Kaori Cierra Alonso Yamamoto, 129 TESS
January 1st, 2017 (New Year’s day) and only 4 days before Peace Corps staging, my boyfriend of 8 years proposed to me. I was thrown off, confused, and shocked because a) I thought I had been wanting this for sooo long b) I thought we were set to do our own thing and focus on ourselves for the next 2 years (aka Peace Corps for me) and c) I was leaving for Peace Corps Thailand in 4 days!!! I was flustered and had many questions about what this meant, what his expectations were, and why he was doing it now of all times. His answer was simple: He wanted me to know that he would be working hard for us until I came back and all he wanted was for me to fulfill my dream then come home to him to start our lives together. To all that, I said “Okay, YES!”
The next few days were a whirlwind. Between announcing the engagement to family and friends, the last goodbye meet ups and dinners, and packing up, I was overwhelmed with lots of emotions but mostly excitement that this Peace Corps journey was finally about to begin! It felt like things couldn’t be more perfect. I was 29, engaged, about to live and teach in Thailand for 2 years, and had someone loving me, supporting me, and waiting for me. How lucky was I?
Word spreads fast among the PCV family and by the time I was able to settle down and post the engagement on FB, I was in Staging in San Fransisco and everyone found out. I didn’t mind and appreciated their congratulations, it just felt weird to be newly engaged and then not be with my fiancé to celebrate that. But the excitement of meeting so many amazing new people from all over the states and being exhausted everyday from all the new info didn’t allow me to think of much else.
I updated him as we left for Thailand, landed safely for our layovers, and got to Thailand. I’d share about my training days and all the events going on through video messages and wait to receive messages from him the morning after (because of time difference). It was different, it was nice, it was hard at times, but I was too busy and too tired during PST to think about much else. I was always in training sessions, learning language, or spending time with my host family or PCVs and I loved the fast paced busy life.
Then after 3 months of Pre-Service Training (PST), we moved to site. The goodbyes to my host fam and PCV friends were hard, but not as hard as the loneliness and adjustment to the slow paced new-person-in-a-small-village lifestyle. It was the hottest time of the year in Thailand. I was in a new home, with a new family, in a new community with a room and a fan all to myself and all the time in the world.
I wasn’t ready for this sudden change of space and all the thoughts, doubts, and fears that I could suddenly hear in the silence. I thought I was excited for all the free time I’d have to finally connect with him and video chat but he was in a different space. He had been struggling adjusting to life alone the first few months while I was having the time of my life at PST. Now he was busy, figuring out his next job move, working out his own issues, dealing with himself, or who knows because he got quiet and I didn’t hear from him nearly as much as I had hoped. Days would go by where I’d be eagerly staring at my phone wondering what’s going on in his world, only to get frustrated and disappointed that it was a message from someone else. By the time I would hear from him it would be, “Just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you” or “I miss you” but he’d never give me more than that because he wanted to figure things out himself and tell me once he got it together. I hated that, I needed him to at least communicate with me as we tried this long distance thing for the first time, and realized all the issues we’d been having and why it wouldn’t work for me. The time and distance away from home (and him) gave me the clarity I needed to finally admit to myself that this was not the kind of relationship I wanted to be in and when I eventually heard from him, I officially ended our relationship. I had lost a fiance, a boyfriend, and a friend.
Through all the grief and loss I have experienced in these 18 months in Thailand, I have often wondered how much more my heart can handle. I am an emotional being who feels intensely and find myself scared to open up and love again because with love comes vulnerability, and inevitable heartache. A very wise friend of mine who has cheered me on and been there for me through all my heartbreaks here sent me this beautiful reminder:
I had never really been alone before PC. I was always surrounded by family, friends, or a boyfriend and for the first time ever, I’m in my own world learning to enjoy my own company and actually value my alone time (as much as I used to avoid it). I continue to evolve from every interaction, relationship, and experience and am grateful for this opportunity in Peace Corps Thailand to get clear on who I am and what I want to create now. Or as Jorja Smith recently sang to me on Teenage Fantasy, “I need to grow and find myself before I let somebody love me, Because at the moment I don’t know me.”
To learning and loving!