Good bye Ayumi

Today was a sAyumi\'s first dayad day. Today was the day that Ayumi left to go home. For those of you who are passing by for the first time, Ayumi is a high school foreign exchange student who’s been staying with us for the past year. She comes from Okinawa and it has been a joy to have her with us.

When our kids moved out on their own, I had mixed feelings. I wasn’t sure that they were ready to stand on their own in a world that had knocked me down on a regular basis. But at the same time, the thought of having a quiet house to ourselves had a strong appeal.

The kids are still standing and they’re doing fine. I found that I don’t do so well with a quiet house. That’s one of the reasons that I didn’t fuss much when Linda decided that she wanted us to become a host family. We’ve hosted eight students over the years, some of them for a year, some of them for less. Each one of them left a mark on our family and on both of us.

I could go on for hours, or paragraphs, about why Ayumi is such a special person to us. But she wouldn’t like it if I did. Despite her effervescent personality, she has a shy side that would be offended by praise in print. What I will say is that she was a perfect fit for our family and that our lives are better because she came.

The next few days and weeks will be too quiet around our house. Things won’t seem right. That’s already started with Jasmine, one of our cats. Jasmine is evil incarnate. She hates everyone and everything in the world except for a cool bowl of milk. Well, almost everyone, Jasmine loved Ayumi. Despite the evil ways that Jasmine showed her affection, Ayumi loved that ugly cat too. In the hours since we’ve been home, I’ve had to open the door to Ayumi’s room three or four times. Each time, Jasmine goes in, walks around the room and looks under the bed. Then she jumps up on the dresser (no easy feat for an overweight twelve-year old cat). I think that she’s trying to get up to my level because the next thing she does is look me square in the eye and emit a baleful meow. I can only guess that she’s asking me “Where’d you put her?” Then one by one I have to open all the other doors in the house for her to continue her search. I guess she thinks that, if we keep looking, sooner or later we’ll find the right door, rather like the cat in Heinlein’s “The Door into Summer”. Only in this case instead of summer, we’ll find Ayumi.

Sadie isn’t doing much better. Sadie is our overweight Cocker Spaniel. (Are you sensing a theme here?) Unlike Jasmine, Sadie likes everybody and she fell in love with Ayumi about ten seconds after she arrived. Sadie doesn’t make me open doors. She just sits on the living room floor next to the corner of the couch that Ayumi claimed for her own. ( I wish I could find a way to send that couch to Okinawa.) For the most part, Sadie just lays her head on the couch cushion as if she’s waiting for Ayumi to come in the door. Occasionally she’ll raise her head and look at me. Sadie looks a bit like a miniature St. Bernard, so she constantly has that sad looking face. But now, it’s not just her face. Her eyes droop a little and when she looks at me she doesn’t quite make eye contact. “It’s not my fault,” I say to her. She just looks away and lays her head back on the cushion. The other two animals, Casie and Callie, miss her too, but they have different personalities. They’re more reserved and less prone to assigning blame. I’m thankful for that, a guy can only handle so much guilt. It wasn’t my idea to let her go.

I’m not sure why Jasmine and Sadie knew so quickly that Ayumi was gone. She’d been away from home longer than this many times before. Maybe they noticed her packing her things. Maybe they noticed that her room was different. Maybe they noticed the tears that Linda and I have in our eyes. Regardless, they’ve shown once more that animals can have traits that are more human than we can explain.

The best part about being a host parent is that we get to meet great young people and make them part of our family. We learn, they learn. It’s a wonderful trade. The worst part about being a host parent is that it only lasts for a year. When the year is over, they go home. We tell ourselves that we’ll keep in touch and visit again someday, but that doesn’t always happen. Keeping in touch eventually fades to a Christmas card once a year, sometimes not even that. Despite the shrinking world, visits are few and far between. We know this when they leave. We know that there’s a real chance we’ll never meet again and that’s hard to accept.

As time passes, the empty feeling that I have will start to ease. I won’t open Ayumi’s door each time I walk by and I’ll stop glancing at the bookshelf where the football that we used to throw sat. I’ll finish organizing all the photos we took this past year and I’ll frame and mount the best ones on the wall. I’ll get used to eating supper alone on the nights when Linda is working and I’ll stop missing the great salads that Ayumi used to make every night for dinner. Eventually I’ll forget what her laugh sounded like and how she tried to form words with her hands when she wasn’t quite sure of what she wanted to say. Slowly, my memories of her will start to fade and the sadness will fade with them.

So, if it hurts so much, why do we host time after time? There are a lot of reasons, but in the end it all comes down to one. Over a year, each of the kids finds a way to make a little corner of our hearts theirs and theirs alone. While the memories fade as time goes on, it only takes a gentle touch to that corner to bring them all flooding back.

Someday when I’m old(er) and gray(er) and sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch I’ll need those memories to help fight off senility. Besides, if the day comes that I get stuck in a memory permanently, sitting on the living room floor helping Ayumi with her American History is a place that I wouldn’t mind being.

I told Linda that this was the last one. I tell her that every time. I’m getting too old for this emotional roller coaster. I’m getting too old for the way I feel when they leave us to return home. But, in a year or two, I’ll walk in the house one day to find that Linda’s changed the curtains and bedspread in the “kids” room. With a sigh I’ll find Linda and ask her one question, “What’s her name?” Linda will smile and answer. Then she’ll tell me where she comes from, what her parents do, what kind of food she likes and a litany of other pertinent information. I’ll smile back and silently hope that she likes to throw a football. If she likes Star Trek, that would be good too.

So, good bye Ayumi. Have a wonderful life. Do great things. Be happy! And, if it’s not too much trouble, once in a while think of that round, red haired guy on the other side of the world. The guy who, for just a little while, answered whenever you said “Hey Dad….”.


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