Staying Perfectly Still

There's a recurring conversation between my husband and myself that has become as familiar as a song, and which we sing with perhaps more levity than some might deem appropriate. And it always begins with me: "If you die first." We're not morbid people. We don't consider this subject with relish.

But look at this. My husband works 17-hour days, smokes over the screechy protests of his asthmatic lungs, rarely has time to eat anything but convenience store food, and of course has a high-stress job. I wake up to my bran flakes cereal and fresh fruits, walk the dog, do somewhat domestic stuff, then work till my husband comes home--I'm like the freakin' poster child for an overly long life, I tell you. The most stressful thing that happens to me is when the dog steps in his own pee or I insert a wooden skewer into my baking cake after an hour and fifteen minutes and it comes away coated in raw batter.

Of course I know that anything could happen. I could write the book on not making long-term plans for anything, even death. But my life right now has a way of lulling me into complacency, making me believe that I'll float right through the years without feeling more than a few lapping waves. And that's when that stubborn song pops back into my head, "If you die first."

It's actually a pretty short song, most often ending with "I'll pack up and move to Africa" or "I'll be really mad at you." But there are times, like this morning, when I wake up and I do allow it to weigh more heavily than usual. I once wrote that I'm good at settling in foreign places, at not missing what I left behind, at accepting new and different. But the truth is that it was so easy for me because I wasn't settling. After high school, for a really long time, it seemed I never stopped moving. I may have paused for breath for a year or two, but it was always me who left; I was never the one left behind.

But now that I've been in Japan for about five years--an eternity, to me--I'm realizing that I have to stop living like a transient, but I simply do not know how. Always at the back of my mind is the belief that I'll be moving on eventually. Before Japan, I never accumulated more than would fit into two big suitcases, because who the hell else was going to help me carry my belongings into my new life, onto trains, off buses, and up and down a million flights of stairs until my hands were chaffed and shaking from the strain? When I was living in Brooklyn, a call from a friend who'd spotted an abandoned couch outside her apartment had my roommate and I running over and, with the help of a homeless man, dragging that baby elephant (Why are couches so blood heavy?) all the way home. We then ended up circling it suspiciously for days, wondering why the hell someone would throw away a perfectly good couch. Unless it had fleas or something. But we eventually settled into it. And when I left New York, I didn't spare that couch a single thought. But now my husband and I have furniture that we actually paid for with our own money. I have more things than will fit into my two suitcases.

My concerns about tangible goods aside, there's that little problem regarding human relationships. There are people who need a lot of friends and others who are content with just a few really good ones. I fall into the latter category and have been this way since I was a little girl. This suited my migratory lifestyle because it meant fewer good-byes, but it also means that I've gotten increasingly good at forgetting people who were once important to me. And I'm beginning to get tired of finding replacements.

Although I've tried making friends with Japanese people, when your command of the language is as limited as mine, honest to god there's only so much you can talk about and only so far that the relationship can go. I also notice that I'm firmly placed in the "foreign friends" group, held apart from the "Japanese friends" group, the inner circle. On the other hand, to be perfectly cold, befriending foreigners is pointless because I've yet to meet a single foreigner who actually means to stay in this country. They're here for work or they're here for "the experience." Foreigners are not here because they love it and never want to leave. At first I took what I could get, which mostly meant short-term agreements and saying farewell a lot. But I can't be bothered to keep this up.

So now I'm down to a fistful of friends who I see less than seldom. And I have my husband. This is where the alarm bells start sounding. To calm them, all I have are my feeble survival plans. If he dies first, I shall get mad or I will pack up my things and move--probably, I will have to do both. I couldn't stay in Japan, because as much as I love it here, I don't think I'd love it half as much without him. And there's no where to go home to--I've somehow seen to that. Not Singapore, not Vancouver, not Des Moines, nor any place else I've stopped in between then and now. I'm even thinking of taking out that string of towns at the top of my blog because I'm realizing that those places were nothing more than pitstops in my wandering. They are not a part of who I am. I can scarcely remember anything about them now, in fact, because that is how a person like me moves on.

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I can't imagine not feeling connected to a place - it's something most of us take for granted I guess. Being single, I don't have that powerful connection to one other that you do, but I am similar to you in having (and needing) a relatively small number of friends. With work, family, and hobbies more than fully occupying my time, I find most of my social contacts (apart from family) are at work. 

from Cathy

3/19/2006 12:37:00 AM  

I know exactly how you feel although I do accumulate stuff because I need my kitchen appliances to make strnage places seem like home (my waffle maker and bread machine in particular). Anyway, Bert and I always talk about 'the perfect place versus the perfect job' and which one we'd rather have. It's all very hypothetical cause neither one of us has found either the perfect place or the perfect job but I like to think that either one or the other would be enough...but maybe not.

3/19/2006 06:36:00 AM  

I feel the same too and have never bothered buying permanent furniture or tried making my home, "homely" because like you, I have had pitstops throughout my life since high school and I know that it will continue to stay like this for awhile.
I used to get upset with people coming in and out of my life but the internet has made it so much easier for me to keep in touch with the few "quality" friends I have and treasure. I have found it really hard to make friends in Japan, at times, almost giving up because I know this new friend I make might not be here the next season.
How do you cope with your husband working long days? I find it really frustrating that I work from home, have practically no one to talk to, see no one and when my partner comes home, he's buggered and has to go to bed.

3/19/2006 09:43:00 PM  

Hi Cathy,
It must be wonderful to, as you say, feel connected to a particular place. But I think a large part of what ties us is the people we know and love, and I just need to keep that in mind.

Hi Jaime,
Oh gosh, let's be greedy and wish for both: a wonderful place and a wonderful job, since I believe each affects how we view the other.

