What You Become
I sit on the edge of the bed and stare at the pieces of paper in my hands. My eyes are on the white sheets that I am holding, but they are not what I see. No, I see something much different. Young faces full of joy and curiosity. Old faces filled with humble acceptance and grateful happiness. I see men and women, boys and girls, all of them flashing before me as I think back and it is almost too much. I am drowning in a sea of faces.
"Do you think you have everything?" says an unexpected voice and I am startled out of my thoughts.
I look up and I see you standing in front of me, an expectant look on your face. You have asked me a question and I have not answered.
"I do not know," I say quietly.
You seem to sense that something is wrong and you look down at my hands as you sink down to sit on the bed beside me.
"It is hard, I know," you say, "but the schedule isn't too hard to follow. True, you will be taking a different set of flights to return, but if you just keep that list with you then you should be fine."
I am somewhat confused for a moment until I glance down at my hands. I am holding a listing of the flights that will bring me back home. No, I am wrong. I am not going home, not anymore.
"The flights are fine," I say. "I am not worried about them at all."
"Something's bugging you."
I shrug and turn to look out the window. I let my gaze wander over the distant ocean, the white sand of the beach, the spreading palm trees, and the sprawling jumble of houses made of odds and ends. How did this happen? When did it happen?
"I can't do this," I finally say.
"You got on several planes to get here," is your reply. "I think you can do it just a few more times. If you can conquer your fear once, you can do it again."
I shake my head and you frown.
"That is not what I mean," I whisper.
You sigh softly and put an arm around my shoulders, you know what is needed here, you always do.
I am silent for a long moment, unsure how to put it into words. Will you even understand? Will you laugh at me?
"I cannot leave," I finally say, my voice breaking. "Home has a new definition now. I do not know when it happened, but this place has stolen my heart." I pause, the hitch in my voice too much to overcome for several long moments. "I cannot leave," I eventually manage to whisper.
You pull me around to look at you and you use the pad of one thumb to wipe away the tears that have begun to roll down my cheek. A soft, knowing smile is on your face and I drop my gaze, feeling too vulnerable.
"You are not leaving forever," you say. "You can come back next year."
I close my eyes and nod slowly.
"Leaving here is still heartbreaking."
You pull me forward when you hear my words and you rest your forehead against mine, your right hand cupping the back of my neck. Your voice is quiet and gentle, but still firm. "It is hard, but I know you are tough. I know you can do this."
I choke back a sob, overwhelmed by your faith in me. I do not know what you see that makes you so sure, but you must see something. How can I not believe your words when they are spoken with such conviction.
You feel my rising emotion and you know that this has been a long time in coming. You know that it is best to just let it come. To hold it back would be cruel and dangerous. And so you pull back just far enough to press a kiss to my forehead and then you pull me against you once more, my head falling to rest upon your shoulder.
I feel your silent strength bleeding through your warm embrace and I melt into your offered safe haven. I shed my tears and my sorrows, my worries and fears, into your shoulder and I feel the burden of my task falling away. Eventually, I am spent, my sobs and muffled cries diminishing into silence. Only then do you speak.
"You are much stronger than you think," you say. "I know this because I have seen where you have hidden your strength. It is in the way that you open your heart to those who need it. It takes someone of great courage and strength to allow themselves to feel the hurt that love sometimes results in. To do it once is commendable. You have done it countless times, and now you are doing it once more."
I tuck myself deeper into your embrace and feel the last shreds of fear sliding away.
"You are going home for a few months," you continue. "But you are not abandoning anyone. We all know that you have to make this trip. And we all know that you will be back. Do not worry for us."
I finally pull myself out of your arms and my gaze locks onto yours with a determination that is new but quick to build in intensity.
"Thank you," I say. "I wish that you could come with me."
"As do I," you say. "But I will be here when you get back." You reach out and place your palms on either side of my face. "Never doubt that."
"I know. I never will."
You nod once, a lingering look confirming the truth in my eyes.
"Now," you say as you stand up once more. "Do you have everything that you need?"
I cannot hold back my smile, no matter what it is that I need, that is what you become. One moment you are an outlet for my grief, and the next moment you are my travel agent.
"No," I say. "I still need one more thing."
You look at me with an odd expression and wait for me to explain. But I remain silent and move to stand in front of you. We stand there, staring at each other, until you eventually break into a smile. You are about to say something. I can probably guess what it is. You want to ask me to continue, but I hold up my hand and you hold your words back with a visible effort.
"That is what I needed," I say. "Nothing more."
You look confused for a moment and then you realize my meaning. And, once again, you become just what I need. A full fledged beaming smile that lights up my heart and fills in the last of my courage.
Inspired by my friend having to leave Colombia after being there for over seven months. I wish I could have been there for her when she had to say goodbye. For you my friend.