Chapter Seven

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We were crammed into the plane like sardines. I could barely cross my legs without bumping the seat in front of me. It didn’t seem like a very glamorous way to start a new life, but then again, I didn’t really want to be starting over anyway.

I’d been at the gate half an hour early because Linda had worried I’d miss my flight. Maybe she’d really just been afraid that I’d never leave.

I stared out the plane window as New York drifted away. Had it really been five months already? I couldn’t believe I’d made it so long without Mom, like some kind of twisted new record. But there was no going back at the end, no way to stop counting the days.

This was my new life, whether I was ready or not. I just had to wait quietly for time to heal the wounds. So far, time just pressed on them until I felt like I was suffocating.

Half an hour into the air and already my world was foreign. Almost everyone on the plane was Japanese. That or expat English teachers returning from brief visits on American soil. Across from me a pair of senior citizens took off their shoes and pulled comfy slippers from their carry-ons. 

“Tea, miss?”

I looked up. The stewardesses stood over me, a pitcher of cold green tea poised in one hand, a stack of plastic cups in the other.

“Um, no thanks,” I said. She nodded and then the brief moment was over, and Japanese flowed off her tongue as she asked the next row and the next. A blond man two rows in front of me answered her in Japanese, and it dawned on me that she’d spoken English to me as a courtesy. I was supposed to be speaking Japanese now. It wasn’t like I hadn’t studied my brains out since October—what little brain that could focus—but I felt small, suddenly, small and lost in the Japanese around me. So much for lists of fruits and vegetables and animals. I hadn’t really learned anything after all.

“I’m doomed,” I said to myself, slipping my head into my hands.

For a while I flipped through the movies, then the TV stations. There was a Japanese variety show where a jumble of guests discussed times they’d tried to blurt out two words at once, creating new combo words. Apparently it was hilarious, because they all giggled and the audience applauded. I stared at the bright kanji scrolling across the bottom of the screen. I could read a lot of them individually, but I couldn’t put them together. It was like trying to put together some awful puzzle when I only had a few of the pieces in my hand.

I shut the TV off and looked out the window. My breath caught in my throat—the land had already disappeared, and sunlight gleamed off the ocean below us. Just like that, my life had slipped away.

I’m sorry, Mom. I’m leaving you after all.

It was stupid, maybe, but I couldn’t help it. I closed my eyes to keep in the tears.

There wasn’t much to do on a fourteen-hour flight. For a few hours I dozed, bumping my head against the window every time I started to get comfortable. Mostly I stared at my hands, trying to figure out who I was, who I would become. What sort of life was waiting for me?

Only a couple hours left to go, and suddenly the plane lurched forward. I grabbed the armrests and stared out the window. No one looked too alarmed. Another bump, and I felt this one deep in my heart. I was never one for roller coasters.

The stewardess who’d offered me tea noticed my expression and scurried down the aisle toward me.

“Just a bit of turbulence, Miss,” she smiled. “Nothing to worry about.”

I nodded, but my knuckles were white as I grabbed at my seat. Something was off.

Wouldn’t the captain usually warn us if this kind of turbulence was approaching? Put on the seat belt sign or something? But the flight attendants only mumbled to each other, their faces concerned. The plane dipped once more. This time the seat belt sign lit up.

Something in my heart buzzed, like an electric eel slithering through, and then a warmth spread through me like my blood had caught fire. At first it was just uncomfortable, like heartburn throbbing in every vein, but it surged until I felt like I was burning, like I would turn to ashes right there.

I unbuckled the seat belt and lunged for the bathroom.

“Miss, you can’t get up right now!”

I ignored her and locked myself in, gasping for breath.

What was happening? I stared at my hands. My skin looked pinker than usual, and my face was flushed. Some kind of fever? But I didn’t feel sick.

Great. Two hours from landing and I was having some sort of heart attack.

I turned on the tap and splashed cold water on my face.

Maybe it’s better if you’re sick. You don’t belong anymore.

No, that was stupid. Mom wouldn’t want that. I didn’t want that, not really. I was just scared, that’s all. Some sort of panic attack.

I pressed my fingers against my wrist, trying to find my pulse. And then I realized something horrible, something terrifying.

The plane dipped in perfect time with my heartbeat.

I gasped. And then suddenly the heat fizzled away, my cheeks paled and my pulse slowed. All that was left was the buzzing feeling, like I’d had a good jolt of electricity through me.

What the hell?

The stewardess knocked on the door. “Miss?”

I yanked a paper towel from the wall and patted my face dry. I opened the door and mumbled an apology.

“You’re all right?”

“I’m fine,” I said, slumping back into my seat.

“Let me get you some tea,” she said, and she hurried away.

The pocket of turbulence slowed with my heartbeat, and then everything was as still as before.

Had I imagined it? Maybe it felt like my pulse had matched it because every bump had thrown my stomach for a loop. It was strange, though. I knew I should’ve asked for help instead of locking myself in, and yet something in me felt the incident had been something to hide. Maybe I was just afraid to face whatever it was, that there might be some real problem with me.

Everything on the plane seemed so vivid, the lights too bright, the fabric of the seat too rough. Everything came into focus, like I’d been sleeping all this time and had just woken up. I guessed it was just the aftermath of a panic attack.

“Here you go,” the stewardess said, handing me a plastic cup of cold tea.

“Thanks,” I said, and I took a sip. It tasted like mulled green beans, bitter and strange but not completely awful.

I looked out the window as Japan unfurled below us. It was a different world, the colors somehow more saturated and the air denser than home. The cars looked different, even if they were ant-sized from this height. Streets had white kanji scrawled on them in paint; stop signs were triangular, and everyone drove on the left. It was like life filtered through a warped mirror.

This was my life now, and I could barely recognize it.

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