1: Earliest Memories

My excellent memory has always felt like a curse to me. There are a lot of things I would rather forget. Later on, as a teenager, gaps began to appear in my memory in daily life. Still, my memory of my childhood always remained clear.

My earliest recollections are of St. Emiliani Orphan Care Facility. In the orphanage, I was not deliberately mistreated, but I was overlooked and accidentally neglected often. My ears were always filled with the sound of crying and wailing from dozens of other young children and toddlers. Only one of the care-keepers ever called me by name, and even then, she only did so a handful of times. I remember once asking what my name was, and a kind care-keeper showed me my papers, which said my name was Kanazawa Sumire. She wouldn't tell me what happened to my real parents.

I also remember being mocked and yelled at by some of the other children because, during preschool-like activities, I always out-performed the others. My intelligence was doubtlessly the main reason that the Gasai family adopted me. I can recall the interview room, and I remember thinking that the Gasai couple were the best dressed people I had ever seen. I believe I would have been only four when they adopted me. So began my life as Gasai Yuno in the spring of the year 2000. What lay ahead of me would not be an enjoyable upbringing.

I always went to prestigious private academies as a young child. Even my preschool was a place for well-off children ahead of the rest in intelligence. Long before I fully understood that I was so separate from the world of normal children, I remember feeling oddly set apart. It was not pleasant feeling. I was lonely because I was afraid of talking to other children. My parents taught me to always speak politely, hold back any childish thoughts, and never speak unless spoken to. The teachers in the private elementary school were strict and had connections to my parents. If I ever showed the slightest rudeness or used incorrect speech, everything would get straight back to my parents, who would punish me. That's why I was afraid of talking with the other children. Well, that and the fact that they disliked me when I was pressured to tell them about my high scores.

My father rarely punished me. I can't remember him laying a hand on me, anyway. It seemed like he was always gone. I would often go entire days without seeing him since he would leave early and come home late. I wasn't allowed to stay up late and wait for him. It was my mother who punished me. In the days of elementary school, she used corporal punishment, either spanking me with her hands or with a large wooden spoon. When we walked beside each other in a social setting, she would squeeze my hand so hard it forced tears to my eyes. It was a reminder to be quiet. My mother also had a favorite way of stopping me if I tried to run off or grabbing me from behind if I said something wrong. She would pinch the muscle where my shoulder met the base of my neck, squeezing the brachial plexus and causing tingling pain and numbness all the way down my arm. My mother had an iron grip.

When I was seven, a nice girl in my class said she wanted to be friends with me. She said the teachers and her parents were hard on her, too. She had bruises under her uniform that she showed me in secret in the bathroom. Though I did not understand the significance of that at the time, I liked the idea of hanging out with her because I felt we were similar. Until then I had only ever talked about school with other kids, strongly encouraged by my parents to compete with them even when I didn't want to. This girl, however, wanted to play games, talk about dolls, share stories, and make crafts with me.

Unfortunately, such a friendship was forbidden territory for me. I asked my parents if I could arrange a Sunday to invite the girl over to play, and they refused. They also refused to let me go see her when she invited me to things. After I kept complaining about it, my parents reacted by forbidding me from speaking with the girl and telling the teachers to watch me during class breaks so I had no chance to be with her.

Whenever my parents made a decision like this, they would meet with me and have me kneel on the mat in the living room while they stood towering above me. This time, they said I couldn't be friends with that girl because she was rebellious. Now, I know it's because they were friends with her parents, who complained about the girl's disrespect even though she was only six. The fear of being hit again and again with the wooden spoon made me keep my mouth shut. Eventually, the girl who wanted to be my friend stopped trying to talk to me. She stopped inviting me to play. I cried a lot that year.

Another thing that separated me from other children my age was the fact that I was always given rides to and from elementary and middle school by my mother. She would always drive Dad's expensive, shiny car. Everyone who walked, biked, or took the bus or subway to school stared at me. Most of the time, they stared with envy and hatred. By the time I was nine, I was more than capable of taking the train to school together with two other girls in the neighborhood, but my parents refused to allow this. They would insist on giving me rides to school until my last year of middle school, even though I protested every year.

I knew, even when I was seven, that I was being held to different standards than most normal children. I wasn't allowed to watch TV or go see movies. The more well-off kids at school started getting cell phones around age eleven, but I would not receive mine until age fourteen. My parents would say it was because I had not done enough to deserve it. All novels except classic literature were forbidden, and manga was completely out of the question. To make things even stranger, I had absolutely no choice in picking out my own clothes, not even when I turned fourteen. My parents always decided what I would wear. My mom would dress up my hair in the most uncomfortable ways when I was young. She sometimes pulled on my hair on purpose to make me cry. She wouldn't stop until I told her I was sorry for having prettier hair than her.

My parents were extremely strict about rules and etiquette. I even had to take etiquette and Home-Ec classes outside of regular school. I learned calligraphy, sewing, tea serving, and ceremonial dress. My parents made me use these skills whenever they had guests over, which was often back in grade school days. I was essentially the servant anytime these visits happens. Refusal to appear and perform for the guests was harshly punished. I was also punished when I messed up. One time, at age eight, I was spanked twelve times for dropping a tea cup by accident.

It was around this time that corporal punishment finally stopped for the most part. One day, my mother slapped me and I lost my balance and fell down against the table in the living room. The neighbors heard me scream. It wasn't the first time I had been vocal during a punishment, but this was louder than usual. The neighbors began raising questions and my parents and I had to go through interviews with child services as a result. (Naturally, I was told to praise my parents and not complain at all, or they would punish me; they also said I would no longer be a good daughter that they could love.)

Child services dropped the issue after the interviews, but the experience taught my mother to be more cautious. Afterward, she rarely became physical with me again. However, she had plenty of other tricks up her sleeve to keep me in line. The most sickening thing she devised was the dreaded closet.

To Be Continued