A lot of people need to have “alone time” where they can be by themselves in a relatively isolated space for awhile. In Japan, where the apartments are small, getting time by yourself can be rather difficult if you are married or have children. In some apartments, even when you are alone in one room, you are so closely-connected to the others that you’re still essentially together with the other inhabitants. True privacy and isolation are sometimes rather hard to come by.
Personally, I’ve never had issues sharing a small space with my husband. Part of the reason for this is that, when my husband and I physically met for the first time, we melded into a Shari-”Shari’s husband” beast which is forever connected and is very reluctant to ever be separated for more than the time it takes to go to the bathroom. Perhaps we were conjoined twins (note the political correctness of my terminology) in a former life. Perhaps we’re two halves of the same soul finally come together. Or, perhaps, we’ve just incredibly strange, but we do love to be together pretty much all the time.
Whatever the case may be, we never feel smothered or antsy in our confined space. The only time it’s the smallest bit of an issue is when one of us wakes up substantially earlier than the other. Given how easily sound travels through the relatively thin walls of the rooms in our apartment, when either of us wakes up early (as I did this morning having awakened 2 hours before the alarm was supposed to go off), we have to be very quiet if we don’t want to wake the slumbering spouse. Unless we want to sit and stare at a Tokyo-smog-coated wall for an extended period of time, this can be a bit of a problem.
On such occasions, my greatest impulse is to use the extra time to “get things done” followed by a desire to eat something for breakfast. I walk carefully around the apartment looking at various tasks and deciding if they can be done quietly enough not to disturb my husband. This morning I considered putting away the clean dishes in the drainer from last night’s dinner. It’s a particularly risky endeavor since the dishes are balanced on each other in such a way that one wrong removal will send them all sliding over each other with a clatter.
Trying to carefully pluck dishes from the pile such that they don’t loudly slide together is like playing a game of “pick up sticks”. For those of you too young to remember it, it was a game in which you dumped a bunch of colored wooden sticks onto a flat surface then tried to remove one at a time without the whole stack toppling. One wrong removal and the stack collapsed and you lost. I think the game got re-invented as Jenga at some point but that was after my time.
After 4 successful removals, I decided further work on the dishes was pressing my luck and the desire for breakfast was mounting. On such occasions, I curse the tendency of engineers to decide that every action you take has to be accompanied by a beep because this makes using the microwave oven an issue in a small place. It’s not enough that it beeps when food is done, it also has to beep every time you press a button and three times when you’re done.
The safest bet is usually toast because the toaster oven only makes one ding when it’s done so I went for that. However, there is also the problem of extracting the bread from the freezer given that it’s in a plastic bag (which crinkles) and surrounded by what appears to be hundreds of other plastic bags tightly wedged in around it. Moving one thing not only risks setting off a chain reaction of other plastic-related noises but also a cascade of food items sliding out of the freezer and falling to the floor because everything is crammed in there so haphazardly. There’s probably a metaphor for this with another childhood game of some sort but I was more of a board game player when I was a kid so I’m at a loss for what it was called.
If we’re low on milk or need something or other, I’ll occasionally tiptoe out of the apartment to a convenience store but this is also a bit risky. When we open and close the door in the apartment, there seems to be an air compression issue where the door will tend to slam shut very loudly if windows are open or there is an almost palpable air vacuum movement when they are closed. This air movement is something I’m very sensitive to and often wakes me when my husband tries to quietly leave on mornings when he’s up before me.
After I’ve given up on doing anything useful and done my best to quietly eat breakfast, I’ve still got about an hour to an hour and a half to kill in relative silence. Since all the fun stuff is in the bedroom (computer, T.V., husband), I’m pretty much stuck in the living room with our books and hundreds of DVDs with nothing to play them on. I do have my ancient iBook which I use in English lessons but it’s not connected to the internet and only has the relatively basic functionality because of its age.
Most of our books actually belong to my husband because I’m more of a “buy one book, read it, and then get rid of it” sort. Most of the books in our shelves are ones he isn’t seriously interested in reading but hasn’t given up on yet or are ones we’ve both already read but will probably re-read some day.
This doesn’t make for the most appetizing selection of early morning reading material so I tend to pick a book at random and read a few chapters then give up on it. This is somewhat useful in that I can say to my husband when he wakes up later, “you know that book, (insert title here), it sucks.” He’ll give me a thoughtful look considering my insightful review and say he’ll give it a look later and then we’ll get rid of it if he doesn’t like it either. Of course, he’ll never really look at the books I mention but we have an understanding about these things. He doesn’t read them and eventually I nag him into getting rid of them but first we have to be bursting at the seams with books. You have to have an effective method for dealing with such things in your marriage. ;-)
Usually, I end up on the old iBook doing something or other. Generally, I play the old game “Heroes of Might and Magic III” but sometimes I also write lesson material for my students and transfer it over to my main computer later. Sometimes, I even write overly long blog posts about how you have to make certain sacrifices living in a small place in Japan where every sound you make might wake your sleeping husband so you have to amuse yourself quietly.