|Actually the amount of time I spend on that couch is probably not healthy.|
These days there are a lot of silences. I stare out the blue-rimmed window on dark days and bright ones, reclining on the couch facing the light so that my eyes arc toward the sky. I sit in a broken-in cafe, my favorite, in a dilapidated chair staring out the glass door or picture window, watching people wander down the lane outside. I come here so often that the staff labels the paper I use to order with my name rather than my table number. I shift positions on that couch, back to the door, head on an armrest, cat on the back of my knees, eyes closed or staring at a throw pillow printed with a comically inaccurate map of the world (no, really - Alaska is just south of India and the east coast of Persia looks quite nice). Occasionally I take a break from the torrent of thoughts and vexed emotions to scroll through social media. I do not do this mindlessly; my mind needs a break.
Often, I sigh. It's a cliche, a damsel in a tower, a rainstorm conjured in jejune writing to symbolize inner turmoil. I sigh loudly; I can't even feign originality. They are not long, soft or sad sighs - they pass forcefully, like gusts of air escaping a cushion that's just been sat on.
I'm happy. I have a strong, loving marriage. My work, while imperfect, suits me well for now. I have a lovely downtown apartment with a courtyard-facing, bougainvillea-etched window flanked by billowing chiffon curtains in various shades of the sea. I have friends I genuinely like and cats I genuinely love. I don't have children because I don't want any.
Is it a mid-life crisis? I'm 36 - hardly what we now think of as middle-aged, but then this age was past the halfway mark for my mother. Is that what I'm worried about? Maybe, yes. I don't feel old: friends and students consistently and sincerely remark that I give the clear impression of being about 30. I think they're lying, but they're not. I say it's because we have cats, not children, and children (not marriage, not age, not work and not money) are what really turn you into the sort of Old Person that teenagers make fun of and twentysomethings fear becoming, but that's only part of the story. Six years out of sync, I'm still concerned with the things a twentysomething might care about - which cool cafe to hang out in, which social issue to fret fruitlessly over, which political issue to talk about with friends, which country to visit next. My friends are buying houses. This isn't a criticism - I wish I could buy a house. Part of me kind of wants to be an Old Person in that way. I can't, so I don't, so I seem young. That, and I'm fat so I have no wrinkles.
I do like having money though. I actually have a savings account! I don't want to be 29 again. I want to be 36 and act 29. And I do. Okay, so it's not a mid-life crisis.
Is my marriage too "strong and loving"? By that I do not mean "is the passion gone?" It's not. We can't be the only couple in Taiwan who have figured out the joys of typhoon sex (no really, try it: when the storm is about to bear down on the city, go out and buy ingredients to make the most elaborate, delicious mean you are capable of making well, some wine and chocolate or whatever it is you prefer. If you don't live with your lover invite them over. As the typhoon thrashes outside, read a book all morning, cook a fabulous midday meal, go at it all afternoon and after you've had your fill of lying in bed together, spend the evening drinking and eating sweets and leftovers. It is truly a day of living like gods).
What I mean instead is that we are so secure that we no longer need to say much about it. I don't wonder if he still loves me; he does, deeply. I don't wonder if he finds me funny, or smart, or beautiful, or engaging. He does, all of them. And I him. He never says so, and yet I have no doubt. (I say so to him all the time because that’s just how I am). So no, it’s not this.
Is it that I am as torn as ever between thinking of Taiwan as home and yet being angry that Taiwan does not think of itself as a place that should be such a home? That I am not even a second-class citizen here, because I'm not a citizen at all, and yet I can feel the contours of this nation mapped into my thoughts with more clarity than I could ever imagine America? Is it that I could nearly taste the possibility of dual nationality, only to be told by the government that I, and any positive contribution I may have made in Taiwan, is worth about as much to them as a piece of trash that's washed up on the beach in Yilan?
Yes, it's probably a small dose of that.
Or is it this: over ten years ago, when I was 26, I was months away from leaving the US for good. My then-boyfriend and I broke up right around this time a decade ago, and as the summer passed and I awaited my flight to Taipei, a friend remarked that I was handling the breakup well. I thought I wasn't, but now I see that I was fine: an outer crust of sadness, no more meaningful than a film of sea-grit on a sail about to be unfurled.
