My father was dying all my life. When I was one-and-a-half he was missing for a few days. On the way to work, he pulled off the road and had a stroke. He was unconscious in his car, and wasn’t found until someone who lived on the street called the police.
The doctors told my family he wasn’t going to survive. He did. His brain wasn’t as quick. He stuttered. His coordination was gone. And from that moment on, he was slowly dying from what should have killed him in the beginning.
I spent my childhood days knowing my father was going to die. It was assumed it was going to be soon; the only question was when. There were many nights I stayed awake in bed. I remember I used to sneak into my parent’s bedroom to watch my father sleep. I imagined if I were there, he couldn’t leave me without saying good-bye.
Because of my father’s condition, he was put on a strict diet. No sweets. No fatty foods. Lots of exercise. I remember everything we ate at home was bland. No salt. No sweeteners. Plain. But he wasn’t willing to change. He continued to eat whatever he wanted to in front of us and behind our backs. When my parents fought it, my mom would end up telling him, “You can eat whatever you want. I don’t care.”
My reaction was always to cry. I cared.
She didn’t mean it (I see that now). She was trying to make a point. But in my mixed up childhood brain, I thought she wished him dead.
I used to plead with my father to eat healthier. And he would always smile at me as though I were stupid. I would repeat myself to make it a point. Making myself look even less intelligent. And then he would change the subject to the weather, the Dodgers, or to my schoolwork.
When my father would leave, I argued with my mom. “How could you say that?”
“He’s happier eating what he wants. If he wants to die like that, you should love him enough to let him.”
“How can you say that?”
And my mom would tell me I was too young to understand.
Every morning, I spoke to him about the future. I hoped I could get him excited enough about it to alter his diet. When I was brave, I would ask him if he would change for me. He never had to think about it, the answer was always “no.”
“Every time you eat that,” I would say to him, “You’re killing yourself.”
He shrugged. It was okay with him. That’s when I learned to associate food with death. And as soon as he passed away, I stopped eating anything I didn’t need to eat. I obsessed about it in the hopes of not becoming like my father. I worked out constantly and was convinced I was morbidly obese. If I ate a slice of pizza, I would run five miles. It got to the point where I lost 40 pounds my freshman year in college.
I ended up seeing an eating specialist. She tried to help me understand why I was losing so much weight. The only thing I remember from the sessions was that she helped me understand that my obsession and the stress I was putting on my body/mind/soul was probably more harmful than the pizza I wasn’t eating.
It’s been about 10 years since my father’s passing. Any time I put anything in my mouth (not a vegetable) I still think about how it’s one step closer to becoming like my father. I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I’m OKAY with just eating and how I look but it doesn’t affect me like it used to. Partly this has to do with my maturity but I tend to think a lot has to do with my wife. She loves me and supports me no matter how big or small I am.
Koji | Los Angeles, CA | USA
Koji Steven Sakai is a graduate from the University of Southern California’s Masters of Professional Writing program. He has held several prestigious fellowships from The Writers Boot Camp, The Producer’s Guild, Film Independent, Visual Communication, and the Screenwriting Expo. Koji’s first film, Haunted Highway, was directed by Junichi Suzuki and distributed by Lions Gate DVD. Most recently, he wrote and produced The People I Slept With, a feature romantic comedy directed by Quentin Lee. The People I Slept With has screened at prestigious festivals around the world, enjoyed a short theatrical run, and will be coming out shortly on DVD and television. In addition to his work in film, Koji is a regular contributor to Discover Nikkei and 8Asians. He is also the Manager of Public Programs at the Japanese American National Museum.