I Was Waiting, as I Always Have Been

I went to the doctor in Suzuka-shi. The local train took two hours from Hakusan and was at the end of the line. Dr. Hayashi Lin was on the US Embassy website as an internal doctor and a dermatologist in Japan. It was raining hard. It was going to rain all day.

I was worried about a purple spot on my lower lip. I was a mild hypochondriac, and worried about everything I couldn’t control: money, love, loneliness, my parents’ aging, death, and I worried about how much I worried.

It was Saturday and quiet. Inside the doctor’s office there were fake fern plants, a pink floral tissue box holder without any tissues, and a plaque with the day and month: February 19th. The nurses smiled and nodded. The doctor spoke in Japanese, after only speaking English on the phone, and I didn’t understand a thing. I had been living there nine months already, teaching English, and hardly understood Japanese beyond the necessities of directions and food. I’d mastered hand gestures.

I walked into his office and he closed the curtain. He wore slippers, and a white doctor’s coat that was dirty, browning in places, and had a tear in the back. A metal stand held old books, yellowed and curling papers, dust. He said, put coat there, but I put it on the plastic exam table instead and sat on a stool across from him.

“I want you to look at my lip,” I said.

“You are from Texas?” he said.


“You are from Arizona?”


“Where are you from?”

“New Hampshire, outside of Boston.”

“Near the White House.”

“Not really.”

He took out a chart and wanted my information. He sat at his desk and never looked at me.

“How long in Japan?”

“One year.”

‘Do you have diseases?”


“Disease like typhoid or diabetes?”



“No diseases.”

“How old are you?”


“Are you single or married?”


“You are not married?”


“Do you have history of marriage?”

“I have never been married.”

“You are always single.”

“I have been unmarried my whole life.”

He looked disappointed, as if he didn’t understand. I could tell he wanted to ask me why I was not married. I waited for him to tell me what else was wrong with me, like my mother had, like my sister had, like my ex-boyfriends had. You are not easy; you are not perfect my mother had said. Maybe my lip was purple because I’d never been married. You’re uptight, my sister had said. You expect too much, my exes had said, and you’re so emotional!

All of my friends were married, and had children, homes, lives with others. I didn’t have a boyfriend or luck in love. I was in Japan because I was alone and could go anywhere I wanted, which was wonderful but often lonely. Maybe you’re not married because you do what you want, my father had said, and that’s not a terrible thing.

“I want you to look at my lip,” I said. “I have had purple marks on my lip for two years. I am a smoker and I am worried. I have smoked for fifteen years.”

“You are English teacher.”

“Yes, I am.”

“What color is lip?” he said, but didn’t look at it.



“Look.” I moved closer, in front of his face and pointed at my lip.

He breathed heavily out of his nose, and turned to look. “Is there itch?”


“Pain sensation?”


He took out a small light and a magnifying glass, looked for a few seconds and wrote something down. He put his hand on my neck and lymph node, and pushed so hard I tilted on the stool. I uncrossed my legs to catch myself from falling. He turned his head away from me and looked at the wall.

“Does this hurt?” He asked.

“Yes, it hurts. You’re pushing too hard.”

He touched both sides. He said my right side was swollen, but it wasn’t.

“What does my gland have to do with a purple mark on my lip?”

“Open your mouth,” he said.

He looked inside of me with his mini doctor flashlight. I made the ahhhh sounds. He pushed my glands again, and pinched them between his fingers. From the second I saw him I thought he was a quack, like the doctor at the hospital in Tsu who felt my breasts three times after I told him I had a pinched nerve in my neck, which I did. He told me I was confusing and difficult, touched my breasts again to make sure they didn’t hurt, and said I did not have a pinched nerve. But I did.

“I will give you lip cream for your lips. It is eatable, so do not worry on lips. I will give you medicine too.”

“For what?”

“We do blood test.”

“No blood tests.”

“Then I give you medicine. Antibiotics.”

“For what?”

“To rid mucous that causes your lip. To kill your sicknesses. To make you right. You are welcome. I show you.” He took out pills from a wooden cubby box. “These are Pfizer brand, you know?”

“I know Pfizer.”

“Now go wait out there.”

I walked out.

“You are welcome,” he said.

In the waiting room I thought about leaving without drugs or paying. I wanted to communicate, to curl up on a plush bed instead of on a futon on a tatami mat, to eat a hamburger, to have central heat instead of the small electric heater at the foot of my bed. I wanted someone to look at me without having to ask. I could see my breath in the morning in my kitchen, and my toothpaste was frozen in its tube. I chose Japan. I chose to be far from home or anything I knew. And it was beautiful. I knew I wouldn’t regret living in Japan, but I was tired. I came to learn about myself, yet I was in a country whose customs could take a lifetime to understand. Perhaps I was the same way. Perhaps I tried too hard to understand things I could never understand. Maybe I asked for too much; maybe I tried to understand and be understood too much. What did we do wrong? My mother asked. Did we do something wrong that you’re alone?

The doctor came out with the drugs shoved into their little sealed packets like sachets of cocaine, except there were three pills and yellow powder in each. I was to take them three times a day for four days; I knew I wouldn’t take any of them.

“Cut smoking in half,” he said.

“Excellent advice!” I said.

“You are welcome,” he said.

“Do itashimashite,” I said. You are welcome.

The nurses smiled, nodded, and bowed goodbye.

I walked outside. It was February and the rain was cold. I didn’t have an umbrella. I walked toward the station and my sneakers were soaked through, the bottoms of my jeans were dark blue and heavy with water, my face and neck were slick and shiny. Maybe there was something wrong with me, and maybe there wasn’t.

I was waiting for cherry blossoms, plum blossoms and magnolia blooms. I thought then it would be beautiful and I would be happy. I was waiting, as I always have been, for something to change, and I was sure that once it did, I would be happy.  

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