Hearing his voice on the phone filled me with regret, but at least I had overcome my trepidation and answered. Something about this voice I hadn't heard for a long time, isolated from its body, suggestive and open to any memories and associations I might attach to it. Far more dangerous than a farewell hug. Distant already.
Dear Kaneko-san. At some point I stopped scheduling lessons with him. I believe there was a period of frustration in our communication, a slacking in the progress of the lessons, perhaps even a few slight offenses I felt from him. A likely occurrence between an older Japanese man and a younger western woman. And I had started lessons also with Fukunari-sensei, who seemed a far more natural teacher, certainly she had spent more time doing this work. At the time, it seemed a better fit.
But hearing his voice reminded me of the Sunday mornings of chipping away at understanding, perhaps far more naturally if less efficiently than with Fukunari-sensei. Lessons weren't really lessons, or at least the best ones weren't. They were explanations of one another's countries, one another's hobbies, families, and interests. We armed ourselves with dictionaries, gestures, and scrap paper. And yes, on the one hand there was always an awkwardness unfamiliar to me that I would attribute to the difference in our gender, age, and culture. But if I looked beyond that and sat with something else that was also there, I could enjoy a kindness and beautiful generosity that ought to have been undisturbed by such surface relations.
At the very least, it seemed rude not to at least call him to tell him I was moving back to America. It was a slightly scary item on my list of things I hoped I would do, but didn't know if I actually would. Tomorrow is the end of my phone service. And I found myself just picking it up and dialing this afternoon, leaving an extremely awkward message. And my fear even enticed me to consider not answering when he called, just to continue to listen to NPR when his name appeared on the buzzing screen.
I might have left without ever hearing his voice again. We could have faded away, every now and then remembering that we existed and wondering what happened, where the other was. And I suppose it will still be the same. He will continue and I will continue, separately. But having conjured the courage to make the call, to do something uncomfortable, I'm given a chance to reflect and remember something so incredibly valuable and touching to me in my first months and years in Japan. And to realize that despite the circumstances that nudged me away, there was something wonderful there. People are so huge. They are possible of so many things. I hope this will encourage me to look past the distractions of offenses and frustrations more often in the future. There is so much good.
Our conversation was brief, very sweet. "Japanese isn't used very much around the world, but please continue to study." Yes, dear Kaneko-san, you are still my teacher.