Friday, March 25, 2011

Stateside: With a Cobb Salad of Emotions

Yes, I said cobb salad. Since arriving back in sunny California a week ago in an effort to remove myself from Japan’s nuclear situation, I have felt happy, sad and everything in between. As I was falling asleep last night I was trying to figure out how to describe the plethora of emotions swirling inside me, a task which turned out to be tougher than I realized. A roller coaster of emotions wasn’t an accurate description, because I don’t really have highs and lows. A whirlwind of emotions didn’t work either as these emotions are not happening all at once, nor are they swirly, or even windy. A cobb salad. Yes, that is the correct term. I have been made up of about 7 different emotions that are all somewhere within me and seem to rotate in intensity, just as with each bite of the salad. Sometimes more tomatoes than chicken, other times the bite is completely covered in dressing masking any actual salad flavor. At the moment this is me. 
March for me was supposed to consist of a visit from Jessica and Julia, with all of us embarking on a trip to Hiroshima. Then celebrating the last week of school with some of my favorite middle school teachers before they are rotated out to other schools. I was then planning a week in Korea to visit a friend, all the while attending various events as Tokyo’s Irish Parade Queen. All until April 2nd where I was going to attend a massive daylong concert in Tokyo, called SpringGrove with big name artists. I was thrilled. I was creating a life for myself. I had a job, great friends, awesome co-workers, a darling apartment, and amazing experiences that I did my damndest to create and take advantage of. To boot, all of this was in a foreign country. I was so proud of myself.
And then the tectonic plates decided they just couldn’t hold it any longer.
What resulted was the largest earthquake in quite sometime, followed by tsunamis and a nuclear crisis. Devastation everywhere.
The earthquake happened on a Friday afternoon. By Sunday night, as the nuclear system was not under any type of control, nor could anyone really explain it to me, I was considering going home. I called my parents when I woke up at 10am Monday morning, I didn’t have work as Saturday was graduation. By 11am with the assistance of both my parents, a visiting Ed Bardzik (expedia member!) and one of my best friends Lauren on speaker phone, I had a plane ticket booked for the 6pm flight that night. Throughout the entire conversation I was under the impression that this was a temporary visit home. I said something along the lines of, 
“Well I can do that when I get back to Japan,” and my mom responded, 
“You want to go BACK?!” 
I lost it. 
How could I not come back?! My life that I worked so hard to create is here, I couldn’t just leave it. I had dinner plans, I was supposed to go as a guest to an adult english class, I was supposed to do laundry and go to the bank. I realize how superficial it all sounded, but I felt like I was literally being ripped away from everything that had become so familiar to me in the past 7 months.  
I couldn’t think about it. I had, at most, 3 hrs before I had to leave for the airport, whether or not I would make my flight was still up for grabs. I wiped my tears and sucked it up.
I called the other JETs who graciously came over to help me pack. I opened my closet and starting flinging my favorite things on my bed. Sinapi sat on the bed rolling the clothes I chucked at her. Jessica was on skype, calming me down while checking the baggage allotment for Singapore Air. She confessed that watching me pack was making it real and essentially scaring her. While she was way in the north and safe from the radiation scare, the main reason I was leaving, she was also essentially stranded. The airport she usually flies out of is Tokyo’s Narita, which was up and running, though the only way she could get there was by bullet trains, which were not. The airport closest to her was Sendai, which was under water. I assured her she would be fine, and meant it. At the moment she is still there, though I know her family wants more than anything to have her back in the states. 
Getting me ready to leave, both mentally and physically was a team effort for sure. Kim was there chatting with us and promising to look after my mail. She had my spare key and said she would keep an eye on the place. I told her to help herself to the lot of food I had just purchased. I took a 5 minute break from packing and scarfed down some pasta, I asked the girls to drill me on what I actually needed for my flight. All we could come up with was my passport and some cash. That in itself was a reality check. 
