The First Time I Returned from Japan

Submitted into Contest #44 in response to: Write a story that starts with someone returning from a trip.... view prompt

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My friend called us "the fabled seven." We had been in Japan for a semester, a group of students from Oklahoma Christian University. We had been studying at Ibaraki Christian University in Japan together. We had gone through culture shock together. We had studied Japanese together. We had gone site seeing around Japan together. We had lots of Japanese friends, but everything good has to come to an end. We had to go back to America. We were on Japan Airlines a Boeing 747, a huge airplane. The year was 1976, so there weren't so many people on the planes then. There were seven of us, and we were able to stretch out across the seats and rest durin the 24 hour flight from Tokyo to Oklahoma City. We had all written to our parents and sent them the flight information and expected our parents to be there waiting for us as we came out of the plane.

As we came out of the plane, there was a group waiting, but I didn't see my parents among them. Darla had gotten off early, in New York, and she had flown to visit friends wait for our parents to arrive. We went to the luggage area and picked our luggage up. Larry called his parents, and they were on the way. I called mine, but I couldn't get through. I was hoping it meant they were on their way. in Indiana. Debbie's parents were there. Randy's parents were there. Johnathan's parents were there. My parents weren't there, and neither were Larry's. Larry and I had to wait for our parents.

We sat in a lobby of the airport waiting. Larry's family showed up. They decided to wait a while and see if my family didn't show up too, but they didn't. I tried calling again. Finally, someone answered the phone. It was late at night, they were 2 1/2 hours away, and they had forgotten. I was stranded. I had missed my family so much, but they had forgotten me. My mother told me to go to the university to sleep. Larry and his family left, and I took a taxi to the university. I wasn't accustomed to riding in taxis. I sat in the back with my luggage in the trunk. It was dark out, and I felt very lonely. I had been surrounded by friends, but they all left one by one with their parents, but I was there alone. The taxi cost me $15.00, and for me, that was very expensive. I just couldn't normally ride in taxis.

When I got to the dorm at the school, everything was closed up. The doors were locked and the lights were out. It was between semesters, and I was afraid there would be no one there. I found a night bell, and I rang it. The dorm mother came to the door, and I explained to her that I had just returned from Japan and had no where else to go, and I needed to sleep there for the night. She let me in. She gave me the keys to one of the rooms. There was no one in the dorm except the dorm mother and myself because it was between semesters. The dorm mother went back to bed, and I went to my room. I was very lonely.

There were no sheets, blankets, or pillows on the bed, but at least I was inside, and it was a place to sleep. I used things from my suitcase to make myself as comfortable as possible. I slept on the bare mattress. I laid down tired from the 24 hour flight and went to sleep. 

The next morning, I had no idea what I was going to eat. The university was kind of out in the country even though the address was Oklahoma City, and I had no car. The cafeteria was closed. I went into the hallway, and there was a girl in the hallway eating cinnamon rolls. I asked her where she got them, and she said she bought them at the vending machines downstairs. I wasn't accustomed to eating packaged cinnamon rolls. I was always kind of a health food nut, and I had never even tried the cinnamon rolls. However, I needed something to eat. I found some change and went to the vending machines. I found them in the stairwell. I put my quarter in and got a small package of cinnamon rolls. They were so sweet, I couldn't believe it! I really didn't like them because they were so sweet, however, they were something to eat.

I was so alone! I went back to my room and put my luggage together and took it downstairs. I sat in the couches in the lobby waiting for my parents to come. After an hour or two, they showed up. My mother came to the door to let me know they were there. I knocked on the door of the dorm mother and thanked her for the room giving her the keys back and left with my parents.

I sat in the back seat of my mother's little red Datsun, my dad drove, and my mother sat in the front with him. I was used to speaking Japanese, and I wanted to speak Japanese. The Japanese just kept popping into my head, but if I said it, no one would understand it. My Japanese friends and I had been speaking what we called Janglish all summer. Janglish is a mixture of Japanese and English. Whatever word from English or Japanese, either language, that seemed to fit best or popped into our heads, that is what we had been using. My brain was programed for Janglish. I sat in the back seat telling my parents about my summer, and ever so often, a Japanese word just accidently popped out of my mouth, and I felt absolutely silly because I knew they would never understand. My dad had studied Japanese, so I was hoping he would understand, but he didn't.

