What’s unsettling is that the minute I boarded the plane to JFK – surrounded by American flight attendants offering me coffee and tea – I felt as though I’d never left the U.S.. Once I hit the immigration line at the airport, I’d begun chatting away to anyone with a face like mine. The strangeness of being able to communicate without any barriers didn’t even register, although I suppose I was a little chattier and more polite than usual. At Avenue A sushi, over American-style rolls, Erma asked if Sean and I could read a sign in Japanese; I struggled with the katakana. This is what I feared and it’s only been 2 weeks. I haven’t studied Japanese since I’ve been back and could blame it on the ceaseless running around we’ve done but what about when I leave Japan for good; won’t I be busy looking for work and assuming I even find a job, working? What will happen to the Japanese I’ve learned, especially without a steady supply of slow-speaking children to fill my head with natural-sounding dialogue?
I’m meeting with ex-coworkers for drinks, as in the days before I decided I hated the job so much I had to move to Japan. They talk about people who once filled my workdays with annoyance and bring up old industry terms that have long ceased to fill me with dread. My loathing of that dead end job floods me and for split seconds, teaching English seems like a raucous break from misery once again, even though after 2 years it’s as much of a dead end for me as my old job was. And the children seem funny and cute. And the schools seem peaceful. And the teaching of English phrases without translation once a week seems helpful. And my woman bits seem appreciated, not abused.
The thrill of knowing I’d find non-squat toilets in every public bathroom passed after my first week back. Same with the relief at being able to read every sign and menu in split seconds. It took me 2 weeks to realize that no one had stared at me in as much time and while I still enjoy keeping my beautiful shoes on indoors – they’re meant to be seen, not walked in – how much time before that thrill fades, too?