If you venture elsewhere, almost inevitably you must leave. You may return, but your actions were irreversible, cannot be undone, for the place you left never will be exactly the same for you again. Time passes, things change, you change. And when you love an experience, a place, or just simply know that it has shaped you, departure feels like doors closing slowly. The world has many, and they won’t all stay open for you.
Seinäjoki, Finland, June 2007. I clung to my friend tightly at the train station. It hurt so much to leave. Finland was my place; I had found it. We had enjoyed the long, bright days and twilight nights of Provinssirock, the revelry of Juhannus, and the tranquil comfort of the summer cottage. I visited friends, and they visited me. And now I was leaving. I boarded the train and tears spilled down my cheeks, and though they dried up, they’ve never stopped. I have been to Finland four times since, and every time I have turned my back on that place, those people, pain springs into my chest. I long for it, always, now that I know.
London, England, December 2007. I hastily drank my Irn-Bru on the Underground, eyes watering from the carbonation and from illness. Two days prior, I queued in the London winter for over eight hours for what remains the most magical concert of my life. The next day, I woke up sick: fever, constantly teary eyes, runny nose. No matter, I willingly paid the price. Uncomfortably I sat, wanting to simply to skip over the flight and be home already, but not wanting to leave the swirling notes and emotions behind. Look up, look up, the stars! But I was underground now, the process had begun, and I was off.
Nairobi, Kenya, August 2011. I lounged about in the guesthouse, writing, reading, and even learning how to make chapatti. A few calm days after endless movement and long, long bus rides. A time to reflect. I was ready to return home, to those I had been missing, but when I left Kenya it somehow ceased to feel real. A chunk of my life, encased in glass. When I arrived at the airport in Washington D.C., I grabbed breakfast with a friend from my flight and never did a fluffy Starbucks drink taste so nice. A line was drawn; I was fully gone.
Huanchaco, Peru, December 2012. Beach wanders amid bulldozers pushing sand around; Murakami on my borrowed Kindle. I watched a friend surf from the beach. We kept returning to the vegetarian restaurant by our hostel that served Oreo milkshakes. I learned I loved Peru, and Bolivia too. I enjoyed studying Spanish. But it was a couple days before Christmas Eve. I missed someone, I wanted the holidays with him, but leaving was still hard. I was becoming ever more comfortable, and I heard of more and more places I wanted to explore. I had made friends. My host mother and Spanish teacher were wonderful. But adios, adios, espero que vuelva. I sat in the sand, and for a short time, I wasn’t moving.
Austin, Texas, December 2013. Family visits, food, food trucks, migas. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to pack my clothes. Gloomy, I didn’t want to go back. My long weekend of happiness, void of the stress that I am sure is causing a scowl wrinkle, was quickly fading. My internal protest chanted no, no, no. This is better. I fought myself to be normal, and return.
Leaving can be everything, but if it is one thing, it is final.