Every single day now, someone asks me the question:
Are you still going to Japan?
Innocent enough. People used to ask me all the time prior to March 11th, and I thought nothing of it. It was a lovely conversation starter. Now, however, it takes on a whole different, heavier meaning, fraught with other people’s fears, judgements, shoulds and shouldn’ts.
I’m finding it incredibly difficult to keep responding to this question with the socially acceptable level of gravitas and judicious concern. Most days I think very little about the nuclear reactor problems, if at all. Perhaps most people are overly scared of things they can’t see, because they can’t see them, but it is very likely that I am not scared enough of things I can’t see, because I can’t see them. I just can’t help believing that they will get these nuclear reactor problems figured out any day now, and it will finally disappear from the news rotation. We won’t even notice it happening…one day we just look up and realize there’s not a problem anymore. But, I only feel that way until someone asks “the question.” Then I can’t be excited about my trip anymore. Not allowed. One must be careful not to appear excited nor even too cavalier when discussing moving to an area where the spinach could render you sterile. I must be serious. No smiling while declaring the intention to more or less put a down payment on a tumor. Must furrow brows. Must tilt head to side and sound plausibly conflicted as I reply that I am still planning to go.
The thought of not going now….if I try to really, truly picture it…is just a soul-crushing disappointment. It has taken me nearly a year and a half to get this far – and that already includes one fully failed attempt at going to a whole other country. I just know that if I were to postpone now, or if I were to pull out of this contract and try to find a teaching job elsewhere — I just know that I’d be looking at at least another 3 to 6 months before I could leave. And that makes me feel like a cinderblock is sitting on my chest. I’ve waited so long already. Life was so dull, so frustratingly ordinary before. It’s actually still pretty ordinary, but my year in Japan was like this bright shiny thing hovering just ahead…something to plan for, talk about, look forward to…fodder for my daydreams. THAT makes life feel exciting. I simply refuse to give that up.
Nevertheless, I feel like I have a very tenuous grasp on this whole thing. At any moment, all my plans for the future could be snatched out of my hands – it has already happened once, and is threatening to happen again now. But really, it was tenuous even without the threat of radiation leaks, natural disasters, or paperwork snafus. I don’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to see things through. Many, many times…too many times for me to count, I have come up with some grand idea to brighten my future, talked about it excitedly to everyone, bought books, taken classes, and then by about 3 to 6 months later, I’ve let that dream die. I just can’t face that again now. Not this time. It’s too embarrassing and too painful to have gotten nowhere yet again. I gather that a lot of people are terrified of radiation. The fact that so many other people are worried makes me feel like I should be worried even though I truthfully am not. Hence the self-imposed pressure to respond appropriately to “the question.” I am not worried about radiation, but what I am terrified of, is letting myself down, of losing my grasp on one of the few chances I may ever have to go have an adventure…. of getting stuck with regular, ordinary….safe.