Finding Peace With The Scarcity of Time
Linh T. Le

Being there, and not there.

‘When are you going to get your driving license?’ Her tone doesn’t invite much teasing. Rather than a question, it is a reproach. ‘August’, I say quickly, trying to escape the burden. ‘You know most places close in August. What are you going to do about it?’ ‘I’ll take intensive courses the first two weeks… maybe even before, here, in Madrid.’ ‘Of course. You also said that last year.’

There it is.

‘Mum, please’.

I’ll save you the rest. Conversation turned for the worst, into a small over-the- phone fight that I couldn’t refrain myself from picking. After all, that is not the kind of exchange you would expect to happen right after you tell someone that your –dream –summer internship’s interview went well. What to say? ‘Mum, I landed a job at the White House!’ ‘That’s great honey, have you learnt to cook for yourself yet?’ Certainly, not something you would usually picture. And yet, I was somehow anticipating it.

To set things straight, it is not my mum’s fault. It is not that she is a terrible mother, nor that she’s not proud or happy for me. Please don’t get the wrong idea. If anything, her insistence is only representative of a different, more important issue that is now a constant –maybe, the only constant –in my life: change.

Although psychological growth through the college years is widespread, in my case it has been a very impactful one, both internally and externally. Since January 2016, the longest I have lived in a place it’s been five months. Not that I knew it would be that way back then. Last year, I was studying at Tufts University in Boston, as part of an exchange program with my own Spanish university. The plan was to come back in May, when classes had finished, and for me to then study in Madrid for another –my last–year of college. I had just spent a very brief week at home, in Spain, before coming back from winter break. Then, late January, I saw it: an opportunity to intern in D.C. over the summer.

And I took the chance.

One thing to know about me is that I always tend to shelter myself. Contradictory as it may seem, since I am an open, talkative easy going girl who loves to travel, deep down I am terrified of failure. Most of my life, I’d successfully avoided getting out of my comfort zone, by repeatedly lowering my expectations and only taking (over)calculated chances, in the hope that I would thus avoid being hurt. Of course, it backfired. Mental illnesses are tricky bitches, and I have been dealing with one since first year of college, yet that’s another story. Nevertheless, therapy made me regain myself, to the point of being able to move abroad. To the point of being able to let myself have a shot. To trust myself.

So I went for it with all my might.

Fast-forward March, and not only had I secured the internship, but I had also miraculously managed to organize and schedule another semester abroad, this time in Italy. It would allow me to take enough classes as to graduate this year. That meant I’d be travelling non-stop. After Boston, I would spend two and a half months in DC, just short of a month in Spain back and forth between home (Bilbao) and Madrid, and four months in Italy. Then, back to Madrid again. And afterwards… who knew? I would figure it out.

Now, three months in back to Madrid –which pleasantly seems more, as being here is as though I was home –it does not feel quite real. Now that I have been settled for a while, the moving around seems far away. Or rather, the stress of it. The endless craiglist and facebook search desperately trying to find an apartment online. Or the struggle to navigate the process of opening a new bank account in another country-and language (to this day, I still hope I didn’t get scammed). New phone numbers. Heck, even doing my taxes.

Perpetuity of change is overwhelming.

I have to admit, however, that I am still trapped by it. Since coming back, I have been trying to decide what to do after I graduate. I am waiting to hear back from summer internships –all of them abroad –and I have enrolled on a Master’s Program at London. Do you understand my mum now?

It is just as exhilarating as it is overwhelming, it can be addictive. My mum believes I love to overwork myself. She’s not the only one. I have been told I am just running away. Truth be told, it might be part of it. Living and working abroad has always been my dream and ambition, since I was a teenager. By getting out of my comfort zone and pursuing this, I am satisfying my inner desires. And yet, it is very taxing.

Forget the stress. Do you know what else does perpetuity of change mean? Perpetuity of absence.

I am constantly away. Since college started, as it is not usual for Spaniards to move away from home when going to college, I have been an exception. But now, after a year and a half abroad, people have trouble catching up with my life. I am deeply grateful for all the friends that I have be able to make throughout the years, but it is a constant juggle trying to keep in touch with all of them. Moreover, I have come back and found myself being almost a stranger in a familiar environment. Something that terrified me when coming back was not how different everything was, but how easy it was to fall back into the same old patterns. How easy it was to become the person I was before –the image of myself that remained in people's minds –as if I had never gone away. As if I had never changed. And yet, I had. And they had, too.

Life happens. My old friends have moved on, and I am still trying to figure out how I fit in all of it. Adapting to Madrid, which used to be home, with new routines, new faces, and new ways in which I relate to past friends. We laugh at how I sometimes talk with an American intonation, as snobs do, and I joke that I have forgotten my own language (which is true more often that I’m comfortable with admitting). One guy even came to describe me as “the first Spaniard foreigner” he had met. I laugh, and joke, and play along, as it is all indeed very true. Guilty! I am a constant traveler, and proud!

At first, I felt very alienated. Sometimes, I still do.

Because truth is, it is tough to be the one friend that is always “moving on”. The one that is not there. As I said, I am scared to the bone of failure, yet when pursuing my goals, I tend to forget the other ways in which those decisions may harm me. I decide to keep on moving, to study abroad, to work in another country, all without thinking about my family, or my friends, and how it affects them. Or me. They all congratulate me, and we smile, and I am happy. They say I am “going places”. People act impressed when I talk about future plans. They might be.

We don’t talk anymore about the distance. About the bridges that I am burning, about the time spent away, about the important events that I miss, about the space that is growing deeper between us. The emotional one, that is. And I can’t help but to think that we don’t talk about it because there is no need. Because, by now, it is normal.

For them, I might just as well be the one that is not there.

A mere visitor, the one that used to be a friend.

However, for now, I know that it is only that: a fear. I am lucky enough to have the kind of friends that you can catch up with after extended periods of time and conversation will be just like always. The chemistry is there, and distance cannot affect it. Snapchat also helps. In addition to being away, I’m horrible at keeping in touch, sending messages or whatsapps regularly is something that I am not able to do for my life, and Skyping seems too much of a deal for me to handle. That is why Snapchat helps. With it, I am able to send small random pics to my friends, things that I know they care about, all in all, reminders of love to my most important ones. No likes involved. Just a random gif, to let you know I am thinking of you.

That I may be away, but I carry you with me.

Growing up means encountering novel situations, and overcoming them. In this process of evolution, of change, it is easy to feel lonely, disconnected. Yet, even then, you are not alone. Your loved ones will be there supporting you, even if it means letting go, even if it means that some things will never be the same. Because all of us are constantly evolving. There, and not there. A work in progress. Just keep in mind: going forward does not always mean leaving the past behind. At least, not everything in it.

This August, I will take my driver’s license exam, to keep my mum happy. I will also make sure that I spend time with her, and my childhood friends. That I visit Madrid before moving to London. Plus, it is always good to know that I will be able to drive around in case I come back. Who knows?

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