An Incomplete End

by Natalie

Six weeks ago I moved home unexpectedly. I had been planning to stay in China until December. Coming home three months early doesn’t sound like all that big of a deal, but it threw my world off kilter. The decision came after weeks of not feeling well, where I was existing but not really living. Next week I am going to move down to Washington D.C. to live with family while I look for work there. Some friends don’t even know I’m back in the state, and by Monday I will no longer be a resident here. One can never say for sure, but I likely never will be again.

Leaving China went by in a blur. A life that I had taken a year and a half to establish was unraveled over a few days and packed into two suitcases over the course of one. I cried the Tuesday it was suggested, the Wednesday it was mulled over, and the Thursday it was decided. There were so many people I didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye to. The teachers with whom I had spent over a year establishing a relationship couldn’t know I was leaving. I was at work on Monday and then they never saw me again. The family who provided my first real introduction into Chinese culture was treated to a hasty goodbye. I had spent every Wednesday evening at their home, tutoring their daughter and then eating dinner. The parents didn’t speak English, and were the foundation to my Chinese, practicing and teaching me during the twenty minute ride home. They wanted to take me out to dinner, but there was no time.

After booking my ticket on Thursday I existed in a false reality, aware that I was leaving but pretending it wasn’t really happening. I didn’t cry again until Monday, when I went to say goodbye to my family, the people who had anchored my time in China. I spent hours in their apartment, playing with their son and holding the baby while grandma cooked dinner. I called her grandma too, an endearment they might have at first found strange but later accepted. I simply called her what the children did, because I didn’t know enough Chinese to know how else to address her. By the time I learned, calling her lăolao had already stuck. Lăolao wasn’t there the day I left; neither was the baby. Our time together that evening was the same as always and yet marked by the knowledge that I was leaving. I had been with this family on nights when both babies were crying, evenings spent making play dough Iron Men only to have them crushed by the baby. When I got into the elevator that night is when the tears came. The real, hurtful tears, the ones that acknowledge something you have held dear and cherished is ending, is in that moment over.