Upon Returning

Italicized excerpts: from “Paradox” by Sarah Kay.

When I am inside writing, all I can think about is how I should be outside living. When I am outside living, all I can do is notice all there is to write about…I am stumbling in pursuit of grace, I hunt patience with a vengeance…I spend most of my time wondering if I should be somewhere else.

When I returned to Amherst this semester, I felt like I had run into a brick wall. My momentum started to pick up upon returning from China and continued to build through a semester of uprising and a taste of solo travel. I felt like I was sprinting down a steep hill, landing each stride quicker than the last. At times, it felt too fast, but the grade of the hill propelling me forward, the bottom still out of sight, I continued to move forward with a reckless ease. I had been sprinting for so long, my energy seemed as if it would last forever. The ground beneath me moved so quickly that its eventual flattening went unnoticed. When I finally ran into the wall and fell to the ground exhausted, I was half-surprised and half-expectant, slightly accepting, but mostly disappointed. I found I could not get up again and I did not have anywhere I wanted to run.

This realization was startling to me. My stark change in attitude, the discontinuous development of events, and my dominant feeling of lethargy comprised my worst nightmare. I had finally returned from China.

When I returned to the U.S., I never really let myself return. I tried to maintain the heightened self that my time away, new experiences, and enhanced mobility had activated. I fixed my gaze forward, creating a bucket list to mimic mobility in a routine and handicapped setting. I kept my stare narrow, not speaking to my parents who were reminders of who I was before, ignoring insecurities and character flaws that I thought I had grown out of, and rejecting a socialization that I believed I could displace myself from. Problems created my purpose. Unwilling to look inward for direction, Amherst Uprising became my North Star. How oddly fulfilling it was to think about all the issues in the world instead of in myself.

Upon returning, it all comes back to me. Now that the same problems no longer exert the same pull, I find that I still bend easily to pressures that crippled me in the past. I sense that my vision is becoming darker, my eyes unable to sharply cut through the fog of the present. I am disappointed not just because of how solidly I once stood and how clearly I saw before, but because as much as I fear normalcy, I can no longer fight it. I am tired of moving from place to place, embracing every project set in front of me, and pressuring myself to hold written words in my head. I can no longer shoulder all of what, of whom, I wanted to carry home with me. A piece of who I was is left behind in the place from where I came. Like pointing two same-pole magnets towards each other, the more I try to bring those parts of me together, the more apart they become. Between feeling unsettled here and an unwillingness to settle myself elsewhere, I am rendered immobile in a present I cannot belong to.

There are names for times like these. Returning. A fallout. The aftermath. Sophomore slump. Purgatory.

A friend told me, “You don’t get to experience this inaction for very long.” I found his wording interesting -that I don’t get to stay here… as if this place were a privilege, this time was not just for waiting, this space was not a suspended paralysis, but a wonderful stillness. In this time when the voices outside of me have quieted, when my own no longer has anything to shout at, how do I find what I care to write about? In this time with no external adventures, with problems that I have lost the energy to tackle, how do I find comfort in stillness? In this time when I am without a constant sense of agitation, when I remain back against the brick wall, what will move me again?

So instead, I have learned to shape the words thank you with my first breath each morning, my last breath every night. When the last breath comes, at least I will know I was grateful for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be. All the places I made it to, all the loves I held, all the words I wrote. And even if it is just for one moment, I know I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.