Well, we have returned from our week’s journey. Three cities in four days is a race, not a vacation. Making sure that we had everything on our back before we jumped on the next bus or train was a big worry but we managed. This was the first time in a long time, as I mentioned before, that we traveled as a family. We have been moving and moving for so long that traveling for pleasure was not really in the cards, for it is not just moving but unpacking and buying new things and getting used to new schedules and procedures and just getting to know our new home and how we fit in there.
Before we went, I wrote about the anxiety I was feeling over the lack of communication with some people very dear to me. I was worried about having to return to the States before we were ready, returning to Florida before we wanted to. During the vacation, I heard from those people. It is as if my anxiety reached a critical point and I was sending out a telepathic distress signal to the universe. They replied and I felt a cushioned plummet back to reality. What I realized from those communications was that I don’t need to uproot my family for anyone. That while they may remain dear, they are slightly less dear than I imagined them to be. That as hard as it is for me to confess it, it is possible we have outgrown each other and what I was feeling was that awkward feeling you get when you try to squeeze into something too tight and in doing so begin panicking, less about getting it on and more about getting it off.
I should have recognized what was happening but I thought that these people were exempt from such growth spurts. So what I learned was that no one is exempt. It is a good thing, eh, to grow. They have their full lives complete with details that I am oblivious to and I have the same set-up over here. And while I was relieved to learn that their health was better than my fears were leading me to believe, I was more relieved to realize that I have no obligation to them anymore. It is a liberation.
And so while I was realizing this, we were traveling to where we used to live, looking at the old apartments we were put into by my various schools, places we felt somewhat sentimental about but now seemed shabby, almost indecent. The public housing apartment that we lived in not because we applied for government assistance but because a coworker’s mother did not use the one that was allotted for her, living with her son instead, which enabled him to rent out her place to the foreign teachers, at a rather steep rent, the proceeds from which he used to expand his wine collection.
The building is a concrete cube lined with rusting railings and brown metal doors. It is half-vacant, no doubt due to the demise of the elderly residents and when the remaining live tenants move out or move on, the building will most definitely be destroyed and replaced with some upscale tourist hotel, since no one seems to actually live in Nara anymore, retreating to the surrounding suburbs after sunset.
The Nagoya apartment was much further from the subway station than we remembered, very inconvenient. It was always heralded in our collective memory as a great albeit snug place to live. We left that place because my job was terrible, truly traumatic, and so the apartment got shrouded with the type of sentimentality that goes along with a sudden loss. Standing before it, the kids were amazed at how dingy it looked, how small. We walked by their elementary school, the place where both of the boys had their entrance ceremonies, and took pictures but neither one of the boys were interested as their current schools are where they are thriving, where their teachers and friends are, where the mural their class is painting is on the seawall.
So I had these two psychological events occurring in tandem with the physical traveling, leaving me exhausted by the time we returned home. Exhausted and, honestly, excited. Because I am free from those ornery shackles, the obligations to others, the sentimental attachment to the past. Nara, a place that was always held in such high regard, was crowded with sweaty tourists, its once charming streets now lined with junky “Japanese-y” things, all made in China. Nagoya had become grubby and sketchy, causing me to hold my bag tight on more than one occasion (this coming from a person who has no problems leaving her bag open, wallet showing when she wants to secure a table or just be free from the burden of things for a bit). These were not places we would want to live now though we see how important they were for us at the time.
We have moved along, even if it feels like we have flat-lined. Our trajectory has been slow, gradual but it is on the incline. I think back to the young mother I was in Nara, with just a toddler for a bit before becoming pregnant again. I think back to the mother of three small children who moved to Nagoya with an almost completed master’s degree, thinking that she was being sensible and wise. (Of course, I am excluding Goto from these reflections as I spent almost three years on the island unraveling any sentimentality we had woven during our first residence there.) All I wanted to do was to be able to support my family, to write, to make art, to be fluent in Japanese and while I am still in the initial stages of all of those desires, I am making inroads. And realizing that I do not have to sacrifice that progress for the sake of others, well, it is something, I tell you. Something amazing.