Afterward. Past. Beyond.
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. Heavy thinking. For a year and a half, I had been planning this adventure in Chile, and now it is done. That's a weird feeling.
I haven't necessarily been present lately. The first week especially, I was not here. I was still in Chile, in those waves and in the lab and the little aquarium. Down by the beach searching for seashells with my little dog friend, sitting in the frigid office with a turtleneck, sweater, and mittens on with Adam Young Scores and Ghost Stories by Coldplay playing softly in the background, out photographing at sunset on a Saturday evening. Out in the field, the sun in my eyes and the few strands of hair that had fallen out of my messy bun whipping across my cheeks. I wasn't here in this miserable heat with the realities of life crashing down on me.
But she was there, I wasn't. I was in turmoil and no one seemed to truly understand me.
I still had a lot of data that needed to get done when I first arrived. I still do. I've been working all day and late into the night trying to finish it. I've barely had a break, and I know, I know how bad that is. Part of it is I feel like I have to. It goes back to feeling addicted to feeling like I had to work all the time. I'm fighting that feeling, but it is hard. I felt like to make up for my inexperience, the mistakes I had made, and the time I wasn't there, I had to move like a machine through my data and get it done as soon as humanly possible. I realized I can't think like that. It's so unhealthy and I am fighting it daily, but it's still hard. What has made it worse is that I feel as though I am alone. Trapped in my room, starring at a computer for hours and hours, clunking out data without the sound of the sea but instead with the smothering heat, I am trapped starring at data that screams at me that I'm no longer there and throws memories at me left and right. I am alone in this. Or am I?
It is easier to process something once you are out of it, once it is done and gone and you have been distanced from it. Of course you process during the event, but you don't process it quite as honestly or as much as when it is over. I've been processing everything that happened, both the good and the bad, since I've been back. As I sift through thousands of lines of data, my mind drifts to the station, to my memories, my thoughts, my feelings. What really happened, how did I really feel?
My experience in Chile was wonderful. I learned so very much. I experienced and gained so many things from the people around me, but most of my experience and learning came from my time on my own. Those late hours alone in the dead of night in a cold outdoor lab willing myself to stay awake and keep going taught me the most. Going hours and hours and hours without seeing a single, solitary person, no one knowing what I was going through except myself truly helped to build a strength within me. Those moments alone in the office late at night, doing all forms of work and the guard telling me to go to sleep at a decent time tonight with me knowing I was only going back to my room to continue working, those moments working late into the night to set up my experiment and make sure that my animals were cared for, or those moments in the sun on Saturday mornings with just myself, my camera, and my tripod as I braved the nearby beaches were the bulk of my experience. Alone. Learning about myself with myself. Internal processing and thinking, planning, learning.
Those times when I was with people, though, I learned a lot. I learned how to be more open, how to really, truly encourage people, how to communicate when we spoke different languages, how to move a little out of my introverted comfort zone, how to deal with toxic people. The people of ECIM helped to make my experience and truly helped to better it, and I am thankful to all of them.
But this trip wasn't all sunshine.
I was dead exhausted, overworked, strained, stressed. Sometimes I was so nervous I felt sick. I was nervous about a lot of things: my project, my ability as a scientist, my relationships with others, my inexperience and what that made me look like to others. People don't see the strain, the growing pains and the struggles. I didn't want them to, either; I desperately wanted to hide it. But even if they did know, people who aren't fully immersed in your situation can never truly understand what you are going through. Even if they do, they will never truly understand. You can never fully comprehend what someone is going through; everyone experiences life differently. The key is to just be there for them. There were thankfully people who were there for me, even though they didn't fully comprehend what I was going through. But that was ok. I appreciated them dearly regardless because they showed they cared. But, that didn't mean it wasn't hard, that there weren't things that I regretted, moments I hated, moments that made me feel so sick.
It can be very easy to forget your difficulties and only remember the good things that happened when you have an experience like this. Life, however, is a combination of everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly, the precious moments and the ones you'd like to forget. This trip was just a small part of life, a combination of all those things. But it is still precious to me.
I have to look at the whole picture, everything I went through. I can't remember only the good and forget all the bad because the entire trip was what changed me. I felt so different when I came back to the States; I felt happier, more positive, more reflective and stronger. It was all of those moments that made me who I became, and I have to take them all and remember the whole.
Maybe I'm just too sentimental.
There are many things I learned there that I can carry with me throughout life. Many of those things were addressed in my "The Things I Learned In Chile" post, but a few of them were not. All of the things combined that I learned made everything, the pain, the exhaustion, the nerves, so very worth it. My overall experience was beautiful; I lavish my time there. I lavish the learning experiences, the people that I grew close to, the places that I saw, the language that I learned. It can be easy to allow yourself to fall into a slump after such a fantastic experience. Some days I get by with no problems at all, grinding through data and pushing myself with the end in sight. Other days are so, so very difficult. Those moments of missing that place often hit me unexpectedly; sometimes they are only a faint pain, other times it knocks the wind out of me. But, if it hurts, it meant something. If I miss it, if it still affects me and moves me, it was important.
What happens next? Where do I go from here? It's a strange feeling to be at the end of something that was years in the works. The end is just the beginning, though. I'm not done yet. There is so much left in life that I want to do, so many places that I want to travel to, distant lands that are calling. I think that life is made up of many small adventures, paragraphs and chapters that build up to make your life story. Each one is integral, shapes you, changes you. Each one happens in its due time, and you will experience the things that you are supposed to when you are supposed to. As a wonderful friend said on a comment on one of my Instagram posts, "This is a story of how we find out where we are called to be. Also where we are not." I can't dwell on my sadness about not being able to stay just a little longer in Chile this time or how much I miss it. I was there for amount of time I was supposed to be there. That chapter happened when it was supposed to and how it was supposed to. "You don't need more time. You had your experience, and you had a good one."
But, I do see Chile in my future, too. This isn't the last that the marine station will see of me, that is for sure. I'll be back someday. But for now, I am thankful for the time I was given there. For all those late nights where I found an inner strength I never knew I had within me, for all those moments when I did things that scared me, for those times when I connected with people in a manner in which I never had before, I am thankful. For now, I continue moving forward. "You'll go on new adventures, Brookie," one of my dearest, closest friends sent me in a beautiful text message. She's right. There's so much ahead. This is not the end, only the turn of a page.
I will never forget this experience. "Don't forget Chile, Brooke." How could I? Sometimes the thought creeps into my mind that they will forget me, that I'll be whisper on the wind that came and went in a brief second and then is forgotten. I can't think like that. Even if I am forgotten, I won't forget. Regardless of what others feel or remember, this moment in time was so significant to me, and I have to learn that it doesn't matter so much what it means to others so much as what it meant to me personally. I did my best work, I was kind, I was open, I did what I could. That's all that anyone could ever ask for and I can't let fear or uncertainty destroy something so beautiful.
I still have a lot of work to do. I have to finish analyzing data, go through the statistical analysis, and write my thesis. It's a lot, but I know I can do it. I've come this far already, so why stop now? I'm ready to continue onward and keep pushing forward to see this thing to its end. As I move forward with this thesis, I'll know, too, behind each data point, behind each line and paragraph of my thesis lies a story. A story about snorkeling, a story about fighting to stay awake, a story about finding inner strength, a story about connecting to other people. This thesis will be a collection of moments, stories, feelings, and learning experiences. A study about life. I'll have this to carry with me forever, and that is truly all I could ever ask for.
This is the afterward. But, this is also just the very start. I can't wait to see what comes next.