Just West of the Midwest Chapter 17: I Like Suffering

Student artwork.

A few days have passed since I last picked up this letter and life has taken on new meaning! I’ll try to be brief.

Shut up. I said I’ll try.

Friday night, I almost made the grave mistake with a co-worker. Thank God, I came to my senses and recognized that I was simply caught up in the excitement of having my first, full-fledged intellectual conversation in Japanese that very same evening. The rationale for almost making such an irrational move: an overactive linguistic libido. As a result, I hid under the covers most of Saturday, cringing about what almost happened the previous night and how I was going to handle things on Monday.

However, the day wasn’t completely uneventful. I did manage to start a small fire in my kitchen.

It happened while melting facial wax on the burner.

At one point, I thought the entire apartment was about to be engulfed, especially after I decided to douse the waxy fire with water – sending the blaze twice as high.There were several minutes of sheer panic, most particularly when I found myself feeling my way through the smoke-filled apartment in order to find my dictionary and the Japanese word for “FIRE!!!!!” Even then, I hadn’t a clue how to dial for help.

I know now.

The incident so shook me up that I’ve decided to grow out my mustache. Give it a chance to really fill in – maybe do a handlebar style.

So, as you can imagine, the day which began on a bit of a shaky note was heading to all out tremors. And to top it all off, that night, I was expected to have dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Otiai (the Mrs. being in my Adult English Conversation class at the community center). This class is one of the favorite parts of my job because I have control over the lessons and, let’s be honest, the adults are far more eager to learn. For that very reason, I didn’t want to disappoint Mrs. Otiai, a super sweet lady. So I crawled out from beneath my smoky-smelling covers, brushed my mustache and headed out.

Even though I began the evening in a bit of a grumpy mood, this lovely couple soon turned things around for me. Mr. Otiai speaks English beautifully, but chose to speak to me in Japanese most of the evening, purposely speaking slowly and clearly for my benefit. His kindness gave me an immediate boost of confidence and I was able to prove, yet again, that I could hold my own. The three of us were having a delightful conversation and a delectable dinner in a small restaurant in Miyazaki – that is, until I found myself the object of much ogling by a young man sitting in the corner. (Believe me, I know how vain this sounds, but as I’ve told you, in these parts, if you’re a foreign female, you get stared at AND you’re usually a dead ringer for someone famous. I’ve been told I look exactly like Jodie Foster… and John Lennon. Go figure.)

As it happens, the Otiais knew the young man and invited him to join us, at which point he sat himself close enough to see my new growth facial hair. He introduced himself as Yukio, age 24, a parts salesman for Daihatsu, the proud possessor of four girlfriends and very little money.

Marry me.

Yukio didn’t know a word of English (Okay, he knew three.), yet I felt the urge to let him try. So, the beginning of our conversation went something like this:

Yukio: Oh my god (a peculiarly popular phrase in Japan), Good Morning.

Me: Good Evening, how are you?

Y: Oh yeeeeeehhhhh.

Me: Oh yeeeeehhhhhh?

Y: I like suffering.

Me: Excuse me?

Y: I like suffering.

Me: Well… everyone should have a hobby.

Mr. O: Anne?

Me: Yes, Mr. Otiai?

Mr. O: I think he means surfing.

Me: Oh, I see. You like SuRfing. Well, that’s very interesting. (A terribly unenlightened conversation follows.)

Y: You have a big head.

Me: Excuse me? Did you say I have a big head?

Y: Hai. (He says, grinning, as if he’d just paid me a huge compliment. I remain confused and more than slightly insulted he hadn’t mentioned my mustache.)

Mr. O: Anne.

Me: Yes, Mr. Otiai?

Mr. O: I believe he means to say that you are very smart.

Me: Oh, I see… Well, Yukio, you have a big head, too. (I, on the other hand, meant exactly what I said.)

Well, the one thing I can give Yukio credit for is perseverance. Undiscouraged, he continued to attempt wooing me – almost desperate in its tone. Sensing he would not be easily dissuaded, Mr. Otiai began telling the young Romeo about my “husband” – a huge, handsome, powerful, intelligent, gentle, jealous, ex-football-player-turned-Air-Force-pilot, who could squeeze an apple with his bare hand and make cider, named John.

I think I’m in love.

