I thought my wedding day would be a goodbye party.

Getting married means I will probably spend half as much time with my original family unit as I used to. I have more than doubled my number of family members while the number of national holidays stays the same. The odds of seeing my mom’s family for half the holidays and my dad’s family for the other half would be impossible.

Getting married means living more than a 10 hour drive away from any of my old Indiana friends. I already moved to Oklahoma four months prior, but marriage means a permanent commitment to my relocation.

So I thought I’d be a little sad with feelings of goodbye on my wedding day. However, thankfully I was wrong.

Not only was the wedding a beautiful ceremony and fun-feasting-dancing party, it was a celebration of the joining of family and friends. They came near and far. A promising sign that we care enough to be a part of each other’s lives however often that may be.

I may be seeing my family less from now on, but that’s not the same as goodbye. It is more like the inevitable course of life. For example, many of my cousins had already done the same when they married, got jobs, and/or moved to other states. We already stopped seeing each other for every other holiday years ago. And for the last two years I spent in Mozambique, the only relative I saw was my dad for Thanksgiving of 2010. I realized that if I still hadn’t felt that my family members left me, then no one else in my family will feel that I left them either. We’ve accepted it, understood it, and celebrated each other’s personal growths.

I may be seeing my friends even less, but we promised that this would not be our last time to visit each other. There’s always Skype and telephone dates for us to have too.

Meanwhile, the wedding reminded me of all the hellos to be had. I met new friends at our wedding through my now-husband. And I’ll never forget the friends-of-a-friend Saudi couple who even attended (I’ve seen a few foreign weddings in my travels abroad and was glad to take the opportunity to return the cultural-exchange favor). But the biggest “hello” was that I could finally officially call Greg’s family my family too.

In all reality, I wasn’t saying goodbye to anyone.  No one said goodbye. Just hello and see you next time.

Today I survived the first day of the Oklahoma tornado season. A tornado touched down in Norman and ripped apart a few buildings and power lines. Even though this was at least an hour away from where I was at work, I might have been terrified if it were not for the calmness of my coworkers (native Oklahomans). According to them, tornados are fairly predictable and well-tracked, and our office has a great sturdy basement under a great sturdy building.  All of a sudden, it didn’t feel so intimidating.

Really all I need is to know procedure. And have good renters insurance. And if my stuff gets destroyed, then at least I’m okay and so is my bank account. I’m okay  (I know some of you out-of-staters are worried about me when you watch the news, but don’t be).

Anyway, is it lame that for the second post in a row I’m starting out with the weather?

As for my last post, I would like to clarify that I was not as solemn as I sounded. I was simply stating that when I first moved, like every normal woman, I got a little stressed out about my future wedding. And like every normal person, I wanted a great job and a comfortable home and in-laws who liked me. Nothing extreme or anything. My point was that life changes are stressful, but that I feel I’m overcoming those challenges quite well. And I really wanted an excuse to talk about the Oklahoma winds that come sweeping down the plains.

In Oklahoma the wind likes sweeping down the plains with intense gusto. It’s not just tornado days, it’s also not every day, but it’s often enough to keep you on your toes. (But of course you really can’t stay on your toes in the literal sense, or else you might get blown over.) The wind makes umbrellas useless against the rain. The wind here messes your hair like a restless night in bed. And finally, the wind can push your car into the next lane while you drive if you’re not careful. Most days on the interstate, the wind has me (and it might just be nervous, out-of-towner me) gripping the steering wheel with both hands just in case a surprise wind hits.

And it’s not just the wind that’s made me attempt to be more alert. Ever since arriving in Oklahoma, I’ve been making sure to do everything right. Making sure to make the right first impressions. Making sure to achieve all of my goals as soon as possible. I wanted the perfect job, the perfect wedding, and the perfect apartment decor and I wanted it all done by April 28th. Anyway, those sorts of expectations (especially when you’re in a completely new environment) tend to tense up a person too tightly. I’d been trying to control the direction of my life as much as my car in the interstate wind.

But thanks to my loving man, I’ve learned eventually to question, “What would happen if things didn’t turn out perfectly? Would it be the end of the world?” He even pointed out that my silly imperfections are some of my cutest qualities.

So now, I’m just trying to focus on learning to relax and accept that life won’t be perfect. My furniture doesn’t match, my income is nothing wealthy, and our wedding will probably have a fair amount of hiccups. But I do have an apartment (now only 15 minutes from work), a fun job with awesome co-workers, and a wedding that’s going to happen no matter what floral or wardrobe disaster may happen. However, one thing that I won’t stop stressing about: the Oklahoma wind on the interstate and in my hair and under my umbrella.

There aren’t too many differences between my old home of Indiana and my new home of Oklahoma, but there are a few funny ones…

People now guess that I might be Native American as often as they guess that I’m Latina.

Bathrooms can double as tornado shelters.

The sporting goods stores sell cowboy boots.

Oklahoma City has an annual average of 12 MPH winds.

Most walls I’ve  seen so far are textured in the skip trowel fashion, which I find to be quite pretty.

