’s up?
Taylor and I are doing each other’s nails, chatting about nothing, being gorgeous. Some women look great as long as they are made up in flattering clothes, without them they look like road kill. Taylor and I are splendid always.
Okay, Nikko and I are going to do the dojang to post information about when we will be open. We aren’t all hoochied up, so let’s go to…wait, no, Janah is at the temple, let’s go to Fong’s. We’ll come home first and leave together.
Got it…kisses, don’t be long.
I smile, “We’re going to meet J at Fong’s for twelve thirty. The old lady will want to see us and offer her version of condolences. If you’re up for it, meet us there.”
Susan looked at Lacy and Kara, “I’ve barely left the house for weeks. I think getting out would be good.”
Kara, “Can’t say no to Fong’s.”
Chapter Fifty Six
Ten women gather, Ning joins us. Mrs. Fong parks us at a big table in a corner, respectfully offers condolences and leaves us alone. I don’t go in the kitchen for once, but Mrs. Fong does. The old woman’s gift is a personally prepared lunch and it is superb. Silky smooth soups, dishes of noodles, shrimp, whole fish, duck and pork, brown rice, oolong and green teas.
Mrs. Fong appears, we applaud, profuse thank yous overwhelm her attempt to say she had done nothing special, only welcoming friends. Nikko gets her off the hook by going back to the office to cover various matters concerning the buildings.
We finish and decide to walk back home.
Susan, “I’m fine, everyone go home. Kara’s here, James will be back soon enough” she glances at Taylor, “it would be nice if you could stay and visit. We really haven’t had much chance to talk, can you come up?”
Taylor looks relieved, she isn’t quite sure of her place, or if she has a place. Amaya has befriended her, but they had just gotten to start knowing one another during Chris’ illness. Sis saved her from a void, she’s the only one of us living alone, and it has become obvious that alone is not what she wants right now.
They break off and go upstairs, we continue to our place, Lacy to her apartment, Ning to hers, we are back to our foursome, looking forward to a bit of nothing for the remaining afternoon.
Janah, “I’m going to skip yoga and be a vegetable.”
Amaya, “I’ll help.”
That decides Nikko and I. We put on background music, light candles and circle on the mat. Books appear, Amaya reads poetry, then we marinate until nightfall. Time just evaporates, we’re more burned out than we realized. In addition to the last few months of Chris’ illness, our lives have ratcheted up over the past year.
Nikko has taken over management of most of Fong’s properties. Mrs. Fong isn’t getting younger, despite her energetic nature she tires more easily and takes most afternoons off, something she would never have considered without Nikko. With both the children well into school, Ning has also assisted in the restaurant management. She had, after all, successfully run six cleaning locations. Her role is mostly from her computer, she has access to records, recipes and vendor contact numbers and e-mails. She has begun to spend time in the kitchen as well.
Sis gets busier than ever, her network security service grown to the point she has to reroute potential customers to other people. Despite offers, she doesn’t want to merge into a large company, and she doesn’t want employees. She takes work she can personally handle and makes a ton of friends by handing them lucrative business. She won’t accept referral fees, or even consult. Her tricks and talent remain with her, not to be shared. I’m privy to her work, I fill in occasionally with minor grunt tasks I can do from home, hacking into corporate systems, trying to find holes in Susan’s systems.
I never have much luck with her stuff, very occasionally I’d find a weakness, usually got slammed on the next step by one of her backups. It’s more fun to take on a system that’s considering hiring Susan. The usual test is to see if she can circumvent their current security. She does about seventy percent of the time, much to the chagrin of CIOs. I’m pretty good at basic hacks, and even a little second level stuff. Susan created automated programs that dodge most of the entry level barriers, and several next level programs to take her to the most secure levels. Sometimes she has to go manual, occasionally calling around to various employees under the pretext of being with IT and getting them to give up passwords. But she’s written password algorithms that race through thousands of combinations in minutes, if you think you’re birthday combinations or even random numbers are bulletproof, think again.
Now Sis, Nikko and I will have to take over running the dojang on top of everything else. With Nishiko’s increasing building responsibility and Susan’s business, I figure out pretty quickly who is going to do most of that duty.
I also figure out that it’s time to have a couple of compensated 5th degrees to help. I know who I want, just need to get them on a schedule.
Andrea Jacobs is a former Chapmans student who I also know from our dojang. She helped me organize and train the Chapmans RSGs when I started school there. A red belt at the time, she’s now a 5th degree, a New York girl through and through. She graduated from Chapmans, went to college and law school in Manhattan, and wound up working with Mrs. Walker, our attorney and Chapmans attorney. She probably wouldn’t want compensation, I can’t give her free tuition, 5th degrees don’t have to pay in our dojang.
My other choice is Dominique Renaud, from a French family, doing occasional plays and commercial work in the city. Her family owns a winery in France and her condo serves as the family hotel when in town to meet with American distributors. Consequently, she has neither a mortgage nor has to pay condo fees, the company takes care of that. Nice deal in New York and one which allows her to pursue her interests in acting and a part time job with an art gallery in Soho. Dom is hot, I definitely would have jumped her, but, alas, she’s straight. Anyway, a slight diversion into the recent complexities of our lives. Janah wants more down time, Nikko and I don’t object, we also don’t see how we accomplish it.
We gather around the table in the apartment. A description of our place is in a prior book, but to recap, it’s one big room, living area, dining and kitchen are the same room. That space alone is near three thousand square feet. There are three bedrooms, each with a shower, separate bath, large vanity and separate water closet. Both showers have dual waterfall nozzles. We have two zillion gallon water heaters, a necessity for long haired girls who like both Jacuzzis and long hot showers.
A big table separates the kitchen from the living area, one Mrs. Epstein gave us when the place was built, seating for twelve. The living area floor is mostly open, usually a big cushiony mat rolled out, a low table for tea, a couch the size of an ocean liner, chairs spread around and end tables. Along the window wall is a storage locker, twenty five feet long, three feet high and wide. It has compartments, each with a hinged padded lid, great for extra seating and can serve as beds in a pinch. I won’t bore you with a lot of furniture and fixture details, suffice it to say functional space with a minimum of clutter is the theme. The only knickknacks are laptops and notebooks, one of which is never more than a couple of steps away. We are part of Chapmans wireless network, with DSL for backup and wireless mobile for backup to that. We like to be connected.