Take home exam, Part II

I had a meltdown tonight that started with the realization that there was a Part II to my take home exam. I called Sprinky. She asked if I had a cold. I told her no, that I was crying and that I couldn’t even think of a good reason why since Part II only added two more double-spaced pages.

By the end of the conversation, I’d cried through the cellulite I had discovered on my thigh 20 minutes earlier and the resignation to aging and out-of-shapeness, which was only amplified by the understanding that I would not be able to get to the gym to play basketball tomorrow at 6 because I’d have to stay up later to finish the stupid exam; and after that, that I’d seen the most beautiful sunsets from the levee 4 nights in a row and had done my best to share them with people, but that at the end of the day, it was still only me walking to my car in the dark; and after that, that I’d missed the gorgeous moon tonight, but saw it last night when everyone else was busy and I was exploding with spectacular full-moon goodness; and after that, that the plane tickets I went to buy jumped like $70 during the 3 minutes I was trying to purchase them. My family—all 8 sides of them—will be together on the same day at the same time for my niece’s first birthday party, and American Airlines is messing with me. I don’t know when that will happen again barring a funeral or my own wedding. Doesn’t the airline industry know that?

In the end, it turned out that 80 degrees and sunny reminded me of summer in Fort Wayne with our little sliding door open, and me on the couch and Sprinky in the bedroom, and everyone coming in and out, and air mattresses all over the place, the OC and champagne, and the baby Weber grill, and my family only 2 hours away. I haven’t spent a summer outside of Fort Wayne in almost 10 years. What I’m missing here is couple of SCAN peeps, a very icy tall nonfat mocha on the corner of State and Coliseum, Elaine on my air mattress, a ten-year old following me around for weeks at a time, dusk on my balcony, and one very important Sprinky on the couch.

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What I have instead is Schroeder’s take home exam part II, which seems to be as hazardous as tear gas or something.

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I’ve heard its going around

Here’s the thing. I’m back from Belize, and I think I may have been born in the wrong country. Also, I might be living in the wrong city. It’s possible that I am totally lost in the world.

I have been so disoriented since arriving home Tuesday that I’ve done things like: pack up all my power cords and homework and earphones and books to do homework at the coffee shop, but left the computer at home.

Yesterday I could hear people talking, but when they walked away I looked around and realized I hadn’t heard a word they said. This was me all day: So, we are having class in room 103 today? So, what’s going to be on the quiz? So, when is that due? Wait. What article was it? Was I supposed to write that down?

Also, I sneezed while reaching for a cabinet on Wednesday and totally threw out my neck and back. I couldn’t move my left side or lift my left arm past 45% or turn my neck in any direction. My classmates kept saying I had a stroke or meningitis. I totally believed them because I’m prone to hypochondria. But deep down I knew I had the what-am-I-doing-here-I-don’t-know-anybody-this-is-not-my-home-plus-I-hate-homework-and-am-desperately-heartsick-for-my-hilarious-and-warm-Belizey-family…or-at-least-that-other-family-in-Indianapolis…you-know-the-blood-relatives… virus.

I’ve heard it’s going around.

So, at 4:30, I propped up all my little pillows around my left back and watched Christmas movies and Belize videos until I fell asleep sometime around 10. I have decided that this business of caring for people is hard. There are always goodbyes. And yes, they’re followed by hellos, but then usually goodbyes again. I don’t really feel at home anywhere. My foot is in two states and my heart is in two countries.

My friend Steph said: Brooke, welcome home to wherever you are hanging your fanny pack today. (Steph, for your information it’s a rugged Eddie Bauer bag.) But then she quoted Hebrews 11, reminding me to live in the light of eternity and as a comforting reminder that someone is saying, I’ll leave the light on for you:

Hebrews 11
9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God… 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Tonight, I live in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, Earth. I only have a few videos connecting me to some of my favorite places and people and moments everywhere else, but I’ll share them with you if you’ll have them:

Ricardo singing at the Teacher party

Election night with Inez and Antonia when UDP won

Standing on the balcony at Cahal Pech singing “Somewhere out there” with Ashley and Kenz to the village…

Teasing Bryon, and the kids.
(Don’t get mad, you guys. I just miss you and your weird fear of cameras.)

Oh man.

My dad is learning how to text. He called me tonight and said it took him 25 minutes to text “Are you watching the Olympics?”

I told him I think its hilarious that he had a blackberry before they were cool and didn’t even know what it was, figured out how to “wink” and “poke” and find a wife on the internet, but is just now learning to text. Dads.

Okay. Down to business. Yesterday I got back from Florida. Sometime between last Thursday and now, I forgot that New Orleans was my home- I kept thinking I was going back to Indiana. Even worse, no one here knew I left, and no one knows I am back. I went all day today without talking to a single person except Navigon. To her credit, we had some great conversations about how to get to Target and Wal-Mart and the importance of u-turns. I eventually tabled the issue as she was getting edgy through her passive aggressive use of the words “Please” and “When possible” and “Now” but it was great to hear her voice. At 7:30 I realized Navi wasn’t actually a human and started calling real people. I just felt like someone should know where I was and what I was doing.

