heart torn in two

by Natalie

I’m sitting here listening to a song by Peter Bradley Adams, The Longer I Run. This song has a certain significance for me. Right before I moved to China, my dear friend Courtney gave me a mixed CD, and this was the fourth or fifth track. I brought that CD with me, and I played it endlessly my first few months, especially during the cold of February and March. I vividly remember being at my friends’ apartment one evening, drinking tea, and contemplating the lyrics of this song.

When my blood runs warm with an old red wine,
I miss the life that I left behind.
But when I hear the sound of the blackbirds cry,
I know I left in the nick of time.

Well this road I’m on is gonna turn to sand,
Leave me lost in a far-off land.
So let me ride the wind till I don’t look back,
Forget the life that I almost had.

If I wander till I die,
May I know who’s hand I’m in.
If my home I never find,
Let me live again.

The longer I run then the less that I find,
Selling my soul for a nickel and dime,
Breaking my heart to keep singing these rhymes,
Losing again.

Tell my brother please not to look for me,
I ain’t the man that I used to be.
But if my savior comes could you let him know,
I’ve gone away for to save my soul.

The longer I run then the less that I find…

I had just three weeks earlier packed all of my things into two suitcases and moved across the world for exactly what I wasn’t sure. The song resonated with me, the melody haunting. In a twist of fate I am about to move again, and I just came across the CD for the first time since China. I had left it in an old computer. My dad went to give the computer away and he called, “Do you want this CD, it’s called Natalie and Courtney’s Friendship CD?” I picked it up when I was home last week. I haven’t listened to this CD in years, but the songs right now are perfect for me.

The similarities and differences between the two times in my life are striking. At one point in time I was 23, about to turn 24. I had just moved across the world, and I was full of hope and the promise of what could become. I am now 26, about to be 27. I have had my heart broken. I am moving, but this time it is without the hope for the promise of tomorrow. I have to find my own way and make my own happiness again. This time I feel like the pinnacle of happiness has already been reached, and that I can’t ever quite get there again. Three years ago I felt as if I had everything life could offer ready for me to discover. I cannot believe it has been three years. Every passing day brings me further from that moment in time of who and where I want to be. I am weary, right now. For the first time in my life I feel old, a feeling that is foreign, and that I don’t like at all. I don’t think age has anything to do with years lived. I think age is correlated to sorrow. I’ve cried so many tears.

I want once again to be in a foreign land, to wander, to forget the life I almost had. I think more than anything that lyric is what resonated with me the first time. Choosing to go to China had been a bit of a struggle. I knew I wanted to go, but then I let doubt creep in. I really had to pray and discern, and in my quiet moments the answer came to me. I was to go. But when I went I was very conscious of the life I was leaving behind. I felt as if I only had everything to gain, and not much to lose, but I knew things would be different.

This time I have nowhere to run. I am meant to be here, and I am resentful. I wake dreaming of a foreign land. I again prayed, I discerned. And again the answer came to me. You are not to go this time, you are meant to stay. But this time it is not the answer I wanted. And so I am fighting what I know is right, unable to let go of what I had, and what I want. This time forgetting the life I almost had has a whole other connotation. This time I thought I had found the life I wanted, I didn’t willfully choose to leave a life I almost had. That life left me. Losing your dreams is far more painful than discovering them.

It is as I am contemplating all these things that I came across some of my old writing. Reading my own writing is strange. It’s like having a conversation with two versions of myself. My writing is like a snapshot in time. It’s familiar and comforting, this former self. Sometimes it makes me laugh. Tonight it made me cry.

This is what it’s like coming back to China. The smell is the first thing to hit me when I exit the airport. A friend once told me that China smells like pennies. If pennies smell like sulfur than I understand what she meant. The smell is so different, so distinct, that it completely disorients me. I had lost my sensitivity to it, forgotten it existed, that I had previously experienced it, and it vividly brought back the memories of my first time landing in China. I was trapped between two different experiences, suddenly unable to separate the two; the smell so overpowering my other senses and bringing with it a sense of uncertainty, of unknowing, without the adrenaline that carried me through last year. The smell had the power to well up the emotions I had experienced a year ago, and I forgot that I had built a life here. Everything felt foreign once again, in this place where just a month ago I had felt completely at ease. Being home had reinforced that I am American, that I belong to a country with a culture in which I identify; I had regained my American identity, and lost my Chinese self, the version who knows how to operate here.

Then this morning I look out the window, and across the street I see 喜喜, double happiness. One of my neighbors has gotten married, the sign in their window proclaiming it for all to see. And suddenly, so suddenly, she comes back to me, this other girl that I now have within me. One who can speak in Chinese, not only survive but thrive here. One who when she sees 喜喜, knows what it means.