Friday, August 29, 2008

the children of ghosts

Anette and I were laying in bed the other night when she told me that some friends had just gotten some bittersweet news. They are on the verge of meeting, for the first time, a baby girl who may become their foster daughter. That afternoon, they had learned that the child's biological parents had agreed to relinquish their custody of her and said they would not fight to get her back.

Hearing this, I felt the same mix of relief and sadness that I felt when we adopted Adinah and when we met V. I was disoriented: when you realize that your joy comes at the cost of someone else's great sorrow, you feel an ache like no other.

It made me think of an old Japanese horror film I've been attempting to watch, a little bit at a time, over the last two weeks. It's a very long, very slow film from 1964 called Kwaidan. It tells the story of a man who falls in love with a beautiful woman, who becomes his wife, then the mother of his three children. One night, as he gazes at his beloved, a trick of the light reminds him of a terrifying experience of his youth.

Then his wife looks at him and tells him that she is that ghost.

I should kill you now, she says, but we have three children. If they ever have cause to complain about you, I'll be back. Then she disappears into a black, snowy night.

The man is overcome with fear and grief, and he runs out into the dark after her. He knows she is gone, he knows she has killed many men, but already he misses her so much it hurts. Just that day he had finished making a beautiful pair of sandals for her. Now he puts them down in the snow--his last tender gift to her. He turns to go back inside, to his children, and the falling snow begins to cover the sandals.

Back in our time, in our bedroom, I told Anette about this scene, both because it moved me, and because it seemed relevant to a discussion about people who lose their loved ones.

"So many children," I said. "And so many ghosts."

"I love you," said Anette.


Flashtrigger said...

I've never experienced that kind of thing from a parental side, but I was given up at 9 and after going from house to house for a bit I was adopted at 14. It was never perfect, there were issues of course. But Even with that loss I know I am better off. It takes some people a long time to realise that when they're in a similar situation but...more than likely, the parents feel the same, too. Maybe they don't want children and never did, maybe they sense dangers within themselves or they simply like life better alone. Or maybe circumstances can't allow them to keep their children (parents are too young, ill, financially unstable) and even in wanting to keep them, they hope desperately that the new parents will be kind.
Either way, it's my opinion that fostering or adopting a child--at any age, don't forget the teenagers, they need families too!--is the most noble thing one can do.

Ed Ward said...

I saw Kwaidan (based on stories by the New Orleans madman Lafcadio Hearn, who eventually settled in Japan and died there) in college, but it was the same print: only three of the four stories! I have no idea why this was; maybe it was shortened for American audiences initially. And this is the story I haven't seen!

Nice to find a fellow fan, though. Now I gotta find a DVD of it...

pat said...

I believe it was shortened upon initial American release--the version I'm still trying to finish watching is two and a half hours long. Funny thing is that in books and on the Japanese poster for the film, stills from this episode figure prominently. It's pretty haunting. Apparently it was later (1968) released as a freestanding film called Woman of the Snow. Cheers!

pat said...

Dear FlashTrigger,
You write from an extraordinary, and extraordinarily understanding perspective. I hope I get to meet you some day.