I know everybody on this island
Seems so happy on this island
Everything is by design
See the light where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
And no one knows how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know
How far I’ll go
I’m recently returned from a visit home to the US for Christmas. I went to Los Angeles and stayed with my relatives there, and then I went to Nebraska where my parents live and spent the holiday with them and my sister. I came back to Japan on New Year’s Eve, and for maybe the first time I strongly did not want to go back. As soon as we landed, my voice disappeared as if in protest. I’ve been back a week now and I’m trying to cling to the feeling that it’s not real, that this isn’t my actual life. It’s just a pretend expat life halfway across the globe from my home country. If it’s not real then somehow that makes it a lot easier to deal with.
Try as I might, I can’t fight the feeling inside that tells me that I do not belong here and I need to pack up and go. If I didn’t feel this way, and if I weren’t increasingly convinced that if I stay here I might as well resign myself to being single forever, then staying is actually not a terrible decision. It’s safe here, I have health insurance, and I have a good job that’s relatively fun most of the time (and crappy a fair portion of the time too thanks to a crazy person who insists on stupid meetings and procedures, let’s be real). There are a lot of reasons why this is a good life and one I’d be crazy to give up for something entirely unknown.
But I just can’t stop thinking about how this isn’t what I intended. I never meant to stay here this long. It was supposed to be in and out. Stay long enough to get fluent enough to attend translation grad school back in the US, then go once I could do that.
And there’s the part of me that’s itching for the next adventure, the next challenge. When I was still living in Dallas, I thought it would be impossible for me to ever live and work in Tokyo. I read blogs like Move Over Godzilla, desperately jealous of her life, which sounded like a wonderful dream to me (and now we’re friends and she’s basically my cat’s godmother). But now that dream is mine, only it doesn’t feel like a dream. It is when I take a step back and look at it objectively. I’m living a life that would make my 14-year-old self just die of envy and anticipation, one she would have never imagined or desired in a million years.
That’s the other thing – just when did I start wanting to go so far away from everything I’d known? When did I start wanting to stay so far away? I get told all the time that I’m so brave, so adventurous, that this person I’m talking to who lives no further than 20 miles from where she grew up could never do what I’ve done. While I was home, I told my relatives of my plans to move back to the US sometime in 2017. “Good,” said my grandpa’s wife, the relief plain in her voice but shocking to me. Is what I’m doing now so aberrant? And then I went to a new dentist’s office to get a cleaning and had to explain to the hygienist that I hadn’t had a cleaning in a year because I live in Japan and don’t like Japanese dentistry or how dental insurance covers visits. Later, I had to explain the same thing to the receptionist, and a lady in the waiting room overheard. All of them looked at me like I’d grown two heads. The simple fact of my life is so outside the bounds of what they could ever consider. When did I start becoming different from the majority of the people who surrounded me in terms of wanting to make a life far from where I’d grown up? I can’t ever remember dreaming of a life outside my hometown.
While I was home, I saw Moana. I loved it and have been listening to the soundtrack – and fighting back tears when some of the lyrics hit a little too close to home. Moana was always told to find happiness in her village and island, not to pursue the feeling she’s always had that there’s something worth exploring beyond the water. For a time, she believes that.
I’ve been standing at the edge of the water
Long as I can remember
Never really knowing why
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water
No matter how hard I try
She thinks she can be happy without ever venturing out – but realizes she can’t, and that her people were originally voyagers and explorers, and she goes on a journey and comes back with plans to make her people voyagers again.
I have become a voyager, and in a way I am the child of voyagers, who are the children of voyagers themselves. My parents are not from my hometown or my home state. They met in college in a town that was my mother’s hometown but for my father was only another stop along the way for his family. He had grown up in various cities and states, and after he began college his parents and youngest sibling moved again. My parents moved to my hometown because my dad got a job there.
Perhaps because my parents were not from the place where I grew up, I never felt a strong tie to it. I’ve always wished to live in a beautiful place, and that city is not beautiful to me. The one thing that matters to me about my hometown is my friends, who I made in school and who are still my strongest and best friends, and the majority of whom still live in that city. My parents no longer do; two years ago they moved to a city neighboring the town where they originally met (partially by coincidence as that’s where my dad was offered a job, and partially to be closer to family).