And yet in those months I would lay in bed on top of my lime-green duvet and stare out the window (it looked out over a parking lot in our small townhouse complex, but I would angle myself so my eyes would hit the tops of the trees). I would sigh, forcefully. Gusts of wind would expel themselves and I could not control them; I even got a talking-to about doing it at work.
I was - to borrow a phrase I have become fond of recently - in a liminal stage then. A sail tied up on a ship that was already at sea. There was a shambolic quality to my life, though in fact it was not a disorderly state but a re-ordering. Newly single, I had planned to stay in Taiwan for perhaps two or three years and felt myself unlikely to date. It wasn't that I didn't like Asian men. In fact, I had already subconsciously accepted that long before it was appropriate to express it even to myself, I was deeply and unremittingly in love with my best friend and the only remedy would either be to uproot myself to such an extreme degree as to shake him from my mind, or to marry him (I married him. We have excellent typhoon sex).
I sighed then because I knew the change was coming, though I did not know it would take this form. I did not expect to stay in Taiwan for a decade, to decide that teaching was my life's work, or to become so enmeshed in life here that I would come to think of this country in the sort of gushing patriotic terms I would likely smirk at if applied to any other country - though, to be fair, this country is so beautiful that that is its name. I would not say that I didn't expect to marry Brendan. I didn't necessarily think I would, but on some elemental level I did know.
To be even sappier, I would say that I sighed not because something in me required an expression of sadness or exasperation, but because the wind was blowing, it was time to go, but I had not yet opened the sail. The gale needed to go somewhere, so it rushed through me and I exhaled it, right up until I caught a taxi to the airport.
Life was disordered then - the shared townhouse was nice but I knew it was impermanent. I was lucky to hold on to the job I hated, but needed, until I left. I was single, nearly broke and adrift. I didn't recognize the wind for what it was, and being somewhat alone and confused, I had to figure out how to raise that sail on my own.
I began to feel this way again this past March. It was eleven years to the month from when I bought that plane ticket and decided to move to Taiwan. Ten years later, to the month, from when that best friend became my boyfriend of the excellent typhoon afternoons. Seven years from when we decided to get married, again around March.
Because I am a pseudo-intellectual lightweight, I once looked up the Ides of March online because this time of year seems to bring me so many impending life changes that I had to know if there was any historical inference I could make to describe it. My intuition was not far off: before it was famous for the assassination of Caesar, it was a feast day that concluded the festivities used to mark the new year. There was no stench of bad luck about it. I don't believe in God, gods or mythology, but ushering in the new year right about now seems to fit the rhythms of my life. Why not raise a glass to Anna Perenna, then? I've worshipped stranger gods that I've also not believed in.
March has passed. It's now May, and tomorrow, I am not moving abroad permanently in the way I did in 2006, but the wind is blowing again. Things are changing - it's not as drastic, not only because I have a co-captain this time, but also because I have a home (though we don't own it) and my own tiny half-feline family, a profession and perhaps just the tiniest sense of purpose. I am on my way - tomorrow! - to begin the process of achieving one of my biggest goals: a postgraduate degree. I held off this long not only because I hadn't been able to afford it previously, but also because I can still hear my mother's voice telling me not to go to grad school until I was sure of what I wanted to do. You can't be sure of what you want to do until you go out into the world, and sometimes not even then.
And yet, it's coming. We’ll travel a bit first, heading to Greece, Armenia and Georgia, and then in June I am "moving", however temporarily, to the UK, to begin my hard-won achievement of this dream. Other things are changing too - I'm not sure what they are yet, but the sudden surfacing of a desire to gain dual nationality in a small Pacific island nation that most of the world refuses to recognize doesn't just happen for no reason.
The last time this happened, I thought I was depressed. Why else would someone loll about staring out windows and sighing uncontrollably? This time, after seven years of comfortably ambling along with only minor life changes, I see it for what it is - the wind is blowing, and it's time to start raising the sail.
It’s now well past midnight and I leave today.
Catch you on the flip side.
Catch you on the flip side.