This weekend I went to Florida to visit my cousin. It was decided about three weeks ago, while I was at work running around and stressed, that I needed a vacation. Amidst all the chaos of the dinner rush, I was worrying about my ex and my feelings and the upcoming school year…just worrying, freaking out, stressing out, and doing it all at the wrong time. Fuck, I thought to myself, this is how I’ve spent my whole summer. Just working at this mediocre job and putting off all the things I’d say I’d do. So instead of working on promises I made to myself like reading a book or trying my hand at painting, I decided to take up my cousin’s offer from March to come visit her in Florida. I texted her right then and there, and we planned my visit for later in the month.
The next morning I woke up and thought, Oh god what did I do? It’s not like my cousin and I were close—there’s almost a ten-year gap in our ages, and the only real time we had spent together was when she helped me get her old college job when I decided to go to the same university she went to. Shortly after that bonding, she packed her bags and moved to Florida, and we hadn’t talked much since. So what was I doing, going to stay with her? What would we do or even talk about? I shook my head and cursed my impulsiveness…this was one plan I couldn’t back out of.
Luckily, I found a cheap round-trip flight that lasted the weekend. I was able to take off work, and my cousin was able to pick me up at the airport. Before I knew it, I was on a plane. Just like my trip to Central America, I had zero expectations and told myself that no matter what I’d make the best of this trip. So that was Friday. And now, in the wee hours of Monday morning, all that is left of my mini vacation is the trip back home.
Surprisingly, this trip has given me a lot of fresh perspective. I thought I’d use this time to think, sort out the jumble of feelings in my head and figure out what I’d like my future to look like, but instead I was a sponge absorbing the life my cousin has built for herself.
To give you some background, my cousin moved to Florida with her boyfriend about two years ago. One year ago, the relationship dissolved and left her in a state where she hardly knew anyone, in a lonely apartment, and in a relationship status she hadn’t been in for ten years. But she stuck around, because she had a good job and a lease to maintain. Basically, she had to rebuild her life and figure out who she was again. (Sound vaguely familiar?)
I’ve come to witness her strength and resilience despite all the crap that she’s been through. It’s pretty inspiring, though she still remains unsure of herself and what her future will be. She still gets lonely and sad about the whole thing, for sure, but she’s also very determined, and it’s damn impressive. On her fridge is a message she wrote to herself about remaining positive…in her apartment is a bunch of decorations she’s recently bought to make the place seem more homey and like hers…all weekend she practiced training with her dog because they are in an obedience class…on her counter is a routine of exercises she’s working on in order to become more fit…in her stories is a new family of friends that she’s grown close to and relies upon—she is moving forward and trying new things, for her. Watching it all in front of me, I wondered, when was the last time I did something I wanted to do for myself, by myself? I never could come up with answer.
On Saturday night we took a walk on the beach. Moonlight guided our bare feet through the sand as we discussed things like traveling abroad and surviving our teen years. I realized that everything I was talking about with her was actually about myself and my own private experiences, and not something I had done or shared with someone else. Her stories were very much the same. It made me feel like my life was my own, like I felt back in high school before I had ever dated or back when I went off to college. Why don’t I feel like this all the time? Just because I’m in a relationship doesn’t mean my life isn’t my own…why does this feel different from my everyday life back at home? Suddenly all the personal baggage I imagined revealing to my cousin didn’t need to be poured out…I didn’t want to confide or be consoled…I wanted to make new experiences, just like my cousin.
From the time I was seventeen, I have hidden myself in the security of relationships for fear of loneliness, depression, and asking myself the big questions: what do I really want? Why am I not doing it? What is holding me back? Subconsciously, this effort to protect myself has been the backbone of almost every problem in the last three years…every moment of uncertainty, of choosing a path, of moving forward has been about protecting my relationship with someone or developing my relationship with someone. And where has it gotten me? Scrambling inside my head, still questioning whether all of my decisions are the right ones. Fuck, I thought, maybe I should just quit the mental dialogue and just do the things I want to do. Sometimes life doesn’t need to have some big fairy tale lesson or conclusion.
