As per my last conversation with the Silky one, I will be transferred to another school come April. School C. There was a follow-up phone call from him later that day instructing me not to discuss my pending transfer with any of my co-workers or students. I’ve worked three years side-by-side with these people. Some have even become my friends, in as much as we have good convos over coffee and a smoke in the shed out back sometimes. Tomorrow, as it happens every year, they will ask me if I’ll be returning in April with every expectation that I will. My answer the previous three times was “I don’t know. I think so. I certainly hope so.” This year I will have to look them in the eye and say the same…
Only, it’ll be a lie. I do know.
I don’t lie well. Not to people I care about, anyway. And especially not on someone else’s behest.
So, since monday, in addition to gearing up for the lie, emotionally that is, I’ve been kind of saying goodbye without actually saying goodbye.
Sugano-sensei is one of my smoking buddies, and one of the few teachers in the office that is actually totally comfortable around me. He studied abroad, and he’s married to a woman who studied abroad, and though he can’t speak English very well, he doesn’t see that as some kind of shortcoming or defect, like many here are led to believe it is. And though I’m pretty far from fluent in Japanese he doesn’t view communicating with me as a crucible to be avoided or alleviated at all costs. He accepts our differences and acknowledges our similarities.
He’s truly a rarity.
Yesterday, when I ran into him in the smoke shed at our usual time after lunch I handed him a lighter I’ve had for years. It wasn’t much. I just wanted to give him something. Something that made me feel real.
One of the things about living in Japan that has significant side effects for me is a feeling of invisibility. I know that sounds strange considering that I’ve written extensively of the annoying reactions people have to me, and the resulting behaviors. But, that’s just it: It’s not really me they are reacting to. It’s just their perception of me. Some hodge-podge of stereotypes and rumors, misrepresentations and misconceptions. Not me. Not Loco. Most of my life here I spend as a canvas Japanese delineate as they please, or in the only ways they know how, while the real me lies beneath their muck essentially invisible. The side effect being a certain sense of not being. Thus, sometimes I behave as if I am invisible here. Even when some people have given me every indication that they can see me or are at least trying to see me, the preponderance of the muck-slinging predisposes me, at times, to believe that even their efforts will ultimately be in vain.
And something as simple as the giving of something personal addresses this for me. I envision my hand, reaching from beneath this muck, from this solitary place where I exist, out into the land of the Rising Sun…I want to thank him, yes. But, it’s really a selfish act. I simply want to feel alive. Sometimes, I need to be seen.
The only problem is I can’t tell him any of this. Cuz, actually, I don’t trust him, or any of them, enough to say “between you and me, I won’t be back next year, but I’ve been instructed by my company not to say anything so this has to remain on the QT, lips sealed, hush-hush. And, I wanted to say good-bye and thank you for being as close to a friend as I have in this office. So, here’s a little something to remember me by.”
Nope, couldn’t bring myself to do that. Been burnt a couple of times before and though I have a hard head, it’s not impenetrable. I eventually get shit!
“What’s this?” Sugano-sensei asked.
“It’s a lighter…you never seem to be able to find yours so I wanted to give you this.”
“Oh, no, no, no, I can’t take it. It’s too…”
“No, take it. I want you to have it. I have plenty more. It’s nothing special. I used to use it back in America but I never use it anymore. Mottainai ne.”
He looked it over, then looked me over, and I thought for a second that some sort of recognition of its significance crossed his face. But, in an instant, it was gone, replaced by a solemn smile and a deep bow.
“Hontou ni doumo arigato gozaimasu!” (Thank you soooo much!)
“Dou itashimashite,” (you’re welcome) I caught myself saying. I rarely use that phrase. I usually respond to all thank yous with Iie (Not at all) but his solemnity almost made me show the gravity of what I felt.
I had similar sessions with a couple of the other teachers today, but I had to split them up. If they were to talk, as I knew they would, and all of them mentioned they’d received affectionate trinkets from me, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out what Loco was cooking.
Tomorrow is my last day. No classes. just a morning meeting, a fancy sushi lunch and a bunch of sayonaras.
I’ll try to hold it together and lie on my company’s behest. And I’ll try to avoid feeling like I’m going to disappear, like I’d never been here.
Maybe I’ll carve my name in my desk, or spray paint it in graffiti on the wall in the smoke shed:
If you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.