When you live abroad, you connect with new cultures and types of people, but you also notice the distance between you and them. Particularly in a big city, surrounded by thousands or millions of people in their own universe, building relationships with objects is often easier and more feasible. You notice that your life is a compilation of things which have traveled with you from this pre-abroad existence to the things which you have acquired where you are now, and you begin to see the objects as not only what they are but as reminders of all that you are. For example, I treasure my double bed that I got here. I found the hard-as-a-rock double mattress and wooden bedframe at a tiny shop that looked like it could be on an episode of ‘Hoarders’ (the owner had to work with the neighbors to pull a dining room table and chairs from off of it to get the thing out). I bargained for it with tricks of the trade I learned from Colombian friends, rode back to my house in a pick-up truck with saints hanging from the rearview mirror like air fresheners, had help moving it to the second floor and assembled the bed frame on my own (a first, for me). Then, when I moved, I had the help of two friends move it out again, load it onto a van and up the three flights of stairs into my new apartment.
When I was little, I had a green, Girl Scout vest that adorned patches like medals of honor. Each one represents something that at the very least says, ‘I was here. I did something.’ As an adult, as a person who lives far from home, you don’t have patches or even old friends around to say, “Hey remember that time we…” I think many people don’t consider moving abroad because they are afraid of the loneliness and that fear is legitimate. There are days when I want to call a friend on my crappy foreign phone and can’t; days that I could spend in entirety in bed, because I don’t work and no one is going to notice the difference anyways and because I cherish my relationship with my double bed more than I want to see anyone in Bogotá. So I look to my things: a bicycle with chipped paint, broken gears and a torn seat that rips up the crotch of every pair of tights that I own; an extra-large tube of toothpaste that I’ve squeezed and flattened beyond all reason because I remember standing in an aisle of Walgreens with my mom the day before I went to the airport; a mattress that’s hard-as-Plymouth-freakin’-Rock… and I love all of them. When you are in your own country and everything is easy you forget to love your things for the simple fact that they are yours.
Then there are the other things which couldn’t fit into a suitcase if you tried, like full moons in the daytime or the flavor of a fresh apple or the way a dog’s tail flutters when its owner holds a ball in the air right before he or she decides to throw it. Thankfully, although customs and foods and living environments are all new, general aspects of humanity and laws of physics stay the same. You know that a cup of coffee will be hot when it is made, that the heat will eventually dissolve into the air like a balloon that is finally let go of, resigned to the sky. You know that that set of blue, paint-worn shutters on a side street in your neighborhood would feel coarse and honest if you were to touch it, that it is the same blue as the sidewalk chalk you used to use or the nail polish that you once stole or the retainer that you lost you don’t know where.
These things do not represent your “new” life or your “old” life, but just life. The loneliness sucks sometimes, it does, but having company around all the time makes you forget to appreciate the things. Things rule. Things make you realize the capacity you have to appreciate the world for other reasons, like the way brick walls along the highway are covered with posters upon posters until there’s nothing left of the layers of timeworn paper but the way they curl around the new posters; like an old, fatherly hand on the shoulder of its successors; like nothing is quite ready to let go; like nothing ever really has to.