10 July 2019

When to say goodbye

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Niigata City, in northwestern Japan, is the Japanese Pittsburgh, I've said in the past. Hull, in the UK, I suppose, more accurately, a grey port city with a river and paper factories spewing smoke in a way that I was never comfortable with when I taught in the primary school across the road. I ended up in Niigata by accident, having failed as a missionary in Fukuoka City and hoping to hide for a time, to regroup and make sense of the world again and decide what it is that I wanted. Have a good time maybe, for the first time in my life. Nothing had worked out the way that I thought, and all I wanted was to disappear, buy a motorbike and make some money. Take a year or two out, and then get back to it.

When I left Niigata four years later, I was married with a one-year old baby and another child on the way that I didn't know about. We got on that ferry that pulled away from the city and I knew I would not be back, there would never be any reason to be back even though it was, by any measure, my home. The tiny 2DK apartment I had in Matsuhama outside of town — the one I rented because I could afford it and it was convenient — is a perfect metonymy for everything my life has become: accidental and random and blessed through misguided bloody mindedness. You could just see the river between the houses from the window in the second room. Yoko came to me in that apartment, and then Naomi came, just like that, without any effort, without any plan. The windows could open on three sides to let in the sea air. Everything changed so suddenly, in ten months really, but it didn't feel like that at the time. It felt like a day was a week, that we had been together for years and years and of course, whatever we did, we would be okay, because what is love but a commitment to being okay, no matter what. You say that, don't you, when you marry, when you lie to each other about what you'll do and not do. In good times and bad, sure, how bad can it get.

That was almost fifteen years ago, as I think about it. I romanticise it now, but that's just because I was reckless and me in my mid-to-late thirties admires the recklessness of me in my early-to-mid twenties, even if he was misguided and foolishly optimistic. Even if he was full of magical thinking and insecurity. That version of me didn't give a fuck. He wasn't thinking about consequences — I was twenty-three, what was the worst that could happen. My broken Japanese was a joke. We got married on a clear blue day and the windows were open because it was warm and the cicadas were out and the future, what was the future, before everything, before the melting ice shelf, before the mortgage and the visas and the children needing whatever they need. I walked to the seven-eleven to buy ice cream.

Of course, you're only twenty three for one year and then you're twenty four, and then twenty five and then and then and then. Now, the children are leaving for school and I too need to get on with things. My petty responsibilities that pay the bills, the new four hundred pound vacuum cleaner that I would have been apoplectic about even last year now seems to make perfect sense. I had to sell my motorbike at some point, the mini-cub that you kick started and went faster than it was legally allowed to go. It was fun while it lasted, but eventually the baby, the fleck, the shadow that I saw for the first time on an ultrasound monitor and took my breath away became real. I didn't even have to think about it — things become real without you doing anything. You see the face of your child and it is part your face and that sense that the world is just spinning what does it matter, ends. It counts now. I trawl through pictures from that year and see it in my eyes, the slow realisation that things have started to count.
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