Note: I wrote these on two different days. While trying to edit them down in to one post that I wasn’t sure I would ever actually publish, I pressed the button that I thought was “save draft”. It was not. I tried to frantically delete the post before anyone saw. No such luck.
I got enough feedback that I’ve decided to leave my less-than-perfect entries as they are (for posterity, or something). If nothing else they remind me that I’m an imperfect, scatter-brained, accident-prone girl, who obviously doesn’t know “publish” from “save draft”.
I have to laugh at myself a little. I considered these entries too raw and unpolished to be made public. But they do, however, show the progression of my mood honestly, albeit bluntly.
Oh, well. At least life will never be dull.
It’s just as I feared actually.
Reintegration is hard. I can’t imagine what hell coming back to America would be if I stayed any longer. Some days I wake up okay. And the next I wake up and find my eyes are turned into faucets. The worst is when I dream. Because in my dreams, I never left. But the moment always comes when you have to wake up.
For a couple of days I was numb, in shock. I walked around loopy as a Christmas bow. And then one morning, I felt it looming like a dark vortex over my head, like a snowball rolling and growing, like a tremor before the earth cracks open. Calm before the storm. I’m moping like I lost my best friend, like I’m torn away from home, like my heart is broken. And maybe those are true.
I had a dream, I saw the fulfillment of it after 7 long years, and now I’m back. And I’ve done and seen so much, but here time almost stood still. It’s almost agony, and there’s very few people who understand this type of heartsick.
Sure, I’m tired. Sure, I’m grieving. Sure, I miss my friends. But underneath the depression and the culture shock, I can’t believe it’s over. Not yet.
I promise, I will start at the beginning and tell stories and share pictures and take you through a tour of Kiev. But for a little bit, I have to remake a place in America, because the old one doesn’t fit me anymore. So once I get my head and my soul back together, and my body over the jet lag, I will put my thoughts in order and tell the story of a strange American girl and her month in Ukraine.
I feel like I went through a time warp. I walked into the house where I live, the residence for which I have a lease with my name on it, and wandered around like a zombie. My best friend put it perfectly: “your body is back, but your head and your heart are still in Ukraine.” She’s exactly right. Maybe that’s the way it always was. Maybe I was always dodging the truth, trying to slap a band-aid on an open heart surgery. Maybe my heart never really left.
I rather feel like I took a leap out of time. I had a moment at work last week, where I was completely convinced that a whole month of my life had gone somewhere, as if it happened to someone else. And in shock I stopped dead still in the hall and looked around, wondering how I could feel like I had aged a month (or more) in another world, while here time stood still. Almost as if I had never left. I keep trying to remember, while trying to forget. All my attempts to put anything into words simply sound ridiculous, and fall far short of what I meant to say. My best metaphors involve some pop culture reference: “I tumbled down the rabbit hole,” “I took a trip to another planet and came back to the very moment I left from. This must be what time travel feels like.” “I came from the land of science to the land of magic.”
In short, the shock of returning to my own culture jarred me so badly that I took a hiatus from writing. It’s difficult to describe an experience that changes your life forever. I look back and think, a month is not very long. Actually, I’ve been back state-side for as long as I was in Ukraine. This is when depression sets in and I huddle in front of my laptop, watching classic Soviet movies, downing coffee, tea with honey, and vodka, trying to forget that I’m in America.
The first couple of weeks, everyone expects you to be jet lagged, and probably nostalgic. They also expect you to be “happy to be home”. The first time someone asked me, “Are you glad to be home?” I looked at them like they were crazy. “Home? What? Here?” I couldn’t even say I was glad to be back. If I’m not mistaken, I have at times answered: “I came back to a world without bubliki, vareniki, or peach juice. Do I look happy?”
The first two weeks, I shambled around like a zombie searching for brains. In fact, the first thing I did was to drop all my activities, anything that involved interacting with people. The only things I jumped right back into were work and sessions with my Russian tutor. People made nice comments about how readjusting is hard, and jet lag can take up to two weeks to get over. But after two weeks I still wasn’t cured. Maybe I wasn’t stumbling around anymore, or severely anti-social, but there was still something very definitely off.
My best friend told me something that I’ll never forget: “Your body is back, but your mind and heart are still in Ukraine.” Ah, that’s it exactly! And no amount of work, keeping busy, or coffee seemed to help.
That’s when people started to ask: “How are you readjusting?”
And I started to answer: “I’m not.”
Because every time I received a message from a friend overseas, I would inevitably break down into tears. Not to mention getting a call on Skype. I was a mess; I admit it.
And then one day after about a month, I woke up. The sky was blue. The trees were fiery with colors of fall. And for the first time since my return, I felt like a normal human being. My mind came back, I thought.
But my heart is still MIA. Sometimes I think my heart never ever came back, since that first visit when I was 15. Maybe I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to work my way back to the place where I felt the most at peace with myself and the world.
Not that my trip was easy. It was hard, tough, and sometimes very scary. I keep telling people, “I wasn’t on vacation. I was on ADVENTURE.”
It usually goes something like:
“Sarah! How was your vacation?”
“I wasn’t on vacation. I was on adventure.”
“Ok, so how was your trip?”
“Kiev tried to kill me. I survived. We made our peace in the end.”
“But, Sarah, I can’t tell… Did you have a good time at least?”
“…if by ‘good time’, you mean, ‘do I wish I was still there?’ then, yea, I had a ‘good time’.”
This usually kills the conversation. But sometimes travel enthusiasts persevere.
“So would you recommend it as a good vacation place?”
“Oh, no. If you go for vacation, go to Crimea. Not Kiev. But generally, just… don’t go.”
“Oh. So… Do you think you will ever go back?”
And now I’m at the point where kindhearted, well-meaning people make me more angry than anything. Obviously, I’m not readjusting very well, so they decide to take it upon themselves to help. I may be putting my inner thoughts and dreams on the internet, but I don’t take kindly to people actively meddling with my life, as I see it.
But so you won’t think that I’ve become an anti-social, porcupine-spined hater, there was one person who did help lately.
“Sarah, if you’re having a rough time, why don’t you write about it? Maybe you should start blogging again. It might help.”
Apparently, that was the little nudge I needed. Maybe if I go back and write my way through my adventures, and not just sporadically post like I did during the trip, it will fill up the time, help me remember, seal it in my memory where it belongs so I can move on to new things. (And by new things I mean, planning how to go back and stay until I’m sick and tired of Ukraine.)
Lately I’ve been having flashes. It’s painful to remember, it makes me cry. And I never cry. It hurts me in a way that I’ve never felt pain before, as if it hurts twice over. Sometimes I see places so clearly, I think I should be able to walk out my front door and go there, as if I was still in Ukraine. I should have learned from my 15th year, no matter how hard I try to forget or move on, my memories will never let me.
So I’ve finally come to grips with the fact that I’m not really meant for this world. That my heart, whether I will it or no, stayed in Ukraine. I’m a girl living in two places at once.