Tuesday, July 29, 2008


On what was...

I lived in a very foreign place for 2 1/2 years. I lived there, I did not visit or pass through. I had a house and pets. I had work and friends. I grieved the deaths of two family members in this far-away home. I got sick, and recovered, and got sick, and recovered. My favorite time of year was the Harmattan. I discovered an allergy to mango peel. I saw the beauty and elegance of voodoo, real voodoo, not a Hollywood cartoon which vilifies animism. I built a life for myself. It was very hard to do. And then I came back, back "home." Home in Easyland, home to all the privileges America offers her prodigals.

And I lost everything about that life I'd built. I know that it was my choice. I know that many people lose everything, and they are powerless. Let me be very clear in saying that I am not comparing my grief to theirs.

But I did grieve, and I still do, 4 years later. Nothing is left. I don't know how to explain how different it really was. I knew about the big things- the language, the other language, the weather, the climate, the living conditions. But it was everything else, the sand in the cracks, which made it so hard. If I was talking to you in a room, sure, I'd know this: the items in the room are different. We are not speaking English. We do not look the same. But I never thought of everything else. The clothes I'd wear. The way I'd sit. Whether or not I would make eye contact. How it feels the whole time.

I couldn't bring any of it back with me. I left it all behind. I send letters. I don't know if anyone reads them. The postage for a letter from there to here- well, it just isn't practical. Too much to ask, really. I called once, about 3 years ago. It took several phone calls, and letters moto-taxied 7 km away, to arrange. They were to get a phone in my village, so maybe they have one now. Probably not.

One of the worst things is that my life there has become the conditional tense. "I would eat igname pile with Papa every night....I would visit Philomene at the petrol station." A series of anecdotes.

So I came back. I moved to DC with other people who had lived in the same far-off land. We had parties where we made igname pile. We spoke French. We temped and complained. We plotted ways to leave Easyland. Grateful bunch, eh? I flirted with promiscuity. I started grad school. Time moved on and it was easier to be around people. I didn't feel as awkward and I figured out what to do with my arms. I built a life here, again. It took me a long time to realize how sad this transition was for me. Everyone acted like I was supposed to be happy because I had plumbing again. It's still sad for me. I don't even know if Papa is still with us. Did you know he was a WWII vet? He survived a Nazi camp. Did you know that many African WWII vets never received their rightful pensions? I wish I could talk to Philomene.

But that's the thing about moving on. If I'm still a little sad, it's because my life there is still real to me. Turns out, that's the only thing that survived the move. So I would never, ever, give that grief up.

On what is...

I came to grad school expecting to be single for a good long time. Forever, really. It had been such a long dry spell (four years) that I accepted it. A lot of the time, I enjoyed it. So of course (you know what's coming) I met Booker, and within a year and some change we'd gone to the courthouse and I was a real true Army Wife. I hear the first year of marriage is hard because you have to adjust how you do things. It was really easy; I did everything however I wanted because he was in Iraq. When he left we thought it was for 9-10 months, no more than a year. His brigade was extended to 15 months. Sometimes I picked a phone-fight with him just so we'd have something to talk about. For awhile the Sears commercials made me cry, especially the one where the girl loves clothes and is going to a public school, so the mom buys her a new wardrobe. Sometimes I used coping skills I'd already developed, like knowing when I needed company and when I needed to be left the fuck alone. Coming home from far-away place taught me that. I couldn't sleep for weeks at a time, so a doctor helped me out with a prescription sleep aid. I guess new challenges call for new coping skills.

He came home. Sometimes we bicker. For awhile there we forgot how to talk to each other in person. He gets out in 3 months. Three and a half, actually. We're pretty sure he won't be called up again. He has 3 years of inactive duty after this. We're waiting 3 years to have kids. We're watching the election very, very carefully.

We bought a house before he left, and in our property virgin naivete we gutted it. Now we are faced with finishing what we started. In a lot of ways, actually. I finished my research and am slated to defend this fall. We are having a wedding in October. I am to apply to PhD programs. He is to look for a post-Army career. We must finish the house, then sell it. We will move to...?

I'm afraid this will be too much for me. The defense may get pushed back in lieu of sanity. The transition is ongoing. More to come?
Thanks for seeing through what turned out to be an incredibly self-indulgent post.


post-doc said...

This seemed beautifully written and very heartfelt to me. Not at all self-indulgent.

S. said...

Aw, thanks:)

--elf-- said...

Wow, I could really relate! It's hardly Africa, but when I was at the south pole, it was like the rest of the planet didn't exist. And then after I got home, it was like--poof--and south pole didn't exist. It was a bit disorienting, to say the least. Lots of conditional tense! I assume you were in the Peace Corps--do they do any redeployment stuff or just hope the door doesn't hit your a$$ on the way out?

Rock Doctor said...

Geez! I feel like a whiny brat after reading your post and yet it was so beautiful and touching in a way that I can't even begin to describe.
I promise you it will all get done and come together somehow, even when it seems so crazy. I hope they do not call your hubby up again. The war has become a living breathing entity on its own and it is a difficult thing to deal with.
I sympathize with arguing for the sake of having something to say. I do it too and then feel horribly guilty for it.
Best of luck for you, your hubby, your home, your defense.

Zuska said...

That was a very moving post. You very eloquently described the surprising sense of loss and grief one experiences upon returning "home". I suspect this is a relatively common experience for anyone who's lived and worked outside their home country for an extended period. I've experienced something like it even in moving from region to region in the U.S.

You have so much going on in your life right now...I wish you the strength and peace of mind to deal with each thing as it comes.

alicepawley said...

Echo others above. Thanks for writing it.

Janus Professor said...

Beautifully written.

I think transitions are a part of life, and we will always be living through one or another. It is what makes the next day more interesting than yesterday.

And fighting with your partner is totally OK. I raise a skeptical eyebrow to those couples who brag that they 'never' fight. My husband and I fight more when there are more instabilities, i.e. transitions, but that is alright.

Anonymous said...

beautifully written