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To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 29.08.2047, 9:04 a.m.

Hey Eiji,

I am, in fact, still alive and hoping you're the same. Please mail me back to let me know you received this. So you know it's me: once in NY you served me this weird, dry Japanese fish, and I apparently ate it wrong because you stared at me with this horrified look on your face. But then, the fish was pretty horrifying in itself. Giant niboshi!

A

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To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 31.08.2047, 8:33 a.m.

Ash, I did receive this. Please tell me what's happening with you. I'm ok.

E.

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To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 31.08.2047, 11:13 a.m.

Thank God. Thank God you're okay. Logically, I knew you probably would be. You're only 81; that's young in Japanese terms, but with every year that went by I kept wondering if I was going to be in prison for the rest of your natural life. I kept wondering if I'd finally escape to find my only real reason for escaping was gone.

I did escape, just about two weeks ago. I'm currently in a hotel, shouldn't tell you where but not in Russian/Ukraine. Finally got out of that orbit. I'm holed up with a couple friends on TB meds. We should all be okay, but right now, there's a lot of coughing and general feeling like shit. TB aside, we're all pretty exhausted. We weren't exactly in the best physical shape in prison, and we've had a couple weeks of constant on-the-run. It's actually amazingly nice to just spend the day in a real bed in a room with heat with the curtains drawn. Sleep is the best invention ever. Those doctors who come up with A-sleep meds should be first against the wall, I swear.

Good news (besides escape) is that one of my friends here is a pretty big deal in international covert politics. He's got some contacts who may be able to wrangle me an official pardon. Your plan of 60-odd years ago comes to fruition. Nothing's firm yet, but if that goes through, I'll come see you if you still want me to.

How have you been?

love,
Ash

***

To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 31.08.2047, 12:45 p.m.

Ash, of course I want you to visit. Or I will visit you--anywhere I can afford to go to. This is unreal. It sounds like you got so lucky; I'm sure you're not telling me the bad parts, but I hope all the good parts are true. I want to think of you truly free. I am suddenly ashamed I gave up on that. I should have worked for posthumous pardon in the US.

What can I say about us here? Can you believe Fei-Cui is almost 11? He and Ming live just down the road from us, so I see him all the time. He is a very active boy. He does gymnastics like Ming did as a kid.

Ming is still at Akita doing relational studies. Last April ('46), she published a critical documentary called, in English version, "Continua and Commonality," which is a vague title for saying that some aspects of interpersonal relationship are on a continuum: like how much time to spend together might range from almost none to almost always. But in all close relationships are common denominators, like a degree of predictability, even if what a person "predicts" is that other person is pretty unpredictable. She won McBride Award for it; you should see it, maybe while you are shut in your hotel, getting well?

Sing is completely retired now, well, from teaching. He does volunteer tutoring and investment. I am mostly retired but still do about three fundraisers a year, and I tutor English. I have more time for photography, which is nice. Often, Sing and I take trips to parks for the scenery.

Sing says hi. Actually, he says he is happy you are alive and well and to tell you you keep going like the Engerizer Bunny. He is impressed.

I want to hear about what happened to you, but I don't know how much you can say without security problem. How long will you need to recover from TB?

love,
Eiji

I really told myself you were dead. Even though I knew you might not be, I had to tell myself not to wait forever. It's like a child being kidnapped.

***

To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 31.08.2047, 2:48 p.m.

Hey Eiji,

You were right to tell yourself I was dead. That was absolutely reasonable.

The kid goes by Fei-Cui now? That's an improvement. I'll watch Ming's critdoc this evening. Sounds interesting. You all sound like you're doing well. I'm glad. I'm relieved.

Thank Sing for me. They once did a commercial of the Energizer Bunny dressed as Darth Vader. Now, I'm picturing myself as Darth Vader Bunny. So thank Sing for that.

I was being held in an ad-hoc prison--converted school--by a mercenary group called Холодное Солнце (Cold Sun). I don't think it will hurt for you to know their name; they only operate in Russia. They're actually not a "bad" organization as mercenary interrogation troops go. They have a pretty stable command structure: fairly strict but not so draconian it implodes. They treat their prisoners relatively well. They don't hate us, you see. They just want to sell our intel, or once they've got our intel, possibly sell us, or recruit us, etc. As prisons go, it was better than the US in terms of being less isolating. Worse in terms of food, heat, and medicine.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm capable of being quite pissed off at the thought that I spent six years of my life there, but compared to what could have happened to me, it could have been much worse.

