How has it been six months since our repatriation?
Just as with our last days in Japan, time has flown by since we moved back to Metro Detroit. In that time, we’ve celebrated holidays and birthdays, found a new place to call home, traveled and, most importantly, reconnected with family and friends.
There was a lot to process mentally and emotionally as we transitioned back to life in the states. There have been some highs and very unexpected lows. It wasn’t my intention to stay away from this space for six months, but I was honestly at a loss for how to sum up what the repatriation process has been like and how best to share. I also wanted to figure out the ideal way to continue this blog, which has been such a great source of expression for me.
That all being said, the best word to describe the past six months has been jarring. Not jarring in one big boom, but in little waves that knock you off balance unexpectedly. New routines and little adjustments. I can’t believe how hard it is to recall the little Japanese I’d mastered but how often I still bow my head in thanks. And don’t get me started on driving again.
I had a meltdown in the grocery store the first time I went shopping and called my mother asking what aisle bottled lime juice would be in. I don’t know for how many minutes before the call I circled, my mind racing with thoughts like “Why do we need so many options?” and “Why are there so many people in here?” and “God it’s so fucking loud in here” and “This place is too damn big.” It’s funny now but it perfectly sums up this process of being dropped back into a world that was so familiar — it’s the same grocery store I used to go to weekly before the move — and yet suddenly felt unwelcoming and harsh.
Suddenly I was bombarded by all the conversations of strangers I could block out before because I couldn’t understand them. All the food looked huge to me, piled high in enormous mounds that meant whatever was on the bottom would inevitably be damaged or rot without notice. All these options were provided to reinforce a right to so many options. Much of it would go the way of a garbage dump at the end of the week in protection of that ideal.
Sound extreme? I get it. But being in another country meant looking at my home country through a magnifying glass. Why? To answer all the questions I got about the American way of life I never had to think about before. And those questions ranged from politics (won’t get into that in this space) to, yes, big box stores. There’s a reason expats joke international Costco outposts are like American embassies.
There’s another way to describe this process, and that’s mourning. I joked with a friend once that when we moved back to Michigan, we’d be turning in our “cool cards” at the airport on the way out of Japan. As we sat on the plane to return to our home state, it occurred to me we were leaving behind an identity that lent itself so perfectly to making new friends and business contacts, a title that served as a welcome mat to anyone else we met in our situation. We quickly found people to bond with about living abroad and those eager to discuss America and what it means to be American. It felt like a hand holding open a door or a footstool always beneath our feet to help us stand above the crowd. We had a topic to discuss before we opened our mouths and something that made us interesting. Now what?
“Mourning” would have sounded overly dramatic at the beginning of this process. But as the weeks began bleeding into months after we moved back, I found myself trapped on the couch in a cloud I couldn’t shake. I would go to bed at night expecting to wake up in Tokyo or that we would go back in a few weeks like we usually did. I felt so disconnected from a life that had allowed me to reinvent myself and showcase my talents with the bravado of being a stranger. Now I was back in a place of such history, of ups and downs, watermarks and memories, documented failures and triumphs. The place where I’ll always have a past. I asked Craig the other day when we needed to stop talking about Japan.
What do I want to be here? What do I want to do? Luckily work has kept me busy, as has the task of decorating a new apartment (can’t say I was mad about the additional space). I’m taking fitness classes and refocusing on my health and that’s helped me get to a better place. There are still moments when the Twilight Zone-esque effect of moving across the street from the home we left three years ago gives me a lump in my throat and makes me wonder if, somehow, we dreamt it all.
But there is a purpose in every transition and that’s what I’m trying to remember. We’ve had some family news that has helped to put this move back to Michigan into perspective. I’m not religious but I am a believer in being in the right place at the right time. For now, this feels right.
I hope you’ll rejoin me here as I share more of our adventures and introduce you to the Mitten state. There are also last trips in Japan to share and tips for visiting that beautiful place. I’ll also share more on the expat experience to shed some insight for anyone considering it. While the transition has been hard, it was still profoundly rewarding.
I want to treat our time here as I did our time in Japan, for however long it lasts.