I’ve been holding on to a secret for a while now. The truth is, every time I let down my guard and allow myself some space to think about it, my body starts to shake and my eyes swell up with tears so think there is no room for them to go anywhere but out. Even now, having only written two sentences, I’m already in sobbing position. But there is no more time to hold on to this. By this weekend, much of our community will know and I want it to come from me personally, albeit this isn’t in person but it’s what I’ve got. And, I can’t think of a better space to share than on Drinking the Whole Bottle, a place that – like much of my life – was born in the Dominican Republic.
For the last couple of months, Husband and I have been struggling with the idea that come next year we might not be in the Dominican Republic; and tomorrow, when his letter of intent is due, stating whether or not we will be returning, it will say we are not. (Hold on, sobbing.)
If you know our family at all, you know we are invested in this place so the news probably comes as a shock. Believe me, it comes as a shock to us too. We’ve kept it somewhat close to the vest because we, ourselves, hadn’t been committed to leaving; we didn’t feel the wind of change that I’ve heard many international teachers feel. Usually the decision to leave for many expats comes with some moments of clarity; they have overstayed or they are ready to move on. But this isn’t my case. I can confidently tell you that I haven’t felt the call to move on but sometimes the universe forces your hand anyway. Know, first and foremost, that I love this island and it’s people and that if we leave, it won’t be because I’m ready. I’m not.
But the truth is, I might never be.
How do you leave a place that has been with you from the beginning? No, I wasn’t born here but my family was and I don’t just mean the kids I gave birth to at Abel y Gonzalez on Lincoln. Husband and I had been married a mere month before landing here; we knew as much about this island as we did about our life as a married couple. And we learned how to be parents too with a whole army of love and support behind us. The people here have been more than bystanders in our children’s’ lives; they have been active participants in every step. They have been our village, our place of refuge. They have welcomed our kids so intensely into this place that when both my daughter and son walk around they feel safe and loved and celebrated. It has been incredible watching their confidence develop simply because these walls and everyone in them has loved them. But our kids aren’t the only ones who have benefitted from being here. I’d argue that what Mike and I have gotten was far greater. We left NJ at a time of frustration and disappointment with our community and arrived here to make some of our deepest relationships. Some of the greatest friends we’ve ever had live below us or down the road. Many have just arrived this year and many have been here for years.
Our walk to school this morning a friend asked us if we had decided what we were doing. I was ahead with Santiago, so I don’t know Mike’s face or response but I heard our friend’s response, “Holy sh*t,” he said with more shock in his tone than excitement. It was said like a blow he never saw coming and he said it exactly as I felt it in my heart. “It’s the end of an era,” he added. The sharpness was gutting. The ending of an era felt real and palpable, and for the first time, I had to digest just how much of a heartbreaking decision this was all going to be.
The truth is I don’t know how to move on from this place. It is, in all its frustrations and messiness, a place that understands me and a place I understand. It is a place of warmth where relationships are valued and fostered, where the next party is a phone call away, where time is measured in laughter. It is a place that absolutely drinks the whole bottle. (I’m full on wailing now) It is one of few places that I’ve called home and the only place my kids have ever called home.
Tonight, as we packed up from the courtyard down stairs where our kids play with their neighborhood friends – the friends they’ve grown up with – Santiago stood next to Manuel, who lives immediately downstairs and whose mom happens to be Rafa’s pre-k teacher and one of our most trusted friends. It was only today that we found the courage to tell her. As the boys stood next to one another, not moving, I asked them, “Are you gonna just stand there together like…” my voice trailed off.
Statues. I was going to say statues but Santiago chimed in, “Como hermanos – Like brothers.”
I took that imaginary knife out and stabbed myself, “Ugh. Knife. Heart. Stab. Turn. Die. Dying. Death.” His mom and I both tried to laugh at how impossibly beautiful and complicatedly sad that moment was, but I could feel how forced our laughs were, like they were being pushed through our lips to mask the real emotions that neither of us was ready to confront.
We came on this abroad journey to travel and explore, to extend outward. We were never supposed to stay and yet somewhere along the line, I never imagined we’d leave.