Ok Hi. This is a deeply personal piece that has been tumbling out of me for, like, 6 weeks, and I’m gonna lose my mind if I don’t publish it and let it soar tf away. Hop in if you’re up for the ride. TW: being drugged; the mention of sexual assault.
Six weeks ago at the ungodly hour of 3:30am, I finally (finally!) did the thing I’ve been saying I would do for years: I boarded a flight back to Costa Rica!
But how did I get here? I’ve tried to write no less than 56 different blog entries on adventurewithana about what’s been happening with me this past year or so, and couldn’t quite bring myself to post a single one of them. I think it’s because that site is more like a portfolio and this one is kind of like a public diary, maybe? “Dear Diary, sorry I neglected you for 3 years, but that yearly fee I pay without fail is coming in handy, hey?”
Ok, but for real, Dear Diary, how did we actually even get here? This time last year I’d been back in Japan after seven long months of being locked out. I didn’t have much writing work anymore (I don’t know if you heard about it, diary, but the travel industry took a real nosedive in 2020), but I still had a few part-time teaching gigs and I wasn’t terribly worried about money. I had an apartment, a long-term relationship. From the outside I’m sure everything looked fine. It wasn’t. Japan was robbing me of my sense of self.
I was exhausted. My attempts to smash a star-shaped peg into an itty, bitty, little ol’ square hole had taken their toll. My visa was nearly up and I wanted to leave Japan, as was our pre-pandemic plan. Well, Diary, another thing you should know about 2020 is that basically no one’s life went according to plan. While I felt like a plant ripped from the earth, my roots dangling precariously in very shallow water all those months we were apart, my guy —my ex’s roots dug deeper into Japan, into this metaphor, growing stronger with nourishment. I was coming to terms with the fact that we wanted very different things.
And then I got pregnant.
Yeeeeeaah. It kinda threw things for a loop.
The child was not planned or expected but right from go, right from the first time the smell of frying onions made me want to retch and my body felt like it was being taken over by another entity, I genuinely wanted it. Me. What a mindfuck. I’ve said for years that I don’t want my own kids (adoption was a maybe, but I digress), that I just won’t have kids, which was exactly the reason why I have been so m-e-t-i-c-u-l-o-u-s-l-y careful all these years. I have done literally everything in my power, short of having a hysterectomy, to keep it from happening. But…such is life. These things happen.
So here I was, 37 and living in Japan, accidentally preggers. I found myself picturing it, following his dreams, our kid in tow. I could see our life in a small ski town in Japan, running a little lodge and maybe a cafe. Maybe a second kid on purpose this time? It looked…nice. It was scary, of course, the way everything new is, but it wasn’t like, “good god woman, RUN” scary. Anyway, it’s not like I had the time to process it. I miscarried so early on it hadn’t yet felt real to me.
And still, my miscarriage was devastating. Sometimes I long for the person I was before I knew the pain of a miscarriage. It didn’t help that every other person I knew was pregnant or had just had a baby over the pandemic. It was a constant reminder of what I lost, of what I couldn’t do. A random trip to the Gap ended in tears as I perused through baby clothes, imaging scenarios that would never come to life, trying to keep my shit together in public. Diary, 10/10 don’t recommend.
So, yeah. While I was in this weird despair because I’d lost out on a baby I hadn’t even known I’d wanted at a stage so early literally no one knew about it but my partner, a friend of mine tragically and unexpectedly passed away in an avalanche, less than two weeks before his 30th birthday.
My friend was an amazing human being, so kind and so full of life. The shock of it rocked me to my core. I couldn’t believe he was gone, I wept and wept.
The next morning I came face to face with my own mortality more clearly. You are here until you aren’t. No matter who loves you or what plans you have, there will come a day when you’re not here. This voice in the back of my head kept saying, “you are not where you should be…you don’t belong here.” Ugh, I cannot even begin to describe how much it broke my heart, how terrified I was of what this was going to mean, but I had this feeling like if I stayed, if ignored this moment, that my life would be choosing me and not the other way around. Japan wasn’t ever really my choice. It was just something I went along with because I loved someone who chose it, and I chose him. It broke me to step into this awareness, but it was time to make a different choice.
