By Jennifer Cerna
“People tell me slow my roll, I’m screamin’ out ‘Fuck that!’ Imma do just what I want, lookin’ ahead, no turnin’ back.” – Kid Cudi
I guess this period of time straight out of JET–no job, no school–was the first time I’d been truly free as an adult. The only responsibilities I had are the ones I made for myself and chose to recognize. They consisted of my family, my health, educating myself, and eventually getting a job. Other than that, my life felt open, uncomplicated. I felt like a recently emptied house, all the windows wide open. Life passed through me, unhindered.
During the last few weeks with JET, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should do. What is appropriate? How am I expected to act? Is this socially acceptable? And every time, I realized that the best course of action would be to follow my gut. Just do what I wanted to do. So when I came upon a problem that I couldn’t solve with “What should I do?” I changed it to “What do I want to do?” This change in thinking freed me in many ways.
In the end of August, I had decided, with my new-found freedom, that I would go visit Erik for a few weeks. I got to his house on a Monday night. He was still at work, and I spent time with his roommate, Shane. Though I hadn’t spent a lot of time with Shane before that point, it was a nice opportunity for us to bond. I asked about the video games he had, and I watched as he played through a few and explained their story lines.
During the month of September, I did very little that I would boast about. I woke up in the afternoons, cleaned the house, and watched a popular HBO series or worked out. When the sun went down, Erik, Shane, and I would drink and smoke cigarettes.
But we did other things, too. We cooked food. We went shopping. We worked out and played sports. I got two auricle piercings. I visited my sister and her partner. It was a nice, relaxed, and hedonistic month. Sometimes I felt as though my life lacked purpose. Other times, I felt that it was okay because this was a break that I had wanted. This was my extended vacation.
The thing about having nearly nothing going on was that it gave me a lot of time to reflect. I thought about two things. The first was about what I wanted to do with my life and what direction I wanted to take to get there. Though my long-term and mid-term goals were pretty much the same, I found myself unsure of my short-term goals and whether I wanted to stick with the plan that I had thought out a year earlier. The second was that I found cracks within my psyche that I had been trying to deny. With nothing taking up my time, no worries or stresses, I felt as though they were large, glaring at me. So I took mental note of the things about me that I wanted to improve on and wondered about how to go about improving them.
In addition to this new space for introspection, my mindset towards my transition to the U.S. had changed. I am not sure of whether this change had been brought on by a lack of work or by the passing of time, or both.
I still found myself enamored by the friendly general public while waiting for a seat at a restaurant, buying food from the convenience store, seeing the alcoholic neighbor walk out his door. They were all willing to talk and joke, even for a little bit, and that’s something that I absolutely love about the culture here. I still found the beauty of rural Kansas breathtaking–something that I had missed since I left for college in Des Moines. This was my first September in Kansas in nine years.
But sadness had also begun creeping in. More and more often, I found myself looking at my Facebook feed, feeling as though the friends I had made in Japan had forgotten about me. I grew up a military brat, and the coming and going of friends became normal to me. So, when my friends left JET before I did, I felt sad, but I quickly stopped thinking of them. I didn’t know if that’s just me, or if everybody is like that. I began to think that it may be the latter.
I looked at photos of my friends making new friends and wondered how often they thought of me. Did I leave an emptiness or did my successor fill it seamlessly? During my more dramatic moments, I felt as though I was watching, through photos and status updates, people slowly forget about me.
I had also been having some difficulty with a few things. First, I had been applying to jobs but got nothing in return. Part of me began urging myself to actually move to Kansas, rather than visit, because I know more people there who can get me hired just so I can keep my head above water. Then, I could apply to more jobs and wait for police officer applications to open.
Second, I often found myself behind in culture. They’re very small things: a movie here, a song there. Celebrity mishaps. New words and nuances. I had no idea what had been going on in the Game of Thrones universe while I was in Japan. But other people, despite not having watched it, knew exactly what had been happening and what the spoilers were. That made binge-watching the entire series a very lonely experience. And apparently there’s a new kid on the block–basically the next Justin Bieber, I was told.
Third, I was beginning to feel the small frustrations of reverse culture shock: I couldn’t buy liquor whenever I wanted. It’s funny how the land of the free has such strict limits on when a person can buy alcohol as well as where it’s sold. Just let me drink and leave me be! Tipping was also a bit annoying. I’ve always tried to tip well, but I found that it began to really add up when I went out to eat. But it hasn’t been all bad. Parking had always been a headache of an issue in Japan. In rural America, there was so much parking available, and not all of it had to be clearly marked! I felt timid at first, constantly asking paranoid questions like, “Can I park here?” Eventually, after being told “yes” enough times, I became excited. Look at all the places where I can put my car!
That’s how September went. It was nice, but by the end of the month, I had realized that all of this freedom that at first seemed like a blessing was now beginning to feel like a burden. I had no money, no job, and no structure. I hoped that October will bring something that I needed: direction, work, my pension refund. Any two of those would be great.
Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies.
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