If I look back over the course of my life, I could have spent it as a puppet for Golzine's empire, even after he was dead. Eiji, that would have been worse. I could have been YL, and as much as he's accomplished some impressive things and come through for me on many occasions, that would also have been worse.

And right now, of course, I'm just feeling good by contrast. There's no heaven without hell, they say. My friends here are good guys to be stuck with in a situation. The guy with connections I mentioned is a pretty solid professional with an old British TV fetish. The other guy's this little Jewish guy. I feel bad describing him like that, but it really is how we all thought of him in prison. (I was "the American," which I kind of enjoyed). He's a bit hard to explain: a passionate soul who's been squished. I make him sound like a Romantic poet, which he's not.

The two of them are occasional fuck buddies (not with me in the room). I should say they're prison fuck buddies, which means they're on the cusp of coming to grips with the fact that their relationship is over. I feel sorry for them. I'm glad it's not me. (Kind of the opposite of B and me: love based on loneliness and sex, but equally impracticable out in the world.)

I'm so glad I reached you. I can't tell how much this means to me, just mailing you today. But I guess you know. I'm going to get some sleep now. Meds and all. I'll watch Ming's doc and talk to you soon.

love,
Ash

***

To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 31.08.2047, 3:16 p.m.

Ash,

Oh, right: Hisui decided he hated that name when he was 8. So now in Japanese we call him Hei Shue, more like Mandarin. Sing also likes to call him by a Chinese name; he is very proud of his grandson (^^)

It means so much for me to hear from you too. I am just home all day with my reader, staring at your messages. At first, Sing asked very practical questions about if it was really you, but there's no question.

You sound good. As you say, heaven comes out of hell. Maybe that's why, but you sound restful. I hope your pardon comes soon. Let me know if I can do anything, send messages to the White House and so forth.

Get rest, but please write me tomorrow at the latest.

I love you. I have always loved you, since I met you 62 years ago. This is hard for me to write. In all honesty, part of me wanted you to be dead so that I would not have to deal with it when you come back and then die and come back and go away again. Every time, it kills part of me. It makes part of me be numb, like branches die one by one on an old tree that has many frosts. Part of me has trouble writing this and not yelling at you for going away again, for coming back to go away again, like my heart believes you will. But I won't pay attention to that part. It is not my better part. My better part is with you always.

Eiji

***

To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 31.08.2047, 7:20 p.m.

Damn, Eiji. Damn. Everything you say is so damn understandable. How could you feel any other way? I hate that I've done this to you. I can't undo it. Our lives are almost spent up. It's too late to resurrect our dead branches. We're dead where we're dead, and we keep living while we have some roots and leaves still flowing.

I won't go away while there's power in me to stay. Because your better part doesn't want me to.

For what it's worth, I can't echo your sentiments. You've always kept me alive. In pain a lot of the time, but less pain than I'd have without you. There have been times you were the only thing that made my life worth living.

love,
Ash

***

To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 31.08.2047, 9:38 p.m.

Ash, I don't mean it to make you feel bad. I'm so glad you're alive and ok. I can't feel how glad I am yet. Mostly, I feel a little panic. But I know I am glad. I'll talk to you tomorrow.

love,
Eiji

***

To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 01.09.2047, 9:03 a.m.

Hey Eiji,

Watched Ming's doc this morning. Boy, Ming's experience has really been shaped by some some non-traditional parents, hasn't it? I liked it, and I agree with her general thesis that the diversification of acceptable types of primary relationships is ultimately based on a combination of worldwide democratization/individualism going back to the Enlightenment and the collapse of distinct gender roles predicated mainly on the advent of reliable birth control.

But this diversification (as conservatives are fond of pointing out) leads to social disintegration as people become disconnected from their traditional "place" in society (cf. postmodern alienation). A new "stability" is required to reintegrate society into a functioning system of supportive relationships based on interpersonal fit more than socioeconomic role. And this "stability" is ultimately predictability in the relationship. As from the dawn of history, relationships need ground rules. It's just that increasingly today the rules are not preordained by culture but rather determined by pair/group.

The sticking point--and I don't think Ming acknowledges how sticky it is--is that this involves a lot of reinventing the wheel. Primary relationships are multidimensional, including facets as diverse as friendship, fun, finances, sex, child rearing, geographical location/career choices, religion, extended responsibilities to each other's families, etc., etc. Developing new, mutually agreed on and mutually comprehended and feasible ground rules for each individual relationship from ground zero is nigh impossible. But relying on a pre-established set of old ground rules (ex. We will get married, live together, have sex, produce children, file joint taxes, and share all monies) is increasingly strangling to those people who perceive a disconnect between their desires and some aspects of that social contract.

