One month, two weeks and a day.
People text, people message, a few truly concerned pick up their phones a continent away. “Jess, how are you? Where are you? Are you alive?” The questions spiral around me like the daily morning mist that greets me on my sunrise runs.
I mumble and stammer excuses of time change and busy adjustments, but the truth is, I’m gone, hidden away in this haven of paradise where flowers drift down from the treetops and lazy music floats up on ukuleles like honey to my heart, warming my chest and loosening the knot that’s been tightening there for over a year now.
I arrived a month ago, flying low over the lights of Pearl Harbor and the boats along Waikiki as they waited for their weekly Friday night fireworks show. Glued to the window, I fought the tears that suddenly sprang to my eyes as the faint lights of the island slowly grew into a blaze of color beneath my straining gaze. “Vacationing?” the lady next to me asked. “Not exactly. Yes, I suppose.” I stammered.
The truth was, I was coming home. Home, it had been so long since I’d been home—27 months to be exact. 2 years, 3 months and a lifetime ago, I’d sat on another plane, so naïve and excited to head into my adventure. I never realized it wasn’t the type of adventure you write home about or categorize as “the good old days.” It’s the type of adventure that you survive. You get beat up on every side and spend 2 years keeping your head down and your eyes wary of everyone and everything that moves. You stay away from the darkness that gives men courage to assault you; you stay away from a host family that steals your money and starves you. You stay away from other Americans who would love to destroy you and from the support staff who purge the country of volunteers fallen from grace every few months. You stay away from everyone including yourself and by the end, your only thought each morning is surviving. I’ve come to learn I’m an expert at surviving.
So here I am, lost in paradise with chaos in my head and knots in my heart. My friends wait at baggage claim with hugs and leis to welcome me and we head off to the old apartment that hasn’t change with friends that still call me Jessie and remember me before I was Jessica. That’s the thing about coming back to the place that built you. It’s like waking up from a foggy dream and feeling like you’ve been asleep for a long time but everything is the same, even you, with a few scrapes and bruises time will heal. You just need a few moments to reorient yourself and remember. And that’s what I’m doing now, reorienting myself, processing, listening to hours of psychologists and lectures on PTSD, unplugging my phone and tuning into my head and my heart. My friends offer me their couch for a few months; my old job lets me slide back into an 8 to 2 workweek. I fall into a glorious routine of sunrise runs and early work days that end early and let me head to the beach. Oceans that calm my soul and sunshine that warms my face. I swim, I sleep, I listen, I think, I read, but most of all I write.
There’s a café next to the ocean and a nice restaurant with local musicians and romantic torches. I watch the young honeymooners and the old couples with their grandkids walk around, loving life and each other. They don’t notice me and I like it that way. I don’t want to be noticed. I want to be nothing more than a girl in a café or tourist on a beach. I want to disappear for a while as I suspend myself here in this moment to process the past and slowly turn towards the future. An ocean away there is responsibility and grad school and career paths to pursue, but not today; today, I am just a girl gone missing.