Emily Maginnis, TESS 131
It’s 5 am and I’m wide awake.
Could be from the jet lag from Saturday’s flight, or just the unanswered questions building up in my head. Probably both.
Mavet and I only go outside to walk Callie, and the streets of Baltimore are practically empty. Apart from the occasional passerby who bows their head and puts space between you both, it’s a ghost town.
With a slight skid and a thud, the plane landed at Dulles airport, and I expected to feel something: Relief to be on home soil, sadness to be pulled from site, anxiety to get through customs and grab my luggage, anger that there was no time to catch my breath.
I thought I would feel a wave of happiness when my mom bounced out of the car to embrace me after not seeing each other for 15 months. I thought I would be shocked to see Mavet and Patrick-the friends who are letting me quarantine with them-at the realization of how much they’ve changed. I thought I would relish in that first bite of french toast, the taste both familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously.
But in all of this, I haven’t felt anything.
When the brain feels it’s on overload, its prefrontal cortex tends to shut down. This hinders abilities like decision making, planning, etc. It traps us in a state of confusion, and suddenly the next steps on our path are blown over and blurred by dust.
I think my prefrontal cortex has only good intentions. It’s trying to protect me from this tornado, probably the same one that Dorothy herself was swept up in. I mean it feels just as believable: dropped in a place that is familiar and not, with people I once knew so well now wearing costumes that show the passage of time. You are definitely not in Thailand anymore, my brain whispers.
At some point in all of this, my prefrontal cortex will stand down, my amygdala will pump, and I will start to feel again. I don’t know what will inspire it: seeing my grandparents after my quarantine, calling another PCV to check in, meeting my nephew who in our eyes can do no wrong. But phase two of homecoming is fast approaching, and when it does I’ll likely not be prepared for it.
All of this, just to say: this is grief. I am grieving.
What I can say with absolute certainty, though, is how grateful I am to have so many people to get me through this. My students who begged their parents to take them to school just to give me a quick hug goodbye. The school staff who took me to Bangkok and made sure I’d be okay. Both host families who have reached out and said I am welcome with them whenever I can finally return. My friends who scrambled to get a bed for me when they realized I’d be coming home faster than I anticipated. And everyone who has simply reached out to say “Hey, I’m thinking about you.” The entire world is hurting from this pandemic, and the fact that they have the heart to stop what they’re doing and help me with my own struggle is a blessing I cannot put into words.
Many nights during my service, I would sometimes be jolted awake by dreams of home. Now, I awake from dreams of Thailand. And I am desperate to not let details slip away: the colors of the market, the smell of my books, the sound of Oh’s laugh. It cannot be a dream. It happened, it must have happened.
It is this that wakes me with a jolt, but what keeps me awake is knowing I’ve left part of my heart there, and am not sure when I can get it back again.
To all who are reading this, I just ask you to be patient with me. I am trying to take it one step at a time, and am still not sure what those steps are. I’m sorry if I miss your call or text, if I seem distracted or uninterested. And I am extremely sorry if I ever seem ungrateful, because I promise I am everything but that.
And to Thailand: I will come back for you. I’m not sure how or when, but I am not finished with you yet. I made you a promise that has yet to be fulfilled, and I am determined to follow through with that promise.
This is the last post for a while. But this blog will be up and running again soon. More chapters are yet to come.
Read Emily’s previous articles and contributions.