Brushing it off and saying “it’s just one of those days” is a disservice to yourself. It’s a cheat out of giving yourself permission to experience real pain, real emotions, real sadness. Whether or not you understand where it’s coming from doesn’t necessarily matter- and it doesn’t make it any less.
What was it that made my brief walk home from my neighbourhood bar so unapologetically lavishly feminine and dauntless? An anomaly of exposure and tenacious durability.
Take one look at my planner and you’ll understand why I’d like to schedule my coffee with you two weeks in advance (three weeks if it’s dinner), why my kitchen looks the way it does (horrible), and the reason I have to hit up the gas station every few days (thank the Lord for low petrol prices).
Pain is a strange thing. It’s beautiful and it’s horrifying and it’s been researched and reviewed and wondered about for centuries. I’ve read that the body refuses to remember specific types of pain, childbirth for instance. There are also the types that the mind will hold onto forever. Research shows that any pain lasting more than a few minutes leaves a trace in the nervous system. But that’s only physical pain- what about the emotional? Suppression or substitution are two ways of avoiding memories of painful or uncomfortable times, yet in the moment of emotional or mental pain it feels as if there is no way to reduce it other than chemically.
It’s already been a month since I made my first trek to Phnom Penh and experienced this well-known yet no less easy twelve hour layover in the McDonald’s-less Incheon Airport in Korea. The last time I was here, only a mere hundred feet away from where I sit now as I finished another entry, I was crying my eyes out. It was after a long night of slamming Soju and Asahi with Yoshi and our new friend, Misato, hashing out all of our frustrations and navigating through feelings of our impending work trip. I had experienced a restless six hours in the airport hotel, I was feeling anxious and disoriented, not knowing what to expect as I went back to the country I had left so recently and simply exhausted physically and emotionally.
We are constantly being told how we deserve to be happy.
“As long as you’re happy.”
“Make yourself happy.”
“If it makes you happy, then do it.”
“If it’s not making you happy all the time, why do it?”
Over the past few months, I’ve heard the word ‘baggage‘ more times than I have since I first checked in at the Seattle airport when I moved to Phnom Penh. In both metaphorical and literal terms, baggage has been the topic of the moment.
It’s that third month.
“We’ve been over this. You posted about your three month residence in Cambodia on the 5th,” you’re thinking.
This is different animal.
Since the third grade, I’ve managed to remember or imagine that something incredibly bad happens every three months. I’m sure it’s simply a superstition or a mathematical way of dealing with life, expecting the worst but hoping for the best, but mainly expecting the worst. Even now, fifteen years later, I clench my teeth and brace myself for the hard hit when that three month mark comes around; a death, a loss of some sort, a personal misguidance, heartbreak, or physical detriment. Maybe I dealt with “it” already with the visa issue, but I was able to let go of that so easily it seems like that can’t possibly have been the bit hit! I haven’t discussed this with a therapist so who really knows what that would bit is other than my undeniable pessimism, but I can say so far…December has treated me well.
First, Allison arrived. Gone are moments spent alone laughing in bed at something ridiculous on the internet. Disgraceful Top 40 guilty pleasure songs are now being played again. I get to engage with someone who is experiencing newly minted expat life along with me on a deeply personal level. Horror movies can now be watched in company(even though she hates them) and my terrible eating habits have somehow made their way back into my life after a 2 week health stint. Then, the exciting discovery of a perfect 4 bedroom villa in what I think is BKK1, could be BKK2, honestly it doesn’t really matter since the terrace is gorgeous, the floor plan is spacious, and our future flat mates are on the un-creepy side of the male gender, aren’t vegetarian, and showed up with hilarious passport pictures involving serious faces and basketballs. My mom has officially decided to return to Cambodia after her trip in January which is a huge relief as I would miss her more than anyone can ever imagine and I’ve had the immense pleasure to have met truly inspiring individuals in the past month, whether it be for their travels, business ventures, or passion for life; some having been given the gift of all three. I’ve enjoyed partaking in three photo shoots, an especially delightful one working with a fun, creative, and energetic photographer, Chatti, and so look forward to seeing the end results.
A “normal person”, a “balanced individual” would take this all and just embrace it and thank God that they’ve been blessed with such treats and experiences, but its as if some latent guilt or fear of something indistinguishable will keep me on the edge of my seat until January 5th. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit this ridiculous time frame for failure or pain I’ve cultivated, but I can only now express it so freely because I can truly say it’s lessened to the point of almost non-existence. A fleet of emotions with the tempo of a jazz song make their way across my days and nights, but apparently it’s enough to make me forget that something “bad” is going to ruin me, I’m just so focused on every other rampant thought raging through me I can’t make time for something like that.
One moment I’m acting like I was at ten watching cartoons and laughing at all the wrong parts and the next lying in bed listening to Iron and Wine and wondering if the romance, the love my mother and father shared will ever be known to me and an hour later trying to decide at just what level terrified I am of learning the ways of mergers and acquisitions. There are hours when I’m scrolling through friend’s Instagram accounts from the States and seeing Christmas lights and family gatherings and Hot Toddies that an ache for the known and loved ones takes me over. Then there are evenings, the hours of existentialism with some of the most endearing, honest, and wonderful people sitting on the front porch after MacGyvering two bottles without a wine opener talking about every aspect of everything openly and honestly; Fear and Loathing at Mischke No. 12.
This entry has no real point. I am simply here, figuring things out literally day to day, accepting the relationships as they come, the friendships as they go, learning, growing, failing, fearing, loving, despising, being humbled. I’m a young, young woman and I’m going to just allow myself for growth. No longer do I have to be the five year old who once said to her mother “I know everything.” I happily accept that I don’t know everything, I’m further away from it than the world has from being peaceful, and I’m grateful for the growth I have yet to do because if I really do know everything, life is going to be pretty darn lame.
I’ve been asked every single day for one reason or another,
“How long are you planning on staying in Cambodia?”
I’m honest when I say I have no intention of leaving any time soon. An end date is not something that has been acknowledged or visited and although I know nothing of what is to be in the coming months, whether pure excitement, success, joy, and education or of pure hell, Sylvia Plath perfectly expressed in a personal journal
“Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.”
Until that happens, I’m going to look at the glass half full. Full of purified drinking water, Pastis, or battery acid; it won’t matter. Something worthwhile, it’s happening. Bad can’t be recognized until it’s over. Then in my experience, as I look back on the time in the future, it turns out it was good because I lived through it, stronger than ever.