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I spend the night restless, drowning in a canopy of fading light from the a lamp across the room, occassionally reaching over to read another chapter of the book tucked underneath the rough cotton sheet of the pillowcase. It’s stained in leftover foundation and flicks of mascara, reminisce of impromptu naps just before dusk. There’s a smell there if I adjust my head the right way, drop my neck and curl my body into a cocoon; a faint trace of menthol from cigarettes is burned into the strands of my hair and fibers of the fabric wrapped around me. I count the seconds, minutes, and hours under my breath, let it heat me, set fire to my cocoon until the air is heavy. I hope that sleep will find me, seep through the cracks in the windowsill and spill into the room – but it never does.
When my alarm gently begins to play, I rise from the mattress with a conditioned malice born out of insomnia. I slide into my slippers and pad my way into the kitchen, pretending everything is fine fine fine. I sing something soft and wait for the water to boil. My stomach is bloated with a static hum that wavers when I suck in a breath, a feeling that has been gnawing at me for a few days now, and my patience is wearing thin. I pat it aside and go through the motions of my morning routine: drinking coffee, brushing my teeth, washing my face, putting on makeup – all while checking the bus schedule.
As I sit at the bus stop, I tell myself the same thing that I will continue to tell myself for the rest of the day: You are fine, this will be fun, you will enjoy yourself, I promise. No matter how many times I repeat this to myself, the words feel more foreign, more broken and awkward in their release. I feel like I’m lying, the note of my words falls down to the pit of my stomach and twists my insides until the world goes white hot and disappears behind the same red film I see when I close my eyes. My palms sweat as I get closer to my destination, my heart feels heavy and strange. I scroll through photos online from friends. Packed cars full of suitcases, boarding passes, presents piled underneath Christmas trees, posts with captions that conclude that both my resentment and jealousy are warranted, and most heartbreakingly the realisation that perhaps a mistake has been made. I second guess myself between flights, find a counter tucked away, and stare at international flights back to America and wonder, What if?
I’m a coward at the best of times, I’ve realised. It’s hard to swallow that fact.
When I touch down in Tokyo, my muscles tense with a strain I’ve never felt before. Everything is too warm now, the airplane, the cabin, my row, my seat, my jacket – I tug at my clothes, adjusting and readjusting to rid myself of nerves. My face is hot behind my mask, my lips part beneath it and suck in a shallow breath. As we begin to deplane, I can feel tears forming; my vision goes foggy and before I can process where I am I’m standing at the gate. I grip my suitcase and pull it beside me so it slides against my jeans. I look up and read the sign above the doors at a rate that’s embarrassingly slow – I suddenly miss the beautiful simplicity of Korean – What does this even say? To- no, that’s ra? Ri?
I look down at my phone and press the home button to check the time. It’s late. As I push my suitcase through the double doors I look, without seeing, towards a crowd of people congregating along the entrance, all holding signs amidst their looks of anticipation and frankly, an air of boredom. I search blindly, unsure as to whether he will be here or not; his flight got in earlier than mine.
Then I see my name, or at least I think I do. I look back and check again, unsure of how the characters fit together. I question it for a moment, then something clicks, a small piece of me that comes and nudges me gently back to the ground I’m standing on and let’s me take a step forward. My feet suddenly feel heavier in my shoes, my jacket lighter against my skin, my cheeks warm, my throat dry – all sensations that suggest the impermanence of what I had once known, the numbness of my reality finally breaking away, melting off of me, leaving me naked. He smiles at me, and I turn my head to the side slightly, Where am I? So I smile, and run into the arms of my first brush of familiarity, my first hint of home.