I arrived home in Seattle a week ago today. And back in the States just a day prior.
Brussels provided a beautiful buffer between here and there – Rwanda and my present.
Departing the plane, I walked hand-in-hand with Sue through the airport, until we stopped at the place where I went straight to baggage claim, and she and the rest of the group turned right for their connecting flight back to Chicago.
My new friends stood around me in a circle. And as I said my goodbyes, I immediately began to cry. And I embraced each of them. First Rich. Then Rabbi Brant. Elaine. Katie. Ben. Brenda.
Bonnie, the 16-year-old from Miami, handed me a note she had written on the plane – “Liora” printed on the outside. She had traveled without her parents, and I was reminded once again of the “real chops” this almost-woman-girl possessed.
Sue reminded me I had bought a scarf, in case it was cold in Brussels. That Tim, my old roommate, would be meeting me at the train in just a few hours. And that I had the address of a recovery meeting. In essence, that I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself. And when we parted from our teary embrace, the rest of the group was gone.
I picked up my bags and called my friend Michael in Chicago from a payphone. It was about 2 a.m. there but I knew he’d be up. “Holy Crap! Where are you?” he said.
And so I began to slowly slip back into my life.
I marveled at the toilets in the airport. Each stall outfitted with seat covers and toilet paper. Each sink running hot water. And soap in each dispenser.
I sat with a coffee and journaled while I waited for my old roommate to arrive from Dublin. And when he did, I cried some more.
We rented an IKEA-clad apartment just minutes by foot from Centraal Station. Tim stayed just a night, and we ate our way through the city. French fries with mayonnaise, waffles with sugar, chocolate. I ate salad without worry and bought fruit that didn’t require peeling from the grocery store.
I knew I was no longer in Africa. And yet I wasn’t back here yet either. I was in the liminal space – the in between. And I was blessed to stay there a day longer than I had planned to, because my flight was canceled.
I watched the agitation of other travelers trying to get home, while I only wondered when and by what route I would arrive. And if I was in fact, ready, to go home. I was still on Africa time where my only responsibility was to get on the bus. Quite literally, to show up. To surrender, drop expectations and breathe it in, as my mediation teacher had instructed me to do the day before I left.
I made “friends” with a teacher from Bakersfield and an entire family from Brussels while I waited in line for rebooking for nearly 3 hours. The Belgian family smiled often, laughed and drank orange juice. They would be missing the Chicago and San Francisco legs of their vacation and flying directly into Los Angeles. They didn’t seem terribly bothered. Disappointed, but not troubled. I told the father his easy smile and laugh gave me solace.
And I was grateful to have another day in Brussels. To eat another waffle. To walk on cobblestone. To order a coffee and linger with my journal, watching the sky opening with light and showers and light again.
A day later, my friend Lisa picked me up at O’Hare. Everything looked sterile. And I felt like I wasn’t quite standing on the island waiting for her SUV. Like I wasn’t quite there. I texted Sue to tell her I was home. And that Lisa was taking me to Whole Foods. She told me she had been there the day before and that it was “too much.” That she had to leave.
Minutes later, I found myself in tears in the yogurt section. So many choices. It all felt like “too much.” And it was.
A day later, when I arrived in Seattle, I walked into an empty house. My husband told me he would not be there. The cats greeted me at the door. And their litter needed changing.
This week I posted photos on Facebook and watched a video of our group dancing over and over again. I called our mediator to schedule an appointment to have her draft our final divorce documents. I’ve been looking at apartments in Chicago online.
I miss my mosquito net and talking to Sue each night before bed. Before I left, another friend and I had spent weeks talking on the phone each night before bed. We haven’t done that since I returned. I’m not sure why.
I’ve exchanged a few photos with Rabbi Brant. Sue’s travel clock is sitting on my desk – she left it for me so I’d be sure not to miss my plane. We talk and text when we are able. I re-read Bonnie’s note today.
And I’ve asked the people about me to call me Liora – my Hebrew name that I adopted in Rwanda.