We sat on a bench under an escalator. Our friendship had become nearly not in two years, but we had this small chunk of time to talk and act like friends again. We talked about futures, visits home, and my impending departure.
“It’s going to be hard to go home,” she said. I agreed, but she shook her head. “Not for me,” she said with indication she knew more than I. “For you.”
I stood atop a dining room table trying to dehook Christmas lights as I chatted with Katie. The last time we saw each other she and Nick gave me very quick hugs and then went through a set of double doors to their family while I found a train that would take me to another plane. We talked about the holidays and reuniting with home. I asked her how it was and she said that it wasn’t as tough as everyone had made it out to be. I had been afraid to admit that as if doing so would make the previous two years unworthy, but I was adjusting just fine and being home was wonderful.
He chose this specific bar because of its loyalty to the Seminoles. We filled our glasses with cheap beer while talking about Lesotho and life in DC. His transition is more than a year and half old, allowing him to impart wisdom on this bumpy path I’ve been forced to take. “When you leave, you are so focused on America,” he said. “When you get home, you are still so excited about America. “After three or four months, it hits you. You miss it. And it lasts forever.”
Some days I am walking in a fog.
That song. That word. That memory. I fight back tears because I don’t have the attention to give them, plus it would hurt too much. A +266 number flashes across my screen and I don’t pick up. I don’t know who it is but I wouldn’t know what to say regardless so it’s just best not to say anything.
I misplace these tough emotions on to other things. Maybe it’s the city. The new job. Money. Him. Or him. Or him. Or them. And then them.
I can’t place these feelings into something I can analyze and that furthers them into a dark, unexplored place. Isn’t this the life that I was sure would ease those emotional aches eight months ago? There is not much for me to complain about. I have a great job, living in an exciting city with an unreasonably active social life. I get to see family more than once in two years. But still, I fight though difficult thoughts. Turns out that life after service is just as emotional as service.
And then we were sitting outside a bar in Foggy Bottom under heaters because spring had gone cool again. We met months ago in Pretoria and built a connection off a shared friend – one of those people who you never assumed you’d see again but are delighted when your paths cross a second time. We talked about our friend, where life had taken us in the last eight months, meeting men in D.C., our jobs, and the thing that is missing.
Without realizing it, I spewed out these thoughts and fears to her. How hard being a volunteer was but I always found comfort in knowing that I had a purpose and now that purpose has vanished. How I was terrified I would never find that purpose again. How I was so proud of the person I became in Lesotho and I fear she is gone. How much I miss it but being here is what I need, even though I don’t have entire faith in that. How scared I am that I am becoming the person I went away in order not to become.
She smiled and nodded. That’s all normal, she said. You are still new at this and it may be a year before you feel right again. That’s OK. On the way home I started to cry and thought back to all those moments when I thought transitioning home would be OK and when I realized it wasn’t: under the escalator, on the phone, in the Seminoles bar. The next morning I cried looking at photos of Lesotho and thinking about that life that I worked so damn hard for is now over. Not because something went wrong or it was wrong, but just because it was time for it to end.
Now I am trying to figure out where my life goes from here, praying that none of it was in vain. I put the same expectations into my service that many do when finding true love — it will bring me happiness, it will change me, it will be all that I ever needed. And it did bring me happiness and changed me, but it was not all that I ever needed because nothing in life is.
Even before I started, my service had an end date and now it’s up for me to figure life beyond that. I am absolutely terrified that I don’t know how. But, thanks to that woman with a reassuring smile, I know that’s OK. I am not crazy and these feelings are natural. Not only am I still transitioning to life at home, I live in a new city and I have a new job. Struggle is expected.
One of my friends told me that I am always lost. I am the wander, she said. But when I am lost it probably means that I am OK.