Reality Hits: When the Elation of Returning Home Starts to Wear Off

I love to sing. I sang in choir when I was in high school.

But I didn’t like being in my school’s choir. It was a rather notorious organisation – infamous for the fact that once one joined, one was unable to leave. It wasn’t until my final year at school that we were allowed – expected – to leave. For a long while, the thought “I don’t have to go back to choir!” made me unrealistically happy. No matter how shitty it was being in matric, I wasn’t in the choir anymore.

Part of me wanted the choir to tank when that the people who had been forced to stay had finally been allowed to leave. Another part of me – a more magnanimous part – hoped that it would do well and that the new members would be happier there than I had been.

Sometimes, I missed singing in the choir.

I railed so long against something, I couldn’t wait to leave, and leaving made me so happy, but sometimes I still missed it.

Coming back home is starting to feel like that – that faint twinge somewhere in my chest, thinking about all the things I can’t do now, all the things I’ll never know about – and I miss something that I hated and that made me so miserable for so long, but that was intricately tied up in something I loved.

It’s hard not to think about the school I worked at. I keep having to discuss it at job interviews – talk about how it has prepared me for anything – and it comes up a lot in conversation. (Aside: I’m sorry to everyone who’s sick of hearing about Korea. I’m trying not to talk about it so much, but it did consume the last two years of my life.)

Part of me – the part that experiences schadenfreude – wants everything to go horribly wrong now, just to prove a point.

Part of me wants it to do well and wants the new teachers to be happier there than I was.

And another part of me misses it. Part of me misses the school and the students, and wants to know how things have changed, and wants to go back just to see it, just one more time.

That part of me isn’t very big, but I think it’s akin to the part of me that wanted to go back to the choir just to have an excuse to sing in it again. It remembers the good parts and forgets about the bad parts. That’s, I guess, as it should be.

It’s been just over a month, and my grin when I’m asked if it’s good to be home isn’t as bright as it was a week ago. Perhaps it’s the reality of job applications and interviews, going back to work, and sitting in seemingly endless traffic in order to get to work and to get back home again. Now that there are so many options I can choose from, I’m paralysed by the choices that I face. In Korea, I could teach. In South Africa, I can do so much more. This makes it easier; this makes it so, so, so much harder.

And just like the choir, I do keep hearing about how things are going. The problem with feeling divided – wanting things to be better, wanting things to be worse – is that no matter what I’m told, I won’t be completely happy.

This, as it turns out, is normal. Like the novelty of Korea eventually wore off, and the honeymoon period ended, so too the novelty of home is wearing off, and my reasons for leaving aren’t as vivid as they once were. As things settle down, I have to face the realities of traffic and petrol prices, Eskom and bills I can’t afford, banks and taxes, and all that other shit that I didn’t have to deal with.

Of course, it’s not all bad. I feel like I’m a better person that I was when I left for Korea. I’m certainly feel more capable and more confident. This is, to some degree, a new version of me. This me, new me, I like her. This me – she knows what she has survived, and that she can do anything she puts her mind to. She still finds herself thrown into the deep end, but now, she knows how to deal with it.

Then why this twisted, conflicted feeling in my chest?

Because… I’m human,

Because… feelings.

Because… just… fucking… because.

So what to do now?

It’s not that being home now feels terrible. It doesn’t. I’m still – in a way – glad to be back. I think it’s just that it’s started to feel normal – all the novelty has worn off.

I find myself going back to advice I got from one of my best friends a few years ago. I’m paraphrasing, and this may not be what she meant at all. But here is what I got from it:

What I feel is valid. I need to let myself experience it, rather than try to choke it down. There will be time to sit back and analyse and look at it rationally, but for now, if it doesn’t feel so great any more, I need to accept that. I let myself feel overjoyed while it lasted, but I knew that it couldn’t last. This feeling is just as valid as that feeling, and it isn’t reasonable to hide this away when I revelled in that.

My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.

From Under One Small Star by Wislawa Szymborska


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