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11/11/2012 – The Bunny Shirt

November 12, 2012

I have this shirt that I love. It’s a gray Happy Bunny shirt with four bunnies that say “Eenie Meenie Hiney Moe” – cute but just a tiny bit rude, a fact that I love. I have had it for probably four or five years now, and because of that, it is one of the most comfortable shirts I own. It’s also falling apart and just kind of hangs off of me. Unfortunately, this describes a lot of my clothes, especially my t-shirts, a combination of how old my clothes are, how harsh hand washing is on clothing, and how much weight I’ve lost during my Peace Corps service. I just have a problem with getting rid of clothes, especially if they are still performing their basic function – namely, protecting me from the elements and keeping me from running around the world naked. But, let’s be honest, it was time for this shirt, and a lot of my clothes for that matter, to retire. I just needed a hand to help with the process, I didn’t think I could do it on my own.

Call in the reinforcements! Erin agreed to come hang out with me this weekend (my last in Chernivtsi) to help me wage war on my wardrobe. She also threw together a going away lunch for me with some of my lovely friends: Kristin, Dan, and Sarah.

So we got up this morning, and after breakfast, she was like, “All right, Michelle, let’s get down to it! Throw all your shirts on the ground and let’s take care of this!” I started pulling stuff out of my wardrobe, laying them out, when I got to that bunny shirt. Well… She’ll never notice if I don’t add it to the pile. I just love it so much! I glanced her way, and while she wasn’t paying attention, I pushed the gray shirt to the back, hidden behind a pink blouse that I would be allowed to keep. After a couple more shirts joined the pile on the floor, she stood over it with a critical eye. There was a long pause.

“Where is it?”

I was the picture of innocence. “Where’s what?”

“These are not all of your shirts. Where’s the bunny shirt?”

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Michelle…”

Seriously, she gave me a Look just like my mother used to give me when I wore my old favorite purple sweater, the one that was unraveling and had more holes than you could count, the one that I “lost” at the Hawaiian airport that I am still convinced to this day Mom helped me “lose”. It made me burst out laughing. I pulled the shirt out of the closet and clung it too my chest. “But I love it!”

“Nope, nuh-uh, eenie-meenie-miney-toe has got to go!” she chastised. With some difficulty (it wasn’t that bad! it still kept me from running around naked!), into the garbage bag the shirt went.

Not long after we were gathering our stuff together to meet everyone for lunch, but we were too loaded down to grab the trash bags to take to the dumpster. I teased her saying she better not leave that shirt with me or it might find its way out of the trash and back into my suitcase. Half-teasing, half-exacerbated, she said if she saw a picture on Facebook of me wearing that shirt in America, she would fly back home and burn it. Needless to say, that shirt has stayed in the trash.

We met everyone at the Chinese restaurant, and Erin started telling them about cleaning out my closet, specifically the story of the bunny shirt. I grinned as she started to tell it, until she said, “You know what shirt I mean – the bunny shirt.” They all nodded together. Oh, yes, they said – the bunny shirt. They all knew it. “What?!” I exclaimed, laughing. “How could you possibly know what shirt she’s talking about?!” They all gave me a Look that reminded me of my mother, the one that says clearly and plainly: are you kidding me? They all had a memory of me wearing this silly t-shirt: the day I spoke to group 42 at their Arrival Retreat, traveling around Crimea, hanging out in the city. We all started cracking up. Oh, yes, the time for that shirt to retire was way past overdue.

Behind the laughter, though, there was something more. There were all those memories, all those times we were together. There was friendship. There was caring. And there was sadness. It’s not completely analogous, not a perfect allegory (I hope I mean more than a shirt and I’m not going into the trash!), but just like the bunny shirt, it was time for me to go. And it was hard for them, for me, for all of us, to let go.

I’m still not good at saying goodbyes, when it was time to part I just wanted to cling a little longer – “But I love them!” But that’s just the way it works in Peace Corps, it’s a cyclical process. When a new group comes, an old group leaves, and my time has come. I am so lucky to have had such wonderful friends, though. Not only the ones who have already gone and the ones who are leaving with me, but the ones that I’m leaving behind. They have made my Peace Corps service so special, have made it so rewarding, and it was because of them that I was able to make it through. With all the laughter, all the jokes, all the travel, all the joy – they made the short (way too damn short) time we had together incredible. I love them all so much, I pray we will stay in touch, and I will never, ever forget them.

