Monday, May 27, 2013

"Leaving never hurt as much as being left behind."*

There’s a scene in the final High School Musical film that keeps coming back to me these days. Vanessa Ann Hudgens is singing her plight in “Just Walk Away” as objects periodically disappear from her bedroom walls, signifying her packing up and moving off to college. Two reasons this image keeps coming to me: 
  1. I’ve given singing this song in my room a whirl to see if she had something there with the magic packing. No dice.
  2. It's a nice little capture of the process of transition…when you’re lucky enough to be the person leaving.**
I think of this as I clean out my closet, prepare kenang-kenangan (gifts) for people, go through the motions of entering classes. There’s a lot on my mind. There is a short time left with Indonesians I love who I may never see again in a place I might never get to come back to. There are demands for my time, and I seem to always want to be alone. Or want to just sit and watch what’s going on rather than be a part of it. A kind of paralysis. And my soul is tired. 

One PCV from our original group didn’t tell any of his friends that he was joining Peace Corps before he left the U.S. “Yeah, my friend called me when we were going to the airport in San Francisco, and I just didn’t pick up.” To me, this was amazing. I wanted to do this. Just go. No pomp. Just fade out. Drop the mike and be gone.

But, now, I realize this is what we call “selfish”. Something I’m quite familiar with. I get to do the leaving. Again. It might seem hard, and, sure, there are parts of it that are. For instance, thinking of adjusting to life back in America sometimes scares me way more than leaving for Peace Corps ever did.

My thoughts, though, turn to my friends, family, and neighbors in my village here who must be suffering whiplash from having just gotten used to me as a consistent part of the community, but now are probably bewildered by what my leaving means for our relationships. These relationships that are built on front porch or teacher room chats or passing “mangga”s (hello/goodbye) as I coast by on my bike are ones that are harder to figure out how to continue or close. Surely, it’s not that I’m that great; it’s just got to be super confusing.
  • I think about the little kids in my desa who call me ‘Tante Erin’, or ‘Aunt Erin’, who one day had a color-changing bule (they enjoy how I turn red when I run) who gave them high fives, and, all of a sudden, one day - this girl disappears. 

  • I think of my host niece who waited for me to come home basically every school day for two years who will now have to figure out how emails will replace in-person sing-alongs and bike rides. She’ll eventually have to work out for herself what box to put me in as she grows older and moves further away from the time we had here together.

  • I think of my friend, who I caught crying into her jilbab on one of our last bus rides home together, who must be totally befuddled at what happens now - who must be feeling like she’s about to be abandoned.   

Yeah, the leaving gig is definitely easier. I’ll take that option.

So, I’m trying to make it through the gifts and good-byes, even if they aren’t what I might choose for myself. We’ll see if I can break paralysis. We’ll see if I can suck it up enough and muster some way to thank a community for supporting me and loving me these past two years.

We’ll see. 

About a year ago, Ms Olif and I were walking from the Peace Corps office where we had just left a bunch of other PCVs. Heading to catch a bus back home to our village, she asked me, "Are you sad when you say good-bye to your friends?"

We had just spent a week in training with all the PCVs in my group as well as their counterparts. I thought about it a bit and said, "These past couple years, it seems I am always leaving somebody. You sort of just have to get used to it or deal with it somehow."

So, here we go again…. 

*Special thanks to Bill for telling me of this song – which I downloaded before I got on the plane in San Francisco 2 years ago.
**Hats off to Kenny Ortega for once again artistically nailing complex emotions in a musical number. You outdo yourself, sir.

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