Posted in Slice of Life

Carrying It Along: On Grief and Loss

My uncle died recently. It was a very sudden cancer diagnosis, and then just like that, he was gone. I would say he was a “distant relative,” but I knew him. I wish I could be there with my family in America for the funeral, but there is no money and no time for grief. I think my company perhaps gives grieving leave (I haven’t checked) but I think that’s only for immediate family and needing to leave the country.

My uncle was a good grandfather to my cousins. He had a sense of humor I really couldn’t quite get, honestly. I chuck it up to a generational gap and non-familiarity, since he lived states away when I was growing up in Kentucky. I’d been to his house in Oklahoma more than once when I got older. We had a big family gathering there once, the typical Southern way of playing games and eating WAY too much food.

I like to respect him by remembering him fondly. Although, it feels wrong of me to grieve, being so far away? Having not seen him in years? But I do feel bad for my aunt and uncle losing someone, along with my mother who will be attending the funeral. I wish I at least had the money to send flowers, somehow.

These kinds of griefs are hard to explain, because I’ve had a few over here. Second year into the JET Program, Gabby -the family dog back home in the U.S.- died. I was very glad I went back home for Christmas so I could see her one last time. Jack, my mom’s cat, died around or before that same time.
It all hurt, but there was nothing I could do except tell my Mom, “I’m so so sorry you’re going through this.” Because she was really there dealing with it all, while I was miles away in a foreign country.

It feels wrong of me to mourn when everyone else is there, actually having to deal with the funerals and arrangements. I know, logically, that’s not the healthy way of thinking about it, and that these feelings are all valid.

I guess though that means my guilt for being abroad when things like deaths in the family happen is also valid, too. I don’t want to make it about me, because I’m not even there. Does that make sense? And I really just want to be there to support the people I love who are hurting more than me, no doubt. So I just don’t say much of anything about my own grief, because it really feels so small and insignificant in comparison to someone who just lost someone right there. What kind of asshole monster would I be if I said anything?

Also, sometimes my grief is a bit ridiculous. When my mom decided to move out to Oklahoma permanently, and the house I lived in for most of my life was put on market. Even though I was only going to visit that place once a year, it cut deep to think I’d never see it again.

I got over it, eventually, but I still have these dreams of being in my old room sometimes. Not all of these dreams are super fantastically detailed, but I wake up feeling like I left something behind. It’s a strange disconnect for a few seconds until I remember, oh right, it’s not there anymore. Well, physically it is, but I can never go back to it.

A lot of grief disconnects, and then has to get reconnected for me. Before my uncle, there was actually another loss I really haven’t processed, and maybe I never will. A friend from high school died, and once again, there was nothing I could do but send Facebook message condolences. I couldn’t believe it, still kind of can’t. I still see her in my mind’s eye as someone alive, smiling, laughing.

Once again, we hadn’t seen each other in years. I liked her a lot in high school, though. She and I had a very similar sense of humor, and she was one of the people I could just talk to easily. It was a small school, a small town, we grew up together. But we weren’t super best friends, too, and I’m not family. Again, this grief feels wrong to have when I am disconnected in so many ways.

But I remember staying after school with her, and we roamed the empty halls just talking and laughing about things. I remember how we both complained about a certain teacher, and we couldn’t wait to get out of high school. There are things I’m going to look back at now and have to remind myself that she’s really gone. It feels impossible, somehow.

In the past, I have lost other people, but these recent ones came right on top of each other without a year’s break in between like the others. I lost another uncle about a year ago, and he was a lovely man who bought me literally the best beer I’d ever beer I’d ever had in my life. An ex-boyfriend from university died in a car crash. I had bought him a Japanese manga version of BLEACH for him. It’s still on my bookshelf.

All of it happened, and they are all gone. Grieving is different for everyone, I know, and for me each grief carries its own set of a different sort of aching when I think about them. My latent Christianity hopes that everyone is alright, blessed and at peace where they belong. I pray that all my family members find their own closure, that everyone gets through it with the support and love they need. I do what I can from far off, but it never feels like much or even near enough.

The best I feel I can do is honor the memories I have and carry them with me. I don’t know what to do with the grief that accompanies them and when it hits me at the strangest times, but I’ll carry it all along anyway. And perhaps if I share a little bit of what I’m feeling maybe that’ll make it a little easier. Maybe one day I’ll be a little more emotionally mature, and I can properly process how I feel.

