In the Storage Room: Trusting People in California
On the last night of my stay in his house, the middle-aged host, Mark, talked to me with relative calmness: “If I knew you were like this, I wouldn’t have accepted you two months ago.”
There was no surprise in his words. Before he finished, I started nodding and murmuring, “Ok, ok,” as a response to his bold statement. When he began mimicking the way I had asked him for more food after an extremely small dinner —two tiny slices of bread with cheese on them— I went back to my room aggressively, and resumed packing my suitcase. Ever since I had moved to his place, I had gotten used to such unreasonable comments because he had frequently accused me of being rude and arrogant, sometimes using offensive words that I had never heard before in real life. For Mark, no matter how gently I spoke to him or how carefully I chose my words, I “seemed to be looking down on him,” as he would say. On that night, I went to bed totally delighted, knowing that I would leave the house the next morning.
Four months earlier, I had come to California from Japan, where I had lived until the age of 19. For the first two months, I was living in a young couple’s house, which a homestay agency suggested to me. The family who lived there included a Filipino American lady and her white husband. Unlike Mark, they were not only friendly, but also compassionate; they took me to restaurants, shopping malls, and even their family reunion, so that I could become accustomed to American culture. Both of them, especially the wife, in her early thirties, spent considerable time teaching me many things including English grammar and a tip for surviving here, in California. The tip was not to trust people, which I did not take seriously at the time. Thanks to her and her husband’s kindness, my days there are certainly memorable as some of the warmest experiences of my life. In two months, as the term of my homestay expired, I was assigned another family, which was Mark’s.
In his house, Mark, a hispanic man, his wife, a 21-year-old son, and three other students from Japan, Korea and China, lived together. There were three bedrooms in the house, and they had let each of the three students use one. As a result, Mark’s family slept in the garage, and I was provided with the space behind the living room. While I and the other students came to be close in a few days, the couple were watching television whenever I saw them, and seemed mostly indifferent to us. Every time I came out of my room to have dinner, Mark was sitting on the couch, with his thick, naked back turned towards me, its hair untrimmed, spreading to the shoulders. He only watched and got excited by the football games and quiz shows; he shouted at the screen, only when his supporting side was defeating the other.
The relationship between Mark and I only got worse after he tried to regulate the use of Japanese language in the house. When I had dinner, I liked to share the experiences of that day with the other Japanese student, Hiroto, in Japanese. Hiroto was a bit quiet, but he gave me comfort. I reacted strongly against Mark since it did not make any sense for us to stop using our native language just because he felt uncomfortable. First, he looked a little astonished by the unexpected response from an Asian student with poor English. But then, he started a long speech, which was missing the point, in a much louder voice, as if attempting to threaten me. I was nervous. Although I usually managed to say whatever I thought I should, his noisy speech occasionally made me hesitate to do so. From then on, whether I claimed changes to his homestay policies or even merely questioned him, he refused to accommodate my wishes completely by yelling or simply ignoring me. Eventually, his chaotic behavior made my resentment grow and wore me out. For the last few weeks, he appeared to be paranoid. He spread a disgraceful rumor about me that I was watching perverted Japanese porn. It was a lie. He made up the story just to damage my trust. Absolutely disappointed with him, I resolved to move out earlier than I had planned by persuading Hiroto to find a place to live together.