Since the first time I lived abroad, I’d have a recurring dream in which I’d be back home in America and suddenly realize I wasn’t supposed to be there. I’d be struck with anxiety thinking, “This isn’t right—I should be in Germany [or Japan]. What am I doing here? I’ve got to get back.” That dream came true this year, and recently I’ve been having the inverse of that dream, in which I’m back in Japan and suddenly realize I can’t remember the return journey. I either realize it’s a dream or decide not to question it and just go with it. When I woke up from the former dreams I’d experience relief. With the latter, huge disappointment. I’ve been suffering from some kind of reverse-homesickness, and it seems to be getting worse all the time.
The thing is, nobody seems to get it. Why would I want to be back in Japan so badly? Do I have a girlfriend there? No? So what’s the big deal? You can eat sushi here too.
I tell them I have friends over there and a nice place of my own, but when I try to explain that it’s my job I miss most of all, they really don’t get it. To almost everyone I talk to here, a job is just a job, a way to earn money, a means to an end but by no means and end in itself. I can’t adequately explain the difference between coming home from a shift at Domino’s pizza and only feeling good because you’re finally out of there, and coming home from a day at school and feeling good because the day was actually worthwhile. With a few exceptions, these days are utterly devoid of any quality that makes life actually worth living, and I’ve slipped straight back into the depression I used to feel when I lived here and had nothing to live for in the past.
One of those exceptions was last Sunday. I had the day off (the first after 11 straight days of working) and went hiking in a nearby state park with my mom and dad, stopping at a brew-pub on the way back for some beer and nachos before returning home to watch the football game on TV. The weather was perfect and it was a fine day overall, but those days are few and far between.
Any “friends” I used to have in high school have long since moved away, as have most of the people I hung out with in college. Mike in Brooklyn is the only one left that I have any desire to see, but it takes an hour to drive to Long Island and an hour from there to get through the traffic to his neighborhood and find a place to park. The earliest I can ever get off work is about 7:30, which means it would be 9:30 by the time I got there. That’s not too bad, but when I planned to do that Thursday night, orders kept coming in and I didn’t get out until 9:30, making the trip out to Brooklyn decidedly not worth it. I’ve got this Sunday off too though, so I’ll at least get to have another fun day out there tomorrow.
I previously wrote that this is no longer a vacation but a life, but that’s not really accurate. This is barely any kind of life at all.
With regards to my actual life—the one I don’t currently have access to—this week can be characterized by good news followed by bad news followed by no news. The first good news came on Monday. Interac informed me that they received the completed documents from immigration and expected final Certificate of Eligibility approval the following day, Tuesday, at which point they would update me again. That was great to hear, as it meant the CoE would be on its way and set to arrive the following week, and after the 4-day visa processing I’d be set to fly back the week after. I decided to make Friday the 5th of October my last day, and use the rest of the 3-day weekend to pay some final visits to family members with my parents, including Sue and Lance on Long Island, my grandparents up in Red Hook, and maybe even Billy at college in Delaware.
There was nothing from Interac the next morning, but another bit of good news came my way quite unexpectedly from Heath, the ALT who’s been replacing me at my school but who made it clear in so few words that he has no interest in keeping in touch with me. Before deciding to leave him alone and just accept my disconnectedness from the school, I’d made it a point to at least let him know my feelings about missing the Speech Contest, to tell him what happened with M- last year and to impress upon him how much I was determined to help her win this time and how bad I felt that I couldn’t. I’d hoped to at least let her know through him how sorry I was, and to hopefully motivate him to coach her as best he could.
His message was, “Just wanted to let you know your girlfriend M- got 4th place this year so no tears this time!”
The news itself was indeed fantastic, although the delivery felt like a bit of a stupid juvenile jab. My “girlfriend”? What are we, five-years-old? “Ha ha, you care about a girl’s feelings! You loooooooooooove her!” Yeah? I suppose I have cooties too.
