When I was on the swim team, my worst fear was a false start. If you were the cause, a judge in a white polo would hand you a pink slip, a DQ, a disqualification. You were out of the race and had to return to your camp without the accomplishment of competition.
But, if it was someone else in your heat you’d have to go through the start again. All the pre-race jitters would come rushing back. Water residue would be on your skin, but the aches and pains were still waiting for you. Your mind would often put up a tiny fight before you could even position your feet on the block. This time around, it was a mental battle and you know at least one person would have fare better the first go around.
I hate restarts. I just wanted to dive in, be one with the water and do my job. A second beginning, I feared, would lack the focus to do just that.
Tomorrow, I’m restarting. After being out of village for a week coping with Stephanie’s death, I am going to return to this Nigerien home and try to pick up where I left days ago.
With only nine days in village before my absence, there is no real foundation. No precise job or social circle to return to, just a few familiar faces and a small comprehension of the town’s layout. Without assimilation, it feels like a restart.
I am more nervous this time than when I was installed. What if my villagers forgot about me? What if their patience has dried up and they don’t find me charming and silly anymore? What if their opinion of me has changed?
What if it’s harder? What if I can’t get through the tough days like I used to? What if every time I close my eyes I see Stephanie’s face? What if I am weaker?
While in Niamey, I wrote an email to a friend back in the States. My emotions were at ultimate high and I allowed most things to bring me to tears: I looked at The Post for the first time since in country and left the room crying. I lost control of my fingers and started pouring out in a way I’ve always had with this friend but in one I haven’t done since I arriving here.
He wrote back telling me to be weak. He told me I had to let all of these feelings – Stephanie’s death, the intense homesickness, fear and anxiety of living a life completely and utterly drastic to anything I’ve known before – crush me so I could let the true parts of my character rise above the ashes and build my real self. If I can do that, he said, the best Heather will be the end product.
I want to say that things will be OK tomorrow, that I worry for nothing, but I can’t believe that tonight. Right now I am scared. It’s all I know at this point. During the drive to Zinder, Vida, looking forward, said “I’m nervous.” I grabbed her shoulder and said “Me too.” I am and parts will be hard, but that’s life and it’s how I become who I am supposed to be.
On some occasions, those false starts were what I needed. I then knew the feeling of the water rushing over me and that my head and heart could after a few strokes. Sometimes, a restart put me in the position I needed to finish stronger and at the head of the pack. Sometimes, a restart is what we need.