Recently on our drive back from our kampung, Third Sis had asked, seeking clarification, “You were in the US for 6 years?”
“Yup,” I replied.
“A long time,” she mused.
“Yup,” I replied again.
Last Saturday at a colleague’s open house, another colleague had asked, totally out of the blue, “Why did you decide to come home? Weren’t you in the US for awhile?” I’d mulled over how to answer and eventually gave an answer.
I understand that eventually if not already, I’ve to let that life go – it’s been two years by now, after all. My life is here – but I still do look back with nostalgia and boatload of mixed feelings at those six years. I did so much growing up there and then, you know? Each phase was defining, and some chapters I admit I wish I could do over (I was just so young).
Thinking about it seriously now, I had in actual fact many reasons behind my decision, all of them personal, but if I’m to be completely honest: although I was in love with many things about my life there, I was never in love with America. I didn’t know how to make it mine, and vice versa.
Of course there were the usual bouts of loneliness, but I think ultimately it came down to the truth that unlike many, I harbored none of the American dream; mine was always a Malaysian one. An irony given that university-life-in-America was a personal dream, I know, but I’ve always learned best via the long way. And I did – two universities over six years and this didn’t change. I used to tell friends, “Usually when people decide to stay, it’s cos they want to leave something behind; or they’ve something better here. But I didn’t leave behind anything I disliked, you know? My life back home in Malaysia is full. I’m returning home to that.”
I had, in other words, many reasons to stay in Malaysia – but none for America.
I’ve been back for two years and many things have changed since then. I now live in a small town disguised as a city in what sometimes still feels like the middle of nowhere, for instance. I’ve lost touch with many folks halfway across the world, for another. I don’t travel like I used to during those years, thus no ‘Instagram-worthy’ photos with delightful captions. The impact I wanted and wished for to make which had also driven and propelled my homecoming hasn’t happened (adulthood is a maze)… In short, I’ve lost many things. But I have, in the same capacity, gained equally if not more.
When I come across photos of friends who’ve made a home in the US and the world over, I think I will always occasionally wonder if their lives could’ve been mine too had I chosen differently (or was born in a different family…) – but I look at mine now and I am content. I’m glad they’re happy; I am too. And this hasn’t come without effort – I’ve had to adjust then readjust (repeat). Societal perceptions continue to drive me up the wall, but I’m relieved that when I am judged by the mass – I’m first judged for being who I am and not because I’m a Muslim; minority; foreigner; [insert placeholder]. I’m glad that when I get up-in-arms about an issue, it’s a localized issue that speaks close to my heart. I’m relieved that I’m no longer a keyboard warrior, or an outsider looking in. “It matters where you serve,” Eldest Sis used to say about her role as a doctor in public service. As an engineer I’m actually not similarly tied down (plus I currently work in the private sector), but I’m glad I’m serving in Malaysia’s heartland. My most significant takeaway about adulthood, learned and acquired over these two years: the choices we make are ours to live with, and they do not all require justification.
Where I stand with this particular decision… from my viewpoint – just as it was then, my life is (still) full.