Monster masks, unicorn onesies, a giant T-Rex. Photos of what I used to call my home pop up and my mind can only come up with one thought: “I wonder what had happened if I stayed”. Two years ago, my life looked very different than it does now. Living in the high desert of the oldest capital in the continental United States, I had found myself a perfect little home - full of wonders, incredible landscapes, a job I loved, and art, lots of art.
Today, I find myself living in a vibrant European city, surrounded by thousands of years of history, and a cultural mix that is palpable in everything from the languages on the streets, to the food on the tables. Now, as I sit on my window, sipping a warm cup of tea, looking at the leaves flow with the cold wind, and hear the chatty conversations of neighbours saying their “hellos” as they bump across the street, I know that moving away from Santa Fe, back home to Costa Rica, and then on to Dublin, has been one of the best things that could’ve happened to me. Two years ago, though, as I was looking at the prospect of having to go back home after finding my own special place in the world and finally feeling like I had formed a life for myself? Not so much.
They say that hindsight is 20/20 and there’s really no way of knowing how things will turn out until they have. Even then, sometimes it takes a longer time to understand what’s planned for us in the greater scheme of life. I didn’t understand why, but I always knew that Santa Fe was not a long-term deal. This, though, was definitely not by choice. The United States immigration laws are (even if some people try to deny it) very strict when it comes to being able to move into the country. As an international student, I went to do a semester abroad and - as many an exchange student - fell absolutely in love with a place that seemed to pulsate at the same frequency as my heart did. Everything about Santa Fe called to me. The blue mountains, the dry landscapes, the vibrant hippies on their way to WholeFoods. It was all an incredible adventure that showed me a whole new perspective on life and, as time went by, triggered a blossoming in myself that allowed me to grow into my skin as I hadn’t allowed myself to before. The high desert life fit me like a glove, and it wasn’t long before I joined the circus, learned to cook organic, veggie-oriented foods, and pronounced coconut oil as my own personal guru. It all sounded crazy and foreign to the people that knew me back home but, to me, it simply made sense. I could see my true self pouring out with a vibrance that I had envied in others in my younger years, and I was so happy I could never picture a different life for myself. I missed my home town and my family, my friends that I’d grown up with, and although there were some challenging moments, and Sunday afternoons never really got that much easier, I had a really hard time picturing what coming back home would ever feel like. After all, after a student visa, a 6 month unpaid internship “tourist” visit, a J1 internship visa, and a failed attempt at a work visa - there was literally no way I could stay in the US of A once my period was up. Moving back home was, in all purposes, inevitable.
It’s easy to look at this with pink-coloured light once it’s all happened and I know I survived it, but at the time, looking at my imminent walk away from the life I had built by myself - and for myself - I looked at that move out date like a death sentence. It was hard to explain to the people that knew me in Costa Rica, how moving back closer to them was not something I was making by choice and still make it sound like it wasn’t personal. For me, moving meant saying goodbye to many things that had come to be a part of my identity. How I’d joined the circus in a moment of solitude and had discovered strength and community there. How I’d shed all my inhibitions and had learned how to hug and love openly, never ashamed of how I felt, but proud to shout it out to the winds and be my true self. For me, it was like I had come out of the closet, spread my wings, and then was suddenly being forced right back into it. But the closet was too small and I couldn't fit back in - so what was I going to do? What part of me was I going to have to chop off to be able to fit myself into this compartment that shrunk my self identity into a specified dimension that was socially acceptable? I was so focused on what I was losing, that I had no idea how much I was about to gain.
The process of recovery after emotional and geographic amputation is never an easy one. It gets a lot harder before it gets better, and it sometimes shows you things you really didn’t want to see or deal with. The good news is, if you (eventually) accept the change and adapt, it opens the door to new possibilities and a new way to deal with the challenges that life throws your way. The first few months back home were - to put it mildly - hard. I felt like I was sleepwalking through a life that I should want but didn’t. I had a lovely flat that felt like someone else’s home, heard the phrase “I’m so glad you’re back home!” about a million times and not once replied honestly to it, and would sit on my bed right before falling asleep just repeating to myself that it had to get better. I wasn’t living a bad life, it just didn’t feel like my life. I had a challenging job in my field that paid well, was travelling, and had my family and friends close again. But I felt like a part of me had been reallocated and the rest of me hadn’t been notified about the move, causing my spirit to be living in a part-time arrangement between two homes that had no way of connecting them. I went for a quick visit in Santa Fe a couple of months after moving and it felt so good I could almost cry. I fit so tight into what I felt like was my community that I went dancing and the bouncer at the club asked me why he hadn’t seen me in a while - to which I could only reply with a casual “been busy, you know how it goes” - cause I couldn’t face that I had moved.