The Tinker Airforce Base runs practice flights of stealth planes etc. One day we saw six planes at a time, way more traffic than the public airport ever attracts.

The expression ‘Home is where your heart is’ gives migrating folk comfort. It says that geography doesn’t matter, as long as you are with your loved ones. However, for kids who’ve lived in the same house their entire lives, the expression is redundant and unnecessary. For them, home has always been a specific house on a specific plot of land. And like all of those stationary kids, my home has also always been the same, tucked in the woods of the Becker Addition neighborhood.

I spent my first birthday there. My first visit from the tooth fairy was there. I got on my first school bus at the bright red stop sign down the street. I took pictures for the prom against the tulip tree in the front yard. And I had girly sleepovers there from childhood until well into my college years.

Eventually, I had my fair share of temporary residence outside of the Becker Addition. After I turned 17, I floated with the wind whenever I could. Foreign exchange in St Brieuc. Vacation in Thailand. College in Bloomington. Work in Bemiji. Work in Chicago. College in Cairo.  Work in Mozambique. But inbetween every one of those flights, I always returned to the Becker Addition. I never stayed but I always came back. And, I kind of expected this to go on indefinitely. I expected that after Peace Corps I’d find a job for a few years, quit/finish the contract, visit home for a month or two, and then be off on my next salaried adventure until I left that one too. I was in denial about ever having to one day take ALL of my stuff with me and label a new place as a long-term home. But then I fell in love.

I fell in love with a man named Greg who had a love for Oklahoma. His family, unlike mine, all lives in the same region. So when Greg and I decided to live happily ever after, it only made sense for us to live where we would have the most amount of family. I only have two family members in Indiana. So today, I sit in the airport, awaiting my flight to Oklahoma. And next time I return to Indiana, it won’t quite be the same. Next time I go to Indiana, I will have already decided where my home in Oklahoma will be. Next time I go to Indiana, I will be finally taking ALL of my stuff and labeling Oklahoma as home.

From now on, Indiana will still be like a home. My heart still will be with my father and brother who reside there. Many of my friends will still live near there.  My memories will still remain linked to its every surface.  But in spite of all these ties, Indiana will no longer be my home base.

It is a sobering thought to think that I’m having to cut a cord, but I cannot regret the new bonds I will be creating in its place. I’ve never been to Oklahoma, and yet there is no doubt in my mind that I will love it. My new husband and my new family will be there, and that I will love. Oklahoma will be my new home, because it is where my heart is.

So after all these years, that expression ‘Home is where your heart is’ finally comforts me too.

After a couple weeks of vacation, the return home tends to entail a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart. I take a deep breath, and it smells the same. I look around, and I still remember that everything was where I left it. I open the fridge and see that I’ll need to buy some milk. I drop my bags on the floor and my body on the couch with a box of cereal and remote control in hand. In short, I’m refreshed from the hiatus, and I comfortably relax. I don’t move from the couch for at least an hour.

But after a couple years of ‘vacation’, the return home last month was a bit more complicated than the norm. I took a breath and it smelled… clean. I looked around … and knew everything was in a different spot except the couch. I opened the fridge… and saw that it sparsely filled with bachelor food. I dropped my bags …and immediately began answering slews of questions from my family and friends who’d gathered on the couch. I had a smile on my face; I felt welcome and loved. But in that moment and the days surrounding it, I wasn’t exactly at ease.

First of all, people weren’t even the same. Coming off the plane in a snowy Indianapolis, I was met by my dad and brother (I didn’t recognize any of their clothing) and a friend (who was a newlywed when I left but now had a beautiful baby by her side). Hours later, I was met by more friends including one who wore a sparkling wedding rock on her finger, given to her by a man I’d never met. Days later, I met with more friends, and loads of them had acquired entire master’s degrees and new careers since I’d left. A week later, I met with relatives who had recently retired and grandmothers who had been widowed just this fall. My two grandfathers were no longer even here. People just weren’t the same. They hadn’t changed who they are, but so many had changed what they are. Wife became mother, bachelorette became wife, employed became retired, educated became more educated, employed became re-employed in a different career. And of course, many also moved into different homes that I didn’t know how to find. In only two years I hadn’t expected so many changes, and while I was more than happy for all their wonderful successes, it was hard to keep everyone’s stories straight.

The people, fortunately, were only an adjustment, not a discomfort. At least I was still at ease with them. In many ways, it was just like old times. Meanwhile, other things actually felt uncomfortable. For one, I went from summer to winter in 24 hours. From sweat to snow, a 24 hour flight had taken me from the capital of Mozambique to the tinselly lights of big American cities, extra lit for the holidays. The traffic returned to the right side of the road. And most of all, people spoke English again. So as soon as possible, I bundled up and tried to remember not to speak Portuguese to strangers and non-Peace Corps friends.