Until then, I’ll just remember them all fondly, with love.

Posted in Teaching Things

Teaching Toddlers: The Best and the Worst

I love teaching kids, I really do. Young learners, as in those under thirteen, have in general this complete lack of shame I kind of envy. A good ninety percent of the classes they will just SHOUT OUT LOUD ALL THE ENGLISH and they do not care at all if it’s correct or not. One particular group though is both the most rewarding and the most challenging for me, and that is the toddlers.

I think many people view the toddler age as this maelstrom of violent outbursts and awful tantrums, because that’s what a decent majority of family dramas depict in TV shows and movies. And while, yes, there are tantrums, toddlers do have some positives in teaching them. I want to talk about a few of those as well as some of the challenging aspects.

Let me start off with how I don’t think toddlers get enough credit when it comes to how loving they can be. Toddlers will love you, just because you exist and you’re in their life. Some of my students will hug me on sight, even when I’m not even teaching them that day. Sometimes they’re so excited to start class they’ll line up five minutes early and just be bouncing balls of energy in anticipation. I get adorable drawings and hand written letters that say, “For Jessica teacher!” with my name horrendously misspelled, and I love them all.

Many people see it as being “clingy or needy”, but toddlers really only cling to people they actually like and trust. For me, when a parent ever says the words, “Wow! They never used to like English class, but now my child loves coming to your class.” That means I’ve successfully linked English to fun by extension of me being the “fun teacher.”

But toddlers can be a handful, not gonna lie.

Toddlers have that special in-between balancing act of, “Yeah, I can totally walk and run, but I will also fall right on my face if you look away for two seconds.”

One time, I taught a four year old private student. She was one of the first little tykes I’d ever had just by myself. Previously as a JET Program ALT, there was always a main teacher actually in charge. I just danced and sang songs in the pre-schools/kindergarten classes.

This girl at one point in the lesson looked at me, giggled, and then turned around to run straight into a wall. Just, THUNK! And laughed some more as she fell backwards. I was in shock for a good two seconds, but then I managed to keep the lesson going.

Over time, her head swelled up and I thought her mom was gonna kill me. To my surprise, after I honestly told the mother, “So…she ran…into a wall. She didn’t even hesitate, she just, BOOM, hit it with her head.”

The mother took one look at her daughter, and then looked at me and said, “I believe you.”

Turns out it was a habitual thing.

So as a TEFL teacher I’ve got to try to make my classroom environment fun, but also as safe as possible for little squishy potato heads. I learned my lesson from that previous class, so there is no running in my classrooms. We jump, we skip, we dance but we don’t run in the classroom.

That being said, kids are kids and will find ways to test patience and break rules/things they know they’re not supposed to. I can’t count how many times kids have tried to get away with cheating at games, or tried to change the rules of a game to fit them winning over another student/team.

People ask me how I discipline toddlers and I tell them the truth: I put them in a time-out corner.

A lot of people immediately say, “But that never works with my students! They just get back up.” Yep, I believe that, which is why my response is, “Pretend they’re still in time-out anyway.” In other words, ignore the child, don’t engage with them until they’re ready to behave and apologize.

Some people get intimidated by toddlers. After all, they can (and do) scream or cry at the drop of a hat, especially if they don’t get things going their way. However, it’s essential during a toddler phase to put down strict limits on what’s OK behavior and what’s not in a classroom.

Basically, yes I’m teaching them English, but I am also teaching social skills as part of that communication set.

Also, I see a lot of people try to do timeouts wrong, like put the toddler in the corner for like ten minutes. NO, not even that long! To a toddler a minute by itself is forever. Stick with three to five minute timeouts, don’t hover over them just leave them alone, and make them apologize before resuming play. Tah-dah, you’ve got yourself a kid that understands where the limit is.

Back on the subject of crying toddlers, it’s gonna happen in a class at some point or another. Toddlers are tiny humans who don’t really get how this whole body movement thing works, and they’re going to get frustrated simply because they’re just not coordinated yet. I’ve had kids cry because they’re tired or hungry, and that’s fair enough.

