My mother called me in the Spring.
“So, Honey, what are your plans for this summer?”
“Well, Mom, we have a lot of travel planned, but we’d really like to see you. Do you have some time to come up to Cleveland?”
“That isn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
She was vague. My mother is vague occasionally, like anyone, but I wasn’t following her this time.
“Will you be at home long enough for us to come down?” I offered. “If we’re around, I could probably come to you.”
My parents travel a lot. My dad works out West. My mother works on the East Coast. They travel more than your average grandparents, and are thus rather difficult to visit.
“That would be nice. I would like to see the kids, but that isn’t what I had in mind.”
“What did you have in mind?” I finally asked. My kids were beginning to get restless, in spite of the fact that I had only been on the phone a few minutes.
“I have quite a few frequent flyer miles. You know, your father and I travel quite a bit.”
“Yes, I noticed that. What did you have in mind?” I was trying to think ahead. Maybe she would suggest my sister and I meet her in Vegas. That might be fun. Hmm.
“I was thinking we might go to Japan.”
My reaction was visceral. I started to sweat.
“Yes. Well, you haven’t been in quite awhile. I thought it would be fun, but maybe you don’t have time.”
“Um, I could probably work that out,” my mind raced, my heart pumped, my body sweated. I started going through the weeks of the summer. They were pretty full. I tried to start switching things around in my head. I started imagining who would watch the kids. What would I do? I couldn’t say ‘no.’ I couldn’t say ‘yes.’
“Maybe in the Fall? Would the Fall work?” my mother asked calmly.
She was serious.
“Um, the Fall?” Yes. My husband had to take a week off every quarter. I might even be able to do the Fall. “Yeah, the Fall. Are some weeks better than others? I’ll call Jay.”
And thus our trip planning began, all those months ago. My head has spun in disbelief ever since. So much has changed since I left in 1999. So many plans must be made before I go. What will we do? What will we bring? Where will we stay? What do you say after all these years?
We are on our way. By Saturday night, I will be bowing in salutation to Kawa-san in Kyoto Station. I will tuck myself into a futon under his roof. I will smell the reedy smell of tatami mats and the smoky, salty grease of tako-yaki at the stand near the Station.
I remember standing at Hiroshima Station in 1994 on the day I moved to Japan.
The smells in the air, the background noise, the high-pitched woman on the train imploring us “wasuremono ga nai you ni go chui kudasai” – “Don’t forget anything.”
In 1994, I remembered Japan as it was in 1987 during my exchange student days in high school. I remembered Japan as it was in 1990 during my days as a college student interning at a Japanese company. The emotions returned, as clear as you would expect if you could travel through time. Standing in the Station in 1994, seven years after my high school exchange experience, I felt the emotions of a high school student, thrust into a country without her parents, barely able to introduce herself – excited and anxious and alone and proud.
I remembered the book I was reading on the plane in high school. I expected to look down and see my old shoes.
And now, in 2009, I remember my going away party in 1999. The most poignant memory of my last days in Japan was that I did not feel like I was going home.
I felt like I was leaving home.
I grew up in the U.S. I spent my childhood in the U.S.
I became an adult in Japan.
If you have ever lived in a foreign country, you know that repatriation is far more difficult than orientation. If you have never lived in a foreign country, I’m not sure I could adequately explain it.
You can’t go home again. It won’t be the same. I’m not the same. But I can’t wait to get there.
Thanks Mom (and Dad)