Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Great Epiphany

In my 10th grade home economics class we had to fill out a survey about our futures, and make a magazine cut-out collage to go along with it. Through my marijuana haze, I predicted I'd be married at 25 and knocked up a couple of years after that. Not that it was necessarily my teenage fantasy, it's just what I thought people did. As I snipped out pictures of Jared Leto (my future husband, obviously) I certainly wasn't thinking "When I'm 30 I'll be sleeping on a beach on a Japanese island because there are no hotel rooms available." I was too busy gluing photos of the Smashing Pumpkins (Jared was able to get them to play at our reception) next to a white, poofy cupcake of a wedding dress.

But last week, when I was sleeping on a beach on a Japanese island because there were no hotel rooms available, I started thinking about being 30 and how much a single birthday has affected me. I thought about how my 28 year old self couldn't have predicted my life at 30 any better than my 15 year old self could. I thought about my mom, who had me at thirty, and how 30 always sounded kind of old but how young I feel.  I thought about how liberating turning 30 has been for me and how happy I was to be sleeping on that beach at that very moment.

My first blast of liberation came the day before my 30th birthday on January 2nd, 2010.

I was in Yokohama, on my winter holiday, with a plan to travel to Kamakura for a quiet, reflective birthday on my own. I had just spent the past week with one of my best friends, visiting from California, and it sounded like a nice, relaxing follow up to our up-all-night Tokyo New Year's extravaganza. The night of the 2nd, I had arranged to stay with a Japanese guy from because he lived close to Kamakura. His messages had been a bit odd and I felt uneasy about the plan, but I talked myself into it and hopped on a train. I arrived at 9pm and was relieved to find a seemingly normal, chatty university student who studies veterinary science. He said he lived a short walk from the station and we took off on foot, me looking like Travels McTravelpants with a big pack on my back and a small backpack on my front. So we walked. And we walked. And. We. Walked. After 30 minutes we were deep in the suburbs, my back was aching and I started to feel a bit nervous. Where is this stranger taking me? I swear I saw my mother hiding behind a bush, wagging her finger and giving me disapproving looks.

Finally we arrived at his apartment. Just before he put the key in the lock he looked at me sheepishly and said "It's very dirty." This being Japan, the land of modesty, I figured this meant he had a few dishes in the sink and a sock on the floor. But then he opened the door.


Dirty was an understatement. Nasty, filthy, disgusting, garbage hoarder are all better adjectives to describe the pit of filth this boy lived in. His tiny entryway was stuffed with big, black overflowing bags of garbage. The kitchen sink was erupting with grease caked pots and pans and the floor of his studio was littered with empty instant ramen cups, disposable chopsticks and bits of old, dried up food. It was almost comically dirty: there was a layer of earthen dirt and cigarette ash on the floor and hair balls rolled like tumbleweeds across the plains of his carpet. There didn't appear to be a closet so the rest of the space was cluttered with teetering stacks of books, videos, piles of clothes and even more black garbage bags.  

I gingerly sat down on his bare, stained mattress as he took a seat on the floor and started chain smoking without bothering to crack a window. As the room filled with smoke I asked him if he'd like to get a drink or something to eat. "Not really," he said and I glanced at the clock wondering what we were going to do until it was time to go to sleep. Sleep! Where was I going to sleep? I didn't see an extra futon or blanket and even his bed was devoid of sheets.


It may sound extreme, but I started to do what any gal sitting awkwardly in a stranger's filthy apartment would do: I started scanning the room in search of weapons.


As he babbled on in broken English, I saw it. A gun. An actual gun. It was propped up in the corner next to a long box that read "Air Gun." I still have no idea what an air gun is. It doesn't sound as scary as a pistol or a rifle or a canon or a bomb, but it's still a gun and guns are scary and my heart started pounding and my vision went blurry and ohmygodhe'sgoingtokillme. I got up and said I had to go to the bathroom.


Yes, the bathroom was also nightmarishly dirty and as I hovered over the germ-infested toilet I was blessed with an amazing epiphany: I don't have to stay here. I can leave! I'm turning 30 tomorrow and I don't have to put up with this shit!

This may sound like the obvious course of action, but the 25 year old me might have stayed. The 25 year old me might have been too chicken to tell the guy I wanted to leave. She might not have wanted to pay for a taxi back to the station and a train back to Yokohama and another night at a hostel. She might not have wanted to spend the next hour and a half backtracking, at 10 o'clock at night, in a foreign place.

But the me who was turning 30 in two hours marched out of the bathroom and told the guy his place was too dirty, it made me feel uncomfortable, and I needed him to call me a taxi back to the station right now. I walked out the door feeling strong and powerful. I also felt extremely pissed off, scared and annoyed that my entire night had been wasted and that I had ignored my initial instincts and put myself in a potentially unsafe situation. But I also felt liberated and immediately coined my new motto: "I'm 30! I don't have to put up with this shit!"

The next morning, I awoke in the hostel feeling groggy, travel weary and a little bit sick. It was my 30th birthday and I was going to Kamakura. Oh man, I really didn't want to go to Kamakura. I wanted to go home and take a bubble bath and sleep in my comfy bed. But it was my 30th birthday. What would I tell people? That I spent my 30th alone doing absolutely nothing? I would look pathetic.

Epiphany #2: Who cares what people think! I'm 30! I don't have to put up with that shit!

So, I boarded the bullet train and spent the four hour ride high on my new found liberation. I got home, took a long hot shower, put on my favorite pajamas and gave myself a fun little hairdo. It was my birthday, after all. I cooked up a big pot of basil marinara and ate my spaghetti under the covers while watching downloaded episodes of Mad Men. It felt amazing and not the least bit pathetic.

Oh, and then I had a roller skating birthday party the next week. Any excuse to buy a pair of legwarmers.