This is it. The end. I'm wrestling with emotions today.
Yesterday I left Chile. Before arriving, I was terrified of staying there for seven weeks. Could I handle it? I wasn't sure. It was a very, very big deal for me to do this, to leave home for so long and go somewhere abroad by myself nonetheless. Not being home, not having time to myself, having to meet new people, and having the stress of working non-stop on my project for so long were all worries for me. I never in a million years imagined that I wouldn't want to leave. But here I am.
You never expect for a place to take you in so much. The station did that for me, and as a matter of fact, it went above and beyond. I felt so welcome. The sea also seemed to take me in, too, enrapturing me in its embrace every single day. In the night, it sang me to sleep, and in the morning it gently awakened me. It pulled me in, gave me happiness when I needed it most. Having the sea there all the time was like a constant companion, a best friend I could always go see. The thought that I wouldn't be able to go see it everyday was killing me.
Saturday night was my very last night in Chile, so I went out to photograph sunset one last time. Normally when I went out, I knew exactly what and where I wanted to photograph. This time, though, I found myself just wandering the beach. I had no path in mind, I just walked through the beach and over the intertidal rocks I had come to know so well. My feet carried me to one of my favorite spots and I took a few shots, but I suddenly found myself just standing there, watching, trying to soak in those last few rays of evening light before I left them. I watched the waves, the sun, the birds. Everything I knew and had grown to love was soon to be only a memory, and I was trying desperately to soak in those last few moments before they were gone. As I slowly made my way back to the station, I felt my heart racing as the tears welled and I looked back one last time. It felt like I had been here forever, but at the same time it felt as though I had only been here for a whisper of time. Here I was, my last sunset, and I was truly sad to see it go. That was one of the hardest goodbyes I had to say. Heart pounding, my breath coming out in heaves, and the tears coming down slowly, I turned back towards the station and left my love behind.
I knew already it would be a hard goodbye, but there were circumstances that made it significantly more difficult for me. I never expected to want to stay so very badly, and the thought of staying two extra weeks at least was tempting. However, it was outrageously expensive for me to change my flight, and plus I'd have to pay for longer room and board and for more food. The truth was I just didn't have the funds. My university graciously gave me a great deal of funding for my trip and I am eternally grateful to all of the people who donated to me via GoFundMe and even in person, and I had just enough to be able to go for the time allotted. I got exactly what I needed and I am so unbelievably grateful to everyone who helped me to go. But, it was still just enough for me to stay for the time we had planned for, so I decided it would have been a nice idea but that it wasn't something I could afford. However, the other girl who went on the trip had previous research experience, meaning she was able to get more money for her trip. She had twice the amount I had, and she was already staying a week and a half longer than I was. I was a little sad that she was staying longer than me because I didn't want to miss anything and wanted to stay with the place and people I had grown to love, but what was done was done and I was staying for the amount of time I had planned for. It would be all right.
She had been considering staying extra since her project was going significantly slower than mine, but I was secretly hoping that she would decide not to stay longer. She could afford it since she got so much more money, but the idea that she would be here all that time and I wouldn't be absolutely killed me. If she was here, I should be, too. I was silently, desperately hoping that she would decide not to stay longer. One night while I was grinding through pages and pages of data, she came in, elated, and said, "I'M EXTENDING MY STAY!" My heart dropped. I had been able to push this off, but now I couldn't anymore. I was visibly upset, and as she bubbled over about staying, I sat in my chair and looked at the floor in despair. I was in shambles.