Hi Eve,
We live very similarly, don't we. I know I asked you this before, but you never replied--you don't have a blog, do you? The Internet definitely does help me stay in touch with people, but there's always the knowledge that we might never meet more than once every few/many years and that it's impossible to really be close this way.

I initially was a bit upset when I realized I would never have the stereotypical relationship with my husband, where he comes home at 7pm and we have dinner together and chat about our day. But the truth is that (a) I'm so  glad I don't have to think about and cook dinner every night and (b) we actually savor our weekends together a lot more, I think, than other couples because that's the only time we have together. Oh, and then there's (c): I kind of feel like, if we are lucky enough to have an average marriage lifespan of about 50 years, that's actually a hell of a lot of years together and maybe having a weekend relationship will help keep the tedium at bay. 

from Rachel

3/20/2006 05:26:00 PM  

Hi Rachel

I did have a blog before but ( long story short) closed it because someone started stalking me and I just couldn't handle it anymore. I often think it would be so nice to have one to keep in touch with my closest friends and family but find the possibility of having a password protected blog rather off putting.

In my current situation, I feel rather alone and limited with whom I can talk to. And when he comes home from work, I am all over him and wanting to tell him about the frivolities of my day. I don't really like being like this and hope that it's just a situational thing.

Hey it is true that if you have the weekends to cherish, that will definitely keep the tedium at bay!
In my case, I am hoping that a move to Japan will help rid me of my "clingy-ness" and we can have a much healthier relationship.

I don't know about you but I used to feel very stoic about things and moving around and not having permanence. But maybe as I get older, I do miss the perks you get with permanence. Like calling up a girlfriend for a cuppa instead of emailing or making an overseas call ( even with skype, where the connection might be bad and you try again).

If you'd like, you can email me at surlaplagejapon@gmail.com


3/21/2006 11:37:00 AM  

Hi Eve,

A stalker! Scary. What happened? Or is that just too long a story to fit into a comment?

I think that if you enjoy writing, even if you have to go through the trouble of getting a password-protected blog, it might be worth it if it helps you put down your thoughts and keep in touch with your people.

Oh, I know just how you are feeling because I did use to feel exactly the same. To simply speak with a human being--ahh, the yearning for that used to drive me near insane. And then I'd be so hurt and angry when my husband came home and couldn't seem to stay awake long enough for me to pour my heart out to him.

I kind of snapped out of it one day though when I read somewhere that it's unfair to put so much responsibility on your partner, to expect him to be your everything. And frankly, being overly dependent on one person has always scared me. So I simply started doing all kinds of things that I'd previously resisted starting because they suggested permanence and long-term commitment. But these things also finally gave me a life separate from my husband. I signed up for a year's worth of bread baking classes, I started meeting up regularly with a person for Japanese-English language exchanges, I joined a book club, etc.

And suddenly, while I was glad to see him, I didn't NEED my husband's company in an all-consuming manner anymore.

You know, one thing you could do that I can't because of my limited Japanese is to simply get a part-time job outside of the house.

I too am changing as I get older though, and the thought of moving out of Japan... well, it makes me feel balky, I guess. Part of me gets a little thrill of excitement but another half thinks, well, I'm happy here now.

Perhaps all it is is that you're still just settling in? How long have you been in Singapore now? I'm sorry, I'm realizing that this is getting rather in-depth. If you'd rather communicate through emails, let me know. I just like the idea that someone else in a similar situation might read this and get something out of it--maybe hope? You know: we survived, and so will you!

I hope you'll keep writing and commenting.

from Rachel

3/23/2006 12:00:00 AM  

Hi Rachel

You are right. I see some parallels between what you are going through (have gone through?) and the things I face in my life. I had a good long talk with a friend the other day and do realise that I am indeed putting a lot of pressure on my partner and it isn’t fair. I have never really done something like this and I am not sure what it is. I used to be such a stoic, non-committal person. I don’t know if it’s because I've become soft as I age or it is just the situation I am in.
I am inspired by the things you have done despite in being a somewhat similar situation. I am glad though that being in Singapore, there are no language difficulties and it is easier to get out there and try to join a club or do things to keep me occupied.

I hope to hear more about the things you have done to get out of the situation I ( you were) am in now. I am sorry for being paranoid because of the stalker but would feel more uninhibited if I could write you in an email.
Hope that is okay!


3/23/2006 01:44:00 PM  

Thankfully, I'm in a pretty content place right now. But I do remember how it was and you have my total sympathy.  

from Rachel

3/23/2006 04:08:00 PM  

i'm of the "many acquaintants, very few friends" category too. sometime last year, another best friend left the ctry, adding to the list of bosom pals who are away. the few close friends i had then living here often travelled for work and i remember feeling pretty desolate. no one to call, no one to be giddy with, no one to watch tv with. i remember scrolling through my phone list and finding absolutely NO ONE to ring, anyone i cld exchange more than 2 sentences with. i am very good at being alone, in fact, i crave that. but that month was dire. I started just going out more, starting with not-quite-bosom-but-a-drink-with-you-is-kinda-fine acquaintants and actively making conversation and accepting invitations to hang out, ignoring my teensy tolerance for small talk. a year later, my best friends from ago remain still, but i have a whole new group i call home. it takes time and EFFORT, and a lot of getting over myself, but it's worth it. you have to scrap through much that is superficial to get that one or two real deals. a dash of serendipity doesn't hurt too xo

EVE, have you been in S'pore long now?

3/23/2006 06:00:00 PM  

Hi Good Girl
Thanks for sharing. I guess I'm just in a bit of a tricky situation now. I think the hardest part is like you said, ' scraping through the superficial'.
Thank god there is work to keep me occupied while it can.

3/25/2006 02:42:00 PM  

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