The Space Between Here and There

By Richa Pokhrel

Photo credit: Richa Pokhrel

2,707 miles separate now and later. Or it could be 2,808 miles. Whatever route I take, I will be leaving. Gone in 3 weeks. That’s 20 days, 480 hours until the next chapter, the next adventure, waiting for me like an excited and anxious dog at the end of a workday. At the end of September, I will leave Oakland, my home for the last 6 years. Moving across the country to South Carolina to an unfamiliar territory, to an undiscovered community.

I was 7 years old the first time I left the only home I knew. My friends, my family members, my language were to be left behind. Before that, the only time I had left the Kathmandu Valley was to visit the southern plains of Nepal. I had never been on a plane until we left for America. In between, we stopped in Hong Kong for a week to visit an uncle of mine. I had many firsts in Hong Kong: the first time I was surrounded by people who didn’t speak my language, the first time I ate at McDonald’s, the first time I saw so many tall buildings, everything was very different. The whole thing was exciting and scary. After a few days with my uncle and his family, my mother, my brother, and I left to reunite with my dad. We were going to live in a state called Iowa, the land of pigs and corn, the land of dreams and opportunities.

Leaving Nepal has affected what I can remember of my childhood there and the first year in America. To this day, the only memories I have are the stories others have told and which I have internalized as my own. The shock of coming to a place where everything was completely different and new shook my 7-year-old body to the core. It was like being in a movie where your surroundings were things you could never have imagined. Perhaps the 7-year old me chose to forget the memories of her past because it was too painful to remember her old familiar life. Perhaps her new life was much more stimulating so it was easier to forget. I don’t know. However, when I talk to my mom she said that I was eager to come to America because I was finally going to see buwa, my dad, after three years apart. From my parents’ observation in the early days, they think that I adjusted well. At first, I asked about a few people, but eventually realized I wasn’t going to see them like I used to. They believed I was thriving because I did well in school despite the early language barrier. I also never talked about my feelings.

“They have no idea what it is like to lose home at the risk of never finding home again, have your entire life split between two lands and become the bridge between two countries.”
— Rupi Kaur

I voluntarily left my parent’s house to study abroad when I was 19. I lived at home during my college years but right before my junior year, I boarded a plane to start a new journey. I will admit that I was really anxious. Leaving the comforts of home seemed like a daunting task. A long stream of tears came down my face as I waited at the Cedar Rapids airport, the other passengers trying not to stare. Again, I had to immerse myself in a country and culture that was not my own. That year was wonderful though. I learned a lot of adult responsibilities during my time in England, but most importantly, I learned to trust myself. I was capable of making smart decisions. I was capable of taking care of myself. My views about myself changed and my desire to take risks increased, do things that I would not otherwise have chosen. Since then I have taught English in Japan, planted trees in China, took a permaculture course in Thailand, hiked in South Korea, and got engaged in France. I even went back to Nepal for a year after graduate school.

My experiences of leaving these days aren’t as jarring as that first major move where I literally had to start over. Mostly, leaving now happens by choice. However, it is still fucking hard and scary. Saying goodbye is never easy, especially for a person like me who is easily attached to people, places, and sites. Leaving Oakland will be bittersweet in many ways, mostly because my time here has really shaped who I am, more so than any other place I have lived before. I rolled into town as a bright-eyed 26-year-old newlywed. Coming here with a 1999 white Subaru, 2 suitcases, and hope. We traveled for weeks trying to find a place that felt like home, having the privilege of deciding instead of it being decided for us. No pre-existing conditions tying us to a place.

“I am a stranger in this city, but this city gave me a new life!”
― Avijeet Das

The thing I will miss most about Oakland is the strong community I surround myself with. Friends who have nurtured and cared for me in the last 6 years. The ones who made me laugh, who made me cry, those who supported and encouraged me to be myself. I am worried that some of these friendships will diminish because distance makes things harder, much harder. The reality is that not everyone I consider a good friend now will remain that way, some friendships are for a specific place and time. That’s the hardest part. It makes me sad just thinking about it. But, I know there will be new friendships that I haven’t discovered yet.

If I were to be honest, Oakland never felt like my long-term home, despite my attempts to make it so. I tried, I really did. Honestly, I don’t know when a place will feel like my home but I am willing to search for it. I’m willing to leave certainty for uncertainty. For the last 2 years or so I had been ready to leave, this city is really hard to be in sometimes. It has so much heart but also pain and suffering. My time here has solidified the fact that I am not a big city person. I enjoy a much slower pace of life. This place makes me anxious, makes me feel like I’m not doing enough, everyone always moving towards something. As a social introvert, I am surrounded by active friends who are involved in multiple things, it’s easy for me to feel less than. It doesn’t make me feel good to be just the way I am, but I’m not willing to change for someone else’s idea of productive. On the other hand, Oakland is unlike any other place I have lived before. The richness of skin colors, the abundance of flavors that make my tongue sing, the oak trees, the new ideas, and all around interesting people everywhere. The way Oakland has opened its’ arms to me has really made me feel welcome. I am not sure if I will ever live in a place like this.

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place…like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place because you’ll never be this way ever again.”
– Azar Nafisi

The clock in my head is constantly ticking and I am super aware of the time I have left. Tick tock. Tick tock. At times, the months remaining seem like it’s too short to do and be with everyone that I care about; on the other hand, leaving seems like a far away thing. Right now, I am struggling with being in the present, focusing on the now and here. Unfortunately, I am romanticizing what the future holds and I know that’s not a good idea. Leaving doesn’t make the next place perfect, in fact, there will be challenges I have not even imagined yet. But leaving does allow me to shed bad habits, like snakeskin. For me, leaving a place and coming to a new place is similar to ending the year, I set up goals and intentions on how and what I want to be. Who will I become when I truly feel grounded and at home?

Ultimately, no matter how far I go, I will always have memories with me that will spring up when I wear a specific piece of clothing, listen to a particular song, see something that reminds of my past chapter. Senses are tied to memories that are tied to experiences tied to place. Sometimes they bring happiness, other times sadness, and sometimes emotions I can’t describe. A small piece of my heart and identity are always left behind when I move from a place but that space allows for something new and different to grow.

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