A year ago today, I arrived back in India. Actually, today is already tomorrow in India, which means I'm one day off. When everyone else marks May 28 as the one year anniversary, I mark May 29, all by myself. And that pretty much sums up the entire year--one day off, all by myself.
When I looked at the calendar this morning, I realized 1) I wasn't sure what day of the week I arrived back in India; 2) I couldn't remember arriving back in India; 3) there were no witnesses to my arrival back in India. This is how memory works. You start out with a jagged memory, and it gets worn smooth, bit by bit. Every time you go back to visit it, it gets a little bit smoother from the contact. Turns out, refusing to visit a memory also smooths it into the same sort of river rock. Who knew repression and neglect could have the same effect as multiple return visits?
I have a lot of memory flashes from the two weeks in the U.S. (midnight trips to Walmart and McDonald's so I didn't have to go back to the hotel room, going for a run down to the stockyards, going out for Mexican with one aunt, out to the Breadline with another, the stupidest decision in the world to go see Up!, the trip to Republic to go fossil hunting). My return to India? This morning I was drawing a complete blank. Several hours of hard thought later, it's starting to come back to me.
I vaguely remember driving to Spokane to get on the airplane (that is, I remember an early morning drive by myself over Leahy Junction, but since I've done that more than once, I could be remembering some other trip). I vaguely remember the taxi from the airport (if that's the trip we had a flat tire before turning onto Africa Avenue. Again, it could have been some other midnight run in an airport taxi, god knows I've done a million of them in the last five years). I vaguely remember depositing my luggage at the bottom of Claire's staircase and searching for the doorbell (that must be the right memory, because that was my first solo arrival, and if it had been my second, I would have known where the switch was. Instead, I used my mobile to announce my arrival). I definitely remember Claire putting me on the train to Bikaner the next day, but what happened between the midnight of my arrival, and the four o'clock (in theory) of my departure for the desert? I have no idea.
I've been given a lot of estimates as to how long it would take me to reconnect with the world. Of course, none of those estimates included the extra months needed if you add several months of isolation in India to the equation. Without India, I've been told by several people that it takes three years to get over it. I've been told quite specifically by another person that it takes 13 months to stop being a complete freak show, and another two years after that to learn how to live in the world. I've been told by a professional that, "in the field," a year minimum is needed for recovery. Of course, if it takes another several months on top of that to recover from a regular year abroad in India, and then another six months on top of that to recover from a challenging year abroad in India, you can see how it would take a lot longer than three years before a person could even start thinking about living in the world again.
It would be nice if I had learned something useful from the experience, other than the fact that I should never be trusted to make major decisions because I will fuck them up. Well, I did learn a few things. For instance, I learned not to trust my friends. The one friend I thought would completely be there for me was instead completely absent. One e-mail and then nothing. Nothing for months, until I reconnected with the intention of blasting her head off. I haven't gotten around to doing that, though, because I've discovered I just don't care about her enough anymore. Funny how that works. On the other hand, Claire has probably earned a permanent pedestal in the pantheon of friendship, not the least because she's still around and still talking to me, even though we both left India at the end of 2009. Friends from childhood turned out to be pretty useful, it's good to have people who knew you from way before to talk you off a ledge. But overall, I've mostly learned that the friends you thought you had will all disappear when you need them the most. I can count on one hand (two or three fingers, in fact) the number of friends who made even a minimal effort to help me. So, lesson learned.
What else did I learn? I learned that it's impossible to enforce boundaries in the time of the internet or facebook. As it turns out, the way I grieve is not compatible with the 21st century. The internet put my method of grieving in direct conflict with the methods used by other people (relatives). Consequently, the internet feels like a hostile place, and I've grown to absolutely loathe facebook, even though I haven't deleted my account yet (mostly because it's how I found those important childhood friends last summer when I needed them, and I'm not ready to give them up). Also, my method of grieving doesn't fit very well with any of the multiple models embraced by modern psychotherapy, and that's left me in a tricky spot.
I also learned that everything I just typed is hardly unique to me. You wouldn't know it, but everyone goes through the same crap I've been going through (minus the additional trauma added by my sojourn in the deserts of Rajasthan). The thing is? No one talks about it. I don't know why, except that it does no good to talk to people who haven't experienced it, because they don't understand (and, if they haven't lived in India, they don't understand that part, either, so what's the point of trying to communicate?). I think there are many different ways of becoming an adult in the world: graduating from college, getting married, having a kid...all different routes into adulthood, some throw you into the deep end of the grown up pool more quickly than others. But if you can get someone to talk about this experience with you, I think you'll find there is a common agreement--this is the quickest way to the deepest part of the shark-infested pool of adulthood. Yeah, you can get there from other diving boards, but when you jump off this one? You've got a concrete block chained to your ankle. It's not the ritual of transition you want to define your existence, that's for sure.
So, a year ago today/tomorrow, I was supposed to be returning to normal, just another day in New Delhi. Sadly, it turns out that normal no longer exists. Even when you think you've found it, you accidentally look through your e-mail archive and see something you wish you'd deleted, and realize, fuck, this isn't it, this can't be normal. Please, don't let this be the new normal. Bad news for you, though. That feeling you had when you saw that "from:" tag on the e-mail? That's your normal from now on. Get used to it.