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Link to click to read cancer blog which is part of the literary miscellany THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD: A HUGH COOK READER


One of a suite of blog entries about the aftermath of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, including brain damage and eyesight damage; a survivor's account of the aftermath of cns lymphoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the large B-cell variety, in the author's case cancer of the brain and the spinal cord.

Part of

        Having cancer has meant undergoing a number of disappointments and failures, and far and away the worst of these was my betrayal of my daughter.
        She was convinced that her father was coming home, at last. Though she is not yet two years old, she had internalized that idea. Her mother had taught her that it was the truth. But it was not.
        "Papa kuru!" said my daughter. "Papa kuru!"
        Which, in Japanese (a language which has adopted the English words "papa" and "mama") means "Papa is coming!"
        But I was not.
        The week in which I was supposed to be leaving my parents' home in New Zealand to return to my truer home in Japan, to rejoin my wife and child, I was busy with medical matters, facing symptoms which represent either damage to the optic nerves caused by radiation or (far worse) the return of the cancer for which the radiation was supposed to be part of the cure.
        So my daughter was cheated and betrayed. "Papa kuru!" — there's no truth of it.
        But now my wife is teaching her to say something else. Not "kuru" but "iku".
        "Papa iku!"
        In terms of formal grammar, this means "Papa goes!" But, in context, it means "We are going to papa!"
        They'll be here some time in this the month of February, flying in from Japan on Korean Air.
        Their baggage will include paperwork that I generated by interacting with the New Zealand government back in 2004, following the birth of my child. It was a major hassle at the time, but, in retrospect, it was well worth doing.
        One piece of paper is an English-language birth certificate for my daughter, a birth certificate in a form acceptable to the New Zealand government, a birth certificate extracted from an Japanese document (a copy of our Japanese household registry, saying who we are, what we are and how we came to be that way) by translators approved by the New Zealand Immigration Service.
        The Japanese household registry, which is kept by your local government office, is a rational one-folder-holds-all repository of documentation, such as birth certificates and marriage licenses, tends to get scattered amongst separate archives.
        From our Japanese documentation, the translators approved by the New Zealand Immigration Service also extracted something my wife had long desired for her peace of mind, an English-language marriage certificate acceptable to the New Zealand government.
        They are bringing these papers to New Zealand, my wife and daughter, and they are also bringing the jewel in the crown: my daughter's certificate of New Zealand citizenship.
        It's a kind of second-class citizenship. Because she was born outside New Zealand, her children, if they, too, are born outside New Zealand, will have no claim to be citizens of the nation. Fair enough. If she chooses not to be a New Zealander, there is no reason why any child of hers should claim to be one.
        (On this point, my wife and I are agreed that our shared ambition for our daughter is, very simply, that she should have choice. That she should have a life of choice, not one that we have predetermined for her.)
        Apart from that, the citizenship held by Aiko Cornucopia (as I shall choose to call her) is ideal to our purposes.
        If she some day wants to have her children be born outside New Zealand and yet still be New Zealand citizens in their own right, well, by fulfilling residency requirements and meeting other demands, she can upgrade her citizenship from second class to first.
        A similar situation exists with the similarly second-class British citizenship which I, as a British-born British citizen, was able to obtain for her, very easily, by filling in a form which I downloaded online then taking a bunch of paperwork to the British Embassy in Tokyo.
        For adults, Japanese law does not permit dual nationality, far less the kind of triple citizenship — of Britain, Japan and New Zealand — that my daughter currently holds. But, for a child in a polynational situation, the technicalities of Japanese law require no final decision to be made until the age of eighteen is attained; until that time, it is permitted to be polynationalistic, so my daughter has no citizenship issues to face for some years yet.
        Granted that my daughter's New Zealand citizenship is a second-class citizenship, it is, nevertheless, ideal for our purposes, because it means she can come here, live here, work here, pay taxes here, drink in the pubs, vote for the government, join the army, get a driving license, and roll up to hospital with car crash injuries and expect to be admitted for emergency treatment without being asked if she has insurance.
        And why all this paperwork?
        Well, my wife has a ticket which shows her returning to Japan just a couple of weeks after reaching New Zealand. But she has already obtained a six-month visa from the New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo (a stunningly massive building for such a tiny country to have in such an enormously expensive city, but it's nice to have it there when you need it) and she is mentally geared up to make the decision to stay and apply for permanent residence, if we decide that this is what the situation calls for.
        Given that the situation is unclear, the medical prognosis as yet unrevealed, that is a decision which lies in the future.
        However, since it's the decision we are facing, I am immensely glad that I squared away the paperwar problem back in 2004 rather than leaving it as a task for my daughter to tackle in her future, should she choose to do so.
        My wife and child will stay, as they have done before, in my parents' house. In preparation for their arrival, I will buy, for Cornucopia, nappies for a child weighing eleven kilograms. A mattress will be provided, this time, instead of a cot. Supplies will be laid in. For Cornucopia, milk (ordinary cow's milk, since she is a little girl now, not a baby), bread, cheese and bananas. And, for my wife, additional to that, yogurt.
        Other than that, there will be little needed in preparation.
        My wife will be arriving in a country which she knows well, having visited it on multiple occasions. She can handle the New Zealand accent and has pretty good written and spoken English, and can follow jokes and colloquialisms.
