The sign glared at me as I walked through the doors. Ninety-seven cents a pound. Who could pass up a deal like that? I walked over to the apples, as I grabbed a bag to fill and shook it loose, using my fingers to open the top, the memory washed over me, as they often do at random moments.
Six months. That is the total time I lived in the Dominican Republic. It was long enough for it to begin to feel real, and short enough to wonder if it was all just a dream. There are so many things in my life here that remind me of my brief life there. Sometimes the moments come to me at the weirdest times, and I have to ask myself if it even happened at all.
Navigating life in a place that is not home is always difficult. I’ve learned this over the years. Figuring out the ways to live and understand and cope and learn is an exhausting and incredibly trying experience. It’s one I value and love though.
So many things there were so expensive. Food was so expensive. It caused me to worry daily. It caused me to weep out of fear and frustration. It made me feel sick. Our grocery store there became familiar. I learned where everything was and how to navigate the aisles. La Sirena, a mega store much like Walmart, became familiar and routine. The yellow mermaid tail hanging from every sign, the theme song blaring through the loud speakers, the smell of fish and meat, the piles and piles of passion fruit and mangoes and avocados, all became familiar and easy. I would wander the aisles and gaze longingly at the food we couldn’t afford, food that was so cheap and easy at home. I would stand staring at the jelly. I couldn’t believe the price. As I stood there gaping and doing the price conversions in my head, I would inevitably walk away. I did it every single time we went there. I would find the jelly, convert the price, and walk away. I think I hoped that something would magically change, that my math was wrong, that maybe, something as easy as jelly could be a part of my every day life. It never was.
But apples were. Apples were a little cheaper in Santo Domingo than they were here. They were always on the list. The boys ate them at almost every meal. Apples. A piece of home in a very foreign and glaring world. I would walk through the produce every time we went there, pricing out the things I wanted to afford, but couldn’t, hoping against hope that maybe today there would be a sale or that I would be wrong in my conversions. Usually the apples got bagged up and I would move on to carrots. Carrots were cheap too.
Checking out was always a chore. In all my years of travel and time spent exposed to the Spanish language I’ve never managed to pick up the ability to speak it beyond the usual please, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, yes, no, I don’t know, I don’t speak Spanish, I speak a little Spanish, hello, goodbye. But, I understand it well. Even today I hear conversations around me and understand before I even realize it’s not English being spoken, but Spanish. I know I will lose that ability as I move further away from my time there, but for now it’s almost as sharp as it’s ever been. I would stand in the checkout. The cashier would ask a series of questions, to which I would nod or shake my head, or look down as my husband answered them. Our card was almost always denied the first time, and would need swiping again. Our bags would get packed up and tied in a knot at the top and we’d make our way to the parking garage, full of gas fumes and people and car horns blaring. As the sliding doors opened on the outside world, the wave of heat and humidity would hit me.
I never got to the point where I didn’t notice things. I don’t know if I would have had I been there long enough. As we would tip our bag boy and climb in the car, I would long for something familiar and comfortable, something that felt okay and made me think, “All is right with the world.” It never happened.
It was hard living there. It was hard being a silent person in a world filled with noise. It was even harder being a silent person when I felt I always have had so much to say, about everything, all the time. It was hard not being able to express myself or make friends. It was hard feeling stuck in a sixth floor apartment. It was hard navigating the crazy traffic and listening to the endless song of car alarms. Even if you take away the fact that my entire life was crumbling, that my husband was gay, that my kids were falling apart, that nothing was okay, it was hard. It was so hard.
Yesterday in Walmart I had a moment. It washed over me and brought tears to my eyes. As I stood there picking the best apples I could find and then moved on to the grapes and bananas and pears, I remembered those lost and soul crushing moments spent at La Sirena. When my mom asked me to pick up some jelly, I asked her if she was sure. Then I remembered, this isn’t the life I was living a year ago when I would gaze longingly at the $8 jar of jelly. I am no longer bound by the fears and grief of leaving behind my familiar life.
And then, it hit me, how am I supposed to feel about that? I thought I was supposed to be bound by those things, I thought I was supposed to seek out discomfort.
Life is a series of losing things and gaining others. Last October I was still sitting in the full weight of culture shock, I was watching my husband quickly disappear from me, I was frantic and scared and alone and absolutely and incredibly terrified. I was losing everything I thought I needed to survive. Yesterday as I shopped the aisles of Walmart not one of those emotions existed outside of my memory of them. I was back in the familiar and comfortable. I am gaining a life I never knew I wanted, but desperately do. For the first time I realized how good it felt, how often I have sought out a life that will keep me right on that edge, hanging on, but just barely, that moment in movies where the grip the hero has on the victim’s hand is almost lost, but not quite…that’s the life I sought out.
And now I just want jelly. I want familiar and comfortable. I want stable and secure. I want as easy as possible. It doesn’t mean I regret any other moment lived. I don’t. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to be on that edge, I do, but only sometimes, and only briefly. These times in my life have done great things to teach me and grow me. I quietly smile when I hear a conversation going on in Spanish, knowing that my moments have taught me so much, including how to understand that heated debate happening next to me. They’ve taught me how strong I am and what I want and where I want to go, but I’m tired of living on the edge. I am tired of extremes and fear. I want Walmart, and traffic laws, and silent nights, and cars free from alarms, and cool air, and quiet, and front yards, and cheap gas, and the dollar store.
I’ve spent so much of my life trying to get out. Now, I’m learning to find my way back in, and it feels good.