I belong to myself – Thoughts on coming home

So, I’m coming home really soon, and I’m starting to think about what that will be like after the initial excitement and joy and comfort.

I’ve seen a lot of people writing about what it feels like to return home, dealing with reverse culture shock, homesickness for your second home in your host country, feeling alienated and not listened to and basically just depressed. And it made me think. I’ve been so excited to return home, thinking about all the things and people I miss, all the things I will do and eat and see. All the things that will be so much easier, relaxed, comfortable, and convenient. But, at the same time, I know there will come the time that everything sort of comes crashing down. When everything settles. I’m gonna freak out, and I know it. I’m gonna feel trapped and restless and definitely anxious. I’m going to question who I am and where I belong and why everything feels so weird and why everyone feels a little distant and what the hell am I doing, anyway.

People talk about missing the country they were in, everything that made up the place — the people, the food, the architecture, the culture, the language. And yes, all those things are important, but it’s also not that simple. Because it’s not just about the place. It’s about you. It’s about who you are and who you can be in that place. There is a loss and a grieving for that when you go back home. There’s the you that you were before and there’s the you that existed halfway across the world, and you suddenly don’t know who to be where or how to make these different versions of yourself come together as one, now that the dusty unknowns of your life have settled.

And yes, maybe I won’t have access to certain things or things won’t look the same or sound the same or taste the same back home, but I think it’s not gonna be all about the surroundings, but rather the inner. How I can be my old self and my new self and all the selves in between, wherever I am, in whatever ways I can. 

I have come to the realization that I may never feel like I really belong anywhere, that I don’t have a home. And that’s okay. I think what I want to work on is figuring how to make wherever I am and whoever I’m with feel like home, however temporary or not. I didn’t do such a good job of that in Spain; I made my life and my routine, but I never shook the feeling of being utterly alone. Isolation is a bitch, and upon the idea of finally “going back home,” I realized that maybe that’s not what I’m really doing. I’m going back to the familiar, that’s for sure, but home? I don’t know what home is for me anymore. I graduated. I moved away. I’m not really sure what I have left to come back to. I don’t think home is any particular place. Home needs to be myself, but not in a half-assed, this sounds cool and romanticized kind of way. In a real way.

Because everything has changed, with me over here and with everything else back home. And a lot of it is social. To be honest, there isn’t one friendship I haven’t questioned at least once since I’ve been abroad. There really is nothing like being in another country for an extended period of time to test your relationships with people, especially if when you return, you no longer have your community or a place or reason to keep you all together. Every single one of my relationships have changed, some for the worse and some for the better. Some, even best friendships, have been completely abandoned, dissolved. Now, some of this is natural upon graduating from college, but some of this also has to do with being here. And I wonder what it’s going to be like when I return. Will things change again? Will certain relationships get better? Will I care? Will I even want them to? Will I look at things the way I did, now that I know what happens when things get a little hard or inconvenient? I don’t know. Probably not.

I know I will hear countless “I thought about you all the time!” and “I missed you so much!” and “I love you!”’s, and I know most of the time my immediate reaction will be — “did you really, though?” or “no, you didn’t.” I don’t want to sound jaded, but, maybe I am. So much about belonging, so much about home is the people. I’m just trying to cut through the bullshit and see what’s real.

But I do wonder.

Who will listen. I mean really, really listen.

Who will be there to hear something past the short, watered down version of what most people want to hear.

Who won’t roll their eyes every time I start a sentence with, “when I was in Spain..” or “well, in (insert country here), blah blah blah.”

Who will understand that there are multiple, varied ways you can live your life.

Who will see that everything is different.

Who will look outside the blinders we have on.

Who will get what actually matters.

Who will try.

Who will be real.

I don’t want to sound holier than thou or anything like that, I’m just trying to be realistic about what is to come. But it doesn’t end there. This time next year, I’m going to be a new me, again. And isn’t that just what life is? The evolution of the self, documented in years. Constant changing. Becoming older is just becoming new, again and again.

One of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, Warsan Shire, ends with the lines,

“I am a lover without a lover.

I am lovely and lonely and

I belong deeply to myself.”

I belong deeply to myself, with myself. It’s not a place. It is a state of being that I’m trying to learn how to bring with me, everywhere. But it’s hard. I love and love and love, and I am lonely more often than not. But I belong. I belong to me. I belong with me.

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Dealing with trauma again.

Let me tell you about some shit.

Our last night in Amsterdam we had many disappointments and messed up plans. I mean, it was one of those nights where you’re like, “really? you’ve gotta be kidding.” But we kept a good attitude and still wanted to take advantage of our last night in that beautiful city.

After all other plans fell through, we decided we wanted to go to a gay bar, but had been told that the very few lesbian spaces had pretty much been taken over by gay men. (Of course, because all the other LGBTQ spaces weren’t enough, already.) However, in the face of getting multiple disgusting comments and uncomfortable stares throughout our trip, we decided to go to a gay bar we had been to earlier in the day, even though it was mostly a male space. Knowing there probably wouldn’t be any queer or gay women there didn’t matter so much when compared to wanting to feel comfortable and not under threat. On the way there, I said, “oh well. At the end of the day, I just wanna feel safe.”

