Harvest House Publishers
Summer’s drifting clouds pass by.
I drift home again.
How many of us notice the instant our lives change? The moment we step out of “what has been” and into “what is to come”? I didn’t. But looking back, unraveling all that had happened before and everything that happened after, I think I can pinpoint the exact moment. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with Eric’s coming and nothing to do with Gina’s leaving.
It had everything to do with me.
I remember folding my six-foot frame into a chair and nibbling on a cookie I was pretty sure hadn’t gone bad while I’d been on vacation. I knew I’d probably live to regret it. But after a ten-hour plane ride, a three-hour commute into Tokyo, and sixteen hours of jet lag, my stomach wasn’t listening to me anymore.
I’d gone home for vacation to celebrate my birthday and attend my sister’s wedding. My little sister’s wedding. After having celebrated both another birthday and the happiest day of my sister’s life, my thoughts were anything but joyous. They were waspish thoughts buzzing around the question, what about me?
Both literally and fi guratively.
My sister had embarked on a life I would soon have no claim to…although I fully intended to insert myself into it from time to time. Being sad for me and happy for her was making a seesaw of my emotions. Facing my return to life as a journalist in Tokyo hadn’t made it any easier. And the fact that I’d have to deal with Neil had made it even worse.
I never should have started dating Neil. I worked with him. He was a nice-looking guy. And I had total respect for him as a writer. I thought he was the best one at the paper. Several months before, I had come to the point in my life where I just wanted to be with someone, and he was the one who seemed like the most obvious candidate. But every time we’d gone out, our dates had degenerated into bull sessions about work or about our careers in general. It was like talking to a brother.
And then one night, we’d kissed.
I’d wanted to, so it wasn’t as if he ambushed me or anything. It was inevitable. We’d been going out for two months, and it was time. But it was all wrong. Everything was out of sync. Our heads, our lips, our noses. It felt like kissing a really good friend. Which is what he was…and I hoped still would be.
I hoped, I hoped.
I liked kissing. Kissing could be one of the best things in the world. Or it could not. To me, it revealed the character of the relationship. I’d dated three really great kissers. But even then, something had always been lacking. And I had known it from the first kiss but stayed around too long just to figure out what it was.
None of them turned out to be worth the time or effort…and that’s not counting all the average kissers I’d dated.
I just wished there were some other way for me to figure out where my relationships were going. Some other way than kissing. It was like baring the soul. I’ll show you mine, you show me yours, and…oh, gee, sorry, never should have done that, can I take it back? Even I think it’s rude. But when you know things aren’t headed anywhere, it’s always best to make a clean break.
After Neil, I’d decided not to kiss anyone anymore. At least not for an entire calendar year. It was too disappointing, and it had ruined too many good friendships. It was the first time I’d ever made a promise like that to myself, and I fully intended on keeping it.
So far, so good.
Besides, I’d been living by myself for a long time and someone else would have messed up my routines. I knew exactly what it took to get along with me: A pint of chocolate ice cream in the freezer, a steady supply of bananas, and a good book. Life didn’t get any better than that. I just hoped Neil would understand.
I bit into another cookie, but it didn’t feel right. They were supposed to be chocolate chip with extra crunch, but it sagged when I bit into it. Why am I here? What am I doing? Why can’t my life be easy? Why? Because I was Allie O’Connor, and for some reason known only to God, I insisted on doing things the hard way.
I possessed one computer, one bilingual TV, a DVD player, a beatup old car, and three suitcases into which I could fit everything else I owned. I lived in Tokyo, Japan, the most foreign city on earth, according to National Geographic’s Traveler Magazine. I lived there because I was a reporter with the Stars and Stripes military newspaper.
What was I doing? Killing time until I was brave enough to stop talking about writing a book and actually do it. Writing a book was not just a before-I-turn-forty dream for me. It was a burden. A responsibility.
Why couldn’t my life have been easy? Why couldn’t I just have lived in the States where I could drive to the grocery store instead of walk, where I could speak the native language, and where I could drive on the right side of the road?
I had no idea.
Yes, I did.
I’d come to Japan because I’d felt guilty about writing everything else besides my book. So I’d decided to take the idea of book-writing seriously. If I were really supposed to write a book, I had decided I needed inspiration. With a capital “I.”
At least I was practical about it. I knew I needed to live in a country where I could get by in English. I might have tried Australia, but it didn’t seem quite exotic enough. I needed a literary culture. Something that would spark my creativity. Something unexpected. That’s why I had decided on Japan.
The problem was that after I had found my job with Stars and Stripes, after I had sold most of what I owned and moved to Tokyo, after I’d settled into a hotel-like room at the U.S. military’s Hardy Barracks, I realized what I was really looking for was the expected. I was looking for the Japan of my daydreams. The one decorated with bold strokes of red, white, and black. I wanted tea ceremonies, beautiful simplicity, and people who were polite to a fault. Houses that were gossamer constructions of rice paper, tile roofs, and thick logs. Kimonos and order and cleanliness. But by the time I arrived, the Japan of my daydreams had almost disappeared. I was about thirty years too late.
I contemplated the cruel realities of life as I ate two more cookies. When they were gone, my time for feeling sorry for myself was up. That was the rule. To steer myself away from depression, I started a mental list of things I could look forward to. As soon as I could scrape myself off the chair, I would call Gina. She’d probably come right over with her Australian accent and drag me out on some adventure. We’d take a trip to Hakone sometime that fall. Gina had made me promise to go with her before she left Tokyo and returned to Australia. For good.
And there was church. I loved my church. And I’d go the next afternoon. After service, I would catch up with my English-speaking friends. We were an odd mix of English teachers, college students, spouses of Japanese nationals, and working professionals who lived scattered across the Tokyo region. Living so far from each other and being so busy in our jobs, we were rarely able to meet outside of church, and therefore had few chances to build community. But on Sundays, I never felt like I’d connected until I’d talked to everyone.
And thinking about those church friends started me thinking about the impending gap in my social life, the one that would be a gaping hole once Gina left. I would need an all-the-time friend. A combination of my church friends and Gina. A friend who shared my faith and who I could talk to more often than just on Sundays. Someone I could share life with…and someone I wouldn’t be tempted to start kissing.
So right there, sitting in the chair, I prayed for a friend.
I thought maybe I needed to be a little more specific so I prayed for a luxury: a friend who would live nearby and speak English. A friend who would make the coming year more fun than the previous one had been.
Did you catch that? That prayer? It wasn’t very long and it wasn’t really very thoughtful, but right there, that’s when everything began to change.