The leaves are orange. This was my first thought leaving the airport two weeks ago. The crisp green foliage from my trip home in September had flashed into the brilliant hues of autumn. It was startling. In Botswana, the brown dirt and brown plant life always stayed the same dull shade of brown. Here now I was being confronted by visual proof of seasonal change. And change is exactly what I needed.
More has changed in the last 14 days than almost any other time in my life. I have traversed nine time zones to settle in a state I’ve only visited a handful of times. I moved from a desert just entering summer to a forested mountain just entering winter. I went from living in a two-bedroom house alone to living in my parents’ guests bedroom. I transitioned from having a job that demands your commitment 24/7 to the scariest thing of all: unemployed. Sitting at the center of this whirlwind has been all at once exhilarating, terrifying, stressful, and cathartic. I wanted change in my life, and I definitely got it.
My first week back I spent in northern Virginia, and I did a glorious amount of nothing. No stress, no concerns, instead spending time with zero pressing obligations. I barely talked to anyone except my boyfriend and my sister. I ate amazing food and watched an inordinate amount of bad television. It was a perfect few days. This was stage 1: decompression.
Everything I did, everywhere I went was a shock to the system. Going to the store and finding what I needed and then some. Being in public and not getting a second look. Not fearing a knock on the door or a phone call. All of my unconscious expectations were questioned, and I started losing my heightened self-awareness. It was a crash course in living in America again.
It was also a week of emotional processing. In the first few days, my phone buzzed with messages from friends, family and fellow volunteers all responding to my last blogpost. They echoed my sentiments and validated my struggles. Every single one was a message of support. The judgment and stigma of Early Termination proved to be entirely false. With this freedom and support, I was able to feel all of my feelings and identify feelings I didn’t even know I had. Volunteers who have also left early hinted at the long-term emotional journey of leaving Peace Corps, but I feel like I have made a good start to getting back to normal.
Six days later, I was on yet another airplane hauling most of my worldly possession to Portland, where my parents reside. My life now centers on a fog-shrouded mountain. When the fog melts into the valley or dissolves itself into rain, Mt Saint Helens looms in the distance. This hideaway serves as my new home base. This is stage 2: reentry.
Life on the mountain has had two aspects. First is the practical, administrative pieces of life. I need to figure out health insurance. I need to figure out what I’m eating for dinner. I need to figure out clothes to wear once it starts getting cold. My mother objected to my wearing flip-flops in 40 degree rain – apparently my feet will get cold. I have a growing list of emails and Facebook messages to answer. As my to-do list shrinks I’ve also been able to focus on doing the things I love.
Turns out, I love being dirty and making messes. I love being absolutely covered in mud or flour or sawdust and feeling productive through it. My recreation encompasses perfecting a challah bread recipe, training for the Turkey Trot, and putzing in my dad’s incredible garden. Even on cold, drizzly days there is nowhere else I would rather be than elbow deep in weeds with my dog curled up next to me. I also get to spend incredibly valuable time with my parents.
As I slowly transition back into “real life,” I’ve begun to discover a plan. I’m learning what I love to do and what I hate. I’m learning what’s important to me. This sounds like a lot for two weeks, but its a culmination of reflection and a lifetime of trial and error. I still have no good answer to “where do you see yourself in 3-5 years,” but I’m beginning to know where I’d like to be a week from now. That’s progress. This is stage 3: moving forward.
The last few days have been filled with driving from job interview to job interview. Finding a job is priority one, and only having a vague idea of my goals has made this search a challenge. My dream job, I’ve come to realize, is writing and editing. I would love to have a blogging career, but that’s a long-term pipe dream. For the moment, I’m trying to find something that I will enjoy and that will allow me to use and refine my skills. I’ve also been contemplating pursuing a certification in copy editing – we’ll see what happens.
Priority two is making friends. Moving to a new city, and then living with your (loving, amazing) hermit parents doesn’t necessarily foster a large social life. I’m figuring out ways to meet people and to explore this new place. But I’m excited to find a community that I want to become part of. I think there is definitely a place for me here. I just need to find it. That’s my plan.
Change is a scary thing, especially in big doses. We’re used to the gradual – the leaves turning orange one at a time. Life doesn’t always work that way. Endless uncertainty is also endless opportunity, and I’m ready for it. I feel more like myself than I have in a year. I’m more certain of myself than I have ever been. Change (and a garden) has been exactly what I needed.