By now I have established that I didn’t really mean to move away; I didn’t really want to go. But man-oh-man, I’m ever so glad I did. When I think back to who I was before I left Georgia for that first time, I’m almost embarrassed. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am… almost.
I was your stereotypical little-girl-lost after college and, except for one useless move to Atlanta, which just cost me more in gas and rent, one wretched interview at some middle school that I don’t even remember the name of now, and one ill-fated room-renting that could’ve cost me a friendship if the friend hadn’t been the stronger of the two of us, I did nothing to help find my way out. I was in a ridiculous farce of a relationship that would meet any number of requirements for abusive and it seemed like life was destined to stay that way, since I obviously wasn’t going to do anything about it.
It took me a few trips out and a few trips home, but I literally came back. I came back to being me, an even better me than from before. I left home afraid, depressed, and lost, someone I did not know and did not care for. Even though planning my move was terrifying, I felt brave and exotic, stepping on that plane (only my second airplane ride ever). I was off on an adventure and life was changing. I moved to a country where I didn’t speak the language and I learned how to do things on my own- well, except order a pizza. That always made me exceptionally nervous for some reason. I started spending weekends at the beach, soaking up that good ol’ Vitamin D. I made friends with people who were all running away from something in their own way as well. I ate new foods, I drank too much Presidente, I learned a culture that was different from my own, people who had a much harder life than my college-educated self.
I remember those first few trips back home. I was like a celebrity! People were scrambling to see me, to meet me for lunches and dinners. When I went back to Logan’s for a visit, you would’ve thought Reba McEntire had walked in (’cause it was a country-music-playing-throw-your-peanut-shells-on-the-floor-yell-‘yee-haw’-for-people’s-birthdays-kinda-roadhouse)! The farcical boyfriend couldn’t believe I’d really done it and was much more impressed and interested after I’d returned… And I was finally able to say, “Uh. No thanks. Buh-bye now,” which was amazing.
I felt quite powerful, really.
And suddenly, through my new eyes, my little town wasn’t enough for me anymore.
As an international teacher, recruitment starts in October- you’ve hardly started a school year before you’re making plans to move to a new one. We start throwing together resumes, signing up for recruiting fairs, tweaking our websites and making sure we’ve had enough professional development. At the end of my contract in the DR, I had decided to go home. Truthfully, I was sort of picturing the fame and glory to continue for an indefinite amount of time. I would always be Kelli who went to the Dominican Republic to teach.
I was at my friend MP’s house one evening and, after telling me that she and her husband were going to recruit that year, she asked what I was going to do. I said I was going home. Without judgement, without malice, she simply asked, “Why? What’s waiting for you there?”
And I didn’t have an answer.
I realized that I had grown a little bit beyond home. I could see it for what it was- a wonderful place with a gleaming Target and a giant Michael’s and clothing stores where the clothes actually fit and TACO BELL. It was full of memories and the people I loved. But I didn’t really need to be there anymore. It had become a place of the past. It may be a place in my future, but it won’t be the same place, it won’t be the place I left. I’ll come back with a husband and two kids. I’ll come back with confidence and experience and other grown-up words (like mortgage and income tax). I’ll come back to a place where I know I am loved.
And I think that if you asked those people, the ones who were there for the bad and are still around for the good, they’d agree with you. They might not like it, but, if they’re being as honest as I’m being, I couldn’t have stayed home and been happy, not the way things were going then. I know most of those people want me to move home and that is a possibility on the horizon. But even though I miss them desperately every day, I had to go away. I had to go away to find myself.
And I think I’ve done a pretty bang-up job, if I do say so myself.