Today, I realized I have 6 months left teaching and living in the Philippines.
And, my heart feels torn.
Sad because after a year and a half, I FINALLY “get” life here. I’ve adjusted. Not fully, but, quite frankly, I don’t want to fully adjust. I feel like with full adjustment, I’ll lose my sense of judgment a bit and will stop being able to “see the water”. You know, the whole “the fish doesn’t see the water” bit? Yeah, I don’t wanna be a fish. (I’m a person, damn it!).
While experiencing tinges of sadness and a ton of sentimentality, I’m also very happy. And proud. I mean, last year at this time, I was crying the hallway at school. Literally. My co-teacher reminded me of that as we were reminiscing about last year’s Teacher’s Day Ceremony. She was like, “Oh yeah…weren’t you crying in the hallway?” Haha. Talk about imbalance. But, in all fairness, I had a fever, body aches, basically the flu, and was still teaching wearing a freakin’ tracksuit jacket to keep warm (not that you’d think you’d need to keep warm in the Philippines). On top of that, I was still in the throws of a turbulent bout of culture shock, personal healing from “life experiences in the love department” (side note: I’m over that shit so maybe that’s why I’m feeling so light and free!), and was having a HORRIBLE hair day. Ugh.
Anyways, 6 months left so let’s do this.
I look back at where I’ve squandered the 1.5 years here and most of it was stressing about stuff that never came to pass or missing home and a sense of normalcy and familiarity. Well, not most, but a good chunk. Despite the social awkwardness and feelings of desolation, desperation, and downright depression, I do see how all that built me to be who I am today. And I’m pretty hella down with who this person is now so, in simple terms, bitch don’t kill my vibe. (Nah…it’s cool. I know you wouldn’t. I just like that saying even though I can imagine 17-year-olds wearing acid-wash cut-off jean shorts and mid-drift tank tops saying that ish…and I don’t quite know how I feel about using the same vernacular as that demographic.)
This evening I’m cooped up in a coffee shop post-Skype session because silly me forgot my umbrella and it’s raining outside. While YouTubing songs, I happened upon an oldie, but a goodie. The verifiable soundtrack of my summer abroad in Mexico, junior year: Rebelde (RBD).
Ahhh…gotta love Mexican pop music. Or, not. Whatever.
Anyways, listening to RBD again after so many years away from those memories of life abroad in Mexico and my first foray into the unknown waters of internationalism and “cultural immersion” (damn, this terms sound so…I don’t know…bookish? Detached? A neat way to categorize an experience that is often not very cleanly compartmentalized into consciousness?), I look back fondly, but I also look back with a bit of sadness.
Clearly, my heart is torn, but not in a way that’s jarring or disabling. Moreso, in a reflective, thankful way that makes me realize how beautiful and blessed my life is…even though many times prior I was hella hating it and just angry at the world. I let go of that anger and release it to the universe where it will be re-purposed into constructive energy. (And…affirmation out).
So, back to RBD. The fall when I returned to Gainesville after Mexico, I was hella missing life abroad so would listen to the RBD album like it was my job. Or, maybe a more precise description would be I listened to it like I spent time with my boyfriend because, let’s be honest, it was senior year in college, ain’t no work was getting done. My sister, ever the angel on earth, was volunteering at the hospital during this time, spending her free time with cancer patients and the likes while I got drunk on cheap afternoon beers and played flag football in the evenings. Man, college was sure like summer camp in some respects…minus the beer…unless you went to a cool summer camp, I guess? Anyways, she kept telling me about one of her patients, a young girl names Marina, who spoke only Spanish. Seeing that I would drop Rebelde lyrics like it was a normal thing, my sister kept insisting I go visit Marina with her.
Finally, on the afternoon of the Tennesee football game, before we would go tailgating and get obliterated as is the Gator Way on Game Day, my big sis and I rode our bikes down the hill to Shands to visit Marina. I still remember being scared out of my wits zooming down the hill to Shands. On a 10-speed bike when you have no idea how to shift gears or whatever the fancy bikers and hipsters do, I felt like I was going to fly off the handles and land in a pile of asphalt before I even got to the hospital. Plus, I may have had one beer to warm-up for the day so the hill was even more of a feat.
Hills aside, we made it to Marina’s room. I must’ve been 20? (Or 21 for legal drinking reasons). Once we got to her hospital room, the cheers and chants of the Gator Nation faded in the background as the beeps and mechanical whirrings of her machines took the lead of the background music. I don’t want to say that the atmosphere was insta-somber, but it was a bit sobering (literally and figuratively). Seeing this girl, maybe 14-16 years old, laying in bed, in her hospital gown with a shaved head, was surreal then and is surreal now. In my head, I was in my own world, coming off a summer of a lifetime, amped for game day again those silly Volunteers, and now, I’m finding myself volunteering a mere 20 minutes of my life to this girl.
We spoke in Spanish, exchanging pleasantries as if the fact that we were surrounded by these machines monitoring her vitals didn’t denote the impending death she would face. I brought my RBD album with me as that was the connector; my sister said she loved their music and she told Marina of her younger sister who studied in Mexico and spoke Spanish fluently. I gave her the album and have never seen it since. Nor do I want to.
I remember saying an “hasta luego” instead of “adios”. A “see you later” felt more kind to say than a “good-bye”. I nodded my respects to her parents and siblings and snapped back into the orange-and-blue craziness that is Gainesville during football season. Haven’t really thought about Marina since then until now.
How is it that almost 10 years after this exchange with Marina that YouTubing songs can bring such strong memories back of this unfortunate yet very real facet of life? Death. The end.
Maybe the finality, the “light at the end of the tunnel” of my 2 year stint in the Philippines has me thinking how everything really does meet its’ end eventually so the best thing we can do is just smile at the madness and enjoy the ride because once it’s over, it’s over?
Either way, I’m about to leave this coffee shop as I see a pocket in the rainfall. Still thinking of Marina, but more so knowing that everything really is okay in the end. And, lucky, blessed me. I still have time before my end so I’m ready (finally) to not just make the most of my 6 months here, but the most of my days in my life.
Admittedly so, the past 2 years or so have been my valley. They’ve been the hardest times I’ve had to face thus far. And, now that I can say I made it over the hump, through the rain, past the tough part, I’m coasting now. Muthaeffin’ coasting…with a bit of worry if things pop up again, but even if they do, I am armed with the confidence of experience knowing that I can handle this…and this time around, with a lot more grace and poise than previously done.
How beautifully ironic that the uplifting, saccharine sounds of pop music line my very morbid yet real memory of Marina. I’m sad, but I’m also not, because that’s life. And rather than “quedarme en silencio”, I’m choosing to sing my song rather than lead a life of quiet desperation, dying with my song in my heart. I hope you willing to do so, too.