Then the closer I got to the date the more I realized how much I really did love Tahara. I spent weeks saying goodbyes - to friends, to students, and to co-workers. I cried only a little at my favorite elementary school. I didn't shed a tear until my very last day when I gave my goodbye speech at Tahara Junior High. I sobbed on the walk home, but even then I still had three weeks to spend with friends.
I packed, traveled, cleaned, went paragliding, took a weekend trip to Osaka and Kobe, biked to the beach, cleaned some more, had several goodbye parties, and met with the mayor to take my official leave. Finally it was time to go.
Goodbye party with friends. I also had one with the International Association and the Board of Education. I didn't cry at any of them, even when I was giving my little speech that Marie helped me compose.
My supervisor from city hall met me at the station to give me one last goodbye present (this time from her rather than the BOE.) All of my friends who didn't work that day (and a few who did but took nenkyuu) escorted me all the way to the airport. It was a party atmosphere on the train with Sue taking pictures and me passing around a last minute address book for them to fill out. We got there super early and checked in. I was excited to see on my boarding pass that I had an exit row seat. We walked around at the shops some and went out to the observation deck. My friends Sue and Masako kept pretending to steal my passport so I wouldn't be able to leave. I remember being nervous about getting through security with enough time to get to the gate.
Bob, Saori, Sue, Me, Miwa, Kaoru, and Masako
And then it was time to go. I said goodbye at the entrance to the security line. And that's when I finally began to cry. I gave them each a big American hug and we all made promises to keep in touch (which with Facebook we've done a pretty good job.) I didn't stop until I was at my gate. I'm sure the man in immigration thought I was nuts as I handed over my gaijin card with tears in my eyes.
You can't tell in this picture but I'm crying pretty steadily.
Once on the plane I realized that my seat was not in the exit row but behind it on top of it being a middle seat. Any other time I would have been more annoyed than I was but I was distracted. I was fine for awhile but almost as soon as I got settled in I started crying again. The people around me politely ignored my sniffling.
My friends actually waited around and waved goodbye as my plane taxied and took off. I couldn't see them waving but I suspect I started crying again right around when this picture was taken.
It was hard to balance the sadness of leaving with the joy of going home and at some point my emotions just switched off. I know they did because the man sitting next to me had a baby who cried and who he kept getting up with, jostling my seat every time, or who he would rock, also rocking me and I didn't get annoyed. Normally I would have been very irritated by the middle seat, no exit row, and a crying baby but I didn't feel anything. I just slept the best I could, watched a movie, and listened to my podcasts.
There I go
I landed in Detroit, got through immigration and customs fairly simply. I remember chatting with a grandpa and his two young grandsons while I waited for my flight to Cincy. And then I was home, hugging my mom, dad, sister and nephew. My mom and sister had fought over who got to hug me first (my sister won out.)
This last year at home hasn't always been easy (is moving back in with your parents in your late 20s ever easy) but I don't regret my decision. It was time but I still miss Tahara. I miss my friends. I miss my students. I miss being able to walk everywhere. I miss hiking up Zao-san or in Takigashirakoen. I miss the Pacific Ocean. I miss Japanese food. I miss onsens. I miss being a rockstar. And living by myself.
On the other hand I love seeing my family all the time, especially my new niece and nephew. I'm not missing anything like I did with my other nephew. I love re-connecting with my friends here. I love my bed. And driving my car. And the ease in simple tasks like shopping, getting my hair cut, or going to the pharmacy.
Travel is my passion but it comes with its own setbacks. It widens your horizons but then you know what you're missing. No matter where I am I don't quite fit in because I'm always missing somewhere else. Tahara is truly my daini no furusato or second home. My plan is to go back next spring for a visit (the first of many I hope.)