I don’t ever punish crying when kids get frustrated or hurt or upset over stuff they just can’t control. When that happens, I just use distraction methods. Sometimes that means I get out crayons and sheet of paper to let them relax, just draw something pretty for mommy and daddy. Sometimes that means I change the game or start a dance so they’ll kind of just “forget” they were upset in the first place.

Just very recently, I had a class full of three and four year old cuties come back after the New Year’s break. One of the boys did NOT like that Dad wasn’t coming into class with him. He started bawling, crocodile tears running down his face. His Dad was a good sport about it, just told him to “Gambarre!” and he’d pick him up after class.

My little tyke kept crying as Dad left the door. I got out a floor mat piece – we put down soft Alphabet mats as cushion for the floor – and asked him, “Hey [student], what color is this?”

He sniffled, stared at the mat for a second, and then he cried out, “Greeeeeeeeeeeeeeen!!!” He proceeded to take the may while still crying and put it with the other floor pieces. Other students lined up and started taking the other pieces to put it all together into one pseudo- carpet like structure.

[Image: Foam mats interlocked together with detachable letters A to Z. Each mat has a different bright color and letter combination.] You can buy a bunch of these for cheap on Amazon, pro tip.

Now, you might be wondering, “Wow, that’s a lot of challenges!” Yep, which is why teaching a toddler class will make you a better teacher.

I’m not even joking. Having to teach toddlers means you will learn to be quick on your feet, use more gestures, problem solve, figure out how to use your voice and tone for discipline effectively in a classroom, and so much more. I won’t lie, teaching high school was a breeze in comparison to teaching toddlers, but I know for a fact that teaching toddlers made me realize how I could teach even upper level students better in so many different ways.

So while teaching toddlers requires a lot of work and just so much energy, it is worth while for me to see kids form an early and good relationship with English. I also appreciate how I’m teaching them, but they’re also giving me some hard earned experience to remember for future classes. And they’re just adorable, really, ya know, when they’re not crying and shouting.

Still, I wouldn’t trade all the drawings and hugs I get for the world.

Posted in Uncategorized

New Year, New Home, New Goals

On a Tuesday night in December, I came home to discover the roommate gone. All their furniture, all their books, all their clothes, just gone. I thought I would break down, get upset, but actually…

I let out a breath I’d been holding for months.

The knots in my stomach subsided, and I realized for the first time in forever I could just exist in this space. It was good, somehow it was…fine. I took notice that my apology letter was left behind, my last ditch attempt at making things a little less bad between us before we headed off in different directions. 

Not accepted, obviously. 

I took stock and took photos. The trash was fine, considering that I got threw away like trash. It almost felt symbolic, but I didn’t appreciate it much as I swept through the garbage. I picked up things here and there, things I’m certain they didn’t mean to leave behind. It felt like an exorcism, washing away the pain, putting everything into a semblance of order. 

It also helped to keep me warm in an apartment with no heating, so bonus I suppose. I went through the throwing away a bunch of tea things left behind, dumping it all into the trash. I got a big cardboard box from the trash collection downstairs so I could put all their things into it. I still don’t know where it’s going, but I’ll figure that out later. 

Most people in my position would say, “Just throw it away. They treated you like garbage, so treat them shit like garbage.” But it doesn’t feel right. I can’t be that hateful and vindictive. It’s not who I am. I’m not doing the right thing for them, but for me.  

I searched through where this stuff was, if my stuff had been damaged in the move out tornado that plowed through so quickly. Nope, just stuff shoved here and there, but nothing damaged. I put stuff into boxes before heading off to work. 

During my break, I calculated that I couldn’t pay the 70,000 yen price for their side of the rent over two months. I would need to move out, and with nothing to my name, I would need to sell everything in the apartment. My bed, my camera, the table, the fridge, the washing machine, the whole new life I just established in April…all of it would have to go. 

I mourned the loss of friendship, of the life I tried so hard to carve out in this new space, but when I came back “home”…I felt something settle in my chest. I’d been feeling like a weight had been sitting on it for so long I forgot what it felt like without it.

It felt…kind of good?