So what's the solution? I think Ming is fundamentally right that the solution of "stability" points to a new set of culturally agreed-on ground rules but one that is more flexible. Take sex as an easy example: old ground rules: have sex with your spouse to produce children; the rest is sin. New ground rules: have sex with any non-close-relative adult as long as it's consensual, "safe," and sensitive to how it will impact your (and other interested parties') relationships. Now, the new set of rules is pretty damn prescriptive, even proscriptive ("stable"). If you don't follow it, you're doing something broadly understood to be "wrong," but it's also infinitely more flexible than the old rules.

But how do we extrapolate that reasoning to the multidimensionality of whole relationships? I don't think Ming has an answer to that yet. And neither do I.

(Wow, this is not the message I intended to send you one day after contacting you for the first time in years. Then again, it has everything to do with us, doesn't it?)

love,
Ash

***

To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 01.09.2047, 10:46 a.m.

Hi Ash,

Wow, you have thought about Ming's thesis a lot more than I have. I am mostly just proud because she is very smart. But I think you are right about the difficulties.

I think you are right that Ming doesn't have an answer, and I see this in her personal life. I don't think she has ever had a satisfying primary relationship. She tried being straight and being gay and ace and all sorts of things that don't have a handy word. She mostly has "just friends," but there is a "just," right? Akira is the same way, I think. I don't think she was ever happy with someone long term (except maybe Sing, which makes me feel guilty that he left her).

For Akira, this is somewhat tied to gender. She is not comfortable as "woman" or "not woman," and most people are not comfortable without the label "woman" or "not woman," so from the start, most cannot understand her or want to be with her (or she with them). For Ming, this is less about gender. She is pretty comfortable as woman, I think. But she is not comfortable with traditional expectations of a partner, even a lesbian partner.

I know the same has been true with you. Do you want to talk about it? Are you feeling better today with TB meds?

love,
Eiji

***

To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 01.09.2047, 1:17 p.m.

Hey Eiji,

I can't deny it: I've never been comfortable with the traditional expectations of my lesbian partner.

I'm feeling about the same, which is good, slowly on the mend. I'm so hungry! Not in the sense of going hungry. Aleksei (the guy with connections) managed to call in massive money. I mean this is the first time in I don't know how long I've actually felt hungry. Must be a sign of the meds working--and finally being under less stress.

I feel sorry for Ming and Akira--well, I feel with Ming and Akira. You're right; I've been there. Lev (the enigmatic Jewish guy) has been there too. He's got (did have) a big circle of close friends in Russia, including a sort-of gf. I get the feeling a lot of his relationships have been kind of undefinable. His problem now, though, is that he can't go back to Russia (he's wanted), so he's cut off from his whole circle and his family, and he's a guy who really needs both. He exists in relationality.

It's like... I don't know if you know Wagner's Ring (the operas), but he has a leitmotif for different things: the curse, the Rhine, Siegfried, Valhalla, etc. But he doesn't have a leitmotif for Brünnhilde, even though she's, like, one of the top two or three main characters. There's no "Brünnhilde" theme; there's only Brünnhilde in connection to others: B as a Valkyrie, B as Wotan's daughter, B as Siegfried's love interest, etc. Lev is like that. He's like a spider web: he's not there unless he's hooked up to something. Right now, he's hooked up to Aleksei, and I feel really bad for him that he's about to be cut loose.

Aleksei is (was) married, and one of his big projects right now is finding where his husband is holed up. We're not 100% sure husband is alive, but he probably is. He's the one Aleksei sent a message to for the money--so it either came from him or the message got circuitously diverted to a friend. Probably came from him. 'Course things like this (prison) kill marriages, so A may be cut loose too--but even if he was, he wouldn't stay with Lev. That's just not how it's going down.

It's a mess, Eiji, as Ming observes.

love,
Ash

***

To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. From Vladimir Ilych
Sent: 02.09.2047, 8:16 a.m.

Hi Ash,

I wish your friends well. Everyone who has been in prison and maybe thought of dead for years has a long road back.

I am very warmed and very comforted that you have a good appetite. This is the best sign I know that you will be ok, in body and mind.

Please tell me more about--all of it, any of it.

love,
Eiji

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To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Things afoot
Sent: 26.10.2047, 12:35 p.m.

