Alex Cotrufello, 129 YinD
I open my eyes to my childhood bedroom, the hideous lime green still on the walls from the time I painted it myself in an 8th grade rebellion. For a split second I’m disoriented, thinking I’m back in my one-room apartment in Thailand, the paint almost the exact same shade. Feelings of both relief and sadness wash over me for I know that I’m at once home and apart from home. I quickly twist my back to loosen the mornings weariness from my joints and shake the thoughts of all that I left behind from my head before walking to the kitchen.
I turn on the tap and clear, cold water pours from it. I drink, but with a moment’s hesitation, for my body instinctively yells, “STOP! There might be poop in there”; a reaction I gained after two years of legitimately fearing death by diarrhea. I swing around to the fridge and open its door to the shining glory of a million American delicacies: cream cheese and pesto. Bagels and smoked salmon. Capers, heirloom tomatoes, arugula. Everything I could possibly want to eat within 3 feet of my mouth – everything so incredibly accessible. Again, my mind flashes to Thailand, to a time when 3 kilometers seemed like a reasonable distance for me to trek in order to get a decent meal in my village. I think to myself, “Remember to stay grateful. Never take this for granted”. I grab everything I can see and make myself breakfast.
I finish eating and head towards the bathroom to put myself together. I take a painfully hot shower (tallying 1 point for America in my head), use the bathroom (no bum gun, 1 point for Thailand) and get dressed. I walk out my front door and immediately start spouting profanities at the chilling wind that has a personal vendetta against me (obviously, 1 point Thailand) to my mom’s blue Toyota 4Runner as I hear the easy “beep beep” that welcomes me to drive wherever I shall please (this game always ends in a tie). I get in, turn on the radio and back out the driveway.
I’m heading north towards downtown past all of the shops and restaurants I know by heart. It feels strange and yet utterly familiar to see it all still there, simultaneously changed and exactly the same, like encountering an old childhood friend grown up. I feel light and at ease, wrapped up in my own world of thoughts until I am suddenly forced into this one by an old man in a clunky old volvo that cuts sharply in front of me. I slam on my brakes and feel myself descend into a dark and wicked anger. “I should have just f***ing hit him!” I loudly proclaim to myself from the safety of my car. But then my heart suddenly cools as I remember something I was taught over and over again in the Peace Corps: you never truly know someone else’s story. Be patient, be understanding, and let it go. The last of the anger slips from my ears and I am brought back to the present, appreciating my small town as it flickers by.
I pull into an empty space outside my favorite coffee shop. It’s an old building in a line of single level stores, selling antiques and homemade trinkets by local artists. I’m instantly warmed by the smell of fresh roasted coffee beans and chai spices as I walk through the front door. I order an outrageously expensive cappuccino, missing the days of 30 baht cha yens, and head for an empty table at the back. As I open up my computer I can’t help but be distracted by all of the English berating my ears. A man across from me is talking to his wife about how lazy Jerry has become at work while she half-heartedly listens, typing something on her phone. A pair of siblings stand squabbling to my right, trying to get their mother’s attention as she willfully, and quite successfully, ignores them. A woman in her 20’s sitting behind me says to her friend, “He said he liked me more than friends, but less than a relationship”. Her friend replies, “You have a ramen noodle in your hair”. I forgot how easy it is to not really listen when there is no friction in understanding one another. I remember back to when I’d sometimes go a whole day with only saying a handful of words because I didn’t have the language to say more. It was hard, but it made me a much better listener. It hits me, the importance of this skill, and I silently vow to myself that I never forget this.
I take a sip of my coffee and bring myself back to work. I open the tab standing tall at the top of the screen that says “Resume” and watch as the little line on the page flashes methodically in and out of existence. A familiar fear starts to fill my chest, the fear that I truly have no clue what I’m doing and that all I’ve ever accomplished was a fraud; me playing really good make-belief with myself and the rest of the world. Suddenly, Kathryn Bacon Goldman’s voice pops into my mind, “You can do hard things” it says, and then finishes with a little Kathryn Bacon Goldman chuckle. I’m instantly rejuvenated, remembering her confidence in each and every one of us throughout our service. I can do hard things. I’ve done much harder things than this. Taking risks is always scary but always worth it because failure is just another opportunity for growth. I finish editing my resume and send it out with a final click of my keyboard.
The door chimes as I leave the coffee shop and enter the piercing gray of a March afternoon. I walk down the street to Lithia park, my hands finding brief solace from the cold as I shove them into my mittens. It’s the beginning of Spring, possibly my least favorite time of year, and yet everything looks and feels so beautiful. The trees stand proudly naked with their arms outstretched, the pond lays unmoving under the thin layer of ice that persists throughout the warming of the day, a couple sits closely under a checkered blanket, talking and smiling quietly. Though this scene was opposite of anything I saw in Thailand, I couldn’t help but be brought back to the long, hot days riding my bike through jungle mountains, watching the rice grow a little taller with each passing day, waving hello to a farmer in a distant field. I remember what it felt like to move slow, to be intentional with my thoughts and movements, to enjoy life for the simple moments. I realize then that I could never leave behind Thailand. Every good day, every bad moment, every agonizingly boring karaoke dinner became a lesson: in patience, in compassion, in forging my own path with confidence, and a million more. I could never forget the lessons I learned because those lessons became me. I take a deep breath of cold Oregon air, feel my heart beat with the heat of Thailand, and walk on.
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