On graduation and twentysomethings

Jennifer gave me Adam’s mother’s contact info. I’ll be sending her an e-mail, once I figure out what to say.

I also got a referral from someone that searched for “adam stevens suicide,” and it made me furious. Is that what people think actually happened? When he had so much going for him and such a bright future ahead? It’s such a huge show of disrespect, to assume or even seriously consider that he took his own life. I mean, yes, we don’t know what happened. But anyone who knew Adam would know that he would never do anything like that.

Well, moving on…

I had a slightly strange encounter at today’s elementary school. The kids at this school are great, and out of a class of 29, 19 of them are graduating next week and will be entering my junior high in April. But I get a strange vibe from the teachers sometimes (the two I work directly with are great, really friendly and genuine, but I’m referring to the ones who are in the staffroom when I arrive)–sometimes I feel like they’re friendly towards me just because they have to be, and it’s a little forced, particularly from the principal. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve been nothing but courteous towards me…but the fact that I’ve noticed my principal gazing speculatively and silently at me on more than one occasion when I look up from whatever I’m doing at the time weirds me out a bit.

Well, anyway, today the principal asked me if I was coming to their graduation next week, almost as if they’d already expected me to be there.

Unfortunately for them, my answer was a very awkward “no”–all the elementary school graduations are on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I lucked out on Wednesday–only one of my elementary schools has its graduation that day. However, two of them occur at the same time Thursday and three of them occur at the same time on Friday. This school is one of the two Thursday-graduation schools, and the other Thurs-grad school is my Monday morning class, which is hands-down my favorite elementary school to teach at. The staffroom is really warm and friendly, the kids are fabulous…compared to this school, as much as I hate to say it, there just was no contest.

I could tell that they weren’t happy with my answer, but I’d already talked to the Monday school about attending their graduation, and they were thrilled to hear that I wanted to go. Though it was nice to receive a direct invitation from this school (I had to inquire about it at all the others, but I think that’s mainly because it was something they didn’t think I was interested in–once I expressed interest, they were genuinely enthusiastic about my joining them)…I told them I’ll definitely be there next year. I guess we’ll see.

In other news, I’ve discovered that there are people my age who live in this town. They’re just married, and usually have kids. Kids.

I was at Sunshine (the bigger of the two major grocery stores–not counting Ikeda Family because that place is a little scary) and ran into one of my beginners eikaiwa students, who called me over to the customer service counter once I’d finished checking out to make sure I signed up for a points card. He started telling the girl behind the counter about me, and after I put my birthdate down on the form to get the card, he asked her age compared to mine, and she admitted that she was older than me, at 26 years old. He then went on to tell her all about how I was from the US, how he’d met my family when they were here over the holidays, and how we’d originally come from India. I didn’t really know what to do besides just nod and smile and feel a little embarrassed, but it was sweet that he was so excited about all the internationalization I’ve been able to expose them to just as a result of my family history.

And another story…I went by the nearby Passion Bakery yesterday to grab a snack, except that I forgot my wallet, and the younger of the two women who regularly work there let me go ahead and take my maple walnut roll and said that I could pay her back whenever. I ended up sitting there and eating, and she sat her son down next to me so he could eat a snack and watch TV, and when nobody else was in the store she’d come over to join us, and we chatted for a bit. I’m a regular in there, and she’s asked me about myself before–she’s obviously pretty curious about me and my background, the way I’m curious about the lifestyles of people my age who live here. She finally asked my age yesterday (I could tell she was particularly curious about that question) and was really surprised to find out that I was younger than her (and to be honest, I’ve given up trying to guess people’s ages here because I always end up being way, way off, but I did guess that she was in her 20s, though maybe on the younger side? The presence of a baby boy sort of befuddled my age-guessing sense, though–it turns out that she’s 25, turning 26 this year), and she expressed wistfulness at not being able to travel or really do much of anything now that she has a baby.

It hit me that she felt a little embarrassed or even ashamed, after seeing that I was so close in age to her and that our lives were so drastically different: I’m single and living abroad, and she’s married with a child and unable to leave this small town. She actually used “shimaimashita” when referring to the birth of her son, in terms of how it hindered her from doing all these things she dreamed of doing. She asked me about my dreams and long-term goals as well. I really didn’t know how to respond–really, it’s all luck of the draw. If she had happened to be from a family that lived in one of the suburbs of any of the big cities on Honshu, her life would be different. I’m not even completely sure that she attended college; she said something about it but I didn’t get a chance to ask her to clarify. Similarly, if my family had decided not to move from India to the US during my infancy, my life would be completely different.

To some degree, I envy her as well. I envy that she was able to meet someone she was willing to start a family with. That’s one of the big struggles with me right now–trying to figure out how to overcome the crippling awkwardness that completely paralyzes me when matters of the heart are concerned, because it’s kept me from ever being in a relationship or even on a real date. I know I’m not yet mature enough to handle being a mother, and since I have these opportunities to spend time abroad and be a little adventurous before buckling down into a career path or academia, I want to take advantage of them. But I’ve been able to do this at the expense of getting into a relationship, which is something else I want very dearly. I don’t doubt that she’ll have opportunities to travel later in life–but I’m sure it bothers her that she can’t do these things while she’s young, just due to her current situation.

It’s easy to forget how fortunate we are to be here. Once we get caught up in our daily routines, it’s easy to forget that we are indeed doing something that very few people get an opportunity to do: living and surviving in a foreign country for a long stretch of time. It’s not at all hard to lose sight of, because in some ways, life just isn’t that different, and you see the common threads that tie everybody together. I was going to make a “grass is greener” comparison, but to so many people I’ve met in rural Japan, the grass really is greener on our side of the fence, completely due to our international experience. I’m guilty of taking international travel for granted sometimes, because I have family on opposite sides of the planet, so it’s natural that I’ll travel to meet them…but very few people are so lucky. Being in Japan is serving me a real dose of humility and a reality check, which I’m certainly grateful for.

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