I do not know the way of the samurai. I am also fairly certain it is equally alien to my step-father, Ricky. But he’s still in the backyard and practicing with his katana despite that.
It’s better that way, though. He used to do it inside. Sometimes that meant he would accidentally practice slashes or whatever in the background of my zoom calls. This, in turn, would normally generate a variety of confused DMs from my co-workers. They’d want to know if it was a real sword (it was), why he was wearing a kimono (he says that’s what the samurai wore), or why he only has boxers on under the kimono (“Otherwise I would be indecent, Andrew-san”.)
The whole thing is pretty weird, but I think it’s a coping mechanism. He’s been pretty torn up since my mom died. And this all started while he was crashing at my place right after that. He was here because otherwise he was just sitting alone, being lonely, in their old apartment, which was really taking a toll on him.
Me and my wife let him know that we’d cover the costs if he wants to break his lease and live in our guest bedroom for a while. I think all my siblings offered the same to him, but we’re the only ones who could offer him a private bathroom, so it was a no-brainer for him to come here.
Well, now that I think about it, we’re also the only people in the family with a backyard big enough for him to practice his archery in. I wonder if that played a part in this decision. Jesus….
But, anyway: I didn’t question the samurai thing at first. The whole shebang started the day after he moved in. And, you know what? It seemed to bring him peace. I figured that the weirdness of it was outweighed by the calm he seemed to feel while practicing his swordsmanship. Plus, I figured that everyone mourns in their own way. No use policing grief, right?
So this goes on for like two or three months. Then, one day, he wakes me and my wife up at 6:30. He stood at the foot of our bed, announced that he was “off to repel the Mongol invasion and bring honor to his Jitō”, then just walked away. We heard the front door slam a few seconds later.
I wasn’t too worried about it at the time: Ricky is a 5'7, doughy, retired accountant from Peoria, Illinois. He wasn’t going to hurt anyone. And I doubted that he had a real enemy he’d be fighting. He’s never even been within a thousand miles of Japan or Mongolia. Plus, he also has a goatee that’s so uniquely heinous that you can’t really take him too seriously. I mean, heck, my mom and him even used to fight over it. He would never shave it, despite her (mostly-joking) protests.
The only reason I bring the goatee up is to point out that this isn’t exactly a menacing guy. I don’t think the cops would even stop him if he was running around with a sword out.
Back to the invasion thing — He was gone for the next three days. After the second day, I got pretty worried. One of the only things I know about the samurai is that they had to kill themselves if they failed a mission. And given Ricky’s recent loss, I was pretty worried about him. He was sad and not in a great place, I think. Well, Christ, maybe it was just me projecting: Mom’s passing hit all of us really hard. I was pretty sad. Honestly, even sadder than Ricky: he seemed to forget about the whole modern world when he was waving around that sword or composing haikus or something. I will say that, as far as coping mechanisms go, the samurai thing does seem to be pretty effective. But seppuku still really felt like a valid concern at the time.
So anyway, we check the guest room he had been staying in. It looked like he took his phone and charger, so we started ringing him. Me and my wife must have called him about 30 times before he picked up. Then, around 9 pm, he finally answers.
He picks up and he’s clearly furious. All he does is ask if “I understand the danger I am putting him in by sending him a messenger during combat” in a hushed tone, then immediately hangs up. Odd response, I guess, but we didn’t think about it too much. We were just relieved to see he was alive and kicking. That’s the best we could ask for given the circumstances, you know?
So the next day, he showed up back home at about 3AM. He had suffered some kind of slash-wound on his right arm, but it had been stitched up pretty good. There appeared to be fresh blood from it on his kimono’s sleeve. Also, he somehow got almost completely caked in mud and leaves. Like, all of his body was closed completely covered with shit, but for his head, a bit of his chest, and the place where he had the stitches.
I only saw all of this because I woke up when I heard him fiddling with the lock on our front door. He pretended not to see me when he finally stumbled in, then he cut off a hospital wristband with his katana and slinked towards the guest bathroom he was using before turning on the shower.
I had no idea what to think or say about the whole thing. Me and my wife talked over it the next morning and decided not to broach the matter with him until he brought it up.
Anyway, it’s been eight months now. He’s said nothing about the whole episode. Heck, maybe he never will.
You know, whatever happened, I just hope he didn’t actually find any Mongols. Christ, that would be a disaster. How could I explain this whole thing to the police if he hurt someone? Lord. Fuck, I mean, I don’t even understand it. What drives a retired accountant to walk the path of the samurai?
Hell, sometimes I wonder if this even is a grief thing. Like, I dunno. I grieved for my mom without spending seven thousand dollars to import a katana. Or buying a full set of Edo-era samurai armor that I don’t fit in to! Christ, he spent at least two grand on shipping it here. And the whole get-up just sits in our living room now. My son wants to try it on, but I keep telling him not to touch it — I mean, who knows where it’s been?
But, you know, if we’re being honest, I’ve never asked Ricky what this is all about. I always figured he would just stop being a Samurai, but then next thing you know it’s been a year and a half. And now, I honestly feel like we’re now well beyond the point where I can ask. It would be awkward. And, well, you know what? Maybe he is a samurai now. This could just be who he is.
And I mean, it isn’t too crazy if you think about it. We all grow in different ways, you know? Some of us mature as people, some of us change careers. And, well, maybe some of us become swordsmen, too.
Honestly, maybe it’s just not for me to judge the path Ricky’s walking. Hell, for all I know, I could end up being a samurai one day. Life’s strange like that. You never know what could happen. And man, would I look like an asshole if I make a big stink about this then, one day, boom — there I am. Topknot on my head and katana in my hand. And I mean, it could happen. Like I said, life’s strange. Best not to tempt fate.