I averted my eyes so I wouldn't make contact withMom's, which were already brimming with tears. Her voice melted into the din ofthe whirring air conditioner and passengers around us as she continued hermonologue meant to reassure me, although I am sure it was directed at her aswell. I stared out the window hoping to engrave a memorable image of America inmy head before the plane tore me from my native land, ripping my roots from theonly soil I had grown up knowing. When I looked, I only saw a dingy airportterminal. Determined not to let Mom's droning interrupt my final moment, Irecited all the names of my sixth-grade classmates in my head and promised I'drepeat them every day so I'd never forget. Danny, Gen ... My mother's handsuddenly clutched mine, breaking my concentration.
"I'm sure therewill be lots of American kids your age in Tokyo. C'mon, Lara, moving to Japanwill be such a great ..." I went back to my thoughts and absently nodded asI watched the pantomime of Dad trying to joke with my younger brother in a vainattempt to break his sullen trance across the aisle. Catherine, Nate, Jill ... Ipromised to remember these names forever.
Twelve hours later, we filed offthe plane in a dazed and hungry state. We made our way through customs andbaggage claim guided by sparsely dispersed English signs to the parking lot thatwas enveloped in heavy, humid air. I strained my eyes over the masses ofminiature vehicles for the "limousines" Dad's secretary had arrangedfor us, expecting white stretch limos to pull up and whisk us away. Instead, myfamily loaded our suitcases into two nondescript black sedans.
Theunexpected reality of the "limos" crushed the rest of my expectationsabout Tokyo as Mom and I rode silently in the back seat to our new apartment. Allthe stress from the week of good-byes, packing belongings, giving away our dog,and the long flight finally overwhelmed me. I surrendered to the exhaustion andstretched out, resting my head on Mom's lap, letting my mind go numb as shestroked my hair.
The characters on the signs surrounding me inside thetaxi blurred together. None seemed any different from the others until I noticedone of the characters that Dad had taught me. It was one of the simplest"kanji," merely a swooping line crossed with a dash, a single syllableamong thousands, but I knew it. I was able to recognize a character from aforeign alphabet and it sent my eyes into a frenzy searching for anotherrecognizble shape. I was ecstatic at my ability to take such a small step forwardin comprehending the Japanese language. I squeezed my eyes shut, forcing myselfto remember what it was like to look at everything around me with completeincomprehension. From then on, any capability to identify a Japanese characterwas a significant feat in comparison to where I started. My roots had beentransplanted, and I had nowhere to grow but up.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.