“but i was disappearing, i was melting into the footpath” “yeah, i’ve heard it before”

i have tried many things

writing about regret the next day
photos of my face
descriptions of the pain in the shower on my slapped cheekbones or cut up legs
passages about why i am grateful i didn’t end things
reminders of the fluctuations of feelings
drawings of beautiful moments and how they did happen
journal entries of how i am improving, about how i am strong, about how at moments i feel like i am my pre-sick self, capable of anything

and yet

yesterday, again
i believed the world was a jigsaw puzzle
getting pulled apart, getting thrown back into the box
to stay

yes, yes, it is better
yes, yes, overall i am better
yes, yes i have felt stronger in the last year and a half than i have for ten
yes, yes, i’ve said 2016 is the year i am the proudest of
yes, yes i healed in kitakyushu at the temple
yes, yes i re-healed again a second time here

so why?
is it an old habit slip?

i always thought, yes, the uphill journey is jagged
not straight x=y
but
once i am strong and sure of myself
the episodes
the terror
would not happen

i healed, month of march madness and then
resigned agreement to not run, end, despair.
and then

i let it happen again.
discouragement.
damn it
i am so tired of this.
i have been so tired of it for so long.
can’t i bore myself to recovery?

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折尾北九州のスターカー

As I climbed into the backseat of the police van, my analytical conscious asked me, “When was the last time you were in a police vehicle?” I’ve had several meetings with the police in America, Ireland and Japan, but none lately had resulted in me getting a ride from them. “Eight years ago,” it answers its own question. When I was being driven away to be locked on the floor with red streaks on the walls.

The seats are not made of plastic, like the ones in Milwaukee. There is not a crisscross bar separating the officers from me this time.  I am not a criminal today.

Five minutes later we are at my apartment. I point out where he parked his car and lead them upstairs. Sosuke points out to Yosuke that there is a camera pointing at the doors. I walk to my mine. Sosuke looks at my door and passes to my neighbor on the east side of my apartment.  It’s only the littlest bit unsettling, his proximity. They confirm with me that the people next to me are my next door neighbours.  I nod.  For men that spent the last 2.5 hours in a mixture of assiduity and dilly dallying they suddenly move incredibly quickly.  Within a second of my confirmation they have pushed the intercom buttons and the apartments are ringing out in unison from within.

No one is answering.  They say they will come back tonight. They tell me to keep safe.  They tell me to use the deadbolt and chain.  Use the intercom camera.  Yosuke tells me to call, even if I am uncertain someone is there.  If I think I see someone and call them and then there doesn’t turn out to be anyone, it’s okay.  If I feel scared walking back from a  conbini in the evening, walk to the station and we can home home together.  I can’t help but smile.  It all makes me feel a lot better.  They smile then, unexpectedly, and I bow, unlock and swiftly enter and relock my door.

Stalking is a problem in Japan.  There are scholars and cultural anthropologists and reporters who could better explain why Japan’s society has been a hotbed for it’s prevalence, but an ordinary 外国人 (がいこくじん, gaikokujin, foreigner) with an outside eye can see links in everyday facts of Japanese life.  Division between sexes is greater, perhaps building curiosity/mystery, expression of emotion isn’t polite/acceptable,  women are attractive if they are timid and childlike, and men are admired if they are rough and demanding.

Walking around the nightlife district in Kokura with three guy friends, two hosts approach me and tell me they like my clothes, that I’m かわいい (kawaii, cute), and gush on.  Because I’d been getting stared at for ten minutes my patience was wearing thinner than thin and I snapped back at them that they were adorable too, and oh their hair was so nice. They got turned off and left.  Somehow, the pinning to the corkboard only works one way. It is only fun when she gets startled and nervous and resists. But if she let’s the pin pierce right through her wings and flits toward the other, all ceases.

