I was tired of Japan.
It was so vegan unfriendly. A bunch of vegan restaurants went under during the pandemic, and the few other vegan offerings dwindled. In Tokyo, vegan businesses are heavily dependent on the massive tourist industry. The only surviving vegan-friendly restaurant near my old apartment was run by a religious cult. I wish I was joking about that.
I didn’t want to be an outsider, anymore. I was sick of all the awkward encounters because I can’t speak Japanese that well. I was tired of feeling so isolated and alone.
That’s the problem when you move to a new country. There’s always something that makes you feel like you don’t quite fit in. Of course, I haven’t felt like I fit in since… I’ve never felt like I fit in, anywhere.
Regardless of that, I aimed for “home.” When I’m in the US, I don’t know where my home is because I’ve lived in so many parts of it, but when I’m outside of the US, it’s pretty easy to figure out. I’m American.
Our flight from Tokyo to LA took only 8 hours.
I liked pretending the Airbnb was haunted. I’d had a bad feeling about it when we’d booked it, and that was how I explained how unsettling it felt to be there. There was some evidence, too. The thermostat kept malfunctioning. The air conditioner would drop down to 65F or the heat would crank up to 85F at random intervals. For about a week, one of the bathrooms smelled strongly of fresh paint, but the landlords insisted that no one in the building had painted recently.
It was on a high-traffic corner near the Van Nuys Airport. A jet flew over every five minutes. It had over-stuffed white leather furniture, a gold metal Art Deco coffee table, and floor to ceiling mirrors in every room.
I rolled with it. I thought it was worth the trouble. I wanted a new life. I’d spent most of my time in Japan working hard on my writing. I read countless books on craft, listened to thousands of hours of podcasts, and analyzed the voice and structure of every book that I thought was good, but I still couldn’t put the pieces together. I needed a new phase, and I was willing to accept any amount of risk and discomfort to enter that new phase.
Well, I was willing until my cat, Dylan—the most resilient person I know—meowed at me and then fell over. He seemed to lose control of his limbs for about ten seconds. He got right back up and went about his business, but everything had changed. None of this was worth it, anymore.
Life ends. For years, that was my last thought before I went to sleep and the first thought I had when I woke up every morning. If I continued that line of thinking, it’d go: I’m going to die. Everyone I know is going to die. In what order will we die? Can I go first? Do I want that?
While I was in Japan, I lost two cats and a parent.
With me and Dylan, I’m not sure who I’d rather go first. He was 16 years old when he fell over at the Airbnb, but before that, he tore around our old apartment like he was 6. At the vet for check-ups, other pet owners envied his health and vitality. They’d ask, “Are you sure he’s 16? What’s your secret? What does he eat? Have you found the pet-fountain of youth?”
I thought it was safe to move him across the ocean, but that changed on the day he fell over.
I didn’t know how my life would have any meaning after he died. I know that sounds like catastrophic thinking, but that’s the best explanation of how I felt at the time. It turns out there is one place where I feel like I fit in, and that’s with Dylan.
There were a bunch of vet appointments. He fell over two more times over a period of a couple of weeks. The various specialists found nothing. The falling over went away, but as soon as it’d happened, I knew where I was. I was in that space when a tornado hits, and everything has been set on a random trajectory. I was in chaos.
No one gets to opt out of the chaos of the universe. It comes for everyone at some point, but I still felt like it was my fault.
I’d wanted a new life and found that it might cost me his. I’d failed to predict this might happen and prevent it before it did. It’d happened two weeks after we’d moved, so I thought it had something to do with the Airbnb. I’d had that bad feeling about it that I hadn’t heeded, and I couldn’t stop chastising myself for that. I hadn’t been careful or clairvoyant enough. I’d opened the door to change and chaos had come in with it.
Months later, we learned that he has developed a type of epilepsy that is specific to aging cats of his breed (Birman). The falling over most likely never had anything to do with the Airbnb.
Since then, too much has happened with his health to unpack all my feelings in one newsletter, but that small thing changed everything.
Honestly, the main thing I’ve been doing lately is binging Ugly Betty on Netflix. Does anyone else love that show? Why are there only four seasons?!
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