Eleven. That’s how many sets of twenty four hours I’ve been back on extraordinary Washington ground since I boarded my plane leaving Cambodia, looking back over my shoulder with tears in my eyes and anxiety battering through my chest.
Eleven. That’s how many days it’s taken to adjust, and will continue to adjust, to life back in the States. I still have abnormal sleeping habits, get ravenously hungry at 2 in the morning, and can’t listen to certain song tied to my time in Phnom Penh without feeling an ache that’s incredibly hard to shake.
Eleven. That’s how many days it has taken me to be able to open my mind to the night I left, to return to those salty goodbyes and panicked moments of a change of a lifetime, the step onto the next moving train rather than in front of it and to breathe in under the break of a surf in the small pocket of air, right before you’re enveloped in water rather than fighting to beat it.
I know that this moment is fleeting, that things will change in mere moments and that another set of problems, emotions, solutions, and tasks will present themselves to me in the blink of an eye: but right now I have enough clarity to share. When I was showing my passport before heading through security, tears streamed down my face, for many reasons. They only fell faster and more thickly stained with mascara when the security agent asked tenderly, “why are you crying?”
I didn’t know how to answer. So I spoke honestly, and in just a few words I expelled all the truth I had when I responded, “I am going to miss Cambodia.” Cambodia has been and is a representation of countless things for me personally and within that representation, I will miss all of those things. They can’t be pinpointed- yet- and I’m doing my best to not try and overthink each one of them. For I am home, in the Pacific Northwest where the air is clear, my teeth chatter, and while achingly cold in so many aspects- where I feel warmest.
Eleven. In those days, I have celebrated births, new homes (for myself and my friends), new jobs, reconnecting, planting my feet on the ground but rolling along in my shiny new car, delving back into life with family and friends, experiencing the ease of the first world and the frustrations as well, felt losses and wins, and continue to stay planted on the edge of my seat waiting for the next adventure to come. I got to see Michelle slay “Shoop” for Brooke Casanova’s birthday karaoke pizza bash, laugh over glass upon glass of champagne with friends I’ve known for years, sit across tables with my mom to talk about everything from Taco Time to death, gathered at Sally’s to congratulate Seth and her on their gorgeous new home, and threw bottles of Absolut outside onto the sidewalk with Nicci when the Seahawks lost their reigning title. What frivolous, yet fantastic things. How lucky am I to be experiencing them yet again.
Eleven. Those days filled with nostalgia, already, for The Charming City. For its quirks and idiosyncrasies, for its redness and humidity. For its naive and blundering wonder and thrilling warmth, for its memories and truths and lies. For the small town imperfections to the expansion that quickly sprawls across the city. For my incredible friends, the people I love, and for those I had yet to truly encounter. I left a piece of myself in Phnom Penh that I will never regain and I don’t even want it back. It’s nestled there right where it should be, like the Ring in Mordor. And just like anything precious to our natural, broken selves- I will return to that place in hopes to revisit that precious thing. I will be back. For a visit? Definitely. For a move? Highly unlikely, but I’ve learned to live by “never say never”. But you’re not rid of me, Cambodia, and you never will be- at least in my mind.
And thousands. Those are the days to live and to let live. To write another chapter, to take another step and maybe fall back two. And in those thousands, I hope that I will cry at many an airport more- for reasons beautiful despite their worldly ugliness, for the notes scrawled into my diary, and for the souls that mesh with mine.