It’s impossible to describe life in Japan with any accuracy if you don’t constantly contradict yourself. Technology, for example, is lightyears ahead and also somehow lightyears behind all at once? The people are so friendly, but also no one ever shares anything of substance or true honesty with one another. Honne and tatemae. In Japan, “Honne” refers to a person’s true feelings and desires, while “tatemae,” in contrast, refers to what you show to the rest of the world, your public face. A student of mine, a woman in her 30s, once explained to me that many people never reveal honne to anyone, not even their closest friends or spouse. Appearances are more important than truths.
I had some respite, of course. There was my partner. We were real with each other. I’d made friends over the years, but by February of 2021, the friends I’d made had either left the country (for reasons quite similar to what I was experiencing) or were still really into the partying scene. Don’t get it twisted, diary, I love a good party, but I’m beyond the stage in my life where I can lie to myself and say that party after party is fulfilling, that each night at the bar is different from the last. Besides, Japan is a different place for foreign women than it is for foreign men.
Foreign. What a horrid word to describe another human. You’re essentially telling them they are an outsider. They do not belong. It’s the word in Japan used to describe non-Japanese people. We are not foreign residents or tourists or international students, simply just foreigners. People who don’t belong.
Some foreigners aren’t all that bothered by the way they are teated in Japan, I suppose for varying reasons. Some have it worse in their home countries and will take the bottom rung of the ladder, so long as the ladder is in a G7 country. Other foreigners actually still have it pretty damn good there, arguably better than even some Japanese women, and certainly at the top of the foreigner hierarchy. It is obvious to everyone that I’m talking about straight, cis, white guys, right? Lmao, you may not be familiar with the specific politics of Japanese culture, but you are definitely alive on this planet, so you must have known that even in homogenous Japan, the cis straight white man still thrives.
Do I sound bitter? Baby pour me in your Old Fashioned because I am.
Dear Diary, are you wondering why I am all of a sudden so chatty after years of radio silence? Well, I talked to my guy —my ex, just days before I left for Costa Rica. I better start calling him that because it’s who he is. He let me know that he finally told his family we broke up. I mean, I haven’t been telling the world or anything, but my mom already knew and so did some of my closest friends. Truthfully, I think I’d been holding out hope, or more realistically, living in a web of self-deceit, that one of us would come to our senses and realize how much sense we made together. Either I’d have my break from Japan and go back or he’d see that he didn’t want to do it without me and come to me. One of us had to budge. It was probably going to be me.
Instead, he told his family. He told them as part of moving forward. He had a great week, he said, because instead of moping around, he met with some immigration lawyers to get the ball rolling on his application for a business visa. He’s ready to move on, or rather, move forward. I’m so proud of him, really I am, but also what the fuck. His friend told him that he should start dating again, and he thought it was perfectly fine to tell me this?? Well, well, well, if it isn’t the consequences (my ex moving on) of my own actions (breaking it off and leaving the country) coming back to bite me in the ass.
Diary, do I sound detached or dramatic? She’s ba-aaaaack!
Anyway, such is life, I suppose. It was a real gem of a day, but I carried on, packing away what was left of the last 7 years of my life into the guest room closet at my mom’s and into her storage locker downstairs. I said my Hasta Luegos to my Toronto people and left that condo across the park at 3:30am to catch that flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. New beginnings or fresh starts or whatever you wanna call it. Truthfully? I was faking it the whole fucking time. The whole time. I hadn’t felt more lost and afraid and alone since…jeez, ever? I dunno. I kept answering people in Japanese, even though my Spanish was ok enough to get by. I couldn’t clear that hurdle. But I marched forward anyway.
I got to Tortuguero 3 days later. The vibe in the car with Alejandro, the owner at my hotel who picked me up from my AirBnb for the shuttle I’d arranged (lmaoooooo “for safety,” I’d thought. The irony!) was little…erm, weird. But I hadn’t interacted with too many new people since, like, early 2020…maybe it was just me? Anyway, I was much more concerned with being likeable than I was with assessing the potential danger of the situation. I hushed the alarm bells telling me that something about it felt off, chalking it up to this new “anyone-could-have-Covid” mentality my life had taken on, and kept it moving.
We made a quick stop at a river in his hometown along the way for a swim. We were sitting on rocks talking about our favourite travel destinations when he gave me the look. THAT look. The “I’m gonna kiss you,” look. I turned my face, shifted my body as far away as I could on that rock, fully aware of his gaze on my breasts as I tried to ask more questions about his wife, mentally scanning for what I did wrong (nothing, but you know how it is). No harm no foul, I guess, except that he made it pretty clear how he saw me and that didn’t feel great. A lot of men make it pretty clear how they see me. Some guys talk about getting friendzoned, like it’s the worst thing that can happen to them, but most women I know could tell you about the disappointment (and often dangers) of getting fuckzoned. To be “Fuckzoned,” a verb: when you think you’ve made friends with someone cool and fun and then realize they’re only there to get into your pants, not connect with you as a person.
