When you say the word fear, and close your eyes, what do you see? I see murderers with pointy knives coming after me, zombies chasing me, large quantities of cockroaches spilling out of cereal boxes and scattering across your sheets as you get into bed. I see losing more loved ones. I see losing myself. These are immediate fears, something Boston knows a lot about this past week. Can you imagine being locked down into your homes and cities waiting for either this kid to be caught, or waiting for another explosion, possibly more deaths and destruction? That is fear. Thankfully, that fear is averted, and thankfully Boston has exemplary law enforcements that did exactly what they had to do, the best way they could.
But to stray away from that, I think of other fears that aren’t immediate but palpable nonetheless. I think of having my dreams crushed and realized impossible, I think of problems that don’t have solutions, the unknown future, and let’s be real, inevitable death (though to be sure, this doesn’t take up a lot of time, if it did I’m not sure I’d have a good life). Then there are tertiary fears, ones that take up room in your head when you feel safe, and reasonably happy. This one such fear has been realized again and again while I lived abroad: that I can be replaced, forgotten, undervalued and used. I’m a convenient friend when I’m near, but an inconvenient acquaintance when I’m far.
Expats, you know what I’m saying, you have all felt these things. But some of you are more fortunate than others. I know that if I don’t get my big behind to America, I cannot expect my Americans to come to me. I made my bed, my one friend said, and now I have to lie in it. I lost my Mom fresh out of college and I have a somewhat estranged father. There is no one physically binding me to a place, there is no more home with a room in it for me waiting in America. I’m not airing family business, I’m sharing personal thoughts.
When I go back, I spend gobs of money for plane tickets, hotels, food, clothing (because it is cheaper back in America), travel expenses, gifts, and gobs of time trying to see people that mean something to me. What has been the case though is that I’m just spending time and money, inconveniencing only myself while trying to please everyone. And not everyone cares all that much, and not nearly the way I care. I repeat, I made my bed and now I must lie in it.
And I take after my Mom, a thing I would have never thought was possible. My Mom cared and she loved to make people happy even when she herself was suffering. She made other people her priority, and tried so damn hard to make the world better in her own way. She’d give you her last dollar without asking why you needed it. I remember watching her growing up and thinking this was a weakness. People took advantage of her, and no matter how hard I tried and argued with her to stop being so nice… ha! She was so stubborn. And when she passed away, so many people mourned her loss, a lot of whom I didn’t even know. Not all of her so-called friends that used her were at her funeral, but the lady at the tiny convenience store across the street hugged me and gave me a free package of Portuguese rolls when I came in. I found myself comforting people I barely knew. Had she touched that many lives just by being herself, weakness and all? I guess so.
I don’t want to be afraid of being used anymore. I want to carry my Mother’s kindness and goodwill toward people I don’t know and toward the people in my life that deserve and appreciate it. To the people that say thank you, and meet me half-way, at least sometimes. I want to live a life I’m proud of…. Even if that means I won’t be a popular cousin, sister, daughter, or friend because I don’t just give my money or time away anymore. I have a lot of living and learning to do still, and I can’t be bogged down by people who get what they want from me and give little in return.
If friends want to visit me, they are welcome. If friends want to join me in my fun and adventures, they are welcome. If I can help someone and they will pick up the phone or write back when I need help too, they are welcome. We expats can’t be expected to ship ourselves across the world for your convenience if we can’t expect you to invest the same effort at some point. That’s all I wanted to say, however inarticulately. Thanks for reading.