Summary: Chapter 13

Doc Hata recounts a dream that he had around the time he thinks Tommy must have been born. In this dream, he was a physician who ran a free clinic out of a tenement building in the city. One day, an adolescent girl entered the clinic. She was in labor, and the baby was already coming out but feet first instead of head first. With no time to turn the breech baby around, the nurse handed him a scalpel to perform an emergency C-section. But he’d received no training as a surgeon and didn’t know how to proceed. He felt like a fraud who didn’t deserve his reputation as “good Doc Hata of Whatever Street.”

Doc Hata interprets this dream as a sign of his guilt about Sunny, but he also notes that he truly felt concerned for her, as a “real parent” would feel. He explains that took comfort in the pain he felt when he knew Sunny was about to become a mother, partly because he hadn’t felt a similar kind of pain after she left his house.

Doc Hata recently started taking Tommy to a pool in Bedley Run, where he is teaching the boy how to swim. He also took him to the natural history museum. The exhibitions about dolphins and whales fascinated Tommy, and he declared he wanted to be like these mammals that live in the sea but breathe air. To himself, Doc Hata noted that in his focus on the joys of leaping, Tommy neglected to consider how difficult it would be to have to continually leave one’s element for another and be dependent on an environment that was not one’s own. Also to himself, Doc Hata thought about how he sometimes fantasizes about breathing underwater. He recalls that when Sunny was pregnant, he had tried to inhale a little water, but his body reacted violently. He wonders whether this incident represented a longing for death or a wish for transformation.

Doc Hata arrives at the Conifers, the rental condominium complex in Ebbington where Sunny and Tommy live. Despite its location in a nicer part of Ebbington, the grounds still look drab and in disarray, and Doc Hata suspects that most of the people who live there aspire to a more privileged life they’ll never attain.

He has come to look after Tommy. Sunny has an interview for a new managerial position, and her babysitter cancelled at the last minute. Sunny explains that the company she’s interviewing with plans on expanding into the southwestern states and that she might have to move to Arizona.

Doc Hata professes his desire to keep helping out with Tommy. He knows he could have done better by Sunny and that he’s still on tenuous ground with her. Yet he also senses that Sunny is warming up to him, and he thinks to himself that he wants to focus only on the fact that “I am here and she is here, and that there is a glimmer of gentle days ahead.”

Sunny, however, doesn’t want to let him “conveniently” forget about the past. She reflects that Tommy might not exist if she’d had her first baby. She asks Doc Hata if he had already paid Doctor Anastasia before Sunny had even agreed to have the abortion, and Doc Hata says he had not. She talks about how Tommy has saved her, and she wonders aloud whether her first child would have been a girl.

In his mind, Doc Hata admits to himself that he did use subtle pressure to coerce Sunny into having the abortion. He reflects that no matter how much he might repress his uncomfortable memories, they always resurface.

Analysis: Chapter 13

Although it may strike the reader as strange, the comfort that Doc Hata derived from his concern about Sunny demonstrates his yearning to feel like an authentic parent. At various points thus far in the novel Doc Hata has spoken of how he’s never felt toward Sunny the way he thinks biological parents must feel toward their children. Throughout their relationship, he has secretly felt like a fraud. The dream he had around the time of Tommy’s birth reflects this secret worry. Doc Hata interprets his dream merely as a sign of his guilty feelings about Sunny’s upbringing. However, the fear of fraudulence he felt in his dream regarding his role as the young girl’s physician relates directly to the fear of fraudulence he has always felt regarding his role as Sunny’s father. Given his longstanding sense of being a fraudulent father, the genuine pain of concern that arose in him during Sunny’s second pregnancy convinced him that he did indeed have authentic feelings for his adopted daughter. It is this feeling of authenticity that gives Doc Hata a sense of comfort, even though the feeling itself is unpleasant.

Whereas Tommy indulges in the belief that sea mammals like dolphins and whales enjoy lives of perfect freedom, Doc Hata understands them as living under conditions of exile. Doc Hata understands his grandson’s interpretation of dolphins and whales as essentially joyful creatures who express their joy by leaping into the air and diving back into the ocean. However, as someone who has spent much of his life feeling out of his element, Doc Hata sees matters differently. Despite living in the ocean, sea mammals cannot breathe underwater. As such, their lives depend on having access to air. Doc Hata therefore understands the leaps of sea mammals not as expressions of joy but as a sign of their being forever dependent on “the resource of another realm.” Doc Hata has always felt similarly out of place, whether growing up as a Korean in Japan or trying to make his way as a minority in the United States. Though not formally in exile from his homeland, Doc Hata recognizes the feeling of being out of place as a definitive aspect of the condition of exile. It is for this reason that he feels sympathy for the sea mammals and disagrees with Tommy’s interpretation.

Doc Hata’s observations about the Conifers condominium complex underscores the elitism associated with his material success. When approaching the complex, Doc Hata notes that the grounds are better designed and maintained than other places in Ebbington but still scattered with the odd candy wrapper and stray tricycle. His thoughts shift to Bedley Run, where he can think of equivalent complexes outfitted with posh features like a clubhouse, tennis courts, and a sauna. For Doc Hata, the comparison with Bedley Run reveals not just a wealth disparity but also an aspiration for upward class mobility. The people who live in the Conifers cannot afford the lifestyle they really want, and Doc Hata assumes that they never will be able to afford it. Somewhat ironically, Doc Hata takes this perspective as someone who has succeeded in generating his own wealth and now comfortably leads an upper-middle-class lifestyle. He sees the citizens of Ebbington as wanting something better but being unwilling or unable to put in the work to really achieve anything like he did. Yet it isn’t clear that everyone at the Conifers would truly prefer to live in Bedley Run. Sunny, for instance, gives no suggestion of wanting that lifestyle for herself or for her son.

In the final pages of the chapter, a tension arises once again between Doc Hata’s desire to focus on the present and the unwelcome intrusion of uncomfortable memories from the past. Despite how well things have been going with Tommy, Doc Hata knows that his relationship with Sunny has not yet been fully repaired. He acknowledges to Sunny that he didn’t always do right by her and that he knows caring for Tommy will not excuse that. In his mind, though, Doc Hata remains committed to steering clear of his darker memories. He affirms to himself that he must focus on the present and the simple fact that he is with Sunny. Yet Sunny, who knows Doc Hata’s tendency to run away from discomfort, presses the issue and declares that she won’t let him “conveniently put away” how he’s acted in the past. In the midst of this tension between the present and the past, the reader learns for the first time that Sunny had an abortion and that Doc Hata helped her get it. In spite of his holding the present close, the past resurfaces once again and forces Doc Hata to reckon with it.