With my first weather and linguistic adjustments achieved within a few days, I felt like I was home again. I finally got up the courage to drive a car again. Only a few Portuguese words slipped out. And I remembered how to use an American oven. But then every so often, I would find myself again awkwardly trying to remember what was normal. For example, I couldn’t remember if it was okay to put toilet paper in the toilet (in Mozambique, that would inevitably clog the pipes). I remembered doing it at my dad’s house, but I couldn’t remember if other people had different rules. I had to ask.

For a while, I was very uncomfortable using my left hand for transactions. In D.C. on my first day stateside, I gave the bellhop a tip and was offended that he accepted it with his left hand until I remembered where I was. In case you didn’t know, the left hand in Mozambique is designated as the ‘toilet paper’. And days later, I still felt a twinge of guilt every time I passed something at the dinner table with my left hand.

Then last week, I couldn’t remember if any stores close for lunch hours. Uncertain, I asked someone if the bank would be open. Apparently they’re all always open at noon, but I still have a hard time believing it. I’m certain there must be some places (like maybe dentist offices?) that close, but I really couldn’t say.

And even now, I still feel satisfaction in being able to order water for free at restaurants. I no longer have to buy overpriced water bottles or tackily bring my own water from home.

I could go on about the potato chip aisle in CVS and the water fountains in the mall. And I could go on much longer about the developments in technology (namely ipads, smart phone apps, and websites like Pinterest), the constant evolution of restaurants and stores, and the flourishing spread of JimmyJohns.

There’s a lot of old stuff to remember and new stuff to learn. But hopefully when I return on Saturday from my current trip to Michigan, home will feel just like I left it.

When leaving Ilha and all of its inhabitants for forever, ‘goodbye’ felt like a heavy word in my mouth. I lived there for two years of my life. It was a home. Without any of my American friends or family, the only way I was going to survive was to treat it like my new, indefinite home. So, I adopted a cat. I spent the majority of my time with my landlady and her family. I had a job and a schedule. I said the same ‘hello’s to the same people every morning on my way to and from school. I learned how to gut squid and manage a class of 70 students. I got used to the loud sound of my fan breathing on me at night.

In the process of making it a home, I’d come to know Ilha in detail. Details both good and bad. Things on Ilha annoyed me (excessive attention over my color) and bored me (limited recreational and entertainment activities), but other things pleased and entertained me. The bad things made it easy to leave, but the good things made it sad and somber. I couldn’t believe that I might never again style Yuzi’s hair, that I might never again sailboat with whales, that I might never again eat my favorite market beans, that I might never again have a tailor make me dirt cheap clothes within a week. The end felt so final. It was heavy; I had to give it proper closure.

So in my last week, I started by packing and cleaning. This was easy, unemotional. I was giving Yuzi all the clothes and shoes and bags that I did not want to carry transatlantic (my luggage weighed over 60 pounds in the end). This was even liberating. But then it was time to start delivering the bad news. I baked a big batch of snickerdoodles and headed to my school. I filled out the last of my paperwork and turned in all my grades. Shyly I went into the teacher’s lounge and cleared my throat. “Excuse me? Can I say just a few words?” Everyone knew what I was going to say and silenced. I announced that it was my last day of school, that I enjoyed working with them, that I hoped we’d stay in contact. I left my email address on the announcement table in the hopes that those with email addresses would one day write me. Surprisingly, they gave me a little applause and with that I pulled out the cookies, gave a wave, and left before the goodbyes could overwhelm me. The next day, I took the rest of my cookies and stopped by to give a personal farewell to all those (few and dear) that I’d come to enjoy over the years. I didn’t cry, although I did wipe sweat from my cheek in a way that accidentally confused one of my friends into thinking I was crying. I was too embarrassed. In the evening, I made cake from Betty Crocker boxes that Greg had gotten from the States and we ate it with Yuzi. It was my last time to sit with her, eat with her, be bored with her (I’ve come to love  sitting bored with people over the past two years; it’s surprisingly comforting.). By four am, the next morning, Greg and I boarded a crowded little minibus one last time with all my heavy baggage. Tired, in the dark and burdened with luggage, the only thing that hurt was the last hug with Yuzi as she watched from the doorway and wiped her tears. Then there were no more goodbyes. I was gone.

Part of me had been tempted to leave without goodbyes. I was afraid that people would be vulturous about the things I was leaving behind. I was afraid that people would respond to my farewell with indifference. Or I was afraid that people would make it into a big production and a big scene. But I knew that I also didn’t want to be remembered as the cowardly girl who shyly disappeared without a word. So I made the plan to do it all in small, personal doses. And that made my last memories some of my happiest. I got hugs from some for the first time (cheek kissing is preferred as less intimate than hugs). They said kind words. One sent me away with cookies, others with beaded and shell necklaces, and another with preserved unripe curry mangos. Even the summer sun sent me off with freshly tanned skin and highlighted hair.

It was heavy but in the best way. Goodbye Ilha. Hello to the next amazing chapter of my life.

Goodbye Miguel. He was our hookup for electronics and souvenirs. A very handy friend.

Goodbye Yuzi. I'll miss my landlady.

Goodbye Adelia. She taught me to gut fish; she will be missed.

 

Hello America! Let's Merry!