I recently got back from a 3 week trip to Japan with thoughts on family, culture, and moving cities. Let’s start with family.
K and I waved to his parents from across the parking lot of Osaka Castle. I'd saved my Pink 'Nana dress for our first meeting. We met each other with big hugs and smiles; I bowed and expressed my gratitude in Japanese. Over lunch, his parents shared their philosophies for keeping love alive in marriage and how they approached raising their 7(!!!) kids. His mom affectionately called his dad "darl" (short for darling) as they shared and switched food to their liking. My eyes started to water. They were so happy together, spoke with so much love towards one another, and curiosity towards me. It was such a stark difference to the relationship my parents had with one another, and the one I had with them growing up.
My parents fought aggressively. They were miserable in their marriage. My childhood was chaotic and sometimes violent, not towards me, but around me, making me play down my own experiences as I compared them to what I witnessed. My mom would often mutter under her breath that she wanted to die. Eventually she did and left my family unalterably fractured.
I hid a lot of my life from my parents—what I wore to school, boyfriends I had that I wasn’t supposed to, what I was doing after school. I’d wear different outfits under P.E clothes and painstakingly rub eyeliner off my eyes in the bathroom at the end of the school day. I never went to them for advice, didn’t want to be anything like them when I grew up.
That’s why I was so intrigued by how highly K spoke about his parents, how he looked up to them, and confided in them when he needed guidance. Meeting them, I was moved by the conversations we had, how they took an interest in our thoughts and opinions, asked questions, listened. Of course I knew that these kinds of parents existed, but to see it in action, to feel what it’s like to be in the presence of those kinds of parents, is another thing entirely.
I left my hometown when I was 18 and moved to NYC. The life I’ve built here is absent of any trace of my childhood or family. But on this trip, sitting in the backseat of the car while his parents drove us around Japan, I couldn’t help but think about my childhood. I was taken back to all the times I sat in the backseat of my parent’s car, wondering if they’d find happiness before they passed, watching drops of water dance along the windows on rainy days. I was surprised by all the somber memories and feelings that bubbled up because I feel so far away from them today. A couple things started to click more deeply for me—why I don’t want to have kids, my perpetual feeling of solitude, my people pleasing habits, why I moved across the country at 18. But I think my greatest takeaway was not so much a thought, but more so a feeling. Or feelings, I should say. Surprise, tenderness, embarrassment, pride, jealousy, longing.
There was a distinct longing. A longing for a closer relationship to my parents. A longing to not take on the burden of their unhappiness. A longing to be a kid and only a kid—not a caretaker, not self sufficient, not a source of happiness, just a kid.
This trip uncovered tender feelings that continue to be lodged deep inside me as an adult. A part of me felt jealous of K for the upbringing he had and the example his parents set. Another part of me holds pride for the kind of toughness and wisdom my upbringing afforded me. Most importantly, it was a moment for me to feel—to be still, to pay attention to the emotions that all too often go unnoticed, yet play an invisible hand, in the go-go-go of everyday life.