Being on your own is harder than relying on a partner during the everyday issues we encounter in life. But on your own, you learn so much more…this weekend I learned that I like eating fruit in the morning and doing puzzles while a movie is on in the background. I learned that I like reading before bed and that snacking on cheese, meat, and crackers with wine is sometimes preferable to eating a regular meal. I learned that I love walking on the beach barefoot at night, and that walking around outside in the afternoon breeze can be just as relaxing as staying indoors. So when I go home later today I’m going to try to take some of this with me. I’m going to make more of an effort to take care of myself, for myself. I don’t want to keep waiting until shit hits the fan—until I’m forced to—to take some time out for the things I want. I’m going to go out and find what I’m looking for…status quo be damned.
Somewhat recently, I went on a ten-day journey to a country in Central America to visit my ex Jessie, who moved there in January from the United States. I had never been there, didn’t remember a lick of my high school Spanish, and was utterly lost in terms of what I was expecting/what I wanted from the experience. I just showed up and said, Alright, I’m here. Show me why Jessie fell in love with you.
Because of this go-with-the-flow, nonchalant attitude I’m warning you that my impressions of this particular country in Central America is nothing close to expertise—after all, I was there a little over a week and stayed primarily in one city…a mere glimpse into what this place and its people could offer. So these observations should rightfully be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, here’s what I learned:
I want to go back. I got on that plane and felt remorse in my heart for the lack of time I had to get to know this place…but I knew it was beautiful. In the central valley, mountains surround cities like endless arms, reaching high into the clouds and reaching outward to wrap the citizens in a protective hug. They are green, silent giants that seem endless, and can be seen from virtually any spot in the city. The natural beauty was on the outside, and inside the cities was a different kind of beauty. Loud, compact, and dirty are three words you could use to describe the cities there, but in this busy chaos I found beautiful treasures of culture. The people were friendly, with warm smiles and confident questions. “What do you think of [this country] so far?” they would ask. “How does it compare to America? Tell me about where you come from. Let me tell you why I like it here…” They didn’t seem to shy away from talking about themselves or showing their pride, and they weren’t afraid to acknowledge my inability to speak the first language. They are frank and realistic, but far from impolite. Jessie’s roommates and friends all were very welcoming to me, whether they offered food, paid for my drinks, or did the courtesy of speaking English for my benefit. The warmth of the people was indeed a treasure of the culture. I could see the importance of family everywhere—at parks both parents would play with their children or push them on swings, at markets fathers held hands with their children and kept them close, in conversation children (even when they were adults) spoke highly of their parents and longingly talked of home… Families take care of each other, and it shows. But even strangers seemed to show a sense of camaraderie and affection. On street corners, it is not uncommon for the person next to you to put their hand on your shoulder/back if you’re about to walk when a vehicle is approaching, or when it is time to cross the street. When meeting someone, you greet them with a kiss on the cheek and hand on the shoulder. There is less of a fear of touching, and if you bump into someone on the street slightly they might not even notice. Because people walk everywhere or take the bus, there is more of a sense of community and interaction than in American suburbia. The city has a rhythm and energy to it that makes it just as wild as the forest or sea. Car horns howl and motorcycles roar at another as if they were jungle cats in a brawl. Rightfully so, because the driving on the streets would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up… Stop signs are merely suggestions so drivers would blare their horn to alert others they were passing through an intersection. Blinkers are a joke as well; drivers zip in and out of lanes quickly, barely missing a brush with the closest car. The fearlessness of the streets didn’t seem to alarm citizens, but rather give them confidence in their knowledge of the city. There was an unspoken mentality of learn fast, and you will find things here you won’t anywhere else…but learn slow, and this city will leave you in the dust. Drunk on the energy of the city, I spend many days following Jessie on the haphazard sidewalks, remembering words in Spanish I heard that day and clarifying what they meant.
