WHAT I FIND WHEN I’M ALONE / Haruna Yokoi

Growing up as a child, I have always loved spending time alone. I lived in a very small town in the state of Ohio. It was full of nature and I spent most of my time alone out in my yard reading with the squirrels running around me. All I ever saw through my bedroom window was green and saw more animals than people. In my free time when I did not read, I wrote stories. At school, I was quiet. I hated raising my hand, so I never did unless I had something to say that I believed was very important. I carried my books wherever I went and read whenever I had the slightest chance. As you can already tell, I was an introvert. However, I never thought that being an introvert was a bad thing. My teachers told me that it was my personality and I didn’t have to raise my hand in class if I did not feel comfortable. I also had very close friends who read the same books as me and we would often talk about it on the phone all night long.

One of my main memories from my childhood aside from reading was going on trips to national parks. Although I lived in a town surrounded by nature, my parents loved being out in the wilderness, so they took me to national parks every chance we had. Yosemite for summer, The Great Lakes for Thanksgiving break, Grand Canyon for the winter, you name it. During my vacation I read less, but still read. During the time I did not read, I would lay on the grass, on the mountain, on the beach, or wherever I was and would close my eyes and let myself take in the smell, the sounds, and everything I felt through my body. There was so much I could feel. I remember the clear blue skies; blue as the sky-blue crayon color I had always used to color my skies in my art classes. The ancient sturdy trees that reached up as high as the sky. Pure white snow that has never been touched by anyone far away up on the tip of the mountain. I also remember hearing silence for the first time in my life when I reached the top of the mountain. No sounds of cars or even the sounds of birds. Then later on when I got home, I would write them down to use it in my stories. I had so many ideas inside my head all the time. There was another world inside me.

In the 6th grade, I came back to Aichi, Japan. When I arrived, I started school right away. I hated school because being the introvert that I was, I disliked new places and having to talk to new people. However, when I went back home, my books were waiting for me. My mom would take me to a library full of English books and I would very carefully choose the 10 books I was allowed to take home and read for the month. However, my teacher and friends did not like the fact that I loved spending time alone reading all the time. At school, I could not make friends unless I stopped reading. Some even called me a show off for reading English books. The teachers made us work together in groups all the time and encouraged all of us to raise our hands and speak out. They worried that I was too shy and needed to learn how to speak up. I absolutely hated it. It was so much stress. But as time went on, I started to become an extrovert, or at least tried to be. I constantly had to work in groups, raise my hand, and talk in front of people. There was no choice. I told myself to be confident when all I felt was my heart beating as fast as it could every time I was under the spotlight. I gradually started to spend less time alone and started to read less. There was nowhere I could escape to out in the wild. I had wanted to spend time alone and let my imagination run free. Part of me was always stressed out. Now, here in a university in Tokyo, I see more buildings and people than green. I feel like everywhere I go is bursting at the seams. I started a job that forces me to talk to many people which I don’t even realize I am stressing out about. Even though I have changed and am now at least able to raise my hand in small classrooms, I can sometimes feel the introvert inside me telling me to stop. However, I have also learned to ignore that voice because I felt that being an introvert has never been an option for me in Japan.

However, I found my true self this summer. I went on a family vacation out in the wilderness in the state of Washington. I had a lot of time to read and more time out in the wild, like I did when I was a child. I laid on the mountain, closed my eyes, filled my lungs with mountain air and took in everything I could. My five senses suddenly awoke, and the open air made it feel like it was just me in the world. I let my imagination run free for the first time in ages. I truly felt comfortable. There was still another world inside me. And I thought, when was the last time I let my imagination run free like this? And when was the last time I felt this comfortable?

There are times when being an extrovert can come in handy. Part of me also feels grateful that I have learned to speak up because it helps me express myself. However, I still feel the most comfortable when I am alone reading or out in the wilderness. I love letting my imagination run free. After my summer trip, I don’t see anything wrong with that and have started to make more time to read alone or to go explore out in nature outside of Tokyo. I am glad to have realized this because I feel less stressed out when I am doing so. I feel like myself again. You should be whoever you want, not what society wants, and you don’t have to rush to find out who you truly are.

 

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