“Will you do that for me?” I asked him.
His answer was a small laugh. It was a scoff, but not a derisive one. He leaned forward and kissed me squarely on the lips. In private, we had exchanged hundreds of kisses. Thousands. Tens of thousands, surely throughout the duration of our two-year relationship.
I watched as he turned his attention back to the black and white manga that he held open expertly. His long fingers had seemingly evolved into perfect bookmarks.
“You know what I mean,” I said with a sad smile. “So?”
“Uunn,” he responded.
Throughout the two years, I had gotten used to these kinds of responses. ‘Un,’ short and sweet, was an affirmation. ’Uun,’ on the other hand, slightly longer and drawn out, was negative.
Occasionally, when being intentionally vague, he would murmur the third option that was harder to to discern: ‘Uunn’.
“You don’t want to kiss me at the airport?”
“No, I want.” he said in his adorable English. He patted my cheek, breaking away from whatever story he had been lost in. “But is hard…”
With a sigh, I stretched out comfortably on my futon next to his. The interlocking wooden cover pressed coolly into my back. I stretched out my leg and entangled it in his own outstretched one. Closing my eyes, I listened to the rhythmic whir of the small fan positioned next to us – the welcome gust of air passed over me once.
On its second trip across my body, I opened my eyes. I sat for a spell, staring at the bright, fluorescent light of his bedroom ceiling. It looked like a glowing marshmallow.
“I know,” I said quietly in Japanese. “But nobody will care.”
Being gay in Japan is a strange experience. Any kind of LGBTQ lifestyle is not very well understood. The only real exposure comes from atrociously camp celebrities on TV who exploit whatever stereotype they can for coveted airtime. Apart from this, it’s rarely even discussed at all.
My boyfriend was by no means ashamed of me when we were in public together, but he was always cautious. He would give me a playful nudge or poke in the stomach every so often. If we were out of eyeshot of others, he would even occasionally intertwine one of his fingers with mine. But it was always tinged with the unspoken fear that someone might see.
A favorite activity of ours was to take couples purikura and then decorate them afterwards. We would scrawl sparkly words like ‘Scandalous!’ and ‘Handsome guys!’ across pictures of us kissing or holding hands.
But this kind of carefree, normal expression of affection for one another seemed to be best left in photo booths that made our eyes enormous and in the company of our friends. In the real world, it seemed, it was just too uncomfortable and dangerous for him.
My last day in Japan, we headed to the airport at around six in the morning. We sat sleepily in uncomfortable airport seats, partially isolated from the rest of the empty waiting area. I let myself slump over and rested my head on his bony shoulder. He didn’t shift away awkwardly as I had (ashamedly) expected him to. Instead, he tilted his head to rest against mine as well.
We sat that way for a while, perfectly secluded in our subtle embrace. No photo booths, no friends or familiar faces around us. It felt right. And natural. And I felt my brain and heart give a kind of sigh. A shudder. Why didn’t we do this earlier? Why couldn’t we do this earlier?
Eventually the time came for us to say goodbye. I stood up, my limbs heavy in protest and my heart filled with dread. I willed myself to move toward the security gate – the rabbit hole I would disappear into, leaving this strange, wonderful country behind.
I turned to him. My boy. My rock that I had been fortunate enough to cling to for two years. His face was contorted into the stoic expression that the Japanese have perfected for times when they don’t want to cry.
“I’ll…see you later.” I said in Japanese, almost casually. “It’s not sayonara, it’s mata ne.”
He nodded and I saw his bottom lip begin to quiver. Mine quivered in response. We both wanted nothing more than to use our lips like we had grown accustomed to doing for the past two years. But we couldn’t. Not here.
Instead, I pulled him in to the biggest, tightest embrace I could.
As I passed through the metal detector and collected my things at the end of the conveyor belt, I cast a look back to where he was still standing. He waved sadly. I returned his wave and suddenly the tears burst from my eyes unannounced. I hurriedly gathered my things, tucked my head down and forced myself onward.
I was able to make it all the way to my gate before I devolved into a quiet, sobbing mess.
It hit me all at once and I cried for it all. I cried for the friends and relationships I was leaving behind. I cried for the country that I had grown to love. And of course, I cried for my first love.
But mostly I cried because I knew that nobody would ask me if I was okay.
I wanted to shout to all the people staring awkwardly at me that they were all bearing witness to heartbreak firsthand. I wanted to tell them all that I just left the man that I loved behind. To tell them that all I wanted was to run back and kiss him one last time.
“But…” my brain answered me in Japanese. “…nobody will care.”