This country in Central America could be considered “3rd world” by some American standards—there is no air conditioning in most places, the majority of people don’t own a car, and hot water is only possible in the shower, and only if you have an electric shower head. (Also, fun fact: all toilet paper is thrown in the trash instead of flushed.) Personally, all of these “inconveniences” were quickly forgotten by me, with the possible exception of air conditioning because my body hates heat. Yet I know many Americans would find the apartment I stayed at to be too lacking to live in: there were only 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen that consisted of a sink, refrigerator, and hot plate. Something I never thought realized about America prior to this vacation was the abundance of space everywhere—in between buildings, in our houses, the wide roads we pave, and the large yards found in suburbs and countryside. The modesty of homes in the Central American cities showed that its citizens were less concerned with space and stuff to fill it with, and more concerned with the people in their homes.
In a similar fashion, people there tend to work all kinds of jobs, and seemed unconcerned with the impressiveness of their professions. People work because they have to, and seem happy to do it, no matter how blue-collar. While a college education is desirable, I didn’t notice the same pressure to obtain it and career climb as I’ve felt in America. Over all, I noticed that people there seemed happier than Americans, though they generally have less and earn less. Where Americans have ambition and obsession with wealth, the people in Central America have richness in their relationships with family, friends, and God (the majority of the of the population is Catholic). As I looked around the cities, in their chaotic system of maintenance, transportation, and services, I realized how greatly they contributed to happiness, not wealth. They were filled with an understated beauty that most Americans would miss if passing by. Honestly, I could see myself getting very accustomed to this country if not for one big obstacle: Spanish.
Because I can hardly string two words together, most of my social interaction came from Jessie and a few of his friends that knew English. In all other situations, I was helpless. It was strange to follow Jessie around like a puppy dog or child—waiting for him to translate or tell me what was going on. Doing simple things, like paying for the bus or ordering food became impossible, and it was strange to carry money and not know how much it’s worth. I was definitely a foreigner, but it didn’t always show.
The citizens, while Latino, varied much more in appearance than I imagined. In the US, the reference point I had to Latinos were generally Mexicans, so naturally I assumed that everyone in Central America would have cinnamon skin, dark brown eyes, and shiny black hair. In reality, people in this Central American country range from dark brown shades of skin to nearly white. One woman I met even had freckles! Lighter eyes are indeed uncommon, but eye shape can vary from almond-shaped to round to small to big. Some people have straight hair and others have an afro of curls. But one over all trait that everyone seems to possess is shortness. There, being under 5’5 is completely average and expected of both men and women. For once in my life I felt relatively tall. And for once in my life I stepped into the role of a minority.
Like most white people, I have lived a life of privilege surrounded by others who look just like me and talk just like me. But for those ten days, I became aware of my skin color almost all the time. I was the typical white person—couldn’t speak Spanish, dressing in shorts and tank tops because I was unaccustomed to heat, and having the general assumption that everyone knows about American culture. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and sometimes felt like I had the word Tourist! tattooed on my forehead. Not only did I not understand what everyone around me was saying, but I didn’t understand the culture, and I didn’t fit in. This bothered Jessie more than it bothered me, because while I’m fine playing the role of the tourist Jessie was busy trying to play the role of citizen, something he has trouble with because he is also white, and whiteness in general has a connotation of tourism in this country. For the first time in my life, I realized that someone was ashamed of my race for me, and that a person of my race was ashamed of themselves for that same reason, too. The second people saw me, questions popped up in their minds and showed on their faces… Questions like, “Why are you here? Where did you come from?” and assumptions like, “You don’t speak our language, you don’t understand or appreciate us.” It was a strange experience to be an advocate for my race and my culture when I’ve lived all my life in America, where whiteness is shoved down everyone’s throats. For the first time, I got a glimpse of what life might be like for minorities in the US, rather than relying on personal accounts of that experience. After my week in Central America, I definitely wish more white Americans would travel and experience being a minority, even if it is temporary… It brought to my eyes one aspect of privilege that I hadn’t previously considered, and that is the expectation that everyone knows about my culture and race, even though I do not know much about so many cultures and races myself. In my experience, the white stereotype holds true: many white Americans don’t take the proper time to appreciate culture that isn’t theirs.