As I shake, as I know I look as terrified as if I was seeing him float, I think, he’s enjoying this. I don’t reach my hand out to accept the paper, it moves of its own accord, or worse, he commands it. But either way, my hand moves out, to accept the paper.  He is still looking at me. The good part about experience with creepy strangers is that memories replay when confronted by a new predator. I am ready to run, or push or kick.  I do not look at the paper, I do not let my eyes look down in embarrassment or avoidance. I am completely on guard. Door is unlocked, there is a wall two meters behind me, but a wide enough space to pass him, if I’m fast he won’t get a good enough grip, I can jump the rail, I might be able to make it to the bike rack…

Probably one second passes. He turns on a dime and rushes away. I stand at the empty door. I stand and my over-cautious consciousness says “I told you.  I told you he was staring at you that way.  I told you that car was following you.  I told you.  You felt it when the car was passing.  When it parked right in front of your apartment. Why did you run up the the stairs if you didn’t think he was after you?” Loving consciousness replies, “I thought I was being egotistical, I told myself the narcissist in me has got to die and I am encouraging it.  I told myself that van is probably waiting to pick up one of the thirty people that live in my building.” “But you knew he wasn’t if you ran up the stairs!” “Yeah.  My self-absorbed self won in the end.  I thought, just in case, I better make it to my place quickly.”

I get followed a bit. Just earlier today I came out onto the main road from a side street and a young man followed me into the conbini.  He looked at me behind his manga, bought nothing, and stared at me as he pretended to smoke on the other side of the entrance as I took advantage of 7/11’s wifi outside. As I started to walk away he followed, then turned back to go the other way.

I understand curiosity. It was the cause of almost all my transgressions growing up and since college still accounts for about 85% of my mistakes. I understand the interest in something peculiar or strange. I get today’s Stalker One. Stalker Two crosses the line when it’s car vs pedestrian, when its her living area, her closest sense of safety, when she is unarmed, when her door is unlocked.  The behaviour shouldn’t occur. I shouldn’t be standing at the 玄関 (げんかん, genkan, entryway) debating if I should spend the next three hours filling out a police report, or going inside to work on my Japanese and submit to feeling anxious for the next weeks.

I cannot kill the worry or fear, but I can make it less.  So I act on what I have the power to change.

When I was in Fukui, a random person started talking to me one day. This happens multiple times in a day in Japan, but this guy ended up touching my ass and chest and I had to go to the police office once, go to city hall three times, identify him in photos, describe the exact movements his hands made on me, meet with our Area company manager.

After my first month here, a man followed me down an alleyway.  He had the same look as the guy in Fukui, he had the same anxiety and hunger in his eyes. I recognized it, did not slow down. It wasn’t happening again. I didn’t walk home. I circled and waved rights and lefts after he had said goodbye. There was no way I was letting him know where I was.

Since then my encounters have been limited to the kind of today’s Stalker One, harmless, if somewhat annoying, because it does take energy to keep that awareness cap on.

This guy knows where I am now. So my window door I sometimes keep unlocked or open is no more. I won’t leave my door unlocked when I go to the conbini, take out the garbage, wander about the shrine near my home.

I learned some Japanese, I’m scared of the sounds outside my apartment, and if there was more diversity and discussion between genders and nationalities in Japan, I and other foreign women in Japan wouldn’t be such peculiarities.

百当番 (ひゃくとうばん, hyakutouban, 110 number)

到頭 (とうとう, toutou, finally)

じゃんじゃん (jyanjyan, clanging noise of a bell)

おそろい

He announces that I’ll be joining the class.  He arranges a chair towards the table. She immediately comes and kneels on the ground right next to my chair. I ask her about the special markers we are using today.  They seem complicated for a not-artist like me so I pull out four colored pens from my 筆箱 (ふでばこ, fudebako, pencil case) and give one to Hina.  I ask her what the theme is.  The teacher says summer. Damn it.  That’s what it was last time I was here.

IMG_8312After a minute of deliberation, Hina draws a squiggly line across the middle of the paper.  She writes “sea” on the top half and “beach” on the low half. Now we know.

She adds a sun, I add specked sand.  She adds a boat, I add a sandcastle. Five minutes later, as our expertise are beginning to run out my eyes focus on the inside of her arm.  And it looks just like the outside of mine eight years ago.

