I thought this would be easier.
I was ready to leave Ecuador. Two years in, I felt like Quito was truly my second home. Four years in, I was seriously ready to leave. My job was feeling stagnant–there was no room for growth or development. I hadn’t seen the entire country, but I’d visited enough places to feel satisfied with my explorations–I’d seen blue-footed boobies and pink river dolphins and climbed a volcano and rafted (several times) in the Amazon. There was a lot of insecurity: personally, with high rates of crimes like theft and the inability to walk anywhere after dusk which started at 6 pm; economically, with a struggling NGO and a struggling country; and even politically, where the day we left massive protests erupted and Ecuador plunged into chaos for a couple of weeks. All this combined to make me assume that leaving would be easy. Sure, there would be the sadness around leaving Gonza’s family and friends, but otherwise I felt certain that it was time to go–if not past time.
I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be for me to transition back to life stateside. In Quito, we had a routine. We had our awesome apartment where we’d invite friends over on the weekends. We’d go La Carolina park with Gaby on strolls and jogs. We’d attend Gonza’s family events and often spend nights at his mom’s home. We had our favorite date nights at Tac & Roll, and our go-to Friday almuerzo at Mile Time. We had work and/or school and, while it wasn’t always amazing, it was our normal. We were comfortable.
We had a good thing going.
Gonza is a person who deeply appreciates routine. I am a person who loves adventure and change. When I got a job offer the afternoon before we departed Ecuador that required a temporary move to Boston, it seemed like both fate and an adventure. We would get to start our lives in the States somewhere new for both of us; we’d have the time to establish our lives here away from my family and (the majority of my) friends to figure out how to do life together in the US. Suddenly I was negotiating a start date in Massachusetts to get a few weeks at home before packing up again and quite literally moving across the entire country. The 21 days we spent at my parents’ house were a wonderful-but-exhausting whirlwind of socializing and preparing for our second enormous move in less than one month. We had so much to do to get ready. For example, Gonza didn’t have a driver’s permit let alone a license…he took his behind the wheel test about a week after he got his permit (and passed!). I hadn’t driven at all in over two years and felt pretty anxious about the 3,000+ mile drive that we were facing. Gonza hadn’t met the majority of my extended family, and I wanted to see my girlfriends and family members before we headed out, so we were either visiting someone or having people over for the bulk of the time we had in California.
A (very) small sampling of our time in CA: touring around the Bay, spending time in Patterson with Jacklyn
Then there was the move itself. We packed up our sparse belongings the Prius and hopped in with Gaby to make the trek to Massachusetts. While it was cool to see so much of my country that I hadn’t ever seen before, it was hella stressful. It’s easy to forget that when Google Maps estimates 10 hours of driving, you’re easily looking at 12 hours when you consider bathroom, food, and stretch breaks. It was expensive being on the road for a week, and it was uncomfortable spending such long days seated in the car. My first day of work Gonza dropped me off after our final Motel 6 stay with the entire car still packed. When we could move in to our apartment after spending a few nights between a motel and my friend’s place, we had no furniture. And two days later, I was on a plane back out to California for a work team offsite.
And then there is the issue of making a whole new life in Boston. Boston feels foreign to me despite being in my own country. I’d never even visited New England prior to our move. It certainly doesn’t feel like home. I was absolutely dreading winter; I’d never been interested in living in the snow, and I (still) don’t have snow boots. Driving in the Boston area is difficult, with poorly marked streets and bad traffic and $12 per hour parking (that one was at REI). What’s more, I realized that I basically had to learn how to be a “real” adult in the States. Since I moved straight from my college bubble to Ecuador, I’d never figured out the important aspects of adulting here. In Ecuador, I was comfortable because I had minimal adult stresses to worry about. Figuring out US apartment rentals, health insurance through the marketplace, retirement savings, and car registrations and insurance in a new state while simultaneously learning a new job and being married to a new immigrant is no joke. Everything in our lives is different here. Even cooking has proven to be a challenge as I never cooked here before, having lived for 4 years in the residence halls at Berkeley. The carrots are sweeter, the potatoes less creamy, the tomatoes not as juicy, and the produce in general less tasty and more expensive. I almost shed a tear at the $1.19 price for a single, unripe, small avocado at Trader Joe’s.
Writing it out like this, it’s no wonder this has been a hard transition. I’ve been stressed, lethargic, and experiencing a loss of interest in things that I consider fundamental to my identity. I haven’t been reading. I haven’t been working out. I haven’t listened to podcasts. I haven’t been exploring the outdoors. I’ve put on weight, and watched a lot more TV than is good for me. I’ve even felt reluctant to go see one of my best friends who lives just 20 minutes from me; after years of wishing I lived nearer to my close friends, I couldn’t believe I was having that reaction. I think that it was indicative of how overwhelming this season of my life has been that I have been feeling too zapped to do the things I generally find the most joy in. That, my friends, does not feel good.
The dust is slowly starting to settle. We have furniture in our apartment thanks to Gonza’s diligent perusal on Facebook marketplace and Craigslist. I haven’t had to travel as much for work as the team had anticipated for this role. I spent a few hours outside enjoying the sunshine despite the snow on the ground and felt hopeful that winter won’t be just miserable, but will also have its own beauty. Gonza and I joined a gym and got up most mornings last week at 5:30 to get in an early workout before I went to work. I’ve seen my dear friend twice a week the past two weeks. I signed up for a 10k in March so I have something to train for and look forward to. Gonza and I have a bagel place and new place to stroll with Gaby. I’m finding the joy in new experiences and seeking them out once again. It’s still not perfect, but it’s getting better.
There are still moments where I feel the shock of being back in the States, or when I feel different. Like when the professor comments that I never leave any of my belongings on the couch when I run to fill up my water bottle, or how I’m the only one on the bus with my backpack on my front. Or when my head turns upon hearing Spanish after several days of only English interactions. Or how I show up perennially late to social events, because 30 minutes late was totally normal.
It comes in fits and starts, but after what has been the most stressful year of my life–from not knowing when Gonza’s visa would be approved, to losing my job, to trying to find my first job back stateside, to confronting the challenges of adulthood alongside Gonza (like where the hell do we want to go professionally?), to making two major moves–I am finally, finally starting to feel like myself again. And while it’s been an incredibly challenging year for me, I am beginning to appreciate the growth and fortitude that it has required from me. I know my readjustment doesn’t end here, but the peace I’m feeling at this moment merits celebration. Here’s to a beautiful, complex, wondrous, and most importantly, love-filled 2020.