There’s so much more I could say about this country and my experience there, but I’m afraid the rest isn’t as organized as what I’ve written above. Like my first vacation abroad, this ten-day journey awakened my hunger to understand realities outside the US… I ache to taste food across the world, to understand customs and traditions I’ve never heard of, to gaze at natural wonders I’ve only seen in pictures, and meet people I never dreamed could exist. While I know I belong in the US for now, I believe that my travels are far from over and that I want to commit to learning and practicing other cultures and languages in the future. Ten days wasn’t enough. I want more from this Central American country, from the world, and from myself.
Life’s too short to stay in your comfort zone.
Everyone in their 20’s can relate to the same struggle: figuring out which path in life you would like to take. Even when you outgrow your 20’s, it seems that many people are still searching for this answer in their 30’s and even 40’s or 50’s. This is a dilemma I’ve written about again and again, and though this seems to be a recurring theme in every problem I encounter I am no closer to finding my path. Or am I?
Tomorrow I’m getting on a plane to Central America. My reasoning for buying this ticket to a country I’ve never been to and my reasoning for going are very distinct—I bought the ticket because I was in love and I wanted salvation for my relationship. I’m getting on the plane because I am in search of inspiration and direction in my life, and after a severe bout of depression I need to do something kind for myself. Also it was a nonrefundable ticket.
Back in January, I was in a long distance relationship and my partner had just moved to Central America. I was incredibly sad and lonely, and my depression was creeping back into my life. So I bought the ticket as an incentive for myself to keep going, and something me and my partner could remember in our moments of doubt. I thought that if I liked being there enough, maybe I could briefly move there during the summer, and then wait for my partner to move back to the U.S. in December. Life had other plans, though. My relationship disintegrated, my depression worsened, and my ability to plan for the future vanished. But the plane ticket was still there, waiting for me.
Now, in the present, my circumstances are different. My plans for the summer are school and work back home where I grew up. I’m transferring schools, finding a new job, and exploring a different relationship. Everything I’ve recently done has been to better myself, and instead of worrying about someone thousands of miles away, I’m preoccupied with changing my life in helpful ways. So I’m using that plane ticket, getting on that plane, and spending a week in Central America.
After my life went to hell in February, time kept moving faster and faster. This trip has sort of snuck up on me, and honestly I don’t think it will feel real until my mom drops me off at the airport tomorrow morning. I’m excited but hesitant…my life has reached a steady rhythm and I’m nervous to disrupt the balance again. Especially because it means spending a week with my ex Jessie, who doesn’t exactly encourage my more rational side. Jessie brings up our old relationship all the time, and I’m worried he’s going to forget that there’s no relationship left. He’s in Central America, I’m in the U.S., end of story. I’ve moved on, and so has he. Nothing good can come from beating a dead horse.
Right now I’m done with planning out my future within relationships. In a few years it might be more realistic to start doing that, but until then I just want to enjoy the moment. After all, I need to find my passion and indulge that while I’m young and I still can. So I’m pursuing my passion for travel right now, and then hopefully pursuing my passion for creativity when I get back to the states. What was once a trip about figuring out the future for Jessie and I has become a trip about reawakening my hunger for life. I was severely depressed, I made changes and started to recover, I found stability, and now it is time to wake up again, and start my life over. I’m embarking on a path, and seeing where else my life can take me.
Why do I do this to myself, readers? Why, why, why…?!
As some of you may have gathered, I tend to have a more go-with-the-flow relationship with other people. When my friends and I go out, they are the ones that decide where we’re going and what we’re doing. When my mom wants me to come home and spend time with my family, I go and spend the better part of 24 hours trying to ignore my dad’s criticisms despite the fact that I’d rather be doing almost anything else. When I’m in relationships, I will myself to be assertive about what I want and need from the other person….but somehow, it’s always the other person holding the reins.
