My friend Alejandra left the States again last Saturday to go back to China. She is actually staying and teaching at the same University I am heading to, which makes sense seeing as she was the person who recommended me to the University and vice versa. She has been in Nanchang for four or five months and came back to see her family, which for me came with some very poignant realizations.
First off, it was nice to see my friend had gone and come back from China, that she was alive and well, etc. I have to be honest, it made me feel a lot better and a lot safer, and I know my friends and family relaxed a little as well. It may just be me, but what starts as a joke (“Well, I mean, China can be very intense and potentially dangerous”) quickly becomes a full-blown anxiety (“What if they steal my kidneys?”), and even though I know my mind was just playing tricks on me, seeing my friend whole and hale and with all her vital organs lets me sleep a little easier.
The other major realization came when I said goodbye to her. Alejandra had a really early morning flight, so I didn’t exactly see her off, but what I did do was send her a message over the WeChat app she told me to download, which I’m sure was just as heartwarming and pretty much the same. What struck me at the time was that, even though I am leaving the US at the beginning of August, I won’t see her again until much later that month. In my mind, my departure date has always been the important part, whereas she won’t see me for roughly three weeks after.
What struck me was that I am the person she will see the soonest. I am sure she has made friends in Nanchang, but as far as seeing her family and close friends she only had those three weeks. Now, let’s get one thing straight: Alejandra is much more of a badass than I am. I’m not worried for her sake. But it reminded me that I will be doing almost the same thing. My tenure at this University will not match Alejandra’s perfectly, so there will be plenty of time when I will be in the same, semi-lonely position. And if I get my way, I will be doing this semi-lonely, adventure-having thing for a long time.
It’s not nearly as terrifying as it would have been a few years ago. Now, most of these little anxieties just manifest as a weird, internal itch. I find loneliness to be a pretty easy problem to have, especially since the Internet makes it so easy to speak with people in different countries. But with each little realization, I am inching toward a full understanding of the changes that are about to occur in my life. When I come back, which I hopefully won’t be back to stay for several years, a lot of things will probably be different.
I didn’t have that issue when I studied abroad: my friends were still in Bloomington, and my new friends that traveled with me to Barcelona largely came back to Bloomington as well. Basically, everything just got better for me. It probably won’t be the same this time, though hopefully most of the changes will be good for my friends and family. I am fully expecting that, should I decide to live in the States again, my friends will be at much different points in their lives. For one thing, I know my parents will have moved, and my childhood home will be gone. It will be strange to deal with the new realities. I am starting to feel like I am taking a huge leap, hopefully forward, and I’m not sure exactly what I will be coming back to in the future.
It’s kind of funny to me that I have already written about how bad I am at saying goodbye, and that I wrote that about my last job, which to be fair was only about 7 months. It’s funny because I’m so much worse at saying goodbye to my friends, the ones I’ve known for years. I’ve had to say a few goodbyes already, and more than ever I feel I’m at a loss for words. What do you say to someone who is still in school, but who will probably start their own adventure before you return? What do you say to someone who is in a similar position, ready to start their own life, and yet has just as little of an idea as to what they really want?
I want to say some of those goodbyes again. I want to give better hugs, because I wasn’t really paying attention to how it was supposed to be a “goodbye” hug. I want to come up with the right thing to say, the right amount of confidence and sadness. I want to give better answers than, “Oh yeah, I’m really excited.” I want to have the right words, because having the right words is what I do.
But I didn’t have the words then, and I wouldn’t have them now. I think the best words I can give my friends are, “I love you,” and “Thank you,” and “Good luck.”