There are three reasons that I watch a sad movie on an airplane: I have a good cry held in that I need to let out, I need a good cry for therapeutic reasons or I want to mask the fact that I am already crying. On my flight from Mexico City to Atlanta, I watched WONDER, partially for the first reason, but mostly for the third.
One thing I remember from our orientation at the beginning of Remote Year is that they tell you how you are going to feel in the beginning and how you are going to feel in the end. But no matter what anyone told me about how I was likely going to feel or how most other people felt at the end of this year-long experience, I was not emotionally prepared for how I actually would feel.
I knew I was going to feel sad and nostalgic for the people that I had traveled with, but I did not expect the anxiety. I suppose it makes perfect sense to have felt that way. Here I was, a year after starting this journey, facing another major life change. Only the difference between this year and last year is that I am now faced with a great unknown in almost every aspect of my life. Even though there was plenty of anxiety last year, I at least knew roughly what I would be doing for the year ahead. I had an itinerary. My living and travel arrangements would be accounted for and, though I would be meeting them for the first time, I knew I would be with the same people for the duration of our travels.
This time is different. I have some basic plans lined up in terms of locations for months 13 and 14 but beyond that, nothing. I planned to stay in my home state for the time being but I am leaving the decisions of location open pending professional opportunities because I do not yet know what path I will take for my career going forward. And by not setting a location in stone, I do not know which people I will surround myself with. Perhaps that is an even bigger anxiety than I realized it would be because one thing that my tramily taught me this past year is the importance of community.
So after watching a sad movie on my flight, I tried to hold back the tears as I disembarked my plane in Atlanta and made my way toward passport control. I found the line that I needed to be and slowly made my way to the back and saw it snaking down the endless corridor and back again.
“Awesome,” I thought. “This is going to take a while.”
Dreading the idea that I might miss my connection if it took too long, I passed the time scrolling through Instagram and Facebook to take my mind off things. Except that did not help. My social feeds were flooded with posts from everyone in the group expressing their emotional goodbyes and the ending of one of the best years of their lives, including my own. My eyes flooded over and the tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt alone in the crowd surrounded by strangers, missing the companionship of my group from our eleven transition days together this year. I looked around the room and kept seeing some of my fellow Veritians in the crowd, only to remember that they were not with me just in time to bite my tongue from calling out to them. I blinked at the sign that said ‘United States Customs.’ I began to register that I understood the conversations being had around me. I stared blankly at the agent realizing I spoke the same language. I managed to get out a quick, “gracias” as he handed back my passport, followed with a shake of my head and a mumbled, “er, I mean, thank you.” The reality of having returned slowly sank in. I was back in my home country and all I could think to myself was an exasperated, “what now?!”
I woke up the next morning in “my room” at my parents’ house. It did not feel like coming home since it was neither my room from my childhood nor was it even the house I grew up in. To me, it just seemed like the next “new bedroom” that I arrived in after a transition day. As I got up, I thought about some of my friends I said goodbye to only 24 hours prior. A strange feeling washed over me as I asked myself, “did that just happen?” Sitting on the edge of the bed, I went through the people, the faces and the memories in my head. I had the strangest disconnect with all of it as if the whole thing had happened a really long time ago or had not happened at all. I remembered my friend D-Ry telling me that when he had returned home after his Remote Year ended just four weeks prior, it first felt like being home was a dream and then soon it felt like Remote Year was the dream. I realized that that was exactly what I was feeling. I tried to think if I felt like I was home for a visit and would be returning to Los Angeles and my previous job at Wheel of Fortune but oddly enough, even that part of my life suddenly felt like a dream. It was as if my entire adult life had been a dream and I had just woken up like Dorothy after her journey through OZ or Alice returning from the rabbit hole that had led her to Wonderland. It made me think of the classic story outline from Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. Similar to the heroes of these adventure stories, I had gone out to a special world filled with mentors, trials and tribulations, treasures and triumphs and have now returned to my ordinary world. And just like everyone I have spoken to since my return, I ask myself, “what now?” How do I follow up an experience like that? Where does one go from here? What am I supposed to do next?