I was 18 when I left home for the first time, 19 when I lived abroad for the first time. I have never stopped traveling. 15 years of dreaming, planning, rucksacks, plane tickets, jobs to earn enough money for the next trip, souvenirs, pictures, scrapbooks, storytelling, and trans-oceanic communication. The excitement of travel, the meeting of new friends, the crazy tales that come from those meetings and those travels. Those were mine to keep, to store, to store in my heart and bring out when I wanted. My urge to travel has been with me from my earliest memories. I never wanted to stay home. I loved everything foreign-food, films, coins, music…I read magazines and books and watched movies about other lands and imagined myself-the intrepid explorer I would be once I shook the dust of the Southwest side off my feet and set out into the wide world. And once I started at 18 I couldn’t stop. There was always another place to go to, something else to find out, to embrace. I must have spent a fortune sending postcards home: “See where I was? Look at what I did? See? See? I did it!” might as well have been on the backs of each and every one. My family has never really understood why I have this compulsion. I have labored in vain to explain to them.
I had always wanted to join the Peace Corps but it had never been the right time. Suddenly, it became the right time…in truth…maybe it was the only time. The only time, the last time I would have to do it before Life threw me a curveball that would prevent me from trying again for this…kids, marriage, sickness, who knew? My brain told me I might never have another chance, unfettered, to do this….maybe a part of my brain knew, definitely, that this would be the “last solo adventure”. So I went for it. And now I am here. In Rwanda, a Peace Corps Volunteer coming up on my 1 year anniversary of being in-country. I have achieved my goal and I am happy here in-country. I have coordinated funding for a bank of new computers at my school, I have been a competent and successful English Teacher, I have made friends and established good working relationships. I have a good school, good colleagues, a cute little house… I have good days here in Rwanda…many good days and few bad ones. My community has been nothing but kind to me. So then why, when I look out my front door, do I long for the skyline of Chicago? Why can’t I feel “fully present” in anything I do in Rwanda these past few months? Why, when I have a good day, is it not enough anymore to call another PCV to share the news? Why am I so miserable to hear of baptisms, birthday parties, and barbecues that go on without me? Things that will only happen once, things that will happen only once more with certain people…old and dying, sick, and full of stories yet to share with me? Why now? After so many years of doing this very thing? Of being away? Why is the only adventure I want now involve people that regularly drive me crazy?
I want my family. I want to be with them, in the city that knows me best with the people who know me best. I want to go home. To share their lives fully and not remotely. I don’t want to miss anything more. Not one more thing. Not one stupid, every day, mundane, little thing. I want to help my niece with her homework and trade smartass barbs with my brothers. I want to listen to my nephew drone on and on about his latest superhero obsession. I want to go out for breakfast with my Dad at 630am and help my sister-in-law potty train her kids. I want to sit around and eat junk food with my sisters and watch trash television. I want to go grocery shopping with my Mom and help Matt’s family prepare for his brother’s wedding in September. And I want to be with Matt. I want to be home to share all the idiosyncrasies that make him who he is…all the things that make “us”, “us”. What we had before I left was a great Love. It is a great Love that would have waited another year. But I don’t want to wait anymore. A year ago, I left this wonderful man on a shelf…like a stack full of savings bonds in a bank vault. Of course, he went willingly. But still…. I left him up there saying, ‘I’ll be back in two years!” and went to Africa. He would never have told me not to go and even if he had told me I would not have stayed. A year later, there has not been a word from him, same as with my family…not a word from him, not a whimper, not a doubtful pause that would lead me to believe he wanted me to come home. He would never want me to give up my dream for him. But dreams change…they expand, they contract, they shift and swirl. Peace Corps was a big dream of mine. But now being home, with Matt, with my family…that’s a bigger dream. The demands of family, the pull the ones we love have on our heartstrings, the demands they can make on our time… It’s a concrete thing I’ve always known I would have to answer to and I’ve resented until now. Now I understand and all the resentment I thought I would feel is nowhere to be found. I want to go home, I want those demands on my time and my person. Because those demands are what make my family who they are. They are a part of what ties me to them and makes me like them…a part of what makes me…me.
Time is precious. None of us know how long we have. I could wait another year and return then…but a year can be so long…especially when illness, age, and the expectations of those we love are concerned. I want to go home now. I want to spend what time my family, each and every one of them has…together, telling them every day through words and actions, what they mean to me, what it is they have done for me by allowing me to go away for so long because it was what I needed to do. I thought Peace Corps was right for me. And it was, for a year. I could have made no other choice at the time. I came and I did what I set out to do. But the lesson I tried to teach myself by coming here….it was not the one the Universe had in mind for me to learn. Would my feelings be different if I was ten years younger? If my parents were younger? If I hadn’t met Matt? If my siblings hadn’t started their families? Maybe. I don’t know. We can only learn our life by living it. I could continue in Peace Corps and my family would understand and continue to wait. My boyfriend would continue to be patient and supportive. But I don’t feel I’m meant to stay. There are people at home in Chicago. People who “get me”, who need me to be physically present, who have waited a long time for me to appreciate them and what they have to offer me. I have been so blind. And still they have waited for me, patiently, knowing I would understand and come home for good, one day… because they love me. I have always been a ship, seeking to go out onto the wide ocean…it’s what ships are built for after all. But there comes a time when a ship realizes that the wide ocean might not be the best place for it anymore…except maybe a series of small day cruises. Maybe it’s time for a series of day cruises on an inland sea, a lake in fact. This ship has always been a ship with a crew of one. I’d like to expand that crew…see what it’s like. Take on a different role, embrace the bigger duties, adapt to the greater responsibility. This is not the end of my traveling. I will never not be a ship. But I think it is the end of my solo adventures. And I am okay with that.