When I left my first love, Boston, for my second love, my Japanese husband in Osaka, I gained a new life, but I never lost my primal connection to the city I will always call home.
For all my friends, family, Four Stories peeps, and fellow Bostonians who spent what I’m sure was a restless night last night, the only thing I can think to offer, from all the way across a continent and an ocean on a beautiful spring day in Osaka, is a memory of my first trip back to Boston after moving to Japan. It reminded me of why, no matter where I go and what new things I see and learn, I’ve always loved Boston first, and always will.
Can’t wait to come home to Boston again soon….
It was 11:30pm when we finally landed at Logan, almost 24 hours after leaving Japan. I stepped into a terminal that seemed improbably tiny and modest compared to Osaka’s. The hallway and food court were dark, and as I passed the broad windows where the city’s lights twinkled as they always had over my thirty-odd years of traveling through Boston’s airport, everything looked both the same and strangely new. The Pru, the Hancock tower blinking in the distance: each familiar site now held a fresh dimension, an edge of foreignness sharpening its contours.
A few nights later, still flattened by jetlag, I drove home from an early dinner with some girlfriends, lumbering slowly in my aging VW. Crossing the Mass Ave bridge at dusk, I glimpsed the State Capital’s dome glowing on its hill, the Charles river stretched out below, a shifting spread of blue.
Past Copley, I crept down my neighborhood’s narrow streets, peering through my windshield, searching for the ever-elusive South End parking space. Turning a corner off Dartmouth Street, I saw a car double-parked under a headlight, blocking the road. Still in Japanese public-decorum mode, I beeped softly, but the vehicle didn’t budge. I beeped again. Nothing.
Maybe they’ve gone inside an apartment? It was getting too dark to see the driver. Annoyed, weary, I hauled myself out of my VW, preparing a polite request. But before I reached the car, its engine suddenly ignited, and it began to move. Then I heard the furious honking at my back.
A man in a beat-up, dark blue sedan had pulled up behind me, bumper dented, worn-out air-freshener dangling lackadaisically from the rearview mirror, spinning slowly. He must beeping at that double-parked car, too, I thought, honking in support of my patient protest, I noted, feeling virtuous in our shared vehicular predicament.
But then the driver behind me leaned out the window, jutted his head towards me in one angry thrust. “Jesus Christ!” He screamed. “Get back in the goddamn caaa, you moron! Waddya doin’? You’re blocking the whole fuckin’ street!” I begin feebly to protest, to explain that I was only attempting to clear the road. In response, he slammed his palm back onto the horn, emitting another series of long, irate, and humiliatingly loud admonishments.
In a rush, my exhaustion overwhelmed me. I didn’t have the energy to absorb the full-throttled aggression of a Boston driver, or the thick skin to deflect it—especially not after having floated in a bubble of extreme, collective self-restraint for a month in Japan. I felt my cheeks flame in the darkening air, then burst helplessly into tears.
Suddenly, I longed for the more respectful, civilized manners of Toru’s home. What’s wrong with the people in this country? I thought as I hurried back to my car, slammed the door shut, turned the ignition as fast as I could. What purpose on Earth does it serve to be so rude? Why are people here so…so ill-behaved? Self-righteous indignation pricked through my shock and embarrassment.
But as I drove away, the tears receded. An image of myself, startled and mortified under the pale wash of streetlights, flashed through my mind, and with it surged a laugh, then a wave of release. This is my crazy neighborhood. I was finally back in a place providing me, and everyone around me, permission to unloose the thoughts that lurked inside, to announce ourselves and our minute-by-minute reactions to the world. To thrust, in a glorious rush of self-expression, our internal states into public, without a hint of shame.
I realized then that Japan’s enforced harmony, although soothing at times, was also suffocating, a dense fog of decorum settling over everyone and sealing shut, with hermetic insistence, any signs of discord. Sitting in my aging car’s front seat, rumbling down my neighborhood’s liberally pot-holed side-streets, I breathed out a long sigh, unloosening my lungs in relief and even, in a strange way, gratitude for the driver who had been cursing me moments before.
I’m home, in Boston, in America, I thought, almost giddy. I and everyone around me can finally express our feelings as we have them.
Perhaps we could sometimes be rude or noisy. But I suddenly saw my and my fellow citizens’ carefree expressiveness as our own curious form of mutual respect, and even love: an agreement to relinquish the façade of permanent politeness and bare our souls together. Perhaps it’s skewed species of love, I allowed, but when it works, we forge a generous, communal, trust: You be you, and I’ll be me, and somehow, despite the annoyance and noise and clumsiness, we’ll have faith that we’ll all get by, ourselves, together.
Excerpted from Chapter 5 of The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East and West (forthcoming, Putnam)