I guess that’s what I get for being friendly, right? I mean, let’s be real, there’s not much we have to do besides exist to get fuckzoned.
After some awkward conversation, I politely suggested that perhaps it was a good time to leave? We didn’t want to miss the last fishing boat to the island.
In the car, I got to hear him fight with his wife via WhatssApp voice messages as we drove toward her, witness to his sleaziness as he lied to her over and over again. “Mi amor,” he said in Spanish, assuming I didn’t understand, “she wanted a coffee, she asked to stop for coffee, I’m so sorry we’re late but it was at her request.”
I stared out the window, awkward and embarrassed. Feeling the weight of it, heavy in my gut, as if it were mine to bear.
Begzareeem. Let’s move on.
I got to the accomodation and things we weird from go, but I ignored it. Honestly I kind of thought it was just the awkwardness of him and his wife and their newborn baby and all that trashalash. I pushed it from my mind as much as I could.
You may find it unsurprising that a person with such a strong moral code would hire scum to work for him, but he did. Two nights after my arrival, the chef drugged my food. Yes, you read that correctly. The guy who made all my meals the last few days brought me something that made me feel…weird, within, like, 10-20 minutes of eating it, I knew something fucked up was happening to me. Even though my brain was like, “DANGER, DANGER,” I spent the entire time it was happening convincing myself it wasn’t happening. I actively fought against my own self-interest and ignored my gut, while at the same time, a little part of me knew to take myself seriously. I drank a fuck-ton of water, sat with people I trusted, and wrote everything down as it happened so that if I needed evidence later, I’d have it, all while managing to (at least on the surface) live on in denial.
The next morning, I woke up sick and hungover, despite not having had any alcohol the night before. It was cold and raining, but I was sweating profusely. The friends I had made the night before had already left. I was on a remote island, in danger of the thing that happened to me the previous night potentially happening again, this time without a group of German dudes to sit with all night while I flushed the drugs I pretended weren’t in my system out of it. For a second, a brief moment, I considered carrying on with the denial. After all, it would be so much easier to just let go and see what happens, no?
I got the fuck out of there. I found new people I could trust, told them what was happening as I tried not to barf on the hour long fishing boat out of there, and they helped me get to a hospital where the doctors not only confirmed my suspicions about getting drugged, but also reassured me that I was fine now. That everything was going to be okay.
They meant physically, of course.
Emotionally I was a fucking wreck.
For days after I got to Guapiles, the small-ass town where I wrote this next part from, I was terrified, mostly of men. I’d hear their voices outside my motel room where I hid from the world and I would panic, unable to keep my irrational terror, my certainty that they would break in and harm me, at bay.
And then one morning I woke up to one of those strange men trying to get into my room. I would say I’d never been so scared, but a few nights earlier I had felt wasted off my ass, even though I’d consumed no alcohol, my brain completely scattered, the sound of someone clearly at the back of my bungalow standing on the pipes looking in for what purpose, exactly? My brain was so foggy I couldn’t tell. And I was trying so, sooooo hard to stay awake. So hard to protect myself, my eyes heavy, all of my muscles feeling abnormally relaxed, my heart rate slowing down. Down. Down with each laboured breath. Praying to whatever the fuck could possibly protect me to fucking do so, because I certainly was not capable of it anymore. Please don’t let me get hurt, I thought. Please. I have a vague memory of thinking in that moment that if I were to be assaulted, that if it was gonna happen anyway, perhaps it would be better if I did pass out, so I wouldn’t remember it. I thought about finding condoms and leaving them out, so that if I did get r*ped, perhaps the monster(s) would have some mercy on me.
(How fucked up is that? I just want to hug me.)
So yeah, a few days later, after I’d gotten off the island, after a bunch of doctors poked at and prodded me, made me urinate into a cup in front of them, and then told me that yes, I had been drugged, but there was no reason to involve the police; no crime had taken place. Two days after all of that, I wake up one morning to a different strange man trying very hard to turn the key on the lock on my motel room door.