Ian came over with a scale and we checked that my bags made the cut. They did. Maya came over to call and see if the trains were running. They weren’t. If I was going to make it to the airport I had to leave now. I would have to take a cab, if I could get one, and their was no telling what the traffic would be like on the one lane roads, nor how hectic the airport would be. 
Maya, Ian and Sinapi kindly offered to walk me to the train station, where we hoped to find a cab. It was about 1:15pm when we walked out the door. After exiting my somewhat hectic apartment filled with frantic Skype calls, rushed planning and hectic packing, I walked outside to find Kamagaya as calm as ever. Why was I leaving again? Once again, I didn’t have time to wonder, I had a 9 hour flight to do that. I stopped at the ATM to take out some cash and transfer some money to my US account. I had been wanting to buy a new computer and decided I would when I got home. I was trying desperately to see some sort of silver lining. 
We got to the station to find it dark, an entirely new experience and no cabs in sight. Hmmm. As I turned around Maya yelled that one had pulled up. I ran to get him. The others followed and we loaded me in to the cab. Ian asked in Japanese how long it would take to get to the airport. The cabbie said he had no idea, but maybe 2 hours or more, a drive usually completed in about 30 min. I didn’t have a choice, nor did I have a choice that this was going to cost me about $170. Shogunai. I hugged everyone goodbye, there were tears everywhere. I had the most by far, as I have evidently been saving them since the earthquake hit. 
I got in the cab and cried for about the first 45 minutes of the drive. I felt for the cabbie, this was definitely NOT the Japanese way, but I couldn’t help it, and he knew that. In addition to sympathy looks, he turned around every so often to give me green tea, tissues and sweets. Through sniffles and tears I thanked him as much as I could. 
I arrived on time to a very busy, but organized and relatively calm Narita airport. Waited for over an hour to check in, but after that security and customs were a breeze and I sat at the gate eating sushi. I watched passengers file in from a plane that had just landed and wondered where they were going within Japan and why they got to arrive while I had to leave. 
My phone was on it’s last leg as I responded to emails and facebook messages explaining my decision to other JETs who were currently trying to choose between staying or going. All of us had the same problem, no one wanted to go but all of our families were begging us to get out. We were in two mindsets and their was no way to please everyone.
As I sat at the gate, I met a few kids my age all doing what I was doing. We were all heading somewhere in America, in the process, abandoning apartments, jobs or university programs until Japan was back on it’s feet. 
I started to feel guilty for not staying to help. I was so in love with this country that had accepted me with open arms over the past few months. We had a partnership, an understanding. I would try my best to learn Japanese, and do my best to teach English, while everyone in Japan would be patient with me as I learned and teach me about Japanese culture. Yet, here I was in the airport, fleeing, and essentially leaving Japan with an ultimatum. 
Listen Japan, as soon as you get it together and are safe enough to return, I’ll be back. 
What the hell kind of partnership is that?! 
Why do I get to go? Do I have higher standards since I was foreign born? And how was this country supposed to repair itself if I wasn’t going to help? I had been here 7 months now and felt just as at home here as I do in America, and here I was, leaving. That’s not right. Why do I get to leave?  Simply because I have the funds to buy a one way ticket out, and have somewhere else to go? That isn’t fair. All while my co-workers, friends and students were staying. What is going to happen to them? What about the crossing guard that waves good morning to me every morning as I ride my bike to school, who happens to be the grandfather of one of my favorite students, what will happen to him? What about the cab driver I just had? What about my Japanese teacher? What about my bosses at the Board of Ed who I meet with for weekly meetings? What about Tanaka-san who has taken on the position of my Japanese mother? What about my favorite teachers at school and their families who are all over Japan? 
They have to be having it worse than I.
I started to cry again at the gate. I turned away from the family sitting next to me and Skyped my Dad to let him know that I would be getting on the flight, and would be needing a ride from the airport. He was relieved. I felt sad, mad and guilty.
