I’m writing from the room that I now occupy, formerly my friend’s guest room in the back corner of his duplex. The house is from the 1920’s and typical for the architecture of that time: thick, stucco walls; high ceilings; quaint yet functional details like built-in shelving and arched doorways. The street outside is lined with succulents and palm trees. Dusk is falling, casting a golden glow and causing the temperature of the warm, sunny day to plummet rapidly. Like any good LA native, I know to always take a light jacket or sweater with me in the evening.
I’m back in Los Angeles, my hometown. I’ve been back for about a month now. It’s been weird; not bad, just different. But it’s also been good.
Readers will remember that back in May I decided to leave Japan for a variety of reasons, partially because of my finances and personal life, but mostly because I realized that I was just done. Five years is enough of your life to give to a place that doesn’t feel like home. But that doesn’t mean it was easy; I had still built a life in Japan that in many ways was a good life. I had friends, I was writing, I traveled quite a bit. So although making the decision was easy, leaving turned out to be difficult.
In my experience, it’s always hard to leave a place. Once you know you’re leaving, then you do all the things you’d been putting off and go to lots of great places and spend time with friends having memorable experiences. Before I knew it, it seemed, I was standing in my empty apartment, the apartment I had loved with the green walls and quirky windows, all of my possessions once again stuffed in suitcases.
Asking someone to go with you to the airport in Tokyo is no small favor. The airports are far, and there is no easy way on any form of public transportation that is cheap that doesn’t involve multiple line changes. I was shocked and incredibly touched when four of my closest friends offered to go with me, turning what could have been a lonely, cumbersome journey into a fun time, sharing my luggage on the train and having a final picnic with me, eating food from the Lawson convenience store in a deserted food hall in Haneda Airport.
Somehow, I managed to keep my tears together through our goodbyes. . . until the plane took off and I watched the lights of the country I had lived in for the past five years recede below me, when I let it all go, attempting to stifle my sobs as tears rolled down the face that I pressed to the window. I’ve always said I have a complicated relationship with Japan, and on that flight it threatened to overwhelm me.
Being here now, it almost feels like that life is one that I dreamed up, but at the same time it’s clear that I was gone. Coming back is always a bit jarring. I always feel a bit out of place. I say strange things, little Japanese sayings that fit in my former life, but no one understands them. Riding the bus, I intentionally make myself small, fold myself in, in an attempt at a politeness that I don’t see anyone else doing. I say excuse me and thank you with a little, barely perceptible bow. I miss 7-eleven and vending machines and the trains and the toilets. I miss the changing of the seasons and the food. I miss my friends.
If by now you are convinced that I hate Los Angeles and I’m miserable here, let me assure you that that isn’t the case at all. One thing that living abroad has taught me is to experience things less in terms of black and white and more in terms of grey. Not “this thing about a place is good, and this other thing is bad” but “this thing about a place just is.” I’m trying to take those observational skills and the curiosity that I cultivated by living abroad and turn it upon the place that I’ve returned to. And I’m discovering a lot.
I still hate the traffic, and people here drive like assholes so I’m putting off renewing my driver’s license and getting a car. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get around on the buses. Los Angeles is currently trying a free fare program, and so far most of my busses have been clean, nice and on time, with some exceptions. I love that I live in an area that has tons of diversity, with many local businesses run by people of color. I love making small talk with strangers. I hate that the streets are so dirty and gross. I love the amount of quality Mexican food. I love being reunited with my family and close friends and that our time together is not limited.
On the macro scale, my life is still unsettled. I’m crashing at a friend’s place, continuing to teach English as a Foreign Language online, and starting to think about where I want to go and what I want to do next. I don’t expect to have an answer for some time, but the unknown of everything gets to me and freaks me out from time to time. I’m not great at being patient, sitting still and letting life happen. A friend likened this time to the pause between exhaling and inhaling. In the pause, you don’t have to do anything. There’s no hurry. I don’t plan to get married or have children so I literally have the rest of my life to figure it out. For the moment, the plan is to enjoy my time here, reconnect with my loved ones, get my finances in better shape, and explore opportunities that come along. I’m preparing to take the CBEST, the certification I need to do substitute teaching here in California, as a way for extra cash and to see if I might want to go into a different field in education. I’m also considering going for a higher qualification and staying in EFL and continuing my life abroad. Or perhaps there’s a path that has yet to cross my mind.
On the micro scale, life has taken on an idyllic quality, filled with snapshots of pleasant moments. Decorating my new room, taking care of the house, hanging out with the cat, playing video games and watching TV with my housemate. Lighting the Shabbat candles, drinking wine and martinis with my parents, walking down the main drag of my hometown for the classic car show and farmers’ market. Camping with a friend in Ojai, breathing in fresh air and gazing at the stars for hours, driving on dusty, windy California two-lane highways. Going to the Getty Center, one of my favorite bastions of art and culture in Los Angeles, sipping prosecco and munching on PB & J, snapping film photos and wondering at the beauty around us. Speeding along the freeway with the top down and the music blasting, passing the skyscrapers of downtown, ending up at an open mic where the headliner moved me to tears.
It’s taken me a while to sit down and write this post. First, I wanted to write one as I was leaving, but got swept up in the hustle and bustle that is moving countries. Then, upon arrival, it took a few weeks for me to deal with all of my life admin. I still don’t feel like I’ve fully processed everything that’s happened recently, and suspect it will be a while before I do so. Yet I know that there is merit in writing while in the middle of processing, that the act helps with the process.
To those of you that are also in the process of figuring it out, I’m with you. We got this.
Safe and Happy Travels,