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11/5/2012 – So It Begins…

November 6, 2012

I’m not very good at goodbyes. I’m one of those people who would prefer to sneak away in the night than deal with goodbyes. Heck, I would even rather have a big going away party and take care of everyone at once than a one-on-one type deal. It’s not because I’m adverse to the emotional aspect or hope to avoid any awkwardness, though that may be a part of it sometimes, but it’s because no matter what you say, goodbyes never live up to expectations. They can never truly express or convey how one feels. How do you tell someone that without them, you may not have been able to succeed? How do you show someone that they have become one of the most important people in your life and it physically hurts to see them walk away? Any words you could possibly say just seem to fall flat, feel empty, and you wonder how this could be it, the knowledge that your life has changed forever not yet sinking in.

I met Kate at the bus station to go to dinner tonight for the last time. I helped drag her luggage around, joining her in the taxi ride across the city. We went someplace new, a little cafe across from the train station, and talked about everything except for the fact that we would soon be saying goodbye. Poor thing looked exhausted, emotionally drained, and I just couldn’t allow myself to really think about it. After dinner we crossed the street to the station and met up with Tammela and Lily, who were also leaving tonight. We stood on the platform, chatting idly, and soon, too damn soon, it was time for them to go.

I gave Lily a hug. I leaned down and Tam kissed my cheeks. I wrapped my arms around Kate and held her for a long time, but not long enough, never long enough. Inadequate words were spoken, things like “We’ll meet again soon” and “I’ll miss you” and “I love you.” How do you tell someone they touched your life? How do you tell someone they made footprints on your heart? How do you tell someone they were sometimes the only light to be found in the darkness? How do you tell someone, really tell someone, you love them? You may say the words, may speak the lines, but the words simply aren’t enough, could never be enough.

I watched them board the train, and in that moment I realized that this truly might be it, I may never see these girls again. And I felt the way I always feel when it’s time for goodbyes, that I didn’t say the right things, that I should have held on just a little bit longer, that it wasn’t enough, it couldn’t possibly ever be enough. I stood and stared at the train, my chest tight with pain, my eyes burning with tears, taking a long time before I was able to force myself to turn away.

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Protected: 11/4/2012 – Farewell Sniyatin

November 6, 2012

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Protected: 11/3/2012 – English Club Party

November 6, 2012

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Protected: 10/31/2012 – Lviv with My Girls

November 6, 2012

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10/24/2012 – An Unexpected Reaction to a Mundane Event

October 25, 2012

This weekend, a couple of my best girls and I will be heading off to Lviv for a last hoorah. Since I live in the city, I was elected to buy our train tickets for this adventure, so I decided to use the opportunity to also buy my train tickets to Kyiv for COS – my final train ride, the one that will take me away from Chernivtsi for the last time.

I got to the ticket window about ten minutes before closing and was happy to see there was no one in line. I went up and handed the lady a piece of paper with all the tickets I needed (for complicated orders I find it’s just easier to write it all out, makes everyone’s lives easier), and she ran her eye over it before sitting down and beginning to print off everything. I waited patiently, and when she was done, I handed over my money, received the tickets, and double checked that everything was great. It was an incredibly smooth transaction, and I gave her my heartfelt thanks because buying train tickets sometimes leaves me really stressed, so having it go well was a real treat. Then I turned away from the window, walked back through the station…

…and I started to cry.

It’s not like I was bawling, it wasn’t loud or embarrassing. I just suddenly found myself standing in the middle of the station, unable to move with my hand pressed against my mouth, tears welling up uncontrollably, spilling over down my cheeks. A woman passing by paused to ask if I was all right, which just made the knot in my chest tighten. I told her I was fine. But that’s not what I wanted to say.

What I wanted to say was that I have been living in Chernivtsi for two years; I have made this place my home. I have bought countless train tickets at this station, have started so many adventures from these tracks, have ended every trip in this place. The feeling I get when I see the station come into view through the train windows, when I know I am so close to home after a long time away, is indescribable – a mixture of relief, warmth, and a quiet joy. And now in my hand is the final ticket, the one that will take me away from here. For the first time, there is no return ticket. I’m leaving. I’m really leaving.

That’s what I wanted to say. But I didn’t say any of that. Because leaving is inevitable. It may break my heart, it may make me cry, but that won’t stop it from happening. And I’m so excited about going to my American home, about starting the next chapter in my life. So I told the kind lady who asked me if I’m all right that I was fine. Then I continued out of the station and walked out into the night.

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Protected: 10/22/2012 – Security Clearance

October 25, 2012

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