Then I came home to the cardboard cutout of SJP. She was glad to see me, I could tell by her stare. Her eyes were saying, “Welcome home. You look fantastic.” I wanted to have some coffee and tell her about Florida, but her legs don’t bend and she can’t handle liquids of any kind. So I settled for Subway and the weather channel meteorologist.

I feel like a stranger in my own life. Especially when I am in Wal-mart or Barnes & Nobles and get caught up in produce or magazines and walk out expecting to see Jefferson Point, but instead see the New Orleans skyline. I typically gulp and wimper and suck it up. But it is an awful 2 seconds during the realization.

Earlier today, I went to the uptown campus to find out about the job (the lady was gone) and must have arrived right at the beginning of welcome weekend or something. There were a million undergrads everywhere all fresh-faced and cute and hopeful. There were parents and little brothers and looks on their faces like, “This is my best friend, Sue. I just met her 5 minutes ago.”

I could have cried remembering that feeling—although my family never actually moved me in, it was the Broadheads—but seeing Elaine and Sprinky on that first day and thinking I was going to die when I got a load of Sprinky’s blues clues bedset. Hello? Blues Clues! Then making instant best friends with everyone, and switching friends, like, every 3 weeks until we found our places. I just loved it. Even things like Cara threatening to rip out people’s ovaries for being too loud in the lounge. Even that. And Jill tearing my shirt, and Sprinky killing Jill’s hermit crab, and Elaine saying inappropriate things to Millenium Bear in her sleep, and all of us making Helen pee her pants in the middle of the night; stealing all the shower curtains, Crazy Lena firing me in my sleep. Honestly, I could go on for 4 years.

This afternoon, already reduced to conversing with my navigation device and a cardboard cut-out of SJP due to lack of readily available friends, I couldn’t help but feel unbelievably jealous and nostalgic for my college friends and the intimacy of life together—literally, next door from each other. Now I am just a way older version. With less fun. And less energy. And less metabolism. And less friends. Boo.

My good friend said I am good at collecting people and that I’ll have plenty soon.
I said I USED to be good at it, but that I didn’t think it was my thing anymore.
She said it’s who I am.
I told her I was too worn out for social awareness. Those types of things take a lot of emotional energy and motivation, which I had in abundance at 19.
At 27, I feel very comfortable settling for 25 Oreos and America’s Next Top Model at home by myself.

Us as freshmen- you guys will love this:

Hausser

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Me, Chuck, Steph, Beth, Trish

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Making Koolaid

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Finding moldy koolaid (we thought we had created a jellyfish)

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Bball- I miss this! Team sports are the best.

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Bethany (the person and the dorm :)

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Valentine’s Day- I actually got called off this shirt

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Millenium bear- the giant stuffed bear my grandma sent me for Christmas. Not quite how she envisioned us using it…

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Family weekend

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Twister in Bethany lounge

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Sprinky and the Bethany lounge mantel

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Miss you guys.
Love you guys.
(This whole college thing just isn’t the same without you.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

I wrote an article for CFI.
It’s mostly everything I’ve already said in one post or another, but I feel compelled to share.
If you get through it, I promise colorful binders in the next post.

(On re-entry from Belize)

Doc: Hello Ms. Wilson, It’s time for your two-month check-in. How do you feel? Are you reintegrating? Adjusting well? Back to normal?
Me: Hang on. The zookeeper is trying to drag me out of the rainforest dome.

Two months ago my life was full of coconuts and lime, pick-up trucks, 90-degree days, meandering walks and dirt roads.

Today my life is filled with things it was missing in Santa Familia, like 8-lane highways and Starbucks and Fruit Loops and Grey’s Anatomy and 49 different kinds of Paul Mitchell styling products. Oh, and deliciously delicious Oreos- all of which disguise themselves as happiness.

But right in the middle is a gaping hole called “community” and another called “family” and one called “Antonia’s Kitchen” and a few more little ones called “good weather” and “sweet limes” and “dollar ice-cream cones”.

I have resigned to the fact that when I take a group of kids to the zoo, like I did on Saturday, and we walk into the Tropical Rainforest Dome, I’ll want to cry—and not just because the kids aren’t interested about the time I lived in a rainforest, but because I know in the deepest part of my heart that no matter how much money I make, or how many friends I have, or how many degrees I earn, I will never have the quality of life I had in the village for those short few months.

When I see birds or monkeys behind a cage in the zoo, I automatically think of Ronnel pointing out a toucan on the way to the sinkhole and feeding jackfruit to this little spider monkey our neighbors had in the village.

One of my favorite memories will always be that half-an-hour between dusk and total darkness when Inez and I would walk to the shop for a dollar ice cream cone or a Snickers or in search of hard-to-find flour.

