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Deborah Lea

Leaving LA
By Deborah Lea
Feb 19, 2005 - 12:14:00 AM

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There was never a better moment than the last moment to get everything tucked in and squared away.

This attitude explains precisely how I ended up finally getting my first driver's license; selling, donating and shipping the last of my remains and saying my goodbyes to Los Angeles all in the week between graduation and my departure. The day after my graduation, my family dropped me off in the parking lot of my bank and we joked to skirt the fact this farewall would last.

It was only possible to say these goodbyes because, at that moment, they hardly felt permanent. Waving my family off and out of the parking lot, I was able to persuade myself they were simply headed down to Santa Monica for some Krispy Kreme donuts. They would be returning, I told myself, later that afternoon. It took little effort to so delude myself and no one suffered for our brief and, I think, mutual illusion.

I deposited my check, ran for the bus - one of the last times I would take the Culver City number six down Sepulveda - and got off only to run the greater distance to my apartment about a mile down Palms. Fortune was on my side and I managed to arrive barely seconds before my driving instructor did. This lesson would be my fifth and, I thought, final driving lesson before I took my driving exam the next day. The other lessons had surely been memorable. The second was with a man who I ended referring to as I drove by every expletive in the book, asking if he couldn't try to be just a little more friendly. If I was frustrated, I understand his personality given his profession. I surely wouldn't trade with him. Even had a chosen to practice law, I would be hesitant to assume such a thankless and life-threatening career. I salute those with the courage to teach hapless beginning drivers.

My next instruction involved an instructor who was dismayed by my failure to look both ways at intersections. A truly wise man, and a good listener, he instructed me: "Brad Pitt a la Troy is standing on all four corners, and if you don't turn your head, you're going to miss out!" That made me laugh, but it also got me looking, and I felt a little less embarrassed at doing driving instruction in my mid-twenties.

On the other side of my fifth lesson, having completed a total ten hours of driving, I decided I needed to have one more lesson before I took the test. I called around and found a company near the only SoCal DMV (in Torrance) that had an opening prior to my exam.

After playing passenger for no more than two or three minutes, the instructor seemed dismayed I should be taking the test that morning. Had he been Japanese, he would surely have urged me on with a falsely cheerful, "Ganbatte!" but instead he fidgeted and gritted his teeth while trying to be encouraging. A paternal Indian man, his concern extended beyond that of mere driving instructor.

By the time he'd dropped me off back at my place, I'd seen the pictures of all his family members and heard not only his life story, but each of theirs, too. He knew my siblings' names and where each of them was living, as well as what their interests were. Through the kindness of a DMV employee who managed to overlook my nearly total inability to actually drive (this kindness, I suspect, may have had something to do with the fact I would be using my driver's license somewhere far, far away), I did pass my exam and Bob - owner of the driving school conveniently named for its owner - celebrated this by buying me my favorite Subway lunch, deterring me from my favored Dr. Pepper by admonishing me fruit juice would "perhaps" be a healthier option. Everything about that afternoon was surreal, but that, too, seemed fitting, given the nature of my need for the driving examination.

I had been forced to take it, after all, when my new employers let slip inadvertently something about hours I would be working at a branch office. For all the indiscretion I'd showed in my initial applications, I did screen out those requiring licenses, so this had surely caught me off guard. And yet, when it came known driving would be required, I did what I could, foregoing spending that last week with my family to stay in California and take the driving exam I was ill prepared for. If people often and vocally scoffed at the idea a 25-year-old should be without a license, it was true the circumstances of my life hardly warranted one. Not until, with hardly more than a handful of days until I left for Japan, my bosses casually mentioned I would need one.

Were it not for that, I'm convinced I would have made it to the other side of my life without ever having earned a license. I probably wouldn't have noticed the difference, either.

Driving was only part of it. I had, I should probably be ashamed to admit, boxes full of My Little Ponies to shuck off - for money, if that was possible. I posted these on eBay and was shipping them out until literally the morning I left. My roommate, who had become more a sister than a roommate over the eighteen months we shared a bedroom, dropped me off at the post office on her way to work the morning I left. We said our tearful goodbyes as I shipped off my last box of My Little Ponies and the last box I would ship to myself in Japan.

I sent that last box to myself off wondering who I would be when the time came to open it. How, I wondered, would I have changed by the time that other me opened it having already lived in Japan a month and a half? I couldn't fathom it, and after I had finished at the post office, took that last walk back down toward my apartment on Faris Drive. All the boxes had been sent. Remaining was only to make sure the last few things I'd seen important enough to keep would actually fit in my bags. Anything that wouldn't would have to be set out in front of the apartment for random passersby.

There was plenty of this as I could fit only half of what I'd hoped to in the bags I would carry with me. It was painful to part with some of the things I set out, but there was also a certain peace in doing it of necessity. If I later missed things I'd had to set aside, I could at least take comfort in the defense of necessity. And, to tell the truth, I really have.

I vividly recall how my laptop was the last thing I'd packed. I had lived the better part of my Faris life on my computer. It seemed only appropriate I should exit in the midst of frantically typing out a last few lines for my friends on the Internet. This I did, awed as I clicked closed
my last window by the fact the next words I sent them would be from Japan. I had little idea what this meant. Japan was a handful of pictures, the origin of karate, and the word "Hiroshima" to me still, a place where I could earn money to pay my bills and, I hoped, find an opportunity to seek what I really wanted from life. (I would like to say in this sidenote I've found it, discovered not only gold and unicorns but also the secret to eternal life, but the truth is, I've only found I really like Japan. Other truths, I suppose, will have to wait.)

Less than three months after I first decided to pursue teaching in Japan, I hauled my bags out to a friend's car with the help of my friend and my roommate. Entirely unsure what the future would hold but equally sure I didn't need to know, I watched the only Los Angeles apartment that had every felt like home diminish as my friend's father pulled away.

Neither did that parting feel more than fleeting. Nothing ever does in its first steps.

But as we drove away, for all my head denied the change yet to come, my heart recognized my days would in 24 hours be a very different one than any I had yet experienced. My heart, though it had anticipated, could yet not foresee all the changes and beauty Japan would come to mean to me.

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