Leave It Better

So the following post has less to do with my program, less to do with Cardiff, and more about merely the experience of being here. In that sense I must disclose that what I’m about to say is only my personal opinion.

As you may or may not know, I just turned thirty something, have two kids, and a spouse. I have an ancient black Labrador retriever and two cats, one with a serious pasta addiction. This, my other life, sits some three-thousand miles away in the U.S. – I’m here doing my MA in some attempt to dig my family out of poverty and perhaps find that opportunity to live in Europe, a dream I’ve held since I was little. Undeniably this situation presents a lot of problems, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Likely there’s others who have had to sacrifice their lives to make a better one. It’s not easy, but each day I feel I’m getting closer to where I’m supposed to be.

For awhile it was easier here than my undergraduate Erasmus in Belgium because I felt our relationship was more secure.  I had believed that this time we had an understanding. For myself, I had made huge emotional growth recognizing I was committed to my partner 100% no matter what. For the first time I felt secure in coming to Cardiff and doing my studies. It would take only one week for that to change. Now I don’t have that security, and I’m confused by what to do next, knowing now what I know, having made the mistakes I’ve made.

I had reached the end of my first semester in Cardiff at the beginning of December. Flying home meant saying goodbye to everyone I had met during my time abroad. However, unlike my previous departures, I was in better spirits than usual (I’m rubbish at goodbyes), although, that’s not to say I didn’t have a few tears (ok, a lot). There’s always this fear down in my heart that something will intervene which will prematurely end this adventure that I’ve grown to love so much. This time though, I was truly happy to come home to family, comfort foods, and the Holiday.

Certainly, I would be back in about a month’s time, fatter and rested for the odyssey to continue. While I did manage some downtime in North Carolina, a series of crises took place under my watch at home. Before I even arrived I knew I had to get tires for our car and replace its exhaust. What I didn’t know is that it would turn into a month of problems. The water-heater died about the second week I was home, and then I had to replace the kitchen sink faucet. The floors needed to be finished in the hallway and some walls patched with spackle. I should clarify, I live in an impoverished area of the South where you don’t pay people to do these things, you do them yourself.

 A few days before leaving for Europe, I was laying on my back in a mud puddle with rain pouring on me as I was crying. All I wanted was to glue together my American life before I left and hope to freaking God it stayed afloat in my absence.  No one can hear your tears when you’re alone with cobwebs in your hair. I kept telling myself, if I could just fix things, that in a few hours, I’d be on the plane back to Cardiff and I could finally rest knowing I had set things right. By the time I landed at the airport in London, my fingerprints were so worn down they couldn’t scan them at Border Control.
Even now as I write this, my hands are stained with the oil and dirt that made up my Christmas holiday. That said, if you are to ever question my work ethic, then know this, all of it got done. I don’t start things, I finish them.

Of course, I did have precious moments with my family on Christmas, spent New Year’s Eve clubbing on Green Street, and at last, left home with a hole in my heart that seemed somewhat awkward considering the month I had. Despite everything, I was leaving Shannon, the love of my life, knowing I had left things better than when had I arrived, and this included our relationship. What I didn’t know is what would come in the next week.

I had booked my passage back to Europe with airline miles and had made a tentative plan that if my University funding had hit my U.K. bank account, I would fly into Greece for a few days (this would cost me no additional). I wasn’t completely certain if it would happen when I booked it, and decided if it didn’t work out I could forfeit the last leg of the journey (I had a layover at Heathrow) and go back to Cardiff. Our money situation is never certain since both Shannon and I depend entirely on school loans to live our life together. By the time I landed in London on the 15th, I still didn’t have a hostel or way home from Greece if I chose to go. I had to make a decision once I arrived at Heathrow since the U.S. ATMs never permitted me to inquire a balance due to some rather complicated banking procedures with my U.K. bank (I was never able to set up internet or phone banking).  When I landed the money was deposited and the choice had to be made. Up till this point everything was contingent on the money and I hadn’t told Shannon about these contingencies. In honesty, this was in part because I knew I would receive a reaction of some sort from Shannon. I wasn’t sure what that reaction would be, but I didn’t want it to taint my time at home, and more importantly, why create drama if it never was going to happen? “Do I go or do I not?” I asked myself. Honestly, with Athens now laying right before me, what would you do?

That night I landed in Greece went straight to the Backpacker’s Hostel (excellent for the record) and signed into WiFi at the bar. I was going to tell Shannon when my mobile died. Technically, as the screen went blank, Shannon had begun texting death threats having already found out by going through my emails. By the time I could recharge the phone, she had created the idea in her head that I constantly lie to her and that I was meeting some other person in some secret love rendezvous in Greece. To say that the σκατά hit the fan is an understatement. Somewhere before her death wish and my confusion as to if she was being sincere or sarcastic, I found myself sitting under the shadows of Acropolis filled with self-hate. I felt rather sad and regretful of my choices despite the fact that, to this day, I’m not certain if I’m 100% responsible for these feelings or if I was made to feel guilty for exactly the same reasons  I delayed the disclosure of my travels. What responsibility do I have to myself and those I love? Is my happiness conditional on their disapproval of my opportunities? I really don’t have an answer, and I don’t want to lay in mud puddles simply to prove I’m worthy of something amazing in my life. I hate feeling like I have a debt to be paid for my happiness but it’s always been like that and I don’t suspect it’s going away any time soon.

The truth is life isn’t science, I’m not always going to get it right. Sometimes there is no right or wrong answer. Despite humanity’s insistence to fit things into boxes and labels, sometimes the right answer is to live in between right or wrong. After all, this imperfect life is nothing but a series of events that push us through the liminal threshold of our life story. I can’t be certain what’s right and what’s wrong until I see the totality of my choices. I have this saying, “leave it better”, simply meaning that each day I try to change the world, myself, or even a silly water heater. Despite my sadness for upsetting Shannon over my departure, and despite this might not be the right choice, I believe at the end of my story this will have been the better choice than never getting on that plane.

“You know, when we were on that plane, I was fascinated by the way the shadow followed us. That silly shadow! Racing along over mountains and valleys, covering ten times the distance of the plane, and yet always there to greet us… with outstretched arms when we landed. And I’ve been thinking that, somehow, you’re that plane, and I’m that silly shadow. That all my life I’ve been rushing up and down hills, leaping rivers, crashing over obstacles, never dreaming that one day that beautiful thing in flight would land on this earth and into my arms.”
-Robert Coway, Lost Horizon, 1937


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