Excitement, nerves and slight anxiety, in that order. Hotel rooms booked, activities planned. The only part missing is a person. Riding along in a crowded bus towards the airport I begin to think back on our last goodbye, the fond memories and laughs that we shared over the years and what that person is experiencing now in this particular moment in his or her life. Always, I arrive half an hour early on the absurd off chance that the flight might get in early. I pace and fidget among a crowd of aggressive taxi drivers who take turns swooping in to lure exhausted tourists into an over-priced ride into the city. Then after having my stomach quench with every flood of disheveled travelers, the moment jumps up from the chaos. A fleeting moment of recognition replaced by one of joy as our bodies collide in an intense hug. A dazed shuttle ride into the city mostly consisting of my shameless starring at the other person– incredulous to the fact that they’ve taken the time off from work, paid for a ticket and left their sense familiarity to come and experience a small piece of my life here. These people, who’ve decided I’m worth the trouble to come and visit during the two years of my Peace Corps service, have reaffirmed how much I value my friendships and how much I treasure the people whose lives have intertwined with mine.
The first day passes by stiffly as I’m still accepting the reality that a friend from the last chapter of my life has skipped the pages to land themselves into the current one. Somehow they slide into my surroundings as if they never had left in the first place. Long bus rides become truncated as we catch up– our rhythm reappears as the minutes fly by like the green scenery outside the buses’ smudged windows. Motifs resurface from the myriad of conversations that I’ve shared with my close Peace Corps friends– to be a 20-something, no matter where you live, means to live in constant uncertainty– trying to grasp at personal ideals of careers and love, like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands. The next few days are filled with volcano boarding, white water rafting, zip lining, channeling us to focus on the immediate, attention-demanding present. As the adrenaline wears off and we find ourselves sharing a meal or drink together the barriers begin to fold as the conversation turns into a reminder of one of the pinnacles the human experience. Intensity sharpens our venue: watching a purple sunset over the Caribbean, listening to dark palm trees rustle in the crisp salty air from a hammock, sipping a calm cup of morning coffee on a rooftop terrace, we watch our words lazily float upwards into the air as a deeper reason for the visit unfolds. We all are looking for a momentary escape to re-evaluate our search for the illusive “it”, whether it be stability, love, authenticity, a career or general happiness. It’s those moments of intense clarity in which we can discuss how to create ourselves instead of find ourselves, and decide to make or remake our life’s trajectory, to remain hopeful for the years to come.
And yet, we always circle back to our mutual past.
We obsessively glance backwards in hopes of seeing a hidden signal for where our next step might lie. We search for signs of change, some benchmark of growth, a shred of evidence that since graduating we’ve really lived despite the dominating mundane adult lifestyle.
The allotted week slips by and we find ourselves saying goodbye again. Uncertain plans to see each other are feebly mentioned. The plane takes off and they slowly slip out of my present and back into my past.