As mentioned last week, Date Rokurou Yoshimitsu informed me of the passing of Date Saburou Yukiie, sometimes referred to in this journal as The Bushi From Mutsu. I had promised to keep silent about it until Rokurou-dono made it public. I was out of town at An Tir West War when he did so. (My phone lit up like a slot machine when i came offsite and reached an area with signal - two Tousando friends wanted to inform me before I saw it on the internet.)
This was what he posted to FB: On 28 June 2013, my closest, dearest, and bestest friend, Christopher Wright, lost his battle with PTSD and took his own life. He was someone that meant a lot to me and he is already missed. He and I met back in 1991 at a Society for Creative Anachronism event and became instant friends. He took me under his wing and taught me more about Japanese history, armor, clothing, archery, culture, and much more, than I would have been able to learn on my own. He also saw me as an equal, and sometimes his teacher, especially when it came to sewing Japanese outfits (even though he won an award for his, he remained very humble and insisted that my outfits were of a higher caliber). He was a Marine, who worked EOD, and would always say, "and I still have all my fingers". He would always do for others while sacrificing his own needs, and even saved a couple strangers, in the past few years (one was a woman that collapsed on the bus, and the other a kid that rode his bike off a cliff). I miss my friend! May Buddha see him as being worthy of a second chance and give him a chance to live again.
In 2004, Date-dono sparked a completely spontaneous eruption of poetry on the sca-jml Yahoo Group. It inspired me not only to participate but to write an article for Tournaments Illuminated on Heian poetry exchanges. Thus began a regular exchange of poetic conversations between us. It didn't take long for it to become flirtatious. At that point, honor required me to ask if there was anyone in his life who might feel threatened, offended or otherwise unhappy about the turn the correspondence was taking. He gleefully informed me that his wife Kay read everything we wrote, often over his shoulder as we were pinging waka back and forth. In short, game on.
As I shared our collected output on my website, I was often asked, "How can you do that?" It's complicated, but it worked. Had Kay not been happy about it I would have ended it immediately - I don't poach, ever. I almost always signed off with a comment to thank his lady for letting him come out and play and I often said I owed her some expensive chocolates and a dozen roses. He let on that our exchanges were good for their relationship, to which I recall chortling, "As long as SOMEONE's getting dragged off to the futon!"
It was a writing challenge: how to respond, how to up the bar and increase the challenge, even turn the tables on one another. He inspired me to write things I am immensely proud of. In turn he wrote things that made me laugh, that turned me to teary eyed mush (that in itself is an accomplishment!), that took my breath away, because part of this mad, amazing exercise was to allow ourselves to react on a deeply subjective level to the poems we received so that we could respond to them honestly, even though we knew the reality was that it was a fiction.
Were Yukiie and Hana in love? Yes, of course, though the back story I had in my mind (which I never told him about) was that we had glimpsed one another from afar, exchanged messages and kept trying to meet only to be thwarted at every turn. Keeping the chase going was definitely part of the fun for me.
Were Christopher and I? Certainly there was much to admire. He was a bright, funny, incredibly talented man who impressed the hell out of me at every turn. Go look at his artwork at http://www.kabutographics.com/deskIndex.html
I remember when he first posted these. He made all of it. ALL OF IT. The armor, the clothing. The quiver, the arrows. All of it. What's not to make a lady's heart go pitter pat?
He served in the Marine Corps during the first Gulf War. He was ever proud of his service, explosive ordnance disposal and security for a general - his FB wall never let you forget it, though he never let me see the bad side of it. Pictures of him and Kay traveling and looking happy, humorous dispatches about a campaign against the aphids in his garden, everything seemed to be good. He posted this two weeks ago with the caption: "A Marine, in a SuperHero T-Shirt, Drinking Lifer Juice out of a Marine Corps Cup. Fine morning indeed!"
Having had the word from Rokurou-dono privately, I think a part of my brain didn't quite believe it right away, and besides, I couldn't talk about it to anyone. I somehow managed to push it away during the preparation for An Tir West War and the ensuing activities. Then my cell phone went bonkers on Highway 101 and I had eight plus hours in the car alone to think about it. I found myself thinking about Kay a lot.
As I took the Broadway Alameda exit off 980 into Oakland I shut off my radio and drove in silence. I came out of the tube and turned right instead of left and headed out to the seaplane lagoon on Alameda Point. We'd once written of pouring cups for one another and I owed the man a drink.
Across the great land
a cup of sake offered
in gentle friendship
from one we have never met...
so sweet as to move to tears. **(Date to Saionji)
Across the great land
A bottle of cheer is sent
Where I could not go.
Dreaming yet of unmet friends,
We will one day share a cup. (Saionji)
- August 26, 2005.
I don't have a poem for this. I haven't the heart for it. Yet I know what I feel is a mere ripple compared to what his family is going through.