I look at second too long but she is busy and I pull my eyes away.  The next time I’m able, a few minutes later, I read the layers. I see lighter barely there healings. The inbetween. I read the time passing. I realise I was hoping for something different. Damn. It was not just once.

self blogI start to tear up.  Her friend comes and they go to lunch. Cheerful goodbyes on both sides.

Oh, Hiiiiiiiiiiina, I am crying inside. Oh Hina.  You are my favorite first year.  You always help me.  You’re so brave in classes with responding. You are so cheerful.

I want to run to my 先輩 (せんぱい, senpai, elder/guide) and demand she becomes happy at once. I want her to be happy forever.  I want the smile she glows to be genuine and unfaltering. But I cannot go to him now. This is not about you, Bala. YOU cannot start crying! The teachers are there for the students! He needs to save his energy, strength, patience, and compassion for THEM.

I must stop the inward crying before it reaches to the outside.  I have a class to teach. I realize I am the adult in the situation, and act like it.

A really rough over flirtatious boy, he lowers his pants, smiling. I don’t giggle or act surprised/dismayed. I shake my head and turn away. Another teacher is watching us.  He doesn’t seem surprised. A very tall, delicate stem of a girl who I have won over after three visits smiles widely, vulnerable, terrified, as I walk into the third class I will teach. Akari is beautiful, but adds a centimeter of powder to her face. Her nails and hair are perfectly arranged.  She is a fawn. And Yuri, my love.  The girl who told me her dream is to help others as they have helped her. Jittery Yuri, is all ears and eyes, and I spend the last hour of free time just speaking with her and her friend.

When the day is over, I stall. Say goodbye to students, visit the restroom, tidy up. I want to find my 先輩 (elder) alone. Other teachers are beginning their duties, vacuuming, cleaning up the kitchen, and I confront him. [We speak in Japanese, but to make it easier:]

Kashi! お疲れ様です! (おつかれさまです!, Otsukaresamadesu!, Thank you for your work today!) We will see you in September. 

Oh! Not August?

Ah, I think you are very busy with summer school in August.

Yes, that’s true…

So, until next time.

ちょっと質問があるんですけど。。。(ちょっとしつもんがあるんですけど, chotto shitsumon-ga arundesukedo, but I do have a bit of a question…)

Yes?

I saw… some of the students have marks on their arms. (Implication: This is a big deal, what is going on?)

He is nodding.  Yes, many of our students’ parents are divorced.  Almost all of them.  When this happens they get made fun of a lot.  So they do this.

I was surprised. (Implication: I was scared by this and don’t think it’s too common place.  Is something being done? Is one of the teachers noticing this?)

Maybe, for students, coming here helps them.  It is surprising, right?

Hina… (Implication: I saw Hina’s arm. What is the problem? I can’t believe she’s not okay…)

Yes, Hina is always smiling isn’t she? I think, students smile here.  They smile with others, for others.  It’s good.  But maybe, when they go home, they get very sad. Then they call their friends and talk about this.

I am nodding with wet eyes. He notices. Oh, I see.

Yes.

Okay.

Yes.

I am acting like I am about to leave, but I cannot without asking the question that has been drilled into me from the past two years of peer support programs: Do they have someone to talk to? A doctor, or a psychiatrist, or a counselour?  My voice cracks a bit on counselour.

Yes, they have counselours.  For many of them, they are with doctors or counselours and then enroll in school after the bad part. They are not great yet, but, 段々 (だんだん, dandan, little by little) they get better. That’s why this school is important.  That they like coming here.  That we greet them with big smiles when they show up.  That we thank them so much for participating. They get better.

Yes. I understand. I will remember to do all those things. Thank you very much.

You’re welcome.

I walk toward the door and bellow out the standard お疲れ様です(Thank you for your work todayand bow.  They respond back and bow as well.  I smile and leave the building. Hina, Yuri, Akari and the too-cool-for-school boys in my mind. I try not to over-identify. I try to think of what I can do.  All I can think of is completely upending Japanese society.