The price of this freedom is steep, and I wish it hadn’t ended with a fight leaving me basically bankrupt, but I felt better than I had in ages. I was freezing, I was nearly homeless, but I also didn’t feel like I needed to walk on eggshells anymore. I didn’t have to worry about what would happen when I opened my front door anymore, I knew what to expect, which was nothing. Nothing at all but the last few bits of furniture and silence. 

I can figure out the moving process, it actually makes things strangely easier with them moved out. I can sell the things and move on quicker. I can call everyone, review the contracts, get things canceled, and just have it all done really quick. 

Someone once told me, “Sometimes it’s good when they leave you,” and I always thought that was just disingenuous advice from people to make others feel good about being abandoned. Instead, I get it now.

Sometimes, you don’t even realize how stressed you are when you live with someone everyday, someone who sees you as not a friend but something to just use up until you’re not useful to them anymore…and then they leave.

Suddenly, there’s a bright side, because you’re not trying to gauge their mood, figure out what the “right” thing to say is or the “wrong” thing to say is. 

When it comes to the falling out, they hurt me, I hurt them back, and then nothing past that could be forgiven on their end. We hurt each other badly in such a short amount of time. I’m the villain in their story, I’m sure. I’m a monster and evil, because I made a mistake. I am not at all faultless in this tale, I did damage, I tried to repair it, but there wasn’t any point in the end. I think the moment we did this move in it was nearly doomed or destined to end in disaster. 

See, they could have bad days, you see, but I couldn’t. They needed their feelings validated, and if you didn’t validate them exactly as they wanted, you were the awful person. They are allowed to have mental health issues, but mine are “just things you need to get over.” 

But the grievances of the past are useless. I should have brought up my issues earlier, I should’ve stuck to my boundaries, I should’ve worked more to save just in case this happened. I keep blaming myself for not seeing it coming months ago, like I could ever be that kind of psychic. I know it’s not logical, but there it is. 

Everything I’m recounting is also biased, of course, so I’m sure from their point of view I deserve everything that’s happening to me. I’m sure somehow for them I deserved to lose everything all at once and face my worst fears of this whole moving-in with a friend experiment. I’m sure that I’m a horrible bitch, and maybe I am a little bit. 

There are no victims here, though. I’m admit fault, I admit I fucked up. I admit that during a really bad day I said things I shouldn’t have. The main thing I regret is I said in an email (long story on why email, just roll with it), “I moved all my things into my room. If you damage or take my stuff, I’ll call the police.” That was so vindictive and full of malice, and I shouldn’t have said it. It’s not excusable, but I was in a bad head space, because I thought I might get fired and I thought they had already thrown me away without even talking to me. 

They only talked to me for the last week and a half through Facebook and emails, because I guess talking face to face wouldn’t be okay anymore. When I lost Softbank service one day, I decided to write them paper letter. I tried to apologize and explain my side of things and bought them a present for their Christmas vacation, but I did end the letter by saying I didn’t want to be friends anymore after we moved into new places. 

I felt like they wouldn’t see past their own needs, their pain and their hurts always trumped everyone else’s. Their struggles were the hardest struggles, and no one else could compare. I couldn’t accept that kind of friendship anymore, not when they hurt me and never saw a problem with it. 

Maybe they decided if I didn’t want to be friends then I didn’t deserve to be treated like a person anymore? Who knows, I never will. I won’t be reaching out anytime soon. At first I tried to ask mutual friends how they were, but that’s a useless endeavor. I realized today it’s really not my job anymore to see if they’re alright. They left, it’s done, time to pack it all away. They wouldn’t do the same for me, why am I doing it? It’s energy better spent trying to claw my way out of the hole they left me in.   

That being said, knowing this day and age of cyberbullying, I’ve scrubbed all traces I possibly can of them from every vlog and blog post I could find. I don’t want anyone to get revenge on my behalf. I don’t want revenge, I don’t want them to get a karmic comeuppance, like I said I fucked up too. It’s not as simple as one person bad and one person good, it’s messy as hell. Yes, they’ve left me in a bad place, but putting them in a bad situation isn’t something I want. I hope they’re happier without me, I hope they go on and find a better place (or at least a place with heating).  