But regardless of that, I can now rest easy knowing that M- achieved her goal which she so richly deserved. She worked so hard last year and came away with nothing. Over the rest of the year she focused hard on her speaking and pronunciation abilities and came back the following year to deliver a speech that landed her an actual prize. I wish I could have been there to share the moment with her, but I couldn’t be happier that she got it.
The next day I got a message from Kim, my neighbor, who’d also been at the Speech Contest. She told me about M- winning and congratulated me, though I told her I couldn’t accept her congratulations because I hadn’t been there and she’d done it all on her own. But she also told me she met Heath and talked to him, and this is where the bad news comes in. She said he’s a really up-beat guy, he’s been living and teaching in Japan for 17 years, he’s a champion sumo wrestler, and he’s well known by the JTEs in our area. She wrote “your kids are in good hands.”
That was the worst possible thing she could have said to me. I don’t want my kids to be in good hands. Capable hands, sure, but not expert 17-years-experience hot-shot celebrity ALT sumo-wrestler hands. For whatever reason he seems to have nothing but disdain for me, but I imagine the kids must love him and the JTEs must be quite impressed by him. When I go back, I’ll no longer seem like as good of a teacher to any of them. A significant portion of the students will no doubt prefer him to me and be disappointed when I return, and the teachers will have to readjust to working with an inexperienced, non-Japanese speaking teaching partner. For all I know, after seeing him do his expert lessons they’ll realize just how amateurish mine were and stop letting me have so much control over the planning.
I hope I’m just being needlessly paranoid, but when the only thing I’ve got going for me in my life is my job, it’s hard not to constantly worry about all the ways in which that might end up spoiled by this situation. It took me 27 years to find myself in a life situation in which I could truly call myself happy, and wouldn’t it be just so poetically appropriate if the thing that provided that happiness gets tainted and torn to shreds after just one extremely brief lightning-fast year?
And it’s all because of paperwork! Forms and stamps and files that nobody ever checks. Because I didn’t get a fucking stamp I was supposed to get before going on vacation, I’m forced to exchange a month and a half or more of a life worth living with this empty bullshit existence, and return to a fundamentally altered situation. The more I actually think about the underlying reality of the situation—that everything would be perfectly fine if not for the paperwork procedures of people with absolutely no connection to my life whatsoever—the more absurd it seems.
The worst part is, there’s still no end in sight. At the beginning of the week it looked like next Friday was the light at the end of the tunnel, but I heard nothing from Interac the whole rest of the week. I just sat tight until Thursday which they said is the day I’d usually hear from them, but got no update then either. I would have sent an e-mail asking what the deal is, but I did that last Thursday when I also got no update and it make no difference. They’re going to update me whenever they damn well please and all I can do is wait and grind my teeth.
And that bit of no news is how the week ended and where things stand right now. For all I know, I will get the Certificate of Eligibility in the mail this week as planned and be ready to fly back the week after. Or there might have been some kind of problem and they had to start the whole process over from the beginning in which case I’ll be stuck here until December. Maybe Heath and my school have decided they’re happy together and want to make his teaching there a permanent arrangement, so Interac no longer has need of me and are just figuring out how to release me from my contract. WHO KNOWS???
In any case, I took back my two weeks’ notice from Domino’s and told them to just keep scheduling me until further notice, so there will be no visits to family members next weekend. I’m still going to try and do that before I leave though, because if there’s one thing my mind couldn’t possibly be more made up about it’s that I’m not coming back to America again next year. I need to stay in Japan, pay off all the debt I still have from this year’s travelling expenses and when I can finally afford to travel again, actually see more of Japan.
There will come a day when I find myself back in this situation, stuck in America where I don’t belong and desperate to get back to my actual life. But then I’m going to wake up, I’m going to be in Japan, and I’m going to breathe and enormous sigh of relief that this time it was just one of those dreams.