I recently had the chance to visit with my friend Joe. Joe and his wife are pregnant -- which is a fashionable way of saying that Joe's wife is pregnant, and not a way that Joe himself would ever choose to express the concept. I was there when Joe first met his wife. In fact, I think I might remember the event better than he does, as he was quite drunk at the time. I remember that he picked her up and lifted her across the table to sit next to him on the tatami during a party, that he was wearing a white shirt and she a gray skirt, and that while her feet cleared the tabletop, Joe managed to knock over several of the dishes and bottles on the table in her stead. It is hard to connect that image with the one of her 6 month swollen belly, and I wonder, if Joe could have seen the future outcome of that past dinner party meeting, would he still have picked her up to lift her to him? I ask him how impending fatherhood feels. "I can't think of it," he tells me. "When I try to get my head around it, it's just too big." He is rocking back in his chair in my japanese parents' sushi bar -- in our japanese parents' sushi bar, since he was here just as often as I was.
I was present when Joe had his 21st birthday, much of it spent splayed out on the wooden floor of my house in Tsuyama, also drunk, with someone mistakenly pouring whiskey in his eyes in a misbegotten attempt to increase the already dangerous amount in his stomach. The fact that I will soon be present for Joe's 28th birthday is not so remarkable, until you consider that I have no other friend I can claim to have known for so long. We have been friends now for seven years, across three different continents, and bridging two nationalities. When he told me he was leaving JET, I knew that I would leave, too. When he suggested I come to London for my masters, I came. He considers it a great failing that he never taught me to drink; I consider it a failing that I never really felt the need to insist that he stop. I tell people he is a professor in Nagoya; he tells people he knows the american ambassador.
The fact that Joe is pregnant, if we continue using the fashionable term, is not something I can easily get my head around either. He is frightened of the loss of youth and freedom it represents, still wants to be 21 and rocking back in his chair and not having to suddenly make decisions about work and home that have such far ranging repercussions. I think he still wants to be important and special, which truth be told is a huge draw of being a foreigner in Japan, particularly a white male foreigner. But no one is more important and special than a newborn. I promise that I will come and babysit, that I'll make crocheted blankets and clothing, that I will send the child books and toys from all over the world... I want to be upbeat, but the truth is I feel the loss inherent in this change of status every bit as much as he does. He asks several times if I will come to visit before mid-June, the due date. We don't talk about meeting in late June. We don't pretend that he will be able to visit me in DC or in Jordan. I ask if he plans to move back to Britain. He looks at his wife, who is smiling contentedly, hand over her bump. "Yes, probably..." he muses. "Not this year, though. Maybe next... you know, I have to think about the baby."