In 2002, not long after I’d graduated college, gotten engaged, and moved to Japan to teach English, I got an email from my grandma. My mom, grandma claimed, did not like my fiancé. She thought he was weak. “Momma’s boy” is what she said, the email read. I just thought you should know. I’d want to.
My mom had never said a negative word about my fiancé to me. I typed a nine-page email detailing to her all the ways in which Patrick, who was still living back in the States, was wonderful. Absolutely perfect! I wrote that my mom’s inability to see his virtues likely pointed to her own personal lack. Probably, she was jealous of me — my college education, my adoring partner, my adventurousness. There was no place for pettiness and backstabbing in my life, I explained, puffing up so big it’s a surprise I still fit in my shoe-box Kawasaki apartment.
I was extra indignant about my plan to marry this man because deep down, I didn’t want to marry him. Oh, I loved him. I even liked him. But what I liked best was living in a foreign country with someone waiting for me far, far away. I was the kite that got to enjoy flying without the worry of being blown away. As long as he held my string — and he was not the type to let go — I was free. And then, suddenly, I wasn’t.
Five months in, I was still a Japan newbie. My language skills were basic; I studied every day, but my progress was slow. Culturally, I was also learning; daily tasks as simple as grocery shopping could be perilous. Because I could not read kanji characters, I once brought home a tube of vaginal cream thinking it was toothpaste (there was a picture of a smiling woman on the box).
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