I have been super amazingly sick with some sort of martian death flu from hell: the kind of sick where my hair was all matted sweatily to the side of my head; the kind of sick where I would have to take a nap after an exhausting hour of watching TV; the kind of sick that caused me, for several consecutive days, to have no interest in either food or the internet–which basically meant, I’m pretty sure, that I was close to death up in there for a while, even without that ill-advised Keeping Up With The Kardashians marathon. I managed to make it into work today without getting sent home like I did on Friday (although one of the receptionists took one look at my swollen tissue-sore nose this morning and was like, “What happened?”) and I am keeping down, if not exactly enjoying, my strict menu of white bread and yogurt, but I had this whole entry planned while in the midst of my fever dreams, wherein I was going to describe all my symptoms in disgusting detail for paragraphs on end. It was going to be great.
I was supposed to help out my friends with their homegrown speed dating idea last week that ended up getting canceled and I was going to write about that. I was supposed to have gone to some wineries for a girls’ weekend in the Wairarapa this weekend and I had been going to write about that. I was planning to write about how I saw The Karate Kid last night or about how my father called me at two this morning because he wasn’t sure of the time difference or about how it was really muggy today. There’s all sorts of minutiae I could be writing about: my new power cord I’m getting for the laptop, how I can’t seem to find my phone card, why I haven’t got it together to get my hair cut.
This morning, however, I realized that I have eight more weeks in Wellington before I start getting ready to go back to the States. I think I’m going to write about that this evening instead.
That’s a little melodramatic, isn’t it. It makes it sound like I’m going back like the day after tomorrow, when in reality all that is happening is that in a couple of months I am taking the first step away, taking the first step back. The logistics are such: I leave my job in the middle of February and have to skip town so as not to overstay my work visa. Since I’ve been to Australia rather recently I’m going to try to go to Rarotonga this time around, where it will be very hot and sticky and where I plan to lay around on the beach and maybe go for a dive or three. I’ll come back to New Zealand on yet another tourist visa and spend three months finally doing all the backpackery things that everyone but me has done, like getting my picture taken on top of glaciers and inside kayaks and under caves. I’m trying to milk that round-trip ticket I bought a year and a half ago as much as I can so on the way back to the States I’ll stop in Samoa, if I can, and then in Hawaii. I haven’t bought all the tickets or confirmed the details yet, but if everything goes according to the plan, I’ll be back in California for the 2008 ABL party, and I’ll be back in Seattle around the Fourth of July. After that? It’s anyone’s guess.
All of a sudden I am coming to the end of my time of living here. Soon it’s going to be all about buses and backpacks and itineraries and meeting new people and giving the questionnaire. I’m sitting on my pink bed looking out the window and wiping my nose, listening to the tuis outside and looking at the pictures and flowers in my room, thinking about all my friends here and all the places I love, knowing that this is starting to be the end. I can’t say if I will ever come back here again, the way I very much hope I will—but even if I do, even if I got another visa or residency or whatever, it will be different. Coming back is different from staying, and I have decided not to stay…for a lot of reasons having to do with plane tickets and work visas… for very much longer, here on this bed, in this room, in this city.
I just really understood this today, like it really hit me literally this morning. I’ve been saying Four Months, Four Months, as if it was this infinite time, as if it meant nothing would change, and suddenly it’s half gone, and I have to start making more plans, and now it’s only eight weeks left.
I was trying to think about the last time I did this and how scared I was, how absolutely blank the canvas was before me, how I couldn’t see past getting on the plane. It’s not like that now; I have a pretty decent idea of what the four or so months of traveling back to the States will look like. I’ll get to see the postcard New Zealand that has nothing to do with cafes and arts festivals and ethnic grocery stores. I’ll give the backpacker questionnaire a lot and tell all my old stories to new fresh unsuspecting ears and some of the new people will remain a blur of names and nationalities but some of whom will turn into real friends. I’ll spend a lot of time alone; I’ll listen to music on buses and write in my paper journal. I’ll go for walks and, if I ever sort my camera situation out, will take lots of pictures of, like, leaves and bushes. I’ll stay with friends in Picton and Kerikeri and Auckland and Maui and make dinner with them and probably talk a lot about how much I love Wellington. I’ll feel very free and independent and will always be looking for a new book to tuck in my pack. I’ll try to learn something about the cultures of Rarotonga and Samoa and Hawaii and a couple of words in the languages; I’ll make sure to save some of the local currency so I can make fridge magnets when I get back. I’ll probably lose a bunch of things like flip-flops and t-shirts and water bottles, and I’ll end up buying very prosaic things as souvenirs (“So, what did you get in Australia?” “Bras from Target!”). I won’t ever want to stop smiling, when I finally see my friends there waiting for me at the airport; I won’t be able to stop sniffling when I see my mom’s new house that isn’t new anymore but which I already know will look just like her.
What I don’t know is…what I don’t know is what comes after that, after all the hugs and the photos and the questions about how my flight was. My normal life here still has a tinge of excitement because I am in New Zealand and it hasn’t got old for me yet, being the one who has the accent. Normal life back home, though—it’s a known unknown, I guess. I have no idea what I’ll do for work or a place to live or any of it; I have no idea what it’s going to be like to go back to the familiar, the stuff I ought to be able to do with my eyes closed. I can’t wait to see everyone at home but there is a part of me that wonders if I have stayed away too long—but it’s only two years!—and if I will able to fit in again, if there’s a place for me anymore.
Oh, it’s one thing to stay and another to go back, and now, soon, slowly—how did this happen?–I am going back.