I’m going to break it to you...there is no “going back to normal” after this Coronavirus works its way through our communities and psyches.
After mass crises, we either grow stronger or we get re-traumatized by events, people, and thoughts that trigger us.
Or, we end up with tons of funny stories.
I’m going to tell you a story about Re-adjustment. Do you have a sec?
After a Peace Corps Volunteer spends 2+ years abroad, we are given a “readjustment allowance.” It’s a few thousand bucks depending on how many years you served. It’s a fancy way of saying. “You’re going to come home to a really familiar-yet-foreign, strangely messed-up culture with new eyes and minds after living in a different country for 2 years, and you’re going to need some time to re-adjust to the lunacy of our society, so we’re going to give you some money to live off of while you get back on your feet. Use it for rent, or for more travel, or for doing that thru-hike you’ve always dreamt of, because it might take you a while to get back to normal, and the deeper you integrated into that other way of life, the more challenging it might be to return to what was once familiar, and you’ll never be able to see it through the same lens again.”
“And...You’re going to be a weirdo.”
The truth is, I came home feeling really authentically me, and more in my own skin than ever before. Raw, unfiltered Erica. The problem was, I brought back with me some of the new ways of being that I’d gotten used to while living in Peru: peeing outside (or in sinks), picking my nose at the beginning of public speaking in order to instill a sense of leadership and awe in my audience, and muttering under my breath, “Chinge puta!” at any small offense and hope no one around me knows any Spanish at the obscenity I'm flinging. And...be as socially awkward as possible while re-adjusting to life in the United States.
When I moved back from 4+ years living in Peru & Panama, I landed in Colorado and worked at a really rad outdoor retailer. A few months into my return, a customer came into the store and as we began to chat, he told me he was home from the Peace Corps in Uruguay for a wedding. He’d been abroad for one year and said it felt really weird to be back in the states.
He looked at me awkwardly around the periphery of my eyes, and asked, “Do you ever stop feeling awkward?”
I assured him that while my first few months back were filled with stories of potatoes and finger-breaking llamas and awkward bar interactions with men at least the same height as me, if not taller, that eventually I did reintegrate into US society and got a job and became “normal” again. I watched as his tense shoulders softly dropped and a wave of relief seemed to wash over his face.
We’d been engrossed in conversation for quite a while, when I heard a woman’s voice from behind me say, “Excuse me, do you have a sec?”
I was caught off-guard and felt guilty for my lack of vigilance, and spun around to ensure I provided exemplary customer service from this moment forward. I began with overly-enthusiastically answering her question:
“Yes! I have lots of secs!”
As the words were spilling forth and I heard them in my ears, I realized that what I’d said out loud was not remotely what my brain was trying to convey.
I tried to cover up my blunder:
“Ugghh, I mean...I have lots of secs, for YOU.” As if clarifying who my secs were for, would somehow dig myself out of this hole of awkward.
My face was flushed, beet red and sweating profusely.
“Ugghh, I mean...I have seconds. Of time. For YOU. Moments. I have many moments of time. For YOU.”
I can see by her wide-eyed astonishment that her brain was trying to process the debacle unraveling in front of her. I had a flash of honesty that I felt compelled to correct.
“Actually, I don’t have a lot of sex. Right now. In fact, I’m not having any sex right now. You know, being single...But I have secs. I have lots of secs. I have lots of seconds. Of time. For YOU.”
I look down to see her two grade-school girls are staring at me, staring at mom, staring at me. I begin to apologize for lying about my dating life in front of her kids. Because of course these 8 and 11 year olds need to know that in addition to being single and utterly awkward, I’m honest. If there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s that I’m honest. Raw, unfiltered, unrefined, tell-it-like-it-is honest.
Meanwhile, home-for-a-wedding-peace-corps-volunteer is open-mouthed standing there gasping at the horror spewing from my mouth. That's when I realize how absurd the whole thing is. I smirk, looking him dead in the eyes, and telepathically say, “Good luck. Your idea of normal, will never be normal again.”
“Today’s great tragedies make tomorrow’s great stories.” - Erica Wrona