Theresa Kozelka, 129 YinD
I have never considered myself much of a “crier.” Although my friends who studied abroad with me might disagree after helping me through my first long-distance relationship. However, if there was any doubt to my status as a “crier,” I would say Peace Corps has officially confirmed my subscription to the club.
Twenty months after arriving in Thailand, I found myself traveling back to the USA for two weeks with a suitcase full of Thai snacks and a large carry on of emotional baggage. While I could tell the entire story of my journey home, describing each highly-anticipated meal and every new little culture shock – looking at you spiked Seltzer (#whiteclaw), I figured it would be better outlined by those moments that brought me to tears, literally.
Act One: Goodbye Thailand
As I pedaled away from another delicious dinner at Ma Ja’s home towards my own house, I felt a knot in my stomach grow and slowly make its way towards the back of my throat. As I looked up at the starry night sky, hot tears quickly began to stream down my face. After days, no weeks, of anticipation, I was finally about to head to the US to see my sisters and parents, meet my new niece and reunite with all my friends, yet here I am crying.
It might have been the perfect view of the limestone cliffs bathed in moonlight, or the look on Ma Ja’s face when she handed me a special present for my mother and a bag of homemade curry paste to bring home to my family, but at some point that night the reality of my inevitable departure hit me. This short vacation home seemed to be a dress rehearsal for the many goodbyes I would have to say in just seven months when my service officially comes to a close.
Act Two: Hello Family
After somehow managing to gather all of my belongings and sneak past customs, I was finally reunited with my parents and on the way to my sister’s house. As I sat in the car, listening to my mom and dad talk about their week I felt the sense of normalcy that can only come from home wash over me. Surprisingly, my emotions had not yet gotten the best of me, that is until we parked the car and I saw my sister Kate walking towards us with my nieces Vivien and Eleanor in tow.
Before I left for Peace Corps I spent most of my days watching Vivien with Kate or my mom. I knew Vivien’s eating habits, sleep schedule, and even her bowel movements better than my own. When I left for Thailand, Vivien was just on the verge of crawling. And until that morning, Eleanor had been just the perfect baby on the other side of the Facetime camera. While Eleanor is easily one of the cutest babies in the world, her personality is what really melts your heart. As Vivien walked towards me saying “Hi Theresa!” and Eleanor gave me one of the world’s biggest smiles, which I believe she reserved for her Favorite Aunt, I responded the only way I knew how – with a face full of tears.
Act Three: Dessert
My first full weekend at home, I made my way to Philadelphia to reunite with a big group of my college girlfriends. A member of the “Baddest B*tches” – a name we gracefully dubbed ourselves – would be walking down the aisle and I could not miss this momentous occasion, because honestly who knew if any of the rest of us would ever actually get married! The weekend flew by and before we knew it we found ourselves on the dance floor nearing the end of the reception. The DJ delivered song after song. Until finally came the infamous beginning, “D A W I N..”
For those of you who have not heard “Dessert [Remix]” by Dawin, I would say it is generally not described as a tear jerker. However, “Dessert” had become our anthem during the final semester of college. While other seniors preferred a wider selection of musical arrangements, my friends and I could be found alternating between one of three songs at any given time – “Dessert,” “Work from Home” and “Work.” These songs had come to embody the women who had carried me through four years of late nights at the library, Taco Bell runs and perhaps one too many unnecessary costumes. As “Dessert” played over the speakers, we danced our hearts out and I bawled my eyes out, soaking in every second surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world.
Act Four: Not Goodbye, See You Soon
At the close of 2016, my friends threw me a going away day party, or darty as the kids say. So for my short return to the Midwest, it was only fitting that we would celebrate with one more darty. The darty would be a Hawaiian themed luau, because Hawaii is known as “The Thailand of the west.”  Following a perfect day of friends and family, including a quick celeb appearance from my nieces, I found myself resting my eyes on my friend’s sofa.
The following morning, I woke up overwhelmed with the world’s largest dose of the Sunday Scaries. The next day I would be returning to Thailand. But more pressingly, today I would have to say goodbye to my friends and family again. As I lay on the couch, with my Hawaiian lei still draped around my neck, I felt the all too familiar rush of tears coming to my eyes.
Act Five: Reunited
After 21 hours on a plane and a 9 hour layover in Abu Dhabi, I was finally landing in Trang, a little airport about an hour and a half away from my village. After grabbing my bags and making my way past the pestering taxi drivers, I heard a little voice over the hum of the crowd and then saw Cutter, my seven year-old host brother cutting his way through the sea of people. Behind Cutter I saw Title, Pii Cat and Pii Aum, my host family. They quickly engulfed me and helped toss my bags in the back of the truck. As I climbed into my usual seat in the back row, I felt the tears rushing back to my eyes along with that overwhelming sense of normalcy that only comes when you are home.
 Lol jk still don’t know their logic behind the Hawaiian theme, loved it though
Read Theresa’s previous articles The Ghost of Satun and Family Near and Far.