Friday, June 06, 2008

Japan broke my heart.

Something is tightening my chest now, squeezing the blood from the overworked muscle until it tingles in my fingertips. I wonder if it’s the feeling of a reopened wound, of leftover doubt and bitterness. It’s been seven months since my company let me go, and for the most part, I think I’m okay. There was a time, though, that every class I did reminded me of the classes I wasn’t doing, and I walked through my boss’ old apartment building (where I still have classes) in fear that I would accidentally run into someone from my old life. Even the elevator ride to the fourteenth floor where I still had students was painful and nostalgic, because I knew I would never stop at the seventh floor again. Back then I couldn’t imagine a time that I would be over it, but now, I’m mostly over it, as long as I try not to think about it.

My relationship with Japan has been a lot like, well, a relationship. Mostly it was my job it seemed like I was in a relationship with, but the fallout became not only between me and my company, but all the Japanese people I liked and thought I could trust who turned on me, and the cultural standards that deemed my treatment in the company acceptable. For a while, I couldn’t meet a Japanese person without wondering if they would have sided with Yoshiko against me. But let’s begin with the stormy love affair with my work.

At first I was reticent and confused, but when I allowed myself to be vulnerable, I fell in love. This was the brief period of time I felt like I belonged, in my company and in Japan. I overlooked the major flaws, and assumed my boss and co-workers had the best intentions. It was the honeymoon phase, the elated stupidness of new love. After a period of time, I began to really notice the flaws and quirks of my job and the people around me, and they became annoying as hell. It’s forgivable if it happens once or twice, but I started to wonder if it was too much to ask for them to actually tell me about important schedule changes, cancellations, or surprise classes. The list of really irritating things just kept getting longer and longer, but I worked through it, like you work through complaints and differences with someone you love. Eventually, I realized that I was never happy, but I’d become used to my crappy life, and thought maybe it was just easier to suffer through the problems. After the breakup, I was devastated and terrified, but at the same time liberated, and left wondering why I put up with all the shit that I did.

When I returned to Japan in January, I was seized with waves of bitterness every time I was reminded of my life before. And everything reminded me of my life before. Wednesday mornings. Lesson plans. Payment envelopes. I avoided certain restaurants and parts of town to reduce the chances of bumping into someone unexpectedly. Going to my boss’ apartment building every Tuesday hurt. To those who would listen, I was capable of scathing contempt toward my former company and employers, but if they joined in, I would sometimes be defensive of the situation. I was that messed up.

Sometime during this period, I was having lunch with a few of the foreign teachers in Kashima. One of them, Annick, had a few days previously given me the business card of a woman who had approached her looking for an English teacher. I held onto the card, thought about this Misako Katafuchi from somewhere that was only known as a swimming school, and couldn’t imagine anything good. At lunch that day, Annick asked me if I’d followed up, and was rightfully chagrined at my answer.

“I know I should call her,” I explained, “But I just don’t know if I can go through it again. Even if they did for some reason decide to sponsor my visa, they’re a small company, and it would probably be a situation just like my last workplace, if not worse. After what I’ve been through, I can’t trust people like that. I don’t even want to get involved with them.”

John, another ALT, piped in, “She’s been burned, and she’s not ready to love again.”

Back before I was “burned”, I was like one of those annoying friends who always bitched about her horrible, mistreating boyfriend but never did anything about it. After a few days I would report false improvement, but usually nothing changed. I either thought it did because I was in denial, or they had somehow convinced me that everything was my fault. They did that a lot. I remember telling a friend about the wrongdoing of the moment, and he said, “Just quit. Nothing’ s keeping you there.”

“Maybe I will this time,” I replied with defiance.

But Yoshiko had a way of talking her way out of things, of manipulating and flipping issues and making it seem like everything she does is in your best interest, that she is making sacrifices for you. She was impossible to speak to without a swirl of emotions, a mist of confusion, and a mindfuck. After six months in my job, I described it to someone as a love/hate thing, like I had an alcoholic co-dependent relationship with my work. It was quite perceptive of me at the time, because the ambivalence, co-dependency, and even alcoholism would get worse.

But there’s another dimension to it all. I spend at least as much time avoiding people as I do hoping that my former students will turn up unexpectedly. When I go out in Saga City I see so many people with kids, and hope that one of them will be from my preschool. I take the elevator in my boss’ old building, and try to will the doors opening to Saya and Haruko. The Kita family lives only a few blocks from me, and I used to run into them frequently at the grocery store, the post office, town events. Since the breakup, it hasn’t happened once. This kind of disappearing can only be willful, since Shi-town is so small and I’m so visible. That one tears me up. That family had been so good to me, and I hoped they would understand. Whenever I see a flock of kids in Shi-town elementary school uniforms, I always check to see if one has Haruna’s mischievous dimples or Yuka’s big eyes. I must look really creepy. But I miss the hell out of them, all of them. I wish we could have said goodbye on better terms.


Blogger GLE said...

Well, this post couldn't have hit closer to home to me.

I've been listening to The Jeep Song a lot, it feels appropriate.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So sorry your heart is broken!
Wish I could do anything to make it better. Did you get my reply to your previous post?
We all love you very much!

10:30 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

This was an amazing post. For someone who hasn't had to deal with a certain kind of heartbreak, you are very able to understand and articulate it. Great post, heartbreaking to read, but only because of it's power. BTW I saw Wicked in Chicago with Kristi, her sister, and her mom last night. I wanted to see Grace, but we drove in for the show and left immediately afterward, so we didn't get a chance.
PS did you get that 10 dollar makeup that cost 70 dollars to send you? :)

3:28 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Check out the news, Cassie, Cedar Rapids is under water. Crazy! This includes my house at 401 by the way.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived in Japan when I was in my early 20s, an undergraduate at UCLA, and totally in love with the idea of living in Japan. I recently discovered some old "Southern All Stars" songs that brought on a huge wave of nostalgia, regret, and deep seeded sorrow about everything I lost in Japan. I was in love with a girl who ultimately didn't love me back and with a country that didn't love me back either. It's probably for that reason that I never returned there. I feel for you. I typed "Japan Broke My Heart" into google and found this post. I suppose this is all part of growing up. I am 42 now and my life has nothing to do with the one that I once imagined for myself. I'm glad things have worked out the way they were meant to, but at the same time on afternoons like this, I get hit in the face with the many things that might have been. Perhaps Japan is a metaphor for the many things I thought I would have accomplished by now but haven't. I met a wonderful girl, though, and am on the path to a new career. Can't complain. Thanks for your post.

9:14 AM  

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