Hey Eiji,

My pardon is in progress! God, it's nice to have friends in high places... semi-legal high places. Aleksei and his contacts are talking about whether there's a place for me in their organization(s). If they take me on, it would be my first job ever that has been legal! Except writing in prison. First job free and legal. So you can imagine the stunning performance I gave to Aleksei's ex-boss (the pardon-finagaling guy) in my, for want of a better word, interview. I put on my broadcast accent and used long sentences and everything.

We also got confirmation today on the locale of A's husband, which happens to be Japan. So we're headed there next.

I can come visit you?

love,
Ash

***

To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. Things afoot
Sent: 27.10.2047, 9:18 a.m.

Hi Ash,

My God, I can't believe you're coming to Japan just like that. Are you coming by ship? Do you know when you will arrive? Of course, you will visit us. Can you come to Akita? Would you like us to meet you somewhere? I can show you Izumo, like I said so many years ago (^^) ?? Just tell us when/where, and we will do it.

Also congratulations on your job! Well, I guess you don't have it yet, but how can they not hire you? You are brilliant and have many credentials.

love,
Eiji

***

To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Re. Things afoot
Sent: 27.10.2047, 8:12 p.m.

Eiji, would it be okay if I met with you and not Sing? I mean, at least for starters? I don't mean to dis Sing, but I would like a chance to catch up with just you if that's okay.

A

***

To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. Things afoot
Sent: 28.10.2047, 9:48 a.m.

Hi Ash,

Yeah, that is ok, though Sing really wants to see you. He's missed you all these years. But whatever you want is ok. Maybe we can meet first and see him later? Where would you like to meet?

love,
Eiji

***

To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Re. Things afoot
Sent: 28.10.2047, 9:01 p.m.

Hey Eiji,

Once in Japan (we're flying), I can get just about anywhere, so you're the best judge of the place. Somewhere quiet where we can just hang out? Hotel? Cabin? I can pay for any accommodation like that for a few days at least. City or country--one of those anonymous spaces?

love,
Ash

***

To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. Things afoot
Sent: 29.10.2047, 8:28 a.m.

Hi Ash,

How about Sendai? I know a good hotel there. We stayed sometimes visiting Akira. Do you know when?

love,
Eiji

***

To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Re. Things afoot
Sent: 30.10.2047, 7:49 p.m.

Hey Eiji,

Sendai is fine. I will know when very soon. No word on the job yet. Well, word is they'll probably find something for me, but it might be intermittent. We'll see; I'll make myself indispensable somewhere or other :)

So before we meet, I need to mention something. It's not so bad, but I don't want you to be surprised when we get together. When I got caught by the XC, they cut off my index fingers. They figured I was too good with a gun, so it was actually kind of a compliment. It's funny; for a long time, I just kept thinking, "Arthur." It almost made me a believer in karma.

Anyway, it's really not a big deal; it doesn't interfere with my daily life or anything, but just so you know.

love,
Ash

***

To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. Things afoot
Sent: 31.10.2047, 9:04 a.m.

Hi Ash,

Ever since I've known you, you have not told me things that go wrong in your life. You say, "I'm going out for a while. See you later," and you are going out to sacrifice your life or something. Now, we were talking and talking, and you didn't mention this "detail." It gives me a big sense of déjà vu. I always wonder what else you aren't telling me. In NY, I looked at your face, and I knew. I wonder if I still will.

love you,
Eiji

I enclose picture of your favorite seasonal vegetable.

***

To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Re. Things afoot
Sent: 31.10.2047, 8:07 p.m.

That's not fair, Eiji. Ever since I've known you, I've told you my deepest, darkest secrets. You know how many people before you I told about my little league coach? My dad. You know how many since? Boris. (And told him because you told me to.)

True, I don't tell you everything. If we were never going to meet up in person, would it do you any good at all to know about my fingers? Would it? Maybe sometimes I make the wrong call about what to tell you, but cut me some slack. I'm human.

I'm human, and I have a pumpkin phobia. See, I told you that, and look how that turned out. :)

love,
Ash

***

To: David Steel
From: Eiji Okumura
Subject: Re. Things afoot
Sent: 01.11.2047, 8:51 a.m.

Hi Ash,

I can't tell if you're really angry or just frustrated, but either way, I'm sorry. I overreacted. To answer your question, yes, it would do me good because I love you, and when you love someone, you share a life. You should anyway.

love,
Eiji

***

To: Eiji Okumura
From: David Steel
Subject: Re. Things afoot
Sent: 01.11.2047, 7:54 p.m.

Yes, we should have. I'll be in Sendai on November 16th. Just send me the name of the hotel.

love,
Ash