Someone in my lab noticed something was wrong and asked, and as soon as she left, I did something I hadn't been able to do previously: I opened up. I moved my swivel chair over to his desk. I couldn't even look at him, and quietly said, "I really wish that I could stay longer, but I can't and I'm sorry." I just looked down at the floor, trying my hardest not to cry and to hold myself together, but then I knew that I couldn't hold it in any longer. I had to tell him. I looked him in the eyes and told him everything, how I was scared to come initially and was concerned that seven weeks would be too long, that I had grown to love and cherish the place, that I wasn't ready to leave, and that the thought that she would be staying so much longer and that I wouldn't be here, too, was absolutely killing me and that I was heartbroken. He just looked at me and said, "Brooke. You don't need two more weeks. These seven have been such a good experience for you, you've done a lot and you enjoyed it. You won't miss anything. You've had your experience. It's ok, and I will miss you. You'll be back someday, and I'll be here." You never really realize how much people care about you. They can really and truly surprise you in the best way possible. I needed to hear that. I needed to know that I would be missed, that I wouldn't be forgotten when I wouldn't be here for so long. Never underestimate the power of someone's encouragement and words. It can really change your perspective.
After talking to him, I felt so much better. I was still upset, but the sting wasn't nearly as bitter. The next day, though, it apparently clicked with him just how much longer she was staying. I was a bit upset because after having that heart to heart conversation, I thought we understood each other, but I realized we didn't and that I'd have to let him really, really know how I was feeling. As much as I hated it, I had to use Google Translate to make sure he understood me, and I wrote him a pretty long message with everything I needed to say to make sure he understood me. I quietly handed him my computer and sat awkwardly as he read through it. This was rough for me. This was personal, it was hard for me to go that deep. But, I knew I had to do it, and so I did. After he read through it, he held my arm and looked me in the eye and told me he understood everything now and that it would be ok. I had a great experience, had done well, I would not be forgotten and would be missed. "You will be back." I know I will be, too. Somehow, someway, I will return. In that moment, I dearly appreciated him. I needed someone to help me, and he did.
His encouragement really helped me, but I am still struggling. All weekend, all yesterday, all today, I have gone through moments of just standing and staring and remembering. Moments of wishing I was back there, of feeling heartbroken that I was not able to stay a little longer. It still hurts, a lot. People don't seem to understand it. "You'll get over it, just don't think about it. You're home now!" Don't get me wrong, I am happy to be home. I finally, finally get to rest, to see my family, to see my animals. I finally have time to breathe and have a few moments to myself. But, that doesn't mean I don't dearly, desperately miss Chile and that it doesn't hurt that she can still stay there and I can't. That last part makes it worse. But, I can rest easy knowing that my time was wonderful, fulfilling, and life-changing. It will be a hard next few weeks, but I have so much to look back on and remember. I am thankful and happy for my time there, for all the things I learned, for everything I experienced, for the people I met.
People will surprise you with how much they care. Various people I didn't expect came and said very heartfelt goodbyes to me. There were many hugs given, many final kisses on the cheek, many hard goodbyes. It filled me to the brim with happiness to know people cared about me leaving that much, that they had loved having me around and that they would really miss me. Their goodbyes meant the world to me. I had to say some very difficult goodbyes, one of which left me in tears as we embraced for the last time and I watched him leave. To be near someone all the time like that and then suddenly be thousands of miles away from them is so very difficult. I don't wish that on anyone. It's rough. I know we will all see each other again, but sometimes you wonder, "Is this the last time I will ever see these people?" Make sure that you say goodbyes in a way that you would be content with if you never saw them again. I hope to see these people again and believe I will, but you never know, so you have to make them count. Let people know you care and let them feel appreciated before it is too late.
Yesterday, after inspecting my portion of the lab to make double sure that everything was in place, I did something I had never had time to do previously, I sat on the stairs and watched the sea. For twenty minutes, I just sat and soaked in those last few rays. I had to take it in just a little more. Tears and all, I breathed in the saltwater air and listened to the sound of the waves washing up on the beach. Like a sponge, I soaked it all in, trying to keep it there. This was it. My last time.
But, I know I will be back.
In Chile, they don't usually say adios. It's too final. Instead, they say nos vemos (see you). So, to Chile, to the station, to everyone there, I say nos vemos. This isn't goodbye, just see you later. Until we meet again.
Saludos, Chile, y nos vemos.