When we arrived, we were the only women in the entire building. We went downstairs and got settled. Candace was chatting and laughing with a group of gay guys and Zenaida and I were sharing a really nice conversation out on the ledge, hanging our feet over the canal, commenting on how beautiful it was and how happy we were to experience this. Pretty soon, though, a middle-aged man began incessantly mocking Zenaida and I as we chatted away from the group. After telling him to stop and butt out of our personal conversation multiple times, only for him to get louder and start insulting our intelligence, we decided to just leave. He ran up in front of us and began mocking us again, retelling the story to his friend upstairs at the bar. Candace informed the bartender that this dude kept bothering us to the point that we were so uncomfortable that we were leaving. Maybe solidarity is bullshit. On the way out, angry and not wanting to be submissive to his misogyny, I turned to the man and told him to go fuck himself.

What happened next was a surprise.

I was surprised because he was a gay man. But a man is a man is a man is a man. I was surprised that none of the other men stood up for us or protected us at any point. I was surprised that this “safe space” wasn’t a safe space at all. In fact, it was where the violence we were trying to avoid happened. And it’s sad that that was all we wanted, to feel safe and within our community. Is there a safe space to be a woman? Is there a safe space to be a gay woman? I don’t know.

He chased me out of the bar into the street, hit me and tried to throw me to the ground, and when I looked up, I saw his fist coming down to punch me in the face. Luckily, I was able to protect myself and with the help of Zenaida, who shoved him away down the sidewalk, he couldn’t lay his hands on me any further. With the commotion, a few passing guys on the street separated us all to do nothing but to tell US to calm down.

In the face of violence, there is a slow-motion moment of silence before the breaking. A point of clarity where everything washes away and it’s just you and them.

In that moment, with his fist coming to break my face, I shrunk. I felt myself fall into my heels, invisible. In that moment, I thought, “What if he has a weapon? I could die tonight. I could die right here. I could die right now.” In that moment it didn’t matter that I was right or he was drunk or what degree I have or that I’m an empowered feminist. I was just a woman. Small. Nothing.

The truth is, your education doesn’t prepare you for your personal life. Your attitude doesn’t protect you from a fist. Your voice can’t always stop the violence from happening.

I’m not saying this to be depressing or hopeless. I do believe we have more power than we know; we are strong and loud and capable. Still, though, these things hold true. I am at a place where I am figuring out how to stand up for myself and also how to be safe doing so, in what ways I can use my voice and my body for change, from where my power can come from (in both speech and silence) — in all facets of my life.

I walked away thinking about all these small moments that go unaddressed every day. How I will remember this, add it to my growing folder of experiences of misogyny. How it may subtly affect the way I carry myself in different spaces, when it may make me more apt to stay silent, where the hell I can put my anger and frustration, how to call out misogyny and violence in the LGBTQ community.

But him? And all the men? Well, most of the time, they forget. They get to forget. They get to walk away unscathed with no consequences. They don’t have to face anyone. The only thing they lose is the memory of it even happening.

And the thing is, we don’t forget. We remember. We remember the next time we walk down the street, before bed, in the shower, at the bar, in the club, while we get dressed, on the bus, in front of the mirror, at work, during lunch, with friends, alone.

It’s been my first year out of the bubble of my women’s centered college, and I have experienced more violence, looks, and comments from men than I ever have before. And I’m not ashamed of saying it — I’m scared. Let’s not think our empowerment means it is shameful to be scared or sad or silent. I am scared that this is just year one. One year among a lifetime of future violence and fear and paranoia. Imagine all the little and big moments women experience throughout their lives and all the memories they collect. All the looks, comments, insults, catcalls, threats, and abuse we experience, from the street to our beds, reported and unreported, reportable and unreportable, noticed and unnoticed. What does it all add up to and where does it go? Because I am just trying to keep my head above them all, high enough to still see the sun. To still see the good. To still see myself.

And I can’t help but thinking.

Is this what it means to be a woman?

To be hunted and haunted?

To be prey of both men and our memories of them?

I refuse to believe gender violence is an inevitable, unchanging part of society. I do not accept it as a fact of our world. But I am also not naive enough to think it will disappear in my lifetime, to simply relish in “progress,” to trust a damn thing without one eye open. We are in some middle place, we are out on a bridge somewhere with fog too thick to see what lies ahead. I do not know where that is or how long the journey may be. I just know I’m going to keep walking. 

home

I don’t worry so much anymore

about the suffering;

it is the birthplace

of resilience.

The womb of it, my first home.

 

We all go back, sometime,

and kiss our feet for learning

how to walk out the door.

From Salamanca

Today I walked in a city you loved me in once.

The ghost of us like that first Cathedral —

silent, but at the center of everything.

The place that gave birth to this city,

made it North Star for anyone needing something

to believe in.


You live in some other world, now.

And I live here, still, in the wound

of you.


Tell me, have you forgotten it all?

Or are you still running in circles

around another city you loved me in,

are you still sweating out the me in you,

like I am?

How often do you think about me?

How long has it been since you’ve said my name?


I still think about what we could build,

like those saints did;

how we could outlast everything

around us; how monumental and beautiful and resilient

this love could be.

They could call us a UNESCO World Heritage site, too.

People would pay their loose change to

climb centuries old staircase after staircase

just to see the world all laid out before them,

on the rooftop of this holy thing we could call ours,

just to see from where we could be standing.


But you live in some other world, now.

And I live here, still, in all the places you’ve never loved me back in.


Tell me, have you forgotten it all?

Tell me, are you still running?