“I’m moving back to Texas.” This was my mantra for the first month after my relocation in Japan. My first year in Japan was a dating disaster. After a sexist salary man, playboy American, and a few unbelievably awkward first dates, I felt tired and defeated. A new city and a new job only added to the loneliness. I cried nearly every night on Skype with those I’d left behind in Chiba and the States. I couldn’t stand being alone in the apartment, so I started jogging further and longer. I started Japanese classes. I started writing. I filled every moment of my time with some kind of activity. Yet I couldn’t shake those late nights after work, sitting on a train with men smelling of sweat and alcohol, and walking alone on the dark streets. Those nights made me devastatingly aware that the only social interaction I had was business-related.
In December, my best friend, Ben, held a going away party in Shinokubo. I was ecstatic. It was the first chance for me to reunite with my Chiba friends since I moved. The night consisted of Korean barbeque, beer, and a lot of great stories. The restaurant was so packed with people that our group was separated into several different tables. I found a comfortable spot in the corner with a few old friends.
The door opened and let in the cold air. Over sounds of drunken conversation and sizzling meat, not many people realised a straggler had joined our party. From where I was sitting, I saw him immediately with his red cheeks, bright smile, and crinkling eyes.
Please, please, please sit at our table, I thought to myself. The genuine happiness in his smile made me curious as to who he was and why I’d never met him before. I was shocked when he recognised the friends I sat with, and even more shocked when he sat across from me.
My friend Matt let out a drunken, “HEEEYYYY!” when the mystery man joined us. Absolutely everyone at the table seemed to know him really well. I felt like the black sheep, so I kept silent and drank my beer to make myself look busy. Had I met him before and didn’t remember? I felt a bit awkward and didn’t introduce myself right away. I took another sip of my beer.
After a while, I tried to overcome my shyness, but I was still too shy to speak to him directly. “Who is that?’’ I whispered to Matt. “I’ve never met him before.”
“WHAT?!” Matt wasn’t very good at keeping his voice down. “You don’t know each other?!” He turned next to the mystery man next to him and shouted, “You don’t know Cat?!”
I stuck out my hand and said, “By the way, I’m Cat.”
He took my hand and said, “Hey, I’m Yu.”
I know I blushed and smiled like a fool. I could feel my face turning red. The touch of his strong, rough hands told me that he worked with his hands. I later found out that he works as an industrial designer, and he showed me the hibachi tea candles that made him late to the party. His creativity was so refreshing after seeing so many Japanese men working in an office every day then drinking themselves silly every night.
We played six degrees of separation to find out that we had a lot of the same mutual friends, yet had somehow gone a year and a half without ever meeting each other. We even worked at the same company for a while, but in different branches. We shared stories about our time abroad, our plans for the future, and all our missed chances of meeting earlier. I felt comfortable, like I was speaking to an old friend.
Someone interrupted our conversation to ask me a question, and most of my attention was taken away from Yu. But I wasn’t completely distracted.
I heard Yu whisper to Matt, “Is Cat dating anyone?”
Matt can’t whisper. “I don’t know,” he said a little too loudly. “It’s none of my business.”
“You’re her friend, you should know!”
“NO!” I wanted to shout. “I’m single! Date me!” But I only acted as if I hadn’t heard.
Later that night, Yu was the first to leave the party to catch his last train. I couldn’t believe he didn’t ask for my number. I had missed my chance! With a little help from sake, I grabbed Matt’s arm and got the number from him as we headed for the station. Since then, we haven’t missed a day without each other.