25 October 2013

Not if I don't want it to be

I'm so certainly in America right now. There's really no confusing it: the grains I've eaten this week include farro and two types of quinoa; the beers are all heady IPAs or pumpkin-flavored-somethings, and they taste just like fall smells. I've been in my car more often in one month here than one year abroad; my friends are chatty and loud; my clients refreshingly direct and communicative. My ears and jaw are both exhausted. Ordering coffee is an elaborate ordeal: what origin beans? What roast? Which obscure preparation method? My barista is wearing skinny jeans and has a mustache?

I love it. I hate it. Our life in the last month has moved so, so quickly. It's only now settling to the point that where my mind can catch up. Amos and I moved home one month ago, as of last Sunday. It feels like a long time. In those 30 days:

  • We settled into temporary housing.
  • He began a new position in his company.
  • I began a new job (what?!)
  • We flew to the midwest metropolis of Wichita to see a friend get married, and squeezed in a side visit with my mom in Kansas City, all in a long weekend.
  • We looked at houses.
  • We bought a house (WHAT?!!)
  • Amos switched to seven straight days of midnight to noon shifts the week after we went under contract, which made signing those mortgage papers particularly stressful, which is just a nice way of saying I forged the crap out of his name.
  • My sister has come up twice to drop off cars and bikes stored at her house. She's coming up again this weekend, I think with a coffee table and my Volvo. Up for sainthood, that one.
We've seen friends and family almost every day, and on Saturday we finally hit a wall and watched approximately 12 episodes of "How I Met Your Mother." Such a mediocre show, but damn it if I'm not a little curious who Ted ends up marrying.

What's weird about being back is the fact that it's not weird at all. It's eerily the same. Little things in the city are different, big things in our friends are different, but it just feels so normal. It's almost like Japan didn't happen. My friend Jennifer put it so well when she said that her mind took her time in Seattle before, and her time in Seattle after, and just stitched them together, completely skipping the part where she lived abroad. It'll just hit her sometimes. "Oh, yeah, we did live in Japan."

That makes me angry. And sad. And a little lost.

Because it was SO big. It was a move across the world. It was a level of personal growth that I never expected. I mean, it might sound silly to say that taking a Zumba class in a Nihon gym was an arc d'triumph for me, but looking in the mirror, being silly and unguarded with a bunch of women as we all tried to shimmy and channel our inner salsa dancer, I remember thinking that this, THIS MOMENT, was a depth of myself I didn't know existed. I never thought I'd be here. But these women were my women; I became silly and unguarded.

Giving up my job, pausing my career, facing all the fear and struggle that went along with that loss... a trailing spouse in no joke. I went abroad, stepped away from everything I knew, moved forward as my spouse's support, and I fucking did it.

I slowly lost the angst that came when people asked me "what I did all day." I learned to make friends quickly and easily and make small talk an art form, especially on how to small talk your way into real talk so you can become good friends already. I joined women's groups -- something that I had always distainfully avoided, I don't know why -- and I had a blast with my yukata and Zumba and lunches and skiing. I was a partner to my husband in a way I couldn't have been if we had stayed in Seattle. I knew no one but him when we landed, and we went through it all completely together. We adventure'd and problem solved and tackled all sorts of weird things that came our way. We were a family before we arrived in Nagoya, but a deeper connection was built there.

I miss those things even more than I miss the food and trains. I miss the adventure of it all, and I'm stumped to why it feels different here. I mean, we just bought real estate in Seattle (like, Seattle proper). If that's not an adventure, I don't know what is. We're going to Amsterdam and South Africa in January for a friend's wedding, so we're not homebound. Somehow life here lacks a sense of wonder I often (often, not always) had in Nagoya. It feels a bit trudging here. I don't know why, and it bothers me, and I hope it changes as we settle. I think it might, ne? I mean, corporate housing can weighten even the lightest of souls. What I would give for a sharp knife and a rack of spices.

No one here knows that. People I meet on the street, friends that I'm making, this isn't visceral to them like it is to me.

When I was here in July, the first 72-hours were rough. Upon arriving in America for a vacation, I was struck by how final leaving Japan would feel. How quickly it would disappear. How we would have to let it go, otherwise we'd be the people who talk about it all the time and never move on. During that trip, an idea began to surface and I made a decision. When we got married, Amos and I made a 1-year pact: he would try out wearing a ring, something he wasn't keen on, and while I wouldn't change my name, something I wanted to completely veto, it wasn't off the table. I'd think about it, and we'd revisit our decisions in a year. Well, we moved to Japan and that's not the time to make any legal changes. Shean it was (and we ALL know that Amos was going to keep wearing his ring because, yes).

I felt pretty strongly about keeping my name. When you're a Sarah born in 1985, you get called by your first and last name pretty often. I was always Sarah Shean. About half the time, people mispronounce it, but when they do get it right, it is a great name. Sa-rah Shee-an. The flow is outstanding; my parents killed it. My middle name is my mother's maiden, and connects me to a grandparents who really 'got' me, if that makes sense. I was willing to do Sarah Shean Amos, maybe. But lose the Shean?

Much more than that one year later, I was sitting on a balcony in Seattle, after a couple glasses of wine, talking with my friend Tim, and a realization hit me. I was Sarah Amos. It had happened in Japan. It was who I was, and it felt really right. If I let my neurosis wander, I can see that my actions are a passive acceptance of a patriarchal society. I understand that the "it's your choice!" feminism is a fairly weak argument, since the easier (and more acceptable) of the choices often supports unequal systems, and our society has no pressure to ever evolve. The entire name-change is reflective of our culture that expects much more flexibility and accommodation of its women than it does its men. Man, the feminist in me gets it.

But, BUT, on a MICRO level, its the right choice for me. It reflects who I am, today. It connects me to a person I most care about, Amos, and reminds me of what a great thing I did, joining him in this life. It attaches me to a partnership that asks crazy big things of me and supports me completely as I work toward them. It signifies the support I have from my husband, a man who thinks that I can move the mountains, given half a chance. It makes the big things, the soul-shifting things, the things I really want to remember about Japan, it makes them real.

As I settle and my nerves calm, I hope to let go of the expectations around both the good and the bad of being back. I hope to rise above the trudergy that can be an international move when it's not glazed in a new cultural experience, and I hope my name reminds me that it's not over yet. Not if I don't want it to be.

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