Bit by bit as I’m cleaning and tossing away things here and there, I know I’m gonna be OK. It will because I’ve got friends and family who love me, who are supporting me from near and far. I’m already noticing I’m mentally more stable than I’ve been in months, so that’s great. I think having my own space is helping me to cope. I’m going to get my stuff and move, and I’ll move on. It was a learning experience, my heart is broken, but I’m not lost. I’ve got pathways to go.

Christmas and New Years have been rough, but hopefully 2019 will be better.

And I’m really choosing to focus on this year. I’ve got goals and ambitions to put all of this tragedy behind me. I’ve learned hard lessons, but that won’t stop me from going forward. I want this month to be a small footnote in my history, something that won’t define me as a person in the years to come. 

I want to do many things, so many things, but I can’t do everything. So I’ll focus on what I can do. I want to write more, so much more. I want to get a book out and published before my birthday in the summer.  In that vein, I’m going to start vlogging more about my creative endeavors along with all the Japan things. 

There are other more personal things I want to do. I want to send out more cards to family and friends. It’s time to stop the excuses and be good to the people who love me, who have always been there and I feel like I’ve been taking for granted. I can’t make the commitment of one a day (that’s a goal doomed to fail) but at least put out a couple a month around birthdays and such. 

I won’t have much money in the next few months, but I want to save money so I can do things like see family and friends next Christmas. It’s been awhile since I’ve been back, so I want to go back and get caught up with the people that I miss so much. 

I don’t have a plan for most of these targets, but I know these are the things that matter the most for me. I want to pay back everyone who helped me, somehow, someway. I want to give back to them the support I’ve needed. I feel so grateful and blessed to have these people in my life, and I need them to know that. 

I’m not going to look back in despair, I’m just going to move and move onward. Things are rough at the beginning of this year, so things can only go up from this point. Guess that’s kind of the benefit of ending a year on a low note? I can only ascend. 

To the friends and family who read these blogs, I love you all very much. Many blessings to you in 2019! I hope it’s a better year for us all.  

Posted in Uncategorized

Today Was Horrid, Thanks for Asking

It started off with me throwing away about half of my room. For reasons I can’t quite get into, I needed to get rid of as many things as possible, and quickly. So that’s what I spent a good two hours doing in the morning, just getting trash bags and throwing things away. 

It sucks. I cried, a lot. If you followed the old moving blogs, you’ll know I already had to get rid of most of my stuff before I moved to Tokyo. Now I’m basically scaling down to nothing. It cuts, bad, but it’s absolutely necessary. 

Then, I got to my transfer station for work and discovered the goddamn Chuo-Sobu Line was down. I was in trouble already for (supposedly) being late too much, and I had promised my boss I would never be late again. I was lucky that a senior teacher met me at the station and called it in. 

S.T. and I jogged our way to another train line, then speed walked it to another station, and then finally arrived at work, I was already mentally thinking, “That’s it, I’m fired.” 

“I’m fired and done and everything is going to hell in a hand basket.” When I arrived at the school, I already kind of accepted in my head it was going to happen. I’m a pessimist, worst case scenarios are assured. 

One small nice thing was the S.T. who actually offered to fight our boss for me if he gave me a hard time about today. I told him with a smile, “Don’t worry. It’s gonna be alright!”

Because that’s what I’m good at, faking that it’s all okay. 

I also didn’t eat much today, which kind of adds onto this misery a little bit. I actually haven’t eaten much in three days, my stomach is in knots and I can only force myself to eat like 3 things – peaches, cereal, and maybe chips. Even then, I get halfway through and then stop. 

After I prep for all my classes and I ate a pear for lunch, I told S.L. I needed to go for a small walk. He approved it, so I headed off. I walked and walked around, just thinking about everything. I thought about how much I wanted to just throw it all away today: the job, the apartment, the stress, the life that I’m living…

Heya, depression, it’s been awhile, can we not? Oh good, now this is a thing to add to the shitpile. I contemplate what would happen if I gave my boss my verbal two months notice, then I move out of the apartment, and then I just end…things. Note: Not the best thing to contemplate before you have to be bubbly and teach children. 

I walked, walked, all in circles and just wondered if I should walk out and away. Other teachers in the company have done it. Hell, I replaced one. Regardless, I couldn’t do that, not to my students. The kids wouldn’t understand, I would know, I was kid who got walked away from, so I wouldn’t do that to them. 

I decided to go back and try to figure things out. 

