The last time I moved away from home, I knew I was eventually going to come back.
That seems like an innocuous enough statement, but one that I’ve been thinking a lot about this past week. Mostly because of Mars.
OK let me backtrack to preface this in a way that makes sense. There are two pieces of pertinent information here, one a sort of general human thing, the other a more ethnically specific one: A) my life has unfolded like a series of Russian dolls coming apart and B) a South Asian life timeline can be very different from the norm.
The “me” that is today would probably be unrecognizable to the “me” that was 5 years ago. That one would’ve been even more foreign to the one 5 years before that. Every so often, stopping to take stock of my life, I realize that I keep discarding shells that are no longer me, reaching further and further inside for the true me, the core of who I really am. And the further I reach, the more concentrated the personality traits I want to hang on to become. To think of it from another perspective, I’m like a newly formed star, becoming slowly cohesive, amorphous bits of gas and light coming together and compressing into a denser ball of energy, a prostar to a red dwarf to a red giant to a supernova.
There was the me that grew up in the same little New Jersey town, with a lovely childhood of idyllic bliss, created of books and libraries, dandelion clocks and bare feet in the grass, snowmen and bus stops and best friends that I thought would last forever. This was the girl who was preemptively nostalgic, who documented her senior year of high school in photographs and memories, trinkets and bittersweet melancholy, and who hated change. This was the girl who was inflexible and conservative and had lived life encased in a snowglobe of existence and had deep unending roots in the soil of her childhood. The girl who dreamed and believed in everything.
There was the me that moved to another continent, kicking and screaming at first, then falling into the best kind of love: the unexpected kind, with a place and with people and with experiences. The one who reveled in her suddenly transient lifestyle, who became injected with a strong dose of wanderlust, who rolled her tongue around foreign languages and foreign foods and foreign ideas. The one who became independent and emotionally mature, who danced without caring in the bright night lights with her friends, who unknowingly found another snowglobe to attach her heart to. The one who was also sometimes selfish and often too passionate, who could not temper her willfulness and forgot to think of the ones she left behind.
There is the woman I’ve become in the past three years, steeped in grief and seeing life as a rockface to climb, the one who has seen disappointment and is sometimes a fortress, sometimes still that optimistic girl. She has enclosed herself in a world made up of family and duty, has given her life to everyone around her to maintain their happiness without remembering to keep a corner for her own. She is content, and though her heart hums steadily, it sometimes forgets to sing. She has gotten used to the distance between friends, the far off loved ones who she dearly misses. Her heart aches at everything from the loss of a sibling to dissatisfaction in love to the unexplored expanse of the vast, lovely, and lonely universe – but she has learned to quiet the pain lest it drive her to madness. Sometimes, however, she lets the madness in.
For South Asian kids, there is a particular problem with normal timelines of things: mostly that everything is delayed. Our growth is somewhat stunted by the heaviness that is familial guilt and responsibility. We learn at 25 the dating rules that most people learn at 15. We learn about the real world at 30 when most people learn it at 22. And while normal parents hope to see their children established and living independently of them by their early to mid-20′s, South Asian parents want you to live at home FOREVER.
Over the last few months, I realize I’ve been experiencing ancillary empty-nest syndrome: my brother is 11 years younger than me, and our relationship has been an odd mix of sibling/extra parent. Over the past three years since our brother/his twin passed away, he has been my universe – his well-being has been paramount, creating a sense of normalcy and companionship for him has been key, and remaining at home long past my due date has been a part of that. I’d pushed for him to get away from home for college, to make new life experiences the way I once did, in order to separate himself a bit from the bereavement chapter of his life. And he has. He is building a life, and I’m realizing just how much I’ve put my life on hold.
The Russian doll which I am now is still a mixture of all the ones from before (and always will be). But I can feel this shell beginning to crack. I can feel change coming.
Change is scary. Change is exhilarating.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about going back to Grad school, about career changes, about moving out and on again. And I realize, as I stop to take stock, that I’ve inadvertently built a life for myself here again – one made up of new and wonderful friends, of a tribe of people I want to get to know better, even though I feel I’ve known them all my life already. I am surprised at my own reluctance to make waves – me, who swore that she would never stop moving, would never worry about timelines and the traditional way of doing things.
In the midst of this soul-searching, I read about Elon Musk’s plan to build a human colony of 80,000 people on Mars. I’ve been entranced with Mars for a year now, following NASA’s Curiosity on its journey to and on the Red Planet. There are companies that are beginning to think of one-way trips to Mars. And that thought throws everything in relief: what would you do if you were offered the opportunity to live on another planet, with the catch that you could never return? Would you take it? Would you take the chance of exploring new worlds and becoming a trailblazing ultimate explorer at the cost of never seeing your family or friends again, never walking the earth you lived on your entire life? Wrapping my head around that concept is an exercise in sheer exhilarating terror. It is to change the sentence from the beginning of this post to “the last time I moved away from home, I knew I was never coming back.” It takes my breath away.
“Home” is an ever-moving target as we grow older and make new lives for ourselves. But the assumption is that it is always on terra firma, on Earth. We may discard shells of our Russian-doll-selves, but the pieces are still left in various rooms of this global house. Off-world though? Who’s to say what might happen.
Sort of makes the whole “moving to a new city” thing more palatable, wouldn’t you say?