“Congratulations on graduating! Do you plan to come back to the US?”
“Probably when I decide it’s time for a second masters.”
To be honest, I’m sure if I meant it as a joke …or not. Today I went downtown and closed one of my two bank accounts. I actually still have one-and-a-half weeks left of school and three weeks total in the US, but the next three weeks will be crazy hectic that I thought I might as well just get this over with today… and it is only now, hours later, that it hit me, oh my goodness everything I’ve gotten familiar with over the past six years will soon come to an end. I’m actually going home for good. It’s happening. For real.
Ah shit — I don’t know if I’m ready.
These days I find myself feeling calm, in fact surprisingly happier and more at ease than never before – despite the ton of school work, especially now that I’m so close to the end of the quarter – but… suddenly it struck me full force with a fear so penetrating. This evening I sat still for a full minute, dumbfounded and suddenly emotionally choked up; I don’t know if I’m ready. I’m happy to be home …I think. I don’t regret my decision …I think. Suddenly periods turn into question marks. It’s happening.
Ah shit — I don’t know if I’m ready.
But I’ve also learned something else about myself during this period: it’s funny how people change. It’s funny how much I’ve changed over the last two years. Who’s to say who I’ll be, where I’ll be, in another two years from now?
A few days ago, a friend asked on Twitter, “Do you think you have to get married?”
“I don’t think it’s a have to,” I responded, “but I would like to be with someone and have kids of my own and all…” It’s funny how our perspectives change, softened maybe, by age and experiences. You would never catch me admitting this six, four or even two years ago. I admit, weddings are still not my thing – they’re just not, enough said – but I find myself less angry, somewhat more receptive about the idea of a lifelong partnership.
I know you’re probably thinking, “It doesn’t have to end with marriage. Not all romantic relationships have to end with a pair of rings and a marriage certificate.” But I’m a practicing Muslim with boundaries, ones which I understand and don’t intend on crossing for the sake of love alone. Other people have different ideas of commitment and lifelong partnerships and that’s okay; the degree to which I believe in the institution of marriage is something I will not disclose, I’ll just admit that I understand and accept my religious obligations when it comes to playing and sharing house romantically.
And if the past two years have taught me anything about companionship, it’s this – I think it’s nice to come back to a home where someone is waiting for you. It’s nice to come home to a brightly lit apartment, maybe even with a hot dinner ready, as opposed to the scenario that greets me for so many years now: total darkness. Some days I don’t even make myself dinner because I’m just too exhausted, and I’ve skipped lunch too often by now because I’m constantly on the move and trying to finish as much work as possible during the day. I live day by day, looking forward to tomorrow in the same way that I look forward to everything in my life: enough conscience to feel grateful, yet mostly unfeeling. I can’t even remember anymore, when the magic wore off; tomorrow hasn’t been a mythical place for a long time now because it’s simply routine.
But I worry, like I always do.
Will I find my person?
Once, some weeks ago, in a rare moment of vulnerability, I admitted to my close undergrad friends – we maintain a group chat on WhatsApp – that lately, I genuinely wonder if I will ever find myself in a relationship. “I just don’t know…” I wrote to them. “Because I can’t even picture it in my mind, you know? It’s not that I don’t want to be in one, but I just don’t know how and if a guy will see in me the things I see in myself.”
I don’t want to be reduced, just so to have someone stay by my side.
If that’s love, then I don’t want it.
Yet when I look around — all around me, friends are entering in-and-out of relationships, building and planning lives around their significant others, making longterm commitments… that phase of adulthood has made itself felt for them in the most natural way, yet it is the most foreign feeling and experience for me. And until now, I’m not entirely certain I know how I feel about this. Is it… do I feel… left out? Not in a bad way per se, but sometimes I feel surprisingly out of place, like I’m suddenly singled out because of a defect I never even knew I had.
“You never know!” One of my friends responded, herself in a longtime relationship of a decade. “Come home first and just naturally ease into society, meet new people. You never know.” I chuckled over her response. Typical. I’ve heard it too many times by now.
It’s weird, finding myself suddenly twenty-four.
To be honest, most of the time I barely feel it; I don’t feel all that grown or changed. If anything, I keep finding myself becoming frustratingly timid. But whenever I pay close attention to the thoughts that swirl through my mind, I’d come out feeling genuinely surprised; how much I’ve softened, no longer all about armoring myself. Somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-four, I have, without realizing it, kept away my sharp word-blades. Sometime and somehow, the anger that boiled and flamed for many years receded. These days, I don’t take myself so seriously anymore. I try not to overthink and grieve over the many different versions of myself that I am no longer able to retrieve; the past is the past. That was youth, simple as that, in all its glory and innocence.
I made a decision recently, something I should’ve done and have decided long ago. Still, I took my time with it. I let the thought linger on my mind for months, getting accustomed to it. Just like with everything else, somewhere along the way, the voices of other people mattered less and less. Somewhere in this hazy, confusing, mostly lonely period between twenty-two and twenty-four, I realized that I should strive for the best version of myself – neither a perceived identity nor a mishmash of expectations.
When I strip everything away from my self and stand under the soft moonlight, naked to the core, I delved deep into my conscience. Without anger or judgment, I had posed these questions repeatedly, who am I? What do I stand for? Who do I want to be?
The truth is, I don’t think I’m ready for anything. But my heart, my heart — funny, it is at ease. For unknown reasons, I remain ever-hopeful. In my own ways, I’ve made peace with who I am, what I stand for. Who I hope to be.
Is this how girls become women?
I want to be the kind of woman that my younger self would’ve been proud of.
And part of that process, it seems, entails coming full circle; this long journey back to the physical home. To be completely honest, I don’t fully understand this decision – some days I still wake up feeling perplexed, convinced I made the wrong decision – but I know it myself that I would regret it even more, had I chosen to stay away. Somewhere in that hazy, confusing, mostly lonely period between twenty-two and twenty-four, without realizing it – the path had opened up. I don’t fully understand it, I admit that. But this peace I feel in my heart, like clear water on a sunny spring day after a long period of cold, frigid winter …this can’t not mean something. Again and again, I remind myself that I am a person of faith. The chips will fall where they’re supposed to.
I’m coming home. It’s happening. For real.