My brain still groggy I shout, “HELLO?”
He pauses, briefly, and in that heartbeat of terror I am pinned.
“Perdon, perdon, perdon,” he finally says.
I breathe a sigh of relief. An honest mistake, it seems. I’m okay.
I am okay.
So why am I crying?
I find myself sobbing, heaving uncontrollably for the first time since I got drugged. The first tears I’ve cried. Before this I kept I telling myself that I was ok, I was lucky, I was fine. But the despair gripping me in this moment, sucking me under screams at me, “bitch no the fuck we not.”
Dear Diary, should I tell you that I think it’s unfair? That I think my fresh start, my do-over, my chance to find a home after leaving the only one I’ve known for 7 years, began with me getting drugged is total bullshit? I felt so, so sorry for myself. So sorry for myself. And though I truly think it’s a valid response for someone who finds themselves where I was that morning, it wasn’t exactly doing anything to help me get out of it. I couldn’t stay in that random motel forever. The Uber eats drivers were starting to hit on me, too.
I busted out my laptop and began my complaint with booking.com. At the time of writing, the situation is not yet resolved, but I feel a thousand times better now, and that night was a first step. I ate dinner at the restaurant instead of holled up in my room, even though I was so nervous being in public again. I mean, you gotta start somewhere. And my body thanked me for giving it something to eat besides Taco Bell and pizza. And the uber eats driver who hit on me? “Gimme your number,” he said in English doing that head nod thing guys who think they’re so fucking cool do. “No. Give me my food,” I said in response. Sassy, Scarborough Ana started making her comeback. I’mma be needing her if I am to survive in this world.
Look, I do not subscribe to the school of thought of, “everything happens for a reason,” or some other BS of the sort. You’ll never catch me saying the most terrifying night of my adult life happened to me because it was meant to, nor will I spout some motivational bullshit about our hardships making us better, stronger people. Our trials and tribulations do not cause us to find ourselves. If you have become better and stronger in your life post (or during) your trials and tribulations, that is because of you.
What happened to me was awful. No buts. No, “at leasts.” An awful thing happened when I was mentally in an awful place already, and I kinda had been for a couple of years. Getting to that awful place happened so slowly I barely noticed what was wrong, but sobbing on that motel bed feeling like I wanted to go home and knowing I didn’t have a home to go to…it sucked. In response I chose to harden something in me, to find my will to survive so I could do just that. I wanted to survive.
This is as close to motivational words as you’ll read from me these days: Life is a series of random, chaotic events until you die, and you can sob about it (and it’s perfectly OK if that’s what you want to do, don’t let anyone, especially not me, tell you how to live your life. Be as sad as you are, you are still worthy of love and belonging <3) and/or you can move forward. I usually do both, and it’s rarely linear. Don’t let anyone tell you tears are a sign of weakness. Drugging a woman, removing her capacity to think clearly and decide for herself what happens to her is a sign of weakness. Hitting on someone who is paying you, trusting you to take her to her accomodation (especially when you’re married with two kids under 2) is another sign of weakness. But even staying in a relationship that no longer serves you, that demands you sacrifice more of yourself than you are willing because of fear, that’s kind of a weakness, too.
Dear Diary, I’m done with the sad girl weak ass bullshit. This is me, take or leave it.
I’m back in Toronto now. It’s only supposed to be for a few weeks, but Diary, we all know ‘supposed to’ don’t mean shit. Come hell or high water, though, I will do whatever I need to do to survive. I haven’t come this far to only come this far; there’s still so much story left to uncover.
I lost a lot of things over this fucking pandemic. At the time of writing, I have no job, no apartment, no more long-term relationship, no home. But I have a couple of manuscripts that I’m working on, and I think they’re pretty good. I have the freedom to move from one part of the world to another without the concern of paying rent or missing someone so much that I am stagnant. I found myself crushing on and vibing with people again, something I legit could not have pictured 3 months ago, even 5 weeks ago as I hid out in Guapiles. And I am getting back in touch with the concept of home. With the knowledge that home isn’t so much a place but a feeling. It can be anywhere in the world that I am. It’s the people around me. It’s feeling safe and secure. It’s confidence that I really can do all the things I want. The pandemic…I mean, really, just life in general, has certainly wounded me, scarred me even, but I am healing what I can and working to accept what I cannot heal. I am rediscovering myself and my joy.
Dear Diary, what could be better than that? <3