        Following the conventions that I laid down in my medical memoir CANCER PATIENT, I will say that my daughter is Cornucopia, that my wife is Murasaki, that we live at Hamayama in the city of Yokohama (if you find yourself actually at a Hamayama somewhere in Japan then you're at the wrong place), that the family's Japanese name (used by my wife and daughter, but not by me) is Nishikawa, and that my Japanese mother-in-law lives out in Gunma Prefecture near the down of Inakabashi.
        So much for their names.
        As for my name, my true name, my real and authentic Japanese name, the name whereby our local government in Japan has registered me and authenticated me, agreeing to my claim that I exist —
        My name in Japan, according to the documentation held by the family registry, is ... well, there's a story behind the name. Let's tell the story before we get to the revelation of my true official Japanese name.
        There was a big problem, a few years back, over my name when my wife and I went to register our marriage at the local ward office (our nearest outpost of the local government). The law permitted me to use only one surname and only one personal name, and yet my Japanese documentation had to match my passport, which recorded three personal names, "Hugh" and "Walter" and "Gilbert".
        On the day of our marriage, we stood at the counter for quite some time while the clerks gathered in a conclave, talking earnestly and pulling down manuals from the shelves.
        It's a bureaucratic system over there, but the good point is that the paper pushers, as a rule, do see it as being their business to make it work for you. Yes, all the boxes have to be filled in, but they'll do their best to help you do that.
        Finally, the clerks came back to the counter, wreathed with smiles. It had been a day of victory in the world of the clerks. Despite what arithmetic might say, three could be one and one could be three. They had squared the circle, and they were very proud of themselves.
        My one single family name was okay, and my three personal names, "Hugh" and "Walter" and "Gilbert", well, they were going to bundle them all together into one big trainweck and deal with me as COOK HUGHWALTERGILBERT.
        Problem solved!
        Foreigners in Japan come away with different opinions of local government bureaucrats, but, living in Yokohama as we do, we are living in a city which has what is, by Japanese standards, a very large and mixed community of foreigners in its midst (lots of Portuguese-speaking Brazilians who are ethnically Japanese, for example) and the city really puts in an effort to make things work.
        I write, casually, about our marriage "a few years back" as if I don't remember the year. I don't. It's no big deal. Not for my wife and I. When we discussed it last, she couldn't remember which year either. We met back on 14 February (Valentine's Day, of course) in the founding year of the Heisei Era, Heisei Gannen, the first year of the reigning emperor.
        That year was 1989, the year in which the Berlin Wall fell, the year in which, in effect, the Cold War ended.
        Having known each other for so many years, why should it matter to us precisely when in the last five or six or seven years we were married?
        Well, it doesn't matter to us, but it will matter to the Immigration Service if we find ourselves facing them across the interrogation tables, doubtlessly having people try to tear our stories apart in separate rooms to see if they match.
        Without the benefit of CIA training, we're going to have to patch up the flaws in our cover story and coordinate our tales.
        There is a fair amount of immigration fraud in New Zealand, and the Immigration Service is, to judge from a story I read recently in the newspaper, in paranoia mode. A New Zealand man showed up with a Welsh wife to whom he had been married for ten years and with whom he had produced two children, and the Immigration Service was most reluctant to accept this marriage as legitimate.
        I suppose, logically, the marriage date is written on the marriage certificate that my wife will be bringing to New Zealand. Meantime, for my own amusement, I can search my hard disk with Google Desktop Search, and see what turns up.
        Searches and hits:-
        1. "Honeymoon London"
        The search throws up three files, but all relate to short stories I've written, none to me.
        How about my passport?
        I entered Britain on my New Zealand passport rather than my British passport ... departed  Narita 19 March 2000, entered 27 March 2000 ... were we in London in March? It was early in the year, certainly. I'm quite frankly puzzled by this passport, lost amidst the stamps.
        We were married on the day we met, 14 February. Try a search for that.
        I give up.
        If the Immigration Service raids today, we're doomed. But they won't. We're still an unknown to them.
        In my trusty passport pouch, adorned with a well-deserved rhino logo, I find a bundle of Japanese yen, high-denomination notes. Will I ever get to spend this money in Japan? I have absolutely no idea.
        It doesn't matter.
        Given my situation, I don't really care where I am on planet Earth this time next year. As long as I'm somewhere.
        And, for the moment, I'm content.
        "Cornucopia kuru!"
        "Don't rush out and buy nappies just yet," said my mother. "Wait until they're on a special."
        She would know when they were on a special because she would get a pamphlet. The pamphlet would tell her and she would tell me.
        I went to the supermarket and the nappies, the diapers, they were on a special. Said so on the label, and Ms Marketing, who is still the sales expert even though she has retired from the company to concentrate on art, tells me they're not allowed to lie.
        The nappy stuff didn't look too complicated. Pink, so it's for girls. Also has a photo of a girl and bears a seal of approval from Plunket (a New Zealand "good health for mothers and babies" outfit).
        Huggies (they don't pay me to state the name) marked as being for "10 to 15kg", and marked, additionally, with a sign saying "FOR GIRLS", which tells me I didn't misinterpret the pink, and a sign saying "Toddler", which fits, because she's now walking. Last time she had not Toddler but Crawler (same brand but a smaller size) but she was smaller then.
        I bought, two packets, twenty each for a total of forty, and bought also, nuts, my daughter's poison. Peanut, cashew nuts and a packet of deluxe raw nuts. Which my mother, a little concerned, told me must be eaten before my daughter gets here, eaten and all gone.
        No problem. Fueled by my dexamethasone, my appetite is strong, and they'll be gone.
        Footnote: the day of my marriage turned out to be 14 February 2000. And, yes, our honeymoon was in London in March/April 2000, for which we had pretty much perfect weather.
        When I discussed our marriage with my wife, we could neither of us remember, off the top of our heads, which year we'd been married in, so forgetting the year was not a black mark for me.

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