It was about two o’clock in the morning, mid February, with the snow sliding slowly down the windshield, illuminated by the street lamps of the parking lot. I was wearing my maroon dress shirt with dark slacks, black loafers, and my creased leather jacket, shivering in spite of my silver car’s steamy interior. It was time for me to be heading home, nothing more to be done here. She was out of my car, out of my life. Now I just had to pick up the pieces and say good-bye.

I had always wanted to go to Japan. Ever since I could remember, I somehow knew I’d find a life for myself there. So I learned to read, learned to write, all over again, and packed everything up my sophomore year. I flew out on September eleventh, and little did I know when I started that day that when I returned, my world would never be the same.

I went to live in Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capitol, a city bathed in the new age neon glow and old age cherry blossom. It takes some adjusting. She was there too, a kimono-clad beauty wasting her days away selling Star Wars merchandise in a tiny collector’s shop. I met her in a downstairs night club on Kawaramachi as she left behind drunken friends to bum a smoke on the club’s grimy steps before the last train home. She was twenty-one or so, small and gracefully put together. She didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak much Japanese, but I was the only gaijin who’d give her a fix, and from that moment on, I was her gaijin.

We said our good-byes in the bustle of a hundred people in the center of Kyoto’s main station, a tearful embrace and a hunger to see the road ahead. We promised things that could never be. We wished for things that could have been, but were not. I left her that day for home, and I think my heart left with me. That was until she showed up here.

She closed her moist eyes and bit her lip, turning her head into the passenger window frame. Her world had changed and so had mine. The warm air of the interior fell silent as her fragmented voice died in her mouth, and I put my arm around her in a final, bittersweet embrace. She started to tell me if I ever came back again, but stopped. Squeezing my arm, she stepped out of the car and into the falling snow, a rush of cold air hitting my face like a castigation. You can never go back, I told myself, and started the engine.

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