And of course, my boss came while I was out of the school. So now I’m late and I’ve left the school, so he’s showing up to find me “slacking” on the job. 

Fantastic…

I expected him to lay into me as soon as he got the chance, but I discovered he’d holed himself away in a spare classroom with a laptop. When I knocked to get his attention, he put up a finger and told me he’d be a minute. 

Surprised, I made to move back to my classroom, but not before reassuring the school’s assistant. “Don’t worry, everything’s alright.” She was hovering close to me, worried, I could tell. 

I went into my classroom and set up everything so I could just be ready if the meeting was too long. I didn’t know what to do, or what to say. According to the internet, say nothing or as little as possible was the best method. I didn’t know if I could speak. I was on this knife’s edge between knowing I was fired and finding out I wasn’t. 

My boss came in and sat down across from me about five minutes later. He came in and, well, didn’t lay into me. 

“Jess, alright here’s the paper, read through it first and then we’ll talk.” 

I will confess, I didn’t actually read it. My vision was fuzzy and my mind was in a thousand other directions. I nodded my head anyway and said I was done, and he said simply. 

“Alright, I know you’ve said you’ve got a medical condition, but you’ve gotta factor it into your transportation. If you’re gonna be late, still call in, yeah? But when you’re calling you’re making other people scramble to work and it can inconvenience up to six different people to figure things out. Now, it’s done, I’m not one to belabor these things. We’ve talked, and it’s settled.”

Oh.

Oh I’m NOT fired.

…This is good?

I said some things, asked some questions, they weren’t important. He also said that, “Of course the trains are out of your hands! Just be sure to call with enough time for us to get things in order.” 

Neat, ok.

I didn’t really feel relieved though. My chest still hurt, and I was still in fight or flight mode. I wanted to either scream or run away, or both like a madwoman. Luckily, a student showed up, and my teacher switch flipped on. For the next two hours, I was on autopilot. I was smiling, laughing, joking, and getting kids to speak English. 

There were other bad parts about the day I still can’t get into, but essentially every other hour my phone sent me an alert and I had to deal with it in between classes. Nothing felt better, nothing felt right, and I knew it wouldn’t for a long time yet. 

But at least I have a job, so yay, not completely broke. 

Going home I felt sick, like I wanted to throw up sick. A warning probably did mean I wouldn’t get a recommendation letter if I left, so that was awful, on top of everything else going on in the background. I wished I could’ve been born someone stronger, someone who could just push through and not hurt so much all the damn time. 

I’ll just keep pushing through, somehow. As I’m typing this, I’ve abandoned my half-eaten bowl of cereal, and I’m trying to convince myself to sleep. We’ll see how well that goes. For a day like today, odds are it will end with nightmares. 

Posted in Uncategorized

So I Rolled My Ankle

When I was younger, like all of five years younger, I could push myself through a lot. I once fell off a stage, completely wrecked my ankle, and I could force myself back into work the next day. Now that I’m 29 and running right into 30, I’ve discovered that I can manage to sprain my ankle by just tripping. 

I was on my way to work on Thursday when my heel – because ya know, women we gotta wear heels or risk looking “unprofessional”- got caught on a bump and sent me tumbling to the ground. I felt an all too familiar crunch and roll in that ankle socket. 

With a resounding, “FUCK!” that no one around me really responded to, I picked myself right back up and walked to work. I compartmentalized it as something to deal with later. I’m usually good with pain like that, so I forced myself to work and went through the motions. 

On the day of, it hurt, but I kept sitting down and propping it up. Luckily, my last two eikaiwa classes canceled, so a bit of ibuprofen and determination kept me going. When I got home to friends staying over and roommate [X], I briefly mentioned the ankle but once again compartmentalized. These friends were from Sweden and a rock band. I had to stay up to make sure they got on those taxis and headed to the airport. 

I stayed up late with them, learning Swedish and Finnish, singing Disney songs and generally having a good time. I was aware of the pain, but just chugged more ibuprofen when no one was looking. After 3:00 am, they were off in a taxi to Haneda and I fell asleep. 

I woke up in SO MUCH PAIN. 