Daily, those little triggers open this giant door inside called “My Other Life” and I wonder what they’re all doing there in Belize—what the weather is like, what the village gossip is. I can almost feel the sun and the breeze, the warmth, the sweet smell of coconut and campfire, and I can picture myself sitting with Ms. Mig on the back stoop peeling sweet limes.

Tonight, I’d give anything to hear Antonia’s deep laughter in the kitchen. I’d love to walk to the store with Inez. I’d love to flop down on David’s couch and catch up with Nelly.

Sometimes the best I can do is go to the zoo.

Week Twelve: SOS

I’m drowning in Fruit Loops and America’s Next Top Model.

It’s killing me, literally. I may have turned diabetic this week for lack of self-control and the abundance of Oreos and Milano cookies. I turned down lunch at the Indian buffet today, because yesterday I ate my weight in cheesy potatoes and didn’t think I could be trusted at a buffet.

Also, I spent 5 hours in the eye-shadow section at Ulta and tried to buy shampoo a few times with a 20% off coupon and finally settled on the Paul Mitchell Color Care line with a buy 2 get 1 free option, but gave up after not being able to pick the third product.

I guess you could say I am overwhelmed with the overabundance of food and hair product options.

After a complete meltdown on Sunday, it took a full 24 hours to figure out what was really going on.

Here it is: There are holes in my life that can’t be filled with Paul Mitchell Color Care Detangling Conditioner or cheesy potatoes, even though I am thankful for those things and love them with all my heart on a normal day.

I have come to the sad realization that we have everything backwards.

I was upset on Sunday because my family jumped through hoops to get to the right church (out of hundreds in the city) at the right time (out of 8 services) to meet my brother and sister-in-law, who didn’t even show up or call to tell us they weren’t coming.

In Santa Familia there is one church with one service, and your brother lives 5 houses down. Not everyone has cars. Most people just walk. And if Antonia doesn’t show up, Father Foley goes to her house for lunch—just to make sure everything is okay. Most people go to church if only to make sure Father Foley doesn’t show up for lunch.

As I settled in on Sunday afternoon with my bag of Oreos and the Disney Channel (don’t judge), I understood that no matter how many cereals I can choose from, or how many Salon Style conditioners I get to use, no matter how great it feels to drive around 8-lane highways in my shiny SUV, passing two malls and 15 Starbucks, I will never have the quality of life I had in the village for those short few months.

My entire family will never live on one street; I’ll never be within walking distance from everyone I’ve ever known; my best friends are not my cousins or my nieces or my back-door neighbors.

Kids there have 15 moms and 15 dads—aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends. It was so cute to watch David’s eight-year-old son curl up in Imanuel or Ricardo’s lap, and to watch Juliet be passed around the church from aunt to aunt to cousin to cousin (though it was sort of embarrassing when she woke up while I was holding her, took one look at me, and wailed like she had been abandoned at the local homeless shelter).

I’ll probably never speak 3 languages or enjoy a fresh orange or a chocolate-chip ice cream cone as meaningfully and effortlessly as I did with Inez and Frances— though my cherished single-dip cones on the curb of Ben & Jerry’s and Baskin Robbins with Bec and Sprinky rival.

But that’s my point. Happy, simple meaningful moments are rare and hard to come by here, which is why they are etched into my memory and logged as happy places for me. It was never about the ice cream (except that one year when they had Chocolate Oddessy 2001). It was 20 uninterrupted minutes on the curb with my good friends.

In the village, moments like that happened all the time. Nobody had anywhere to rush off to. My time there was a thousand simple, meaningful moments strung together into days and weeks. One of my favorite memories will always be that half-an-hour between dusk and total darkness when Inez and I would walk to the shop for an ice cream or a snickers or in search of hard-to-find flour. It was just nice to be with her, and to not have anything else to do but walk around together.

Now I have no choice but to settle for The GAP and America’s Next Top Model in lieu of everything my heart really wants—community, an entire Sunday afternoon with all my friends and family in one place (can you even imagine it—all your best friends and family together in one location, for LIFE?)

My friends and I used to joke about living in a commune.

In the village, they have that. They have community. Not as a concept or a small-group idea. But as their actual life.

We have water, Tyra Banks, paved roads, Fruit Loops and Paul Mitchell.

(And we think we’re the lucky ones.)

I agree: in some ways, we’re privileged. I feel blessed to live where I live with the opportunities that have been given to me. Even after village life, I don’t feel guilty for loving Target. Or TV. Or the mall. But more than privileged, I would argue that, mostly, we’re distracted. And I sort of feel sorry for us. I think we are distracted in order to not be depressed.

For example. On Sunday, when family plans fell through, I got my tall-nonfat-sugar-free-caramel-macchiato, sat down with a handful of Oreos and the Disney Channel (don’t judge), periodically checked my Macbook for emails, and when there were no emails, I downloaded new songs on iTunes.

So I enjoyed a day of first world conveniences. But only as a filler for what I really wanted, which was to hang out with my brother, or chat with friends, or, in the deepest part of my heart, be celebrating Easter with everyone in Santa Familia.

Moments:

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“Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.”

For Good
Steven Schwartz