They walked casually down the street, a couple of late-night Beats. They stopped across the street from Harry’s office and stepped back into the shadows of an alley. The lights were out on both floors, and the street seemed quiet. As Molly started to move forward, Kats put a hand on her shoulder. “We wait and watch first,” he said quietly,“Stillness is a strength,” he repeated the mantra his father had told him many times in his training.
“Is that an army thing?” she asked as she leaned against the dark wall.
“It’s certainly a Ranger thing, but I learned that first training with my father.”
“Was he a soldier?”
“No, he was a salesman at an import company.”
“How does a salesman learn about strategy and combat?” Kats settled into a comfortable position where he could see the street, Harry’s building, and Molly without shifting his head.
“As a young man in Japan, my father learned the martial arts in school. He was very talented in these activities, and he got to study with a man named Jigoro Kano. Kano was the founder of a martial art that many around the world now know: judo.”
“Wow. So your father taught you judo?”
“Actually, my father taught me jiujitsu, which is the traditional Japanese martial art that judo is based upon. Where judo has now become a sport, jiujitsu is purely about combat.”
“So that’s how you could fight all those guys the other night,” she mused.
“Yes, but credit the US Army and the Ranger training with a lot of that, too.”
“Still, your father must be a great fighter.”
“He is, but he’s actually more of a pacifist than anything else.”
“Seems like an odd combination,” she replied.
“He taught me that budo, the martial arts, are only to defend and that aggression was antithetical to ‘the way,’ as he called it. He was adamantly opposed to my joining the army.”
“But you were fighting for a just cause. And don’t some folks deserve to get punched in the nose?”
“Well, I believed so, but my father was pretty staunch in his beliefs. There’s a special kind of stubborn that Asian parents have, especially with their kids.”
“That must have been difficult for you.”
“It caused some issues between us,” he said.
“So where’s your family now?”
“I have two older sisters: one in Chicago, and one in Washington, DC. Both are married.”
“And your parents?”
Kats paused for a moment, not used to talking so much about himself and his family. “They returned to Japan years ago.
“Oh,” said Molly, not expecting that particular answer. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. Just a Midwestern thing. We’re as open as a book about stuff and just assume others are as well.”
“It’s OK,” continued Kats. “My parents, well my father actually, felt more comfortable returning to Japan.”
“Was that because of the camps? Because of internment?” she asked somewhat hesitantly but still wanting to know his story.
“Certainly, that was part of it,” Kats said in a very matter of fact voice. “My father never talked about it, but I know he was angry about how he, and all the Japanese Americans, were treated. He came to this country as a land of freedom and opportunity. He had children here who were American citizens. He was successful at work and built a life here, and when it was all taken away arbitrarily, yes, it made him very angry. He felt betrayed.”
“I barely remember that happening during the war.”
“Most folks… most White folks don’t. And most Japanese folks don’t talk about it now. It’s like we’re collectively ashamed of what happened, and we ignore it. Even after the war, most people didn’t want to hire folks who looked like my dad. There was too much baggage. He could only get a job working in a candy factory. He never said anything, but I know that offended his dignity. Eventually my father couldn’t continue to ignore it, and ultimately it led to him leaving his adopted country for his mother country.”
“That must have been hard on you and your sisters.”
“It was. But the hardest part was when I volunteered to join the army during the war. My father was furious. He couldn’t understand how or why I’d volunteer for a country that had essentially imprisoned all of us. Many of the older generation felt like that, but guys my age, born here, felt like we had something to prove. He and my mother were both scared for me, but my father covered that fear with anger.”
Kats realized he’d been talking for what felt like a long time. It was something he rarely ever did. Somehow Molly coaxed it out of him, and he was grateful for the chance to share. She smiled and put a hand on his.
“What about you?” he asked, changing the focus. “You said you were from Ohio. How did you end up out here?”
“Ahh, well, that’s a sadly common tale. I spent a little time in Reno to get a divorce from Bill, my high school sweetheart. San Francisco seemed like a more interesting choice than returning to Ohio.”
“Yeah, you said something about your ex-husband yesterday…” he let the rest of the sentence hang in the air.
“Yeah, he had a drinking problem and a temper.” Pointing to her still swollen eye, she said, “Not my first black eye.”
“Sorry,” he said, squeezing her hand. For a while they sat in companionable silence, reflecting on the truths they’d shared, wondering what it meant.