My present partner moved to Central America. My ex-boyfriend never graduated college and moved in with me. My only other serious relationship, which happened when I was 17, consisted of months spent waiting for the guy to acknowledge that we were even in a relationship. That’s the key word in this story, folks: waiting. I am always waiting—for Charles to love me and call me his girlfriend, for Fred to grow up and choose me over convenience, and for my current partner and I to find a place where we can both be happy and together. Waiting, waiting, waiting. And so far the record shows that in the end I never seem to get what I’m waiting for.
Of ‘course, this lack of assertiveness is nobody’s fault but my own. For some reason, I seem to think that loving a person means living my life by their speed. And while I realize that it takes two to tango, maybe it’s time that I actually take the lead instead of letting my partner drag me around the dance floor.
Here’s the deal: Today my partner and I were messaging. The conversation was innocent enough at first—we were talking about our plans for the day and flirting. But then, out of no where…
Hey. I don’t think I’m going to be here a year.
I’m sorry, WHAT??!?! You think I’d be dancing, you think I’d be jumping up and down singing, you think I’d at least send a 🙂 emoji….but no. I was just shocked. I didn’t say much of anything, and let her explain. So she tells me she’ll probably come back to the states in May, and then leave again in August to go traveling with her ex-roommate while I finish my degree. She doesn’t know where exactly she’ll go (probably Spain) and what exactly she’ll do (get a job eventually?) but suddenly that’s her new plan. And I found myself getting frustrated rather than happy.
We already did the painful goodbyes. From the first night we hung out, I knew she was going to leave eventually and travel to the country she’s at now. And now she’s there…after almost a year of “I can’t wait to go back” and “I just want to leave”, she finally left, took my heart with her, and turned everything upside down just to say that she’s coming back, and then leaving again, and then maybe coming back once I graduate so we could travel together if we’re even still an item at that point.
And that’s when I realized that I have a problem.
For about two years I was in a long distance relationship because my boyfriend wasn’t willing to make sacrifices (granted, he tried to remain faithful even though he didn’t succeed if you want to count that). Did I want to be in a long distance relationship? Hell no! But I stuck to it because I believed he would put in the same effort as I was to finish school so we could be together. Because I loved him and believed in him, and no one could tell me he wasn’t anything less than the best thing that had ever happened to me. Now I am in a long distance relationship once again, despite the fact that I hate LDR’s, because my partner has always been hell-bent on going back to Central America. I love my partner and want her to go after her dreams. Here I am, saving up the little money I make so I can visit her during spring break, just to find out she’ll be back in four months? After almost a year of preparing for the impending doom of her moving away for a whole year? It’s the same friggin’ situation; I’ve let my partner change up my future because it’s what she wants, and I’m left feeling out of the loop and powerless. Again. And it’s all my fault because I let my heart rule my decisions.
I wish I could talk to Fred about this. I know the stuff in the last couple of paragraphs probably sounds resentful, but believe it or not, I feel pretty detached from our past. I was stupid, he was stupid, and sometimes young people get together, fall in love, and are stupid together. I need his perspective on this whole thing, even if it is to tell me I’ve got it all wrong, because I don’t want to make the same mistakes with my partner as I did with him. I don’t want to always be playing catch-up with the person I’m with—I want to be involved and make decisions with them. And I know that my partner can move anywhere she likes and do whatever she wants with her life…but I wish I wasn’t left behind, trying to make our relationship work around her decisions. When will it ever be my turn to take risks in life, and let my partner wait for a change?
Maybe this is my wake-up call to start making plans of my own that don’t involve any relationship. Maybe I should just pack up and move to Australia by myself or go study abroad on my own and just let everyone else deal with it. I don’t want to be this person who wastes their whole life doing what is convenient for everyone else just so they’ll love me and stay with me.
Besides, giving people everything—my future, my body, my love, my time—doesn’t seem to be enough to make them stay anyway.