********SO YOU KNOW! This story is now available on my website, right here, for free! Please feel free to read it!*********
Exciting news! Yours truly has sold a short story.
That’s right, Solarwyrm Press out of New Zealand is publishing “The Foreigner’s Loneliness” in Latchkey Tale’s October 2015 edition: Clockwise (The Darkest Hour).
“The Foreigner’s Loneliness” is a story I wrote back in winter 2012 while I was living in Japan, teaching English at an eikaiwa. For those who aren’t up on the lingo, that means a private English-language school that caters to children and adults. Some kids here in America take dance after school; these kids took English.
Most of my non-Japanese friends, though, were ALTs–assistant language teachers. Unlike me, they worked in public and private schools, helping Japanese English teachers with the difficult task of educating kids K-12 in a foreign language. It’s a position that has the potential to be incredibly dynamic and useful. All too often, though, the ALT is either insanely overworked hopping from school to school or is left to twiddle their thumbs in the staff room.
….for the trouble of showing up in a button-down shirt every day I got a rent-free apartment and more than the average national salary. Not a bad deal, if you don’t mind trading your soul for cash.
I lived in the countryside. Not country by American standards–I was a five-minute walk from two different grocery stores–but by Japanese standards, it was the sticks. It’s easy to feel alone in such a place, despite the fact that, by virtue of sticking out, you have little privacy.
“Okay, where does Mr. Brian live?”
Ten hands shot up, identical grins on their faces.
Yet living in such a place often had the curious feel of visiting an aquarium. Look, don’t touch. Watch, don’t interact. We were temporary workers, and everybody knew it. Around us, people had babies, joined teams, bought houses. And what was there for the English teacher to do, visiting for a year or two and then gone again?
All those lives happening around you, and there you are, stasis exemplified, a perfect glass preservation of foreign life.
Many of us turned to hobbies. Studying Japanese was popular, of course. Some photographed their surroundings obsessively, creating collages of each detail of their routine. Others made a point of trying every restaurant nearby, or organizing cultural events to embrace the differences they found.
But most fell into the same routines they’d once kept: reading books, surfing the internet, drinking a beer or two at the local ramen shop, wondering how long they could spin each one out.
I didn’t want to go home… didn’t want to do anything but find another bar and someone who didn’t see me as their perfect opportunity for internationalism. For once in my life, I wanted to blend in.
Some grew bitter about the place they inhabited. They complained about the small things, the smell of oden in the convenience store, the way cash machines close for the night. Others embraced each difference with a too-wide smile. Most of us did a little of both, and if we had thoughts that didn’t become us, kept them to ourselves.
You have to be careful, when you live like this. You have to live life in a normal way. Otherwise, it’ll get to you.
It’s easy, from this explanation, to think that I hated Japan, that we all did.
Far from it; it’s intoxicating to stand on a street corner and think, “I am on the other side of the world from where I was born.” Trying new foods, looking for those little things that set your life apart from those of your friends back home, those experiences didn’t get old. Every day was an adventure.
There’s something about this country. It draws you in, soothes your misgivings. Even as you curse it you know you’ll never give it up. There’s always one more corner unexplored, another sight you’ve yet to see, still another mountain to climb.
And then night came, the shops closed, and we found ourselves in our apartments alone, listening to the neighbors argue, wondering what tomorrow would bring–or wouldn’t. It’s not that I couldn’t go home, it’s that I didn’t want to, for all I couldn’t explain why. I was where I wanted to be. And yet.
How many of us were lonely, those times? I was. I believe most of us were at least part-time. How could we not be? On weekends, we clung to each other, getting together for the smallest things, any excuse to speak English with someone who wasn’t looking for a lesson. I was too far out to see others Monday to Friday, but I don’t doubt that some entered their apartments only to sleep, shower, and dress.
Valentine’s Day, winter 2012, sitting on my tatami floor with only the darkness beyond my windows for company, I found myself contemplating the nature of love. Not the nice kind of love, not candy and hearts, no: obsessive love. The kind of love that does not make us better, but drags us down to its ugly level. Why would someone be ensnared by such a love? How could they fall prey to it?
It was there, surrounded by the wrappers of love’s favorite holiday, that I wrote the first words of “The Foreigner’s Loneliness.” It begins with a young man, an ALT in Japan, who has realized there is nothing quite so awful as a gift given out of obligation.
Maybe it was because of the chocolates, the Valentine’s chocolates, scattered everywhere across my apartment[…]
“The Foreigner’s Loneliness” is one of six short stories and three poems that appears in Latchkey Tale’s October 2015 edition: Clockwise (The Darkest Hour). All quotes appearing in this post are from the story itself.
[Entry has been updated to reflect the story’s current availability.]