I started drinking more and smoking more, and fought to find the good things in my new routine. I joined yoga and started spending more time with my sister, catching up for the years I’d been away. I didn’t strive to make new friends, because I knew I didn’t want to stay there; but caught up with my old ones and tried to figure out how to fit into their new lives, ones that had developed when I was gone and sometimes didn’t feel like they had a place for me anymore. I bought things for my kitchen and tried to make my old hippie recipes with different ingredients. I discovered the farmer’s market. Slowly, but surely, I started seeing that maybe things weren’t so terrible if I let myself enjoy them, that loss doesn’t mean the end of everything else unless you want it to, and, most importantly, that I had to decide to get better and finally let go of what was no more.
I went back to Santa Fe a couple of months after that and, to my surprise, the experience was completely different. What was once my home was screaming at me that it was no more. The people I knew were there, still amazing and incredible, but no longer pretending like I was more than a visitor. I wasn’t pretending to be a part of them anymore, either. I finally felt ready to say goodbye. And I did. After that visit, and a trip to Mexico where I fell in love with a little town that I realised I could call my home just as easily as I had Santa Fe; I finally started to move forward. I was having fun, I started making plans, I settled better in my job and found more love and excitement in it than I had allowed myself to before. This time, going back home felt just like that: going back home after being away on a trip. My best friend moved away from Santa Fe a few weeks after that, and I said my goodbyes to the guy I thought I loved, I finally let it all go. Like a cleansing storm waiting to hit in the right moment, my new life started pouring out to me. I had friends that I loved, family nearby, things to do, and, most importantly, I had plans I wanted to start setting in motion for what my future looked like.
Coming from Costa Rica, a place that looks as close to Paradise as you’ll probably get, and then wanting to move away from it is a tricky business. I love my country. The people, the sounds, the mess, the fried plantains in the morning with a good cup of coffee and fresh cheese. It’s where I come from. It’s who I am. I know what it’s like being away, and know what cravings I get when I can’t find my usual comfort food. How chicken noodle soup when I’m sick never tastes as good as some mondongo, or cow stomach; how in winter, I brace myself for the cold with a warm jug of agua dulce, or sweet water. I hate Sundays when I’m living away because there is no family lunch, later in the day, at some restaurant that is always delicious - and always something my father likes. I love my home town and having the beach merely an hour away is amazing. I love it, but I’ve always known I don’t want it. It’s hard to say that and not sound like a snob or a traitor, but I’ve always known I wanted to move away, not because I couldn’t have a good life in my home country, but because I crave experiences and a lifestyle that urges me to go out there and pursue different inclinations than those I find in the territory that I already know. I thrive in the unknown and I love the possibility of forming the life I want in a way that I personally can’t seem to manage in the place I grew up. So now that I wasn’t running away - or even worse, running back to Santa Fe - the question remained: what next?
In the past year, I applied for masters programmes around the world in my dream universities - and, to my surprise got into all of them, meaning not only I could travel the world, but I could actually choose where I wanted to live, a choice I hadn’t had before. I met the love of my life and we’ve somehow managed to make it work through different countries, timezones, and the usual struggles that come with dating in the 21st century. I traveled more on my own and I learned to stand straight and smile when nobody is looking. I quit smoking and cut back on my drinking. I grew into a (semi)adult with more balls than I thought I’d have when I was younger; but most importantly, I learned that nothing in life is permanent and you should never settle for less than what pleases you and fulfils you, that life is a constant state of changes and eventualities you never saw coming, and you always have to make the best of it. I figured out that loss is never permanent and improving myself is a work in constant progress. I moved to Dublin after a quick test run of living with my boyfriend and our three cats, before we do the real thing - which we’re doing and that’s quite fantastic.
I can’t say I have all the answers or that my life is perfect. Yet looking back at the place I hung to so desperately as “the one” I needed to call home, I’m honestly grateful for the bumps and the bruises that got me to where I am today. I’m also thankful for allowing myself to let go and open myself to doors that were already opening in front of me. They’re the reason why I can honestly look back with a smile, and say I’m so happy it ended up that way.