We drove for 2 1/2 hours to the middle of the country in Oklahoma. My family lived 15 miles out on a red dirt road outside of one of those little "blink and you'll miss it" Oklahoma towns. It was a far cry from Japan. It was a far cry from the university. Life was so different out there!! Our closest neighbor was a mile away. There wasn't enough room for me to sleep in the house, so they put me in a camper in the yard. The house was a trailer.

There was a sheep in the yard. They had been playing with the sheep, and the sheep had learned to butt people. I couldn't walk through the yard without carrying a stick to keep the sheep away. If you turned your back on that sheep, he would run at you, hit you, and you would wind up on the ground. I hated to go in the yard. 

The water in the pipes came from a pond in the woods in the back of the house. The water was red. I had to take showers in red water. My mother had taken the indoor/outdoor carpet off the floor in the bathroom and the bathroom had just a plain wooden floor without any varnish on it. They had had the red water coming through the pipes tested, and it was safe to drink, but no one wanted to drink red water. We did the dishes and showered in the red water. However, we had a huge glass bottle that we hauled drinking water with. Often, we went out to the middle of the woods to a spring with a pump to get spring water to drink. My grandfather had put the pump there when he worked for a government program called WPA during the Great Depression. Not many people knew the pump and spring was there, but we hauled our drinking water from it.  The trailer had air conditioning, but my parents rarely ran the air conditioner. I kept my hair long and wore it up in a pony tail because of the hot weather. 

My mother put me on a diet, like usual. She insisted that I had to run a mile a day, so I did. I was extremely obedient. I had a month before it was time to go back to school, and I lost thirty pounds in that month. It was time for me to clean house for my mother again. I washed dishes. I cleaned the carpet, etc. I helped make a fence to keep the animals in. I dug potatoes from the garden and snapped beans. My brother had been fishing, and the freezer was full of fish. We ate a lot of fish. I helped my brother cut fire wood we used in the wood stove. I took care of my little sister. I read her one book right after another. There wasn't much TV. We had one small black and white TV. During that month, I watched a series of shows late at night as I read the novel that went with them, "War and Peace," a Russian novel not many people read because it is so long.. I was miserable away from my friends, away from clean water, away from civilization. My mother kept catching me crying and thought I was crazy. She threatened to take me to a psychiatrist. She just didn't understand.

My recreation was swimming in the pond with red water and riding horses. I had always been a good swimmer and loved swimming. I also loved horseback riding. We didn't own any horses. The neighbors had horses, and they loved me to walk down there and ride their horses. I could ride any of their horses from the mildest to the most spirited. I rode for miles and miles on the red dirt road through the woods. I loved the horses! Once, I looked down, and a rattle snake was crossing the road slithering along under the horse. I held my breath! I was afraid if the horse saw the snake or if the snake bit the horse, I would be thrown. Luckily, the horse didn't notice the snake and just kept going. 

There were lots of critters out there. Once, I came up into the yard and the cats were all in a group playing with something. They were all pawing at a tarantula. Another time, we came home, and there was a bat in the trailer. My brother chased the bat through the house and killed it in the bathroom. There were ticks, scorpions, snakes, and spiders, just all kinds of wild critters everywhere we had to keep an eye out for.

I had not grown up out there. My parents moved there after I graduated from high school. If had had to stay out there all the time, I would have gone crazy. I enjoyed the horses, the woods, and the swimming, but I needed people. The only time I actually saw people was when we went to church. After a month, it was time to go back to Oklahoma City to go to school. I was ready. This time, I had sheets, blankets, and a pillow for my bed in the dorm.

When I got back to school, we had a Japanese exchange student, and she looked me up. I was so happy to be able to speak Japanese with someone again! I was very ready to go back to school where there were people, clean water, air conditioning, books, special devotionals, etc., and no snakes, scorpions, sheep trying to knock you down, or ticks. Debbie and Darla were meeting me in the cafeteria to eat. Larry, Jonathan, and Darla were all part of a club I belonged to. That school was my salvation. I felt like I had died and gone to Heaven.

May 30, 2020 00:50

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1 comment

Emily Nghiem
08:57 Jul 17, 2020

Your story reminds me of when I first moved away from home to live on campus for college. I was so homesick, and you captured the same feeling of loneliness and feeling out of place very well in detail! To make it more like showing a story unfolding, instead of telling people what happened like a journalist report, I would insert more dialogue in between, such as when presenting the "Janglish" incident. And maybe the interaction with the mother, so using dialogue shows the relations between mother and daughter, while perhaps introducing the ...


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