John, according to Mr. Otiai, was to be meeting us momentarily. Yet Yukio couldn’t be budged from his mission to win me over. He said he wished to meet my husband and challenge him to an arm-wrestling match – the winner taking me as the prize. Feigning deep concern, I tried to explain to my young admirer that “my husband” would likely rip his arm from its socket. Yukio decided that such a match would probably not be wise, but still insisted on meeting my imaginary mate. It was then the Otiais decided it was time to call it a night. As we left the restaurant, Yukio called out across the crowded restaurant that we would meet again. The last thing I heard was a smattering of laughter and applause from the other diners.

I was home early that night and climbed in bed with thoughts of whether I would ever find the “John” I was looking for.

At 3 a.m., the phone exploded in my ear.

I crawled toward the ringing and grabbed the phone, grumbling something into the receiver, waiting to hear who on earth would be calling me at this hour. That’s when I heard this familiar, low, sultry voice and my heart stopped.

“Hello, Anne. I’m sorry to be calling so late.”

“You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you Raymond? What time is it?” I asked as I tried to remember how to breathe.

“It’s 2 a.m. here. I just got off work and was thinking about you. I wanted to call and apologize for not contacting you sooner. I’ve been working 15 hours everyday and haven’t had any time… I miss you. When are you coming back to Hong Kong?…”

I tried to remain calm during our conversation, but I’m sure I sounded like a love-sick schoolgirl bubbling over and giddy. Raymond didn’t seem to notice. I suggested he come with me to Chicago for my brother’s wedding in May, but I doubt that will happen. So instead, I’m planning to spend a weekend back in Hong Kong as soon as both our schedules permit.

God only knows when that will be.

We had a tentative weekend marked out, until I was reminded that there was already a trip planned to Nagasaki with my office.

Damn! Damn! And double-damn! As you can tell, Raymond really got under my skin and it’s even possible he feels something similar. But until we see each other again, we won’t really know where this thing is going. Receiving his call also made me realize more than ever that my attraction to Kyoto has been for the wrong reasons and it must end.

No! I haven’t “officially” ended it with Kyoto.

For God’s Sake, what do you want from me?

I did, however, recently have Yoshino-san suggest – and translate – a “you must go your way and I must go mine” speech that she thought might be a more gentle rejection than my planned “It isn’t you.. well, actually, it is you” speech. I hate these awkward moments, especially when it comes to rejecting someone who, in all honesty, is a really nice guy!

Now don’t jump to conclusions. I’m not dumping Kyoto because of one phone call from a man a thousand miles away. I’m doing it because of what I felt with Raymond when we were together and how I feel when I think about him or hear his voice. It’s just not there with Kyoto. I know there’s a very good chance that Raymond and I will fail – or for that matter, never even have a chance to get off the starting block. However, that’s not the point. The point is, I’ve found someone who makes me want to hear the “L” word. Whatever the outcome, I foresee many sleepless nights of wonder until we see each other again.

See you all in May. Keep your fingers crossed and your parkas on. Hell might be freezing over seeing that I could actually have a date for this wedding!

May your days be filled with sweet things, but not the ones that have been lying in someone’s jeans pocket for god knows how long, collecting enough lint and pocket-debris to take on an eerie likeness of Sy Sperlman’s “before” picture for Hairline Creations…. or my new facial hair.

P.S. – Thanks to all those who finally got off their lazy asses and wrote. The pictures were great, Audrey. You’re ALL as ugly as ever.

Author: Anne Celano Frohna

I have been writing for as long as I could hold a pencil in hand and would not feel complete without it. And I actually made a meager living at it (and as an editor) for 25 years. I worked for newspapers and magazines, in graphic arts and advertising, and wrote several local history books. But I have also taught English in Japan, been a Nanny in Italy, worked in and for museums, was an Airbnb Superhost for four years, as well as an Etsy shop owner where I sold vintage items I found over the years of thrift and yard sales. After moving to Arizona with my family in 2010, I completed a series of different writing projects, including two books of creative non-fiction: Just West of the Midwest: a comedy (Based on journals I kept during my two years as an English teacher in rural Japan.) Within Close Range: short stories of an American Childhood (Short stories and poems about growing up as the middle of five children in suburban Chicago.) I've also written children's stories and continue to write short fiction, but have recently found my voice in poetry. This blog, however, is where my greatest passion comes alive. I am also a mother of two wonderful girls, Eva (23) and Sophia (21) and wife to one wonderful husband, Kurt.

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