What Leaving Feels Like

I’ve been sitting on this post for a week. Exactly a week. Almost to the hour. I’d planned on keeping it for myself, but figured I’d already told you about eating bugs and going into a bank without pants. What’s one more thing?

I’ve been back for a week. Almost to the hour.

And the truth is that I’ve had a really hard time not being sad. I wake up and miss the heat, the smell, the adventures. The truth is that coming back, even after only being gone for three months, is hard. I haven’t been able to read the things I wrote while being away and haven’t dared to look at any of the pictures. This is how I felt coming back. For better of for worse.

“This is your heart
Can you feel it? Can you feel it?
Pumps through your veins
Can you feel it? Can you feel it?”

Leaving feels like a punch in the heart.

It feels like sitting on the back of a motorbike with thousands of pin-pick raindrops on your forehead. It feels like having no breath. It’s like a rounding a bend on a rickety bus in the mountains and it toppling over taking you with it.

It makes you want to grab every moment and memory and noodle soup and mango shake and hug and wave and swim and love and bruise and scrape and ocean dive and cramped local bus and rural gutter fire and cram it back in your brain so that it can’t be in the past. So it’s still waiting to be revealed. It makes you want to turn around and run.

It makes your heart hurt so much that your hands instinctively go and touch your chest while you cry on a bus driving under the blue signs welcoming you to Phnom Penh for the last time. And in the very next second it makes your heart grow a hundred times as big because you can’t think about leaving without thinking about the things making you want to stay.

Leaving makes you want to touch everything and shove it back inside your heart to be re-lived, re-loved, re-laughed.

I’ve heard loads of people say that they are ready to get home. Excited to see friends, ready to take real showers and happy to not have to make decisions about which buses to take anymore. And, while I’m interested in those things as well, I could keep doing this. I could keep taking cold showers. Could continue to get bruised and scraped. Dirty and dusty.

I guess that’s why you meet people who are on their second, third or constant trip. You don’t get it out of your system, you only find more things you want to see, places you want to go, thoughts you want to feel. It can be frustrating, for sure. Sometimes you have a day where Southeast Asia just gets to you. It’s too hot, there are too many mosquitos and everything in your bag smells like a basement. But the next day those things are okay. And so you take it in stride.

I am not ready to leave and it sometimes makes me feel like I can’t breathe. Leaving has slayed me. When I stepped out of the tuk-tuk at Pochentong Airport in Phnom Penh I didn’t want to leave. And as I write this somewhere over the Atlantic, nearing New York City I am still not ready.

I cried when I walked into the airport. I’d passed it on the bus each time I entered Phnom Penh, but never thought about what it would be like when it was time to go inside. I couldn’t have imagined it would be so hard. I cried when I got to the gate, walking through the bookstore looking at the titles about Cambodian history. I cried getting on the plane and then didn’t stop until the plane was somewhere South of Phnom Penh.

I cried my way through Changi Airport and then, many hours later, I cried my way through the Frankfurt Airport.

But, unless this plane turns around, I am USA-bound for now.

So, thank you Southeast Asia. You are glitter. I’m thankful for every second we spent together.

I’ve shared bugs with your Khmer men, danced for sweaty hours at Khmer weddings in rural muddy places and by the sea, watched the moon rise over your bright green-ness, tromped around at dusk to find your fireflies, been the 3rd jammed-in passenger on a 4 person motorbike ride under sprinkly soft stars en route to some serious lady boy dance time.

I rode in your buses in strange positions and only love you more after the ride that required my entry and exit via backroll through the trunk. You’ve made me throw my arms into the air on motorbikes out of pure happiness. You let me watch your beachy sunsets and I’ve fallen in love a hundred times and then a thousand times more after that. I’ve squirmed through tiny holes in caves with “Danger!” scrawled in red paint just above my wormy arms and thrown myself from docks in the middle of the night. You let me watch thunderstorm rain make neon green holes in a sea of bioluminescent plankton. I’ve crouched on a tiny crab boat in the dark with fishermen in their underwear that speak no English. I ate “animal killed in forest” without caring what it was and then lounged about on bamboo mats with the Bunong family that cooked it.

I drank all your beer, ate all your noodles and pepper sauce, then juice detoxed with your perfect fruit for 5 days and did it all again.

I shared your rooms with rats, cats, roaches, moths, geckos, ants, mosquitos and a huntsman spider (the most quiet and respectful of all!) I had so much fun I fainted. Twice.

I’m leaving with ant bite scars, knee scrapes, unexplained bruises, a Mekong induced double ear infection, a toe that’s missing a piece and everything I own smells like a mildew party.

Still, you are my new best friend.

You are my love.

You are my gigantic heart.

You’ve reminded me how much I wanna go get lost (thanks Tom Waits.)

 

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© 2014 Michelle Starin

 

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