Peace Corps, It’s Not You, It’s Me

Anna McGillicuddy, 129 YinD

About six months ago I decided to apply to extend my service for a third year and about two weeks ago, I decided to withdraw my application. This change of heart came around for many reasons all of which culminated in a renewed sense of energy and readiness for a new adventure. Filled with nerves, excitement, fear and trust in my gut, I sent the email. I made my final decision to finish my service as originally planned — after 27 months and alongside the people with whom I began this journey. And I can tell you with absolute certainty that this, this exact moment, is when I realized what was happening. I was about to go through a breakup.

The second I hit the ‘send’ button, I felt a big weight fall off my chest. I’d done it! I’d finally done it! After weeks of guilt and embarrassment surrounding having to break a commitment (relationship), the fact that I had written an article about wanting to stay (Facebook official) and the number of people I had told I would be staying (family & friends), I made what felt like the selfish decision to close my service (break up with it) this coming March 2019. In the midst of feeling utter relief, tears began to flood my eyes. Love, nostalgia and gratitude for the people and community (or my soon-to-be ex) I’ve grown to love over the past few years fully consumed me. I’d always known that this relationship had an expiration date but seeing the timeline cut short by a year was shocking. I found myself, like 42 of my fellow volunteers, looking at a mere three months until the end of my Peace Corps service (relationship).

As the days and weeks progress, I constantly find myself in ‘in-betweens.’ Be patient and grateful for this experience (person) but MY GOODNESS you can be annoying (howling dogs, morning announcements and music blasted at 5 a.m.). Work on finishing up the projects (dates) I had planned but apparently you’re too busy (no budget and my counterpart is MIA). I should take in the beauty around me (person) but also please stop being gross (constant battles with cockroaches, frogs and mosquitoes). Enjoy the freedom and sabai (relaxed) way of life but honestly, I hate that you’re always so flaky (classes constantly canceled more often than not).

The most difficult part by far is attempting to be present and not think about the future. But time keeps moving and the future will become the present (metaphorically, of course) and honestly, it’s terrifying. To have a plan (or, like me, 4 million changing plans) and to think about those future options is both comforting and exciting. We only have two months left now so we have to be thinking about the next steps, right? Also, we only have two months left now so we have to soak in every minute of this experience, right? I think this is the core of all those in-betweens. If the ‘end’ wasn’t quite so near, could we really think about the ‘other’ options? I couldn’t have survived this experience if I thought of my service as an option. There was no other option — it was a two year marriage, if you will. I found happiness, purpose and love in every crevice that I could and was made better for it. But now, the future comes knocking on our doors in the forms of travel plans, LinkedIn requests, resume updates and financial planning. It’s become increasingly more difficult to ignore those knocks at the door, especially when seeing the everyday frustrations we deal with as ‘options’ that we can actively decide to not have in the near future.

So can we prepare for the future while remaining fully present here? Can we really, truly appreciate the relationship we’re in now when we’re already thinking about the next one? I’m not sure. Personally, I haven’t been able to find that perfect balance yet. There are days where leaving feels like the most foolish thing I could possibly do – days where the warmth and love extended to me seem endless. But there are also days when predicting the roadblocks ahead, everyday frustrations and general lack of belonging take a real toll on me.

The advice I’ll give to myself and any other volunteers experiencing this will be the same as the breakup advice I would give: allow yourself to feel these things, try to remember the reasons you fell in love in the first place, understand that every relationship in the history of ever has its frustrations but that they, too, will fade, and know that this very special relationship has changed you forever.

Peace Corps, thank you for introducing me to a new version of myself and for allowing me to fall fully in love with her over and over again these past two years. I found a soulmate in the person I’ve become here and while this relationship may have a deadline, I know it will leave me softer, stronger and fuller than I’ve ever been before.

Peace Corps Anna, we’ll be breaking up soon but I hope you know that though you may not be a part of my future, you will always affect my present.

Read Anna’s previous articles and contributions.

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