“Don’t cry because it’s over. SMILE because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss
To say I never thought I’d be living outside the US, much less in the Caribbean with its beautiful waters and year-round warm weather, is an understatement. I grew up in a small town that I never dreamed I’d leave. I had a small group of great friends that I could always count on. I couldn’t step outside my house without seeing at least one person I knew very well. I liked it that way. I knew people, they knew me; we all knew the values that the other stood for. It was all I had ever known. It was easy.
Then a girl named Rachel (the daughter of a friend of mine) packed her bags and moved to San Diego. She’d only been there once but was brave enough to say, “Hey, I’d like to live here. I think I will.” I remember the day her mom told me that she was leaving. There was such a sense of pride in her voice that she’d raised such a strong-willed daughter who was brave enough to move all the way across the country…alone…in her early twenties. I was proud of her as well as I had known her for almost half of her life and had seen her go through the struggles of adolescence and come out the other side just as bold as she’d ever been but also had become a kind and mature adult. I was a little jealous too. I thought of my own experiences at that age and wished that I had been brave enough to do what she was doing. I started to feel like I had missed my opportunity to step outside the bubble of small town living.
Fast forward a few years and here I sit…writing this post while looking out at the Atlantic with its soft waves churning and enjoying the last bits of the breeze before the wind dies down until “winter”. Rachel was one of the first people I told about the possibility of us moving here when her mother passed away unexpectedly and she flew back home for a few weeks. I had wanted to talk to her mom about it because I knew she would be the one person who would tell me to “go for it” and “don’t look back”. She always saw a braveness in me that I had long-since given up on. Thankfully, Rachel is enough like her mother that she told me exactly that. She gave me a big hug and told me that her mom would be “so damned excited” for me. It’s been a year and four months and I’m realizing more and more that I’ve become increasingly connected to this place with each passing day. In that, I’m trying to find that brave version of myself to step into a new way of thinking about life and also figure out who I want to become. This is my opportunity. I don’t want to miss it again.
In my last post (quite awhile ago – I’ve been busy “livin’ de life”), I talked about “Community” and how much easier life could be when you allowed yourself to open up to new people and experiences. It’s true. Unfortunately, when you open yourself up to becoming part of the larger community, it makes it harder to say goodbye when someone leaves. With the way that the vet school works, students and their families generally spend around two and a half years here on the island before moving on to their clinical appointments (mostly in the US). That means that every semester, more and more of the friends that we’ve made are leaving the island to start their new adventures. It also means more difficult goodbyes. We’ve gotten used to seeing these people almost daily. Because it’s such a small island (much like a small hometown), you can’t go many places without seeing someone you know.
After more than a year here, I found that I had formed more attachments than I realized when, suddenly, five families ended their time at the Prep school at the end of April. There were ten children (four from Kylie’s class!) that we had come to know and love and, suddenly it was time to say goodbye. Five families that we had shared time with at school, birthday parties, beach days, and even just chatting with in the grocery store. It also made it a little harder on me because I had been working part-time in the daycare with three of the precious little ones who were leaving. The time I spent sitting on the floor with those three in my lap giving cuddles and wanting me to read stories to them will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ll always smile when I think of Liliana pretending to eat the food from the pictures of her favorite book and the day Patterson first spoke to me (he is very shy) and I’ll always miss little Caleb sitting in the hall saying, “Miss Kim, can you help me put my shoes on? They are a little bit tricky,” and then smiling that adorable smile and giving me a hug afterwards. Technically, he was supposed to be putting his own shoes on (part of their learning objectives) but I could never resist helping him when asked so sweetly. It made me long for Kylie to be that age again and actually get to experience more of her at that age instead of working so many hours that I missed it.
And, the parents; Julie, who introduced herself and her family to us at Jam Rock one evening during our first few months here and Jacky, whose daughter was in Kylie’s class. Both of these ladies always had a smile on their faces and made me wish I was as outgoing and had the ability to make friends as easily as they seemed to. Even though we didn’t get to spend a great deal of time together, I still miss seeing them on campus or in the grocery store. Tatiana was always very friendly but seemed more like me; a little more reserved. Our families had several dinners together at Kylie’s favorite restaurant, SpratNet where the kids would run around and dance together. Then there was Susan, who made me laugh so hard with her story about a friend in Belize who “won the lottery”, I almost fell out of the chair. It was that night that I realized that St. Kitts was becoming my home. It was one of those slow-motion, bittersweet moments when you’re watching all your friends on the dance floor, enjoying island life and you realize that you’re actually connected to the people you’ve met…and that your going to miss them. I wish we’d had more time to hang out together.
Kylie also had to say goodbye to several friends. Thaddeaus, Vivi, Conner, and Hallie from her class and Lorelei, Rocco and Dani who were either siblings of her classmates or children of Matt’s colleagues. This made going back to school after the two week break harder. There were so many little faces missing and there were new ones there to take their place. I think that’s when it really hit me that I wasn’t going to be seeing these families again. I wouldn’t be running into their moms in the grocery store or seeing them playing on the beach. And, being the socially inept person that I am, I’d have to start over getting to know these new families. It was hard for me to process emotionally. I can’t imagine how Kylie felt.
Then there have been the friends that have left the island for the summer months to travel back to their own hometowns.Even though these were just temporary goodbyes, they were equally difficult. Dorina and Christina and their children, Boris, Bela and Vlad. We miss hiking with them and playing on the beach or by the pool but we’re counting down the days until we see them again.
Shortly after everyone left, we had family come visit. Then we had to say goodbye again. Letting Granny, Paw and Jordan go after having them with us for two weeks was difficult for Kylie. But, in a way, she’s learning something valuable from all of this, as am I. She’s learning that saying goodbye hurts for a little while but that the memories made by opening our hearts to others and becoming a part of something bigger than ourselves make the whole journey worth it. From those we may never see again to those we know we’ll see in a few weeks, each and every one has made a contribution to our lives; to our happiness. I pray Kylie remembers that as she continues to grow.
So, to the Porter, Smith, Reyes, Soto, and Tyler families, we miss you! We appreciate your friendships. Best of luck with your new adventures and hopefully our paths will cross again in the future.
And, thanks Rachel for being an inspiration to an “old lady” like me! Your momma would be so proud!