I was talking with a friend at our language center graduation after-outing (context, man) and he asked the question our students seem so curious about, “So what do you do now that classes are over?” Great question. Dolefully I explained to him the slow death the week is shaping up to be, how I had already done a casual preliminary cleaning and had begun taking decorations down around the flat, and how unpleasant it was to be caught between going and not being home yet.
“Ah,” he says, “Yes, we have a word for this in Russian, suitcase mood.”
“Huh?” I was intrigued.
“Yes, чемоданое настроение. Your feelings when you are preparing to leave.”
“Yup,” I affirmed, “It’s exactly that.”
All these months I have clung to the assumption that these last two weeks would fly by. Full of tying up loose ends, cleaning the flat for the new team, visiting our favorite places for the last time, packing, shopping, saying good-bye to our friends. We are indeed doing all of those things, and yet, time seems to be dragging by slower than it ever has before. And this in-between-y-ness sucks so much.
We’ve been doing some mental preparation for going back. Bet and I listen to Top 40 music when we do the dishes, we’ve been reading American news. We are practicing talking about our experience here, we are guarding against attitudes of comparison and criticism. We’re doing our re-entry homework even though our organization doesn’t exist anymore and nobody’s making us! And while all of this prep is probably wise and a good use of time, it doesn’t help me now.
I was overcome with a wave of jealousy when Skyping with some of our friends from here who have arrived in the USA for the summer. They showed a quick view of the ocean (the ocean!) and told about drinking black coffee at McDonald’s. (They didn’t know cream and sugar were on the condiments table, and I feel their pain so much!) I’m so happy that my friends whose culture I experienced all year are now experiencing my culture; it’s cool and it’s awesome and it’s really interesting! But I am so jealous that they are in my country and I’m still here.
But I have these moments. When I step into the shower, when I sit in our reading nook, when I wait at the Tourist bus stop, when I climb the steps in our apartment building. This life has become normal, and in a few days it’s going to stop. It’s going to be a memory. A weird memory of that time life in a different place became normal. I try to remember the former normal, my routines back home. How it felt to step into the shower there, how it felt to walk up the stairs in my house, what Providence Place Mall is like, what walking in the woods behind our house is like. It too is a memory, because even home will not be just the same as when I left it.
So I have the same problem I always have. Different context, same heart issue. The ache of change.
I like having a word for it now, though. All week, the answer to the question “How are you?” or “What’s new?” has been the same: “Suitcase mood.” And maybe the all the details and complexities of that mood are difficult to understand, but one thing is understood: leaving is a process, and that process is hard.
And that’s okay.