Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Last Days of Saigon

Leaving ain't easy, but I'm doing it professionally at this point. Despite my frequent tendency to go away from places and people, it still feels like having a rug yanked out from underneath me. It goes like this:

6 months to go- You've got too much time.

1 month to go- You think you've got more time than you really do.
2 days to go- You didn't get nearly enough of it.

I woke up in a panic this morning, realizing that I would actually be leaving Saigon for good in two days. I had gotten only four hours of sleep and drank one too many beers the night before. The combination of jet lag and hangover made me long for my lumpy, spring mattress, but my stomach was in knots and my mind was racing. Insomnia was in full force. I ran out of my house, grabbed a coffee and asked my neighborhood xe ôm to rush me to the nearest moto rental shop. Whipping through the chaotic streets was one of the best ways to bask in the city. It hit the spot on days like these.

I exchanged money for keys and started off down the crowded Bui Vien hem. My Doremon face mask was soaked with tears before I turned onto the main road. Desperation was a terrible state to drive in, but it was a position that I had found myself in on multiple occasions. The hot wind crashing against my face, and the need to make quick, decisive movements as the city's sights and sounds bled by like colors in a painting, served as a medicine for my aching heart. It was enough stimulation to clear my mind of anything, but the task at hand. 

The city's underwater tunnel dropped me on the opposite side of the river. The District 2 shoreline had become a secret space of mine. Underdeveloped and disconnected from the rest of the city, it was peaceful and hosted a full view of the dramatic, opposing skyline. The muddy riverbank, which usually hosted a string of pop up coffee shops and food carts, was deserted in the oppressive, late afternoon heat. There was only me, crying, and one old man, fishing. I watched him struggle on his line two or three times, only to reel in an empty hook. Each time, we would nod and force a smile towards one another in acknowledgement our mutual frustration with the present moment.

The longer I sat, the more hysterical I became, but the images around me slowly began to lure me into a more meditative state. Tiny, tug boats trudged through the murky river. Their passengers sat along the edges with limbs hanging overboard, trying to catch the breeze. The silent shoreline was such a juxtaposition to the city in the distance. It held so much life within its borders, but yet was so silent from this vantage point. 

These simple, beautifully Vietnamese moments were winding down for me, and that truth hurt me more than I ever realized it would. Exiting Vietnam was proving more difficult than leaving home.

The life you build for yourself matters. Starting from scratch is rejuvinating, and I've undergone significant changes since arriving in Vietnam. I left the US at a critical point in my life. Grief, anger and alienation were commonplace emotions for me at the time of my departure. I have reconstructed the person that I am, and I'm managing to keep it together. I'm not like I used to be. I'm not perfect in this new life, but I am stronger. I'm not so afraid of being a woman. In fact, I find power in it. I learned how to feel comfortable in my own skin, and how to laugh at myself on a regular basis.

It's a strange state of being, because while I'm intrigued by this new mindset, I am not sure if I completely accept the person I have morphed into. Some days, I really think that I was better before Vietnam. I was more selfless, maybe a better friend, and certainly, more open to connection. Now, I rely much more heavily on myself. I better understand my desires and limitations. I place much less value on those relationships that could be consistently and accurately described as a sacrifice. My internal focus is on building myself up. For the first time in my life, I feel that I am directing the course of my life, rather than passively experiencing my existence as it unfolds.  

In exchange, for this new found feeling of independence, I have put much less emphasis on growing roots. I've closed myself off to relationships, out of fear that I could potentially lose this feeling of control. In the past, these connections are what made life so convoluted. It's much more difficult to make a decision for yourself, knowing that it will deeply impact a person to whom you are closely connected. Lately, I wonder if I've become independent to a fault. Maybe, giving this up in order to reconnect will make me feel more balanced.

I'm just like anyone else; all that I want is to be happy. Happiness fluctuates for me, and it always has, but in Vietnam, there were times when I felt unstoppable. On those days I knew that I was finally living the life that I was meant to. I had become the brave, confident and powerful woman that I had always envisioned myself being. Just thinking about it, and knowing that I could lose that, makes my body ache. It's the same desperate feeling of not being able to have someone that you love. I can feel it all over, as tangible as a sickness.

I know that I lose some of my power when I am in Kentucky. I've got baggage there. I'm 26, and 24 of those years were spent in one place. Like all people, I've had hard times over the course of my life, and the tricky thing is, I have come to associate Kentucky with those difficulties. It is the place where they were experienced. I love my home more than anything, but that doesn't make it good for me right now. There are struggles and realities in Kentucky that just don't exist for me in Vietnam, or at least not as strongly. Over time, I began to associate Vietnam with many different things, but healing was a big part of my experience. It gave me the time, and the break that I needed to change myself. 

Now, I'm leaving that behind, and I can hear myself begging and pleading not to do it. This laundry list of uncertainties circulates in my head throughout the day.

"What am I going to do when I get home? Who am I going to be? How can I expect to maintain this new personality there? I don't feel ready. How can this really be ending so soon? Am I expected to go home and stay there forever? Is this me starting my so called, 'real adult life'? What if I can't handle it? What if I never really get out again?"

Those questions are so jolting, but through all of that noise, something, somewhere in the back of my mind keeps saying that going home to Kentucky is the right thing to do. I don't know where that comes from, but it's what I'm going to do. I imagine that when I am asked about Vietnam or my future plans, I won't know what to say, since I can't answer those questions to myself. I feel exactly as I did after completing undergrad. I want to dodge all of the questions and expectations. Really, I just want to keep being myself, while I find a way to integrate this new experience into my life at home.

I keep writing mostly as an attempt to find ways to clarify this to myself, and to my friends and family. I don't feel quite clever or poetic enough to put the thoughts into the right words. The last two years were too big, and too beautiful for me to understand or properly describe to someone who wasn't there. I experienced the majority of this alone. I changed, but no one was there to see it. That makes me feel alone, as if no one will really see the full picture when they are looking at me.

At the end of the day, the flight is booked and I'm going to be on it. There really is no good time to make intercontinental moves. You just have to do it, and wait to see how it all turns out. I read once, that there aren't actually good or bad decisions, only decisions that have outcomes that will take our lives in a particular direction. That idea is comforting in the present moment. This is just another step in the journey. It will have highs and lows just like any other chapter of my life. At the end of it all, I will have changed once again, and that is the one thing that I can count on.

"Oh why, did I go?
I don't know,
Only thing I think to say is,
Get on the train,
Get on the train,
and ride it till you come."
- Sylvan Esso