Despite all the tears, I hadn’t cried as much as I felt like I needed to and worried that I was saving them for the flight. I already felt for whoever I was going to be sitting next to. Good thing I had a window seat. 
I boarded the completely full plane to find out that somewhere along the line my 32 C window seat had become a middle 32 B. Sorry A and C. The girl in the aisle seat was a girl I had talked to while in line to check in. She was sweet and from San Diego. She had been visiting friends in Japan and cut her trip short due to the earthquake. She seemed completely content with her decision and had no qualms about returning. Clearly she wasn’t a resident of Japan. 
I arrived safely back stateside. Friends and family have been unbelievably supportive and people were coming from out of the woodwork to see that I was ok. I was so touched. The hugs were a little harder and there were relieved exhales all around. Everyone was glad I was safe, which felt great, but I am not quite as excited as they. Of course I am thrilled to be safe, and so thankful that I was in an area of Japan that was only somewhat effected. But what about everyone else? 
It seems daily, people will look at my parents and exclaim one or all of the following, “Oh thank God!  Oh I was so worried! You must be so relieved. Now you can stop worrying!” My mom confirms this with them, kisses me on the cheek and gives me a squeeze. I give a polite “thank you for your concern smile” and look down. I am no where near on the same page of relief. People have it much worse than I. My mind shoots back to everyone in Kamagaya and Japan. I am far from done worrying.
My first week back in CA, I went to a funeral for a family friend, and doctor’s appointments for my Dad’s cancer treatment. What the hell happened to my super fun month of March? My Dad’s cancer has resurfaced with a vengeance. Fucking cancer. Sorry, but that is the only appropriate adjective to describe it. You know it is.
The poor guy has been radiated, chemo-ed and cut open. As I sit here at USC Univ. Hospital, my Mom is with my Dad as they prep him for his 3rd surgery that is scheduled to being in 5 min. We have already been told that he will spend the night here tonight and that they will not be able to get it all. But we have to hope and pray for the best. 
I couldn’t go in because they only allow 1 visitor in the prep room, so we opted for the one with medical knowledge. I’m sure my mom will keep ‘em honest. My Mom told me that she was going to try and say that they had a small child. My dad and I laughed when she proposed this, I would love to see the doctor’s face when he saw Mr. Bohan’s 24 year old “child” walk in. 
Last night my little family of three prepared for surgery. My Dad had to stop eating at midnight and poor guy couldn’t have a beer with dinner. No alcohol. Lame. My mom and I packed snacks and entertainment. My Dad scoured our house for the reading material he would like pre and post surgery. He picked up a Sports Illustrated covered with players from the NCAA March Madness. I suggested the swimsuit edition that was sitting next to the Wall Street Journal in our kitchen, my we’re well rounded aren’t we?! As soon as I suggested it, I heard my mom from the other room,
 “Kaaaateee! Don’t you think that may be a littllleee inappropriate?” My dad laughed. “Not really mom. You know they get it too, and if nothing else he’ll make some friends while he’s in there.” I mean really, how funny would that be?! My mom rolled her eyes and in the end the LA Times Sports page was selected. Boring. 

With cancer and a nation disaster all happening simultaneously in my life I can honestly tell you, I have no idea what my next move is. Though I will be sure and share as soon as I figure it out. Right now lets just focus on one thing at a time, today that thing is cutting out cancer and Papa Bear making a full recovery. 
Positives thoughts and prayers welcome, 


  1. Kate, I hope everything works out well with Uncle Marty and your family. I enjoy reading your posts, and it feels like I am let into a whole nother side of you. We are here for you and your family, and will continue to hope and pray for you guys. The Namimoto family loves you guys and we hope for a speedy and safe recovery.

  2. Oh Kate, I am so sorry to hear about your Dad. My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family. I'm so proud of you and how grown up you are (here I go with the Mom stuff again... my goodness:)

    Keep that chin up Roomie!



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