Monday, November 23, 2009

New/old story: 'Relativity'

More than twenty years ago I lived in Japan for almost two years, teaching English in a provincial city, Niigata. After several months, my present wife Cris -- whom I had just met and fallen in love with the year before, and who was broken-hearted when I left to teach in Japan -- came out to join me, and we've been together ever since. But before Cris came to Niigata, Seiko, one of my students, a cheerful shopgirl who was enamored of everything American or British and who claimed to hate Japan, got a big crush on me. She flirted with me in her very subtle way, and one summer night during a local festival she came over to my apartment half-drunk. It would have been easy for me to take advantage of her, but something about the situation didn't feel right, and besides, Cris was about to arrive on vacation to see me for the first time in months. Instead of kissing Seiko, I just listened to some music with her and then let her go home. And I never did go to bed with a Japanese girl, much as I would have liked to; it was too hard for me to understand how to overcome the difficulties in communication.

The next year a new teacher came out to work in our school. He was in his late 30s, rather cheerless, balding and not very attractive, but not more than ten days after arriving, he had snagged a gorgeous girl, a staff person at a local gym, and was sleeping with her. Whatever compunctions I had that made it hard for me to get close to a girl who could hardly talk to me -- he had no such compunctions.

To understand this dynamic, and to illustrate some of the other confusing cultural norms I encountered in my sojourn in the Japanese city, I wrote a short story, Relativity. I don't claim it's a very good short story, but it does try to illustrate the ambivalence I felt then about taking advantage of someone.


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