Most people don’t do that though, and I’m just realizing that now. Most of my friends live in our hometown and have chosen to raise their families there. They like that it’s familiar, that their parents are close by too, and see nothing wrong with it. I met up with my 2nd grade best friend in LA, who left our town for college and has never moved back (I hadn’t seen her since middle school), and we expressed to each other how amazing it is that we’ve both left – and how what’s even more amazing is how so many have stayed. I guess I just never would have predicted that – didn’t more people realize how boring it is? How ugly it is? Do they just not notice, or is being close to family more important? Again – when did I become so different? Have I always been like this or did it develop over the years? My parents never took me on international trips; we didn’t have the money for that. I never fantasized about living abroad for a long stretch of time. At the end of my two study abroad sessions, I was so happy to return to my country. And yet I’ve become an expat, but it feels like I’ve never been able to truly enjoy it. Or I have for a short stretch before wanting to leave again, and then the cycle repeats. It’s been like that the whole time.
(And if I’m so different, how am I going to fit in with people in the US? I was already an awkward kid who had a hard time making friends, though it finally clicked for me eventually. But even now I don’t have anything to say to hairdressers or dental hygienists – normal people – and it’s gotten even worse now that I live abroad. I can’t expect that to change after moving back. I’ll have experienced something most of them will never know. One nice thing about being an expat is that when you meet other expats, you automatically have more in common with them than you would your countrymen/women. I’ve always felt like I fit in at social gatherings here. This is another thing that makes it tempting to just stay.)
When I wound up living in my home city again after college (for what ended up being four years), I wasn’t happy about it. I had to do it for circumstances related to the person I was dating at the time, who is also from that city and still lives there, but I felt trapped. I definitely wanted out, and saw Japan as my out. But I didn’t see myself moving to Japan and staying there; I saw it as a step along the way on my journey. I worked hard towards my goal of going to Japan, and believed that there was a voice telling me I had to go do this to create the life I wanted for myself. Well, maybe there was.
But now there’s another voice, and it’s telling me to go. Again. But I’m scared, because the US is a scary place now, and I’m not confident I’ll be able to build such a good life there. I can’t just go live with my parents in my hometown because that home doesn’t exist anymore. I can go live with them in Nebraska, but I don’t want to live in Nebraska. If I didn’t fit in with most people in Texas, I certainly don’t fit in with most people in Nebraska. It’s the land of basic white people. So I’ll have to job hunt from afar, which puts me at a disadvantage, even though I’m bilingual in Japanese and have game company experience. I want to wind up on the West Coast but I’m very worried about whether I can land on my feet this time. I should be more confident – I always have so far. I did the impossible and got jobs in Tokyo, after all. But job hunting in the US is a bit different, and it can sometimes take a while. Meanwhile I’ll be in my parents’ basement, which does not have as many windows as I’d like, especially in the bedrooms, and I’m worried I’ll get depressed instead of using my time off to recharge, work on personal projects, and do freelance translation (which I’m also worried I won’t get enough of – there hasn’t been much of it for me lately and the savings I’d gotten from it are getting depleted).
Worried, worried, worried. That’s the theme of thinking about my impending move back. Sometimes I really wish the voice inside me telling me I have to do this wasn’t so strong – I’m not at all convinced it’s truly the right decision. (Did I say voice? It’s more like a blaring siren inside my head every day I’m here telling me THIS IS WRONG, THIS IS WRONG, THIS IS WRONG. It was quiet while I was in the US because it felt right and natural to be here. But I emerged from customs and it was back.) But yes – I don’t think I will meet a good life partner for me here, and I really want that for my life. That’s true. And I miss things like being able to easily check out books from the library, and buy the types of paleo-friendly, eco-friendly food and daily necessities I want from the grocery store – that’s true too. And I’ve suffered from some of the worst depression and anxiety in my life because I was living here, in an inherently (for me) stressful place so far away from my support network, and so many Japanese men have done me wrong, and there’s less sunlight hours in Japan than in the US, and the racist microaggressions… etc etc etc.
I think in a way, this is how I have the next adventure, how I take my next leap. While I’m scared, part of me is excited to tackle the challenge of trying to find work in games in the US, of trying to be able to live on the West Coast. That’s what seems impossible to me now. But so did life in Tokyo, once.
See the light as it shines on the sea
But no one knows how deep it goes