When I arrived home for the first time in nine months, I stood in the center of my childhood bedroom and looked around. Aside from my closet – vacant of my clothes, but overflowing with my sister’s – my room was exactly as I remembered it. Everything was in its place; from the tiny trinkets that sit on my dresser, to the piles of paper shoved in a corner, to the post-it notes around my room that were relevant at the time. It was eerie feeling. Old memories flooded back, reminding me of what I thought and felt the last time I was here. Time came to a stand still, and I silently asked myself if the last nine months really happened.
During the next few days, as I moved about my house and the city I know so well, I asked myself the same question. Everything was consistent no matter where I went. Familiar foods filled the pantry, the landscape of my neighborhood was static, and even the billboards appeared unchanged. Behind the wheel of my sister’s car, as if I’d been driving my whole life, Jamaica seemed so far away. Surely, it must have been a dream.
Then, slowly, realizations began to flood my mind. Everything looked the same, and for a short time, felt the same, but there was one glaring difference that couldn’t be denied: I was not the same. A timid girl lived here before – a girl who dreamed of great adventures, yet panicked at the idea of failure. A girl who possessed incredible potential, but lacked the confidence to tap it. A girl who took so much for granted.
Everywhere I looked, my perspective changed, but some things stood out more than others. There was a developed appreciation for supermarkets and the wide variety of choices available (21 different kinds of Oreos, 16 flavors of coffee creamer, and an entire isle devoted to breakfast cereal), a recognizable advancement in the use of everyday technology (I barely remembered how to use a Smartphone), and the overwhelming joy of not having to be home before dark. I also learned that going to the movies is a beautiful thing, and one should never, ever skimp on popcorn.
But the most notable difference was my feelings on the subject of moving out. After college, I came home. For reasons I’ll keep to myself, I felt as though I had unfinished business, and that I wasn’t quite ready to live on my own. Prior to departure, that initial reluctance transformed itself into the overwhelming fear the Peace Corps wouldn’t work out, and I’d end up back in Miami. Once in Jamaica, I transgressed, and for a few painful months, all I wanted was to return, never to leave home again. Never in my dreams would I have imagined that nine short months would prepare me for my inevitable independence. Surely it’s more complicated than that…
And yet for every day that I was home, feeling a little more like a guest and less like a member of the house, I couldn’t wait to get back to my own life. They say home is where the heart is, but what happens when your heart keeps questioning the things that make it beat? Is it possible, or even normal, to love your home and want to leave it at the same time? Will I be able to find the balance between chasing my adventurous dreams and accepting what is safe and familiar?
As I enter this next segment of my service – indicated by the block of time before I’ll visit home again – I have to remind myself of a few things. The first is that nothing at home really changed, and it’s not likely that things will before my two years are up. If I were to quit and go home now (those feelings still occasionally plague me), I can safely assume I’ll fall right back into my old routine and experience the same feelings of suffocation that drove me to join Peace Corps in the first place. The second thing I need to remember is that I have too many good ideas for projects to stop now, and the only way I’ll learn from them, is to actually do them.
Finally, there is this: When I began this journey (which sometimes feels like a lifetime ago, and other times feels like yesterday), I didn’t know who I would be when I finished. I still don’t who I will be, but I do know who I am, and I know that I’m not done yet. I’m not satisfied with my short list of accomplishments; I want more. I don’t think I’ve learned all the lessons I’m supposed to learn, and at this point in my service, I’m still not the person I want to be.
Unfortunately, you can’t speed up time. You can’t rush the growing process either. I have eighteen months left of service (oh yes, I’m counting), which means that I get another eighteen months of overcoming challenges and obstacles, and learning from them. This is quite possibly the truest test of my character; will I make it to the end, or won’t I? How I handle this determines how I handle the rest of my adult life.
And if there is one thing that I do know about myself – something I’ve proven over and over, and over again – it’s that I am one determined son of a b****. If I want it, I don’t stop until I have it. I hate quitting, and if ever I’ve stuck it out and made it to the end, I’ve always been proud of myself.