Every expat ((I’m talking at least half a year, buddy!)) has a reentry moment, after they leave the place they learned to call home and return to their “home” country, where they absolutely lose their sh*t.
I thought mine would be the shock of returning not to my Stepford-ish suburban hometown but instead to 45 minutes north in Farmville, USA, to a ranch of cows and children. But surprisingly, nope, that didn’t push me over the edge.
Maybe it would be the first time I drove further than 20 minutes away after sixteen months and immediately got rear-ended by a Mennonite woman ((I was so fascinated though, I wasn’t even that mad)). Nope.
Maybe it would be the fact it’s been a month and I have yet to unpack my bags, opting instead to check my emails fervently to see if I’ve been hired by a dream job to take me back so I won’t even have to unpack. Or the fact that I have to watch my life in Manila continue on without me over social media, seeing things at work or with friends that I would’ve been a part of if I were still there. Nope and nope.
The moment that made me finally confront the grief I was feeling, the friendships altered, the work severed, the uncertain future was when the last of my fake eyelash extensions I got in Manila came out. And by came out, I mean painfully ripped off the majority of my real eyelashes.
As I vainly took stock of the gaping spaces on my eyelid that should be filled with my perfectly fine natural eyelashes, I chastised myself for even getting extensions in the first place. Then I started tearing up. Then crying. Then wailing. Like totally ugly dry-sobs of months-worth of tears that had never fully come over the whole transition of life back to America.
It wasn’t about the eyelashes. It was about the gaping holes in my life now. I asked myself more than once why I even uprooted myself in the first place. Why did I go pour myself into a life I knew I had to walk away from? Why did I so wholly invest in people who would be so far away? Why did I love it so much, to the point that it slowly replaced so much of what I considered “normal, everyday life”?
I expected to jump right into “the Next Big Thing” ((a recurring theme in my life)) as soon as I landed in the States, skipping over that pesky thing called processing, or rest, or transition, because surely it didn’t apply to me! I left the Philippines so well!! I said all my goodbyes, every loose string was tied up ((okay, well almost, there’s no textbook for wrapping up a season), I had good feedback, I felt released!! Surely when you leave on a high, you get to skip over the impending low!
If you’ve all been following my Instagram which is basically just a chronicle of me annoying a carousel of siblings and/or the Highland cattle who occupy our front pasture, you’ll know how fast that “skipping to the next thing” bubble popped.
As I try to embrace life here, I realize that I can’t help but notice the gaps, the spaces of my life in Manila that are now lost to me. It’s a real loss. It’s a real mourning, no matter how much I wish it wasn’t so dramatic.
There are two areas I’m mourning. The fact that I no longer get to work for the most important, amazing, history-making work, fighting against the online sexual exploitation of children, alongside modern-day abolitionists and some of my favorite people in the world AND not getting to live in the city that cemented who I am, that taught me to love its people, who accepted me wholly, who let me be adventurous, bold, and insatiable.
I miss the proximity of my friends. I miss the ability to get around by walking all around my barangay in Ortigas. I miss the flow of my week- a busy work day, evenings spent in community, Thursdays in Worship, the weekend in exploration, the mornings with the pitter-patter and “BYE-BYE TITA MAGGIE!” of the 3 year old boy of the family I lived with. I miss learning something new everyday. I miss the skyscrapers and bustle and yes, I’ll even say, I miss walking through busy traffic like I’m Melanie Griffith from Working Girl. I miss $6 phone bills and $5 massages.
I miss that anticipatory, electric feeling I had every single day that something was about to happen, that the city had some new silver lining just for me if I only kept my eyes open. I had never lived so long in that place of hope and excitement, a buzzing joy that is unique to Manila.
So I need to mourn it. I need to accept that it’s gone. And it’s painful. Like the ripping out of PERFECTLY FINE EYELASHES.
All of this is to say that I am addressing my grief before I am able to jump into positivity about “the next big thing”. Because I left behind something amazing, something life-altering, something that needs to be honored.
In the upcoming posts, I’d like to honor those things and share them in this space. It’s like wishing on a fallen eyelash- giving worth to something that’s lost and can never be the same.
And if you’re wondering, Maggie, did you really just make a super extended metaphor about reentry shock out of your ridiculous eyelash extensions?? Yes, yes I did. Are you also wondering if this makes me rethink the constant threat I make of shaving off my hair if I couldn’t hack losing a bunch of eyelashes? Nope, no it does not.