My neighbor and I used to play this game where we would spin in circles as fast as we could until one of us fell. I lost often and I can recall the sensation of laying on the damp grass in the humid Michigan sun and feeling my world spin in circles around me. My final week in India felt like that. I was suddenly down to a mere 7 days and I still had all of these things that I wanted to do and to see. It felt like the longer I was in India the longer my “to do” list became. As I checked one thing off it felt like 6 more would pop up. My final week was an attempt to do all of those things blended with a sharp feeling of loss.
Aaruran, Matt and I flew into Bangalore from Goa at around 3am. Upon exiting the airport I had this sudden surge of confidence, like we were on my home turf. It was an attitude that quite possible annoyed my travel partners, as I began to walk faster than usual and doing without much dialogue.
I woke up to several texts from Aruna asking when I would be coming to the shelter. I wanted my exact arrival time to be a surprise, so i didn’t text her back and instead hurried the boys out of the door. I was antsy the whole way there. My left leg was bouncing up and down in excitement and I could hardly sit still.
Walking back into the shelter was a lot like the first time you come home from college. Your mother freaks out and hugs you and is vaguely impressed that you didn’t die. I took my shoes off and practically burst through the door. I was greeted by all the girls screaming “Madi ma’am you’re back, you’re back!” Even Aunty gave me a huge hug–something everyone, including aunty, seemed genuinely surprised by. It felt like I was coming back to my real life. I knew where everything was, I knew everyone’s name, I had inside jokes, I was no longer a tourist.
I stayed the night at the shelter because I could not bare to leave. I kissed each and every child on the cheek and told them I loved them before we fell asleep. Basama slept next to me and I woke up the next morning surrounded by 45 children eating breakfast. I had slept through the hustle and bustle of all 45 children waking up, playing, sweeping, bringing out massive pans of rice, and talking amongst themselves. I was shocked and a little embarrassed. I looked as Basama and said “dude, why’d you let me sleep?” And just as I should have expected she said, “you were tired, we let you sleep.”
It occurs to me now, 3 weeks later, that I slept so well because I felt safe and at home. The last time I can remember sleeping like that was through Thanksgiving dinner on my uncles shoulder my first year of high school.
Leaving that shelter was one of the most painful things I have ever had to do. I got handfuls of letters thanking me. And gifts that I knew they couldn’t afford to give. Before I left the kids were all seated in rows for a presentation. Each and every child (even the 15 new kids from a recently closed shelter) stood up and gave me a hug. I told them I loved them and they said they loved me too. A few began to cry and the once distant rows seemed to blend together, as if seeking comfort in relative proximity. Aruna kept reminding me not to cry, but I couldn’t help it. Malika asked me again to take her home and every inch of my body ached. There is nothing more I wanted in that moment than to take her with me.
It’s been three weeks and I have been thinking about this blog post since the start of my trip. How will I wrap it up? How will I ever be able to articulate this?
I’ve decided that I can’t.
I don’t know if the words will come with time or if I’m destined to carry around this feeling that I can’t articulate for the rest of my life. Leaving India feels to me like a loss. There is an overwhelming sense of missing them.I’ve spoken with the girls since being home and I look at the photos often. That’s why it is impossible to articulate. This feeling that sits just below my chest is a concoction of loss, hope to return, and a drive to continue to pursue that level of emboldened happiness again. Perhaps I should invent a word…