I chose to quit my job and follow my parents. It was not an easy or happy decision. At first, I didn’t tell my parents I was considering staying in Texas. Then, while my parents and I talked to some stranger, I let slip that I was thinking of staying. It was a shock to both of them. I don’t know what they were thinking, but to me, they seemed surprised that I would consider staying. My mom’s reaction especially affected me.
After moving to Washington with my parents, I tried to find work. However, it was the beginning of the depression that started in 2007, so work was hard to find. I didn’t want to go back to the way things had been before. Since I couldn’t find a job, I decided to do things I knew I could do. I bought some economics, philosophy, and Japanese textbooks, turned on my new favorite band, Dragonforce, and started reading. I hired a Japanese tutor and learned from him for six months, wrote a weekly blog in Japanese, and made Japanese friends.
During this time of transformation, I made the most important and difficult decision of my life. I told my parents that I wasn’t going to practice Judaism anymore. It was a devastating event for them. I knew that it would hurt them deeply when I told them. However, once I had finally started taking responsibility for my life, I knew that I couldn’t simply continue following them. With deep reflection, I realized that Judaism wasn’t for me.
For someone that isn’t religious, it’s probably difficult to understand what my or my parent’s experience was like. They were doing what they thought was best for themselves and me. They were supporting me on a path to a deep understanding of God, humanity, and the mysteries of life. Everything they did for me, everything they taught me, they did because they loved me. And now I was taking all of that and saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and walking out the door. I wanted to be a good son, but I was sacrificing too much of myself to become a “good son”. I couldn’t continue; it felt like lying to them and myself.
When I began to follow my own path, the whole world looked different. I felt energized, like a switch had finally been activated inside me. I could finally put my full effort into doing something. For the first time, I felt what it was like to truly have my own will. I felt strong.
I made the decision to become an English teacher in Japan. To do that, I had to go to college. I applied to a local college with Japanese courses.
But, before going to college, I did something unexpected: I took a trip to California to meet a girl. She and I had been language partners online. She was taking a short trip to California, so I decided to drive there by myself. When I told my parents what I was going to do, my dad was ready to give me a list of interesting places to go, but my mom’s first words were, “You’re crazy.” Now, I don’t know where that came from or what it meant, but it sounded like a challenge to me.
I got up one morning, packed the car with crackers and drinks and headed out to San Francisco. When I got to the city, I stopped at a gas station to look for directions to the hostel I planned to stay at. As I was doing something in my car, a homeless man came and asked if I needed help. Being the naïve dude that I was, I asked if he knew where the hostel was. He gave me directions to a place very far from where I remembered it on Google Maps. After I thanked him for helping me, he asked if he could have some money and the crackers. I gave him the loose change in the car, but the crackers were mine.
Eventually, I made it to the hostel. The next morning, I met the girl, a family friend, and a cousin of hers. After a day of driving around, sightseeing and searching for wine, we returned to their hotel for drinks. They asked me what I wanted. “Milk,” I replied. My parents don’t drink (my mom hates alcohol, given that she divorced an alcoholic), so I had no experience with casual drinking. I had small amounts of wine for religious purposes, but I didn’t like it. They were confused by my milk request.
In hindsight, I think that they probably wanted to get me drunk and find out who I “really” was before the family friend and cousin returned to Japan. Who were they going to be leaving that girl with? I don’t know if watching me slam that liter of milk helped reassure them that I wasn’t a serial rapist, but I’m positive it tasted a lot better than whatever filth they were putting in their mouths.
After a nice conversation, my friend walked back with me to my hostel. We said our good nights and then I went to bed. Shortly after, I heard a knock on my door. It was her. She said that she couldn’t find her way back to her hotel. I took her by the hand and led her back. On the way there, we saw a well-dressed couple doing some intense kissing outside another hotel. Like a child, as we passed them, I said in a loud voice, “Did you see that?” That was the beginning of a long tradition of me embarrassing girls in public.
When we got to her hotel, she gave me a hug and looked longingly into my eyes. I promptly told her goodnight and ran away. Yes, I literally ran away. I don’t know why. I was unaware of it then, but I was probably doing a good job of demonstrating that I was just a normal dude.
I’ll save you the details of the rest of that trip, but it was my first real solo adventure into the world of adulthood. My future was growing brighter. I was finally taking on the world.