My ankle wasn’t as swollen as I expected, but boy it didn’t feel good. I forced myself to relax, just take it easy. I had work the next day, so I needed to recover and go.The whole day I put ice then heat, I canceled classes and plans, I KNEW I needed to get better to go to work. 

See, at my job we only get 5 personal days. That’s it. Granted, we get long winter holidays and other random holidays interspersed throughout the year, but only 5 paid personal days. No sick days, just 5 paid leave days. I knew if I wasn’t better I’d have to take that day off. I had a run of bad luck with sinuses and colds in the past couple of months beforehand, leaving me with one last precious paid day. 

Saturday came, and I woke up once more in pain. I thought about it hard, as in furiously trying to tell myself that I SHOULD just push through it and go in. As I thought about it, I knew I couldn’t. The kids were active, it was 6 plus working hours on my feet. There were toddlers who would need someone running and jumping around with them. I knew I couldn’t do it. 

Calling into work has to be done in a set time. If you miss the time window to call in, that means there is a chance student classes will have to be cancelled. From the business standpoint, that’s the real worst case scenario, and I get that. I’ve always called in within the time frame. 

On Saturdays, it’s 8-8:45. Ok, fine, no big deal. I tried to call, twice, only to encounter a busy tone. I’m not surprised. I imagine a lot of people are calling in with a holiday on the horizon. It probably won’t look good on my records for me to call in as well. My stomach is in knots. I’m not calling in because I want more vacation time, I’m calling in because I literally cannot work with a sprained ankle.  

When I get through, the operator gives his name and asks me how he can help me. I get tense, because I know this man is at a higher level in the business than me, and he’s not really as understanding as the other higher ups. 

“Yes, hi, um I’m calling in because I’ve hurt my ankle and I can’t make it into work today. I’m really sorry.”

He sighed. He mumbled something, asking if I had tried to call in before. I said I had, tried to make my tone sound light and friendly. He didn’t seem to care. He asked about my schedule, if there’s anything to note, and I tell him. I did my best to answer his questions. 

And then he said,”I see you’ve used 5 days of absences,” like I’d become the worst employee of the year for this, “is there anything we can do to help you?”

I…didn’t know what to say to that. 

A thousand different thoughts flew through my head. Was he really asking because he cared? His tone definitely didn’t really imply that one way or the other. Was it a threat? No, it just sounded automatic, like he’d asked this question before a million times. 

“No, I just got sick a lot recently. I know this is my last day, but I just can’t work on this ankle. I’m really sorry.” 

I hate myself immediately. I hate how I sound, like I’m groveling to keep this job. I’ve found myself recently questioning what I really even like about it nowadays, and the answers are few to none depending on the day. Moments like these, where I feel as if I have to be sorry for being hurt or sick or just…unwell? It feels like fire ants under my skin.

“Alright, well take care of yourself. See you around, cheers.” 

After the phone disconnects, I wonder if my boss will call sometime soon, to ask me about the absence or demand proof or something. The day goes by, but I don’t get that dreaded phone call. But then again, they will come to observe me at some point in the near future, and they’re never satisfied with what I do in the classroom.

I feel like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit. It’s not the worst work in the world, but eikaiwa isn’t something that fulfills me. And it suddenly dawned on my half-way through the day why I could push myself through the ALT work and not the eikaiwa work: Because I was a part of a team at a school, but at the company I’m just a cog. 

When I was hurt before, I went to work but the other teachers made sure I rested between classes. I knew the school nurse had compresses, so I could chill and heat it throughout the day. I knew I wouldn’t have to run, jump, or play but just use a crutch from the gymnasium that was lying about as I taught a grammar point on the board. 

With eikaiwa, there was just me and the students. There wasn’t any help, just go to work or don’t and look bad. I’m still wondering if I’m going to get a phone call or an email or an observation with a side of lecture. And when I do, my normally backbone-hardened self might crumble again. I need to keep a job until the next hiring season, at least, I can’t just lose it only halfway through. 

And all over a rolled ankle. 

I’m going to do what I can, try my best not to get sick for the rest of the year. Maybe I’ll go out and find some nice professional looking flats? I don’t know, all I know is I have to make sure that I survive until the end of this contract without missing another day.

Hopefully, next year with a TEFL certificate and a JLPT certificate a few more doors could open up for me. Until then, I’ll just keep “taking care of myself.”