Personally, he was the first guy I’d met that I didn’t feel intellectually superior to; that was a big deal. I could talk to him with my real vocabulary, not the dumbed down version. And he was a writer and a reader so we could talk about books and share our writing with each other for helpful critiques. He made me laugh. And he made me feel safe. Yes, I mean physically safe if I was with him in Ashgabat. But more importantly, I felt emotionally safe. I was myself and at ease with him. He wasn’t intimidated by my intelligence or my ability to take a hit on the football field. [That kind of thing freaks a lot of guys out. They want a princess who needs saving. They want to feel needed. I will never need a man. I want a man. Similarly, I don’t want to be needed, I want to be wanted. I don’t want some guy who has to rely on me to cook or do laundry, for example. If you can’t take care of yourself and live independently for awhile when you’re young, you need to hurry up and join our century. That means girls need to know how to check their oil and guys need to know how to sew on a button.]
So I fell completely in love with him to a depth I had never experienced before. I loved my first boyfriend, but that was nothing compared to what I experienced this time. And so, I stayed, knowing I could make it through with him as my ally. I would find another family; I would figure something out at work because I had a support network.
And then the real darkness fell. He left. It wasn’t his choice, but I won’t go into the details of it. (I actually had two other friends who left at some point due to reasons beyond their control and all three of them were editors with me at Murphy’s Law Review. Of five people on the editorial board, I am the sole survivor.) You may remember I briefly wrote about it here, but at the time I didn’t say how much it was affecting me. The week leading up to his departure, I couldn’t eat or sleep. I had a hard knot in my stomach that lasted all day and made me feel nauseated. It went away once, when he called me. For that hour on the phone, I felt normal. At one point, when another volunteer called me to talk about the circumstances, my body started shaking uncontrollably and I was afraid I was having a seizure.
I was the angriest I have ever been. Angrier than when I got laid off because I was the last hire even though I was a better teacher than some others in my department. Angrier than when I was treated badly by a high school coach simply because he didn’t like my dad. Angrier than the time I was sharing a hostel room in Sydney and one of the girls brought a strange man back to sleep with her. I hated Turkmenistan and Peace Corps and the world. But years of experience with depression has taught me to be a good actress. So I put on my happy face and went to work every day like nothing was wrong. My (by then) good host family had no idea either. I waited until night to cry when I was alone in my room and I mastered the art of doing it silently so no one would know.
I don’t make important decisions while I’m emotional, so I waited to decide whether I would stay in Turkmenistan. And waited. And waited. It took a long time for me to not be emotional any more. I decided to at least wait until summer was over. Summer would bring a change in work schedule and some much needed vacations. He and I remained in contact through email and online chatting and planned to get together over the summer. That summer I met up with friends in India, and later I met with him in Cambodia. It was the best vacation I’ve ever taken. I decided that in the fall, I wouldn’t go into the classroom and would just do clubs. In September when Peace Corps did site visits, I had one suitcase all packed and ready to go in case they told me I had to co-teach in the classroom. I was ready to say “Ok, then I resign. Take me to my house and I’ll send a bag back with you. Then I’ll join you in a couple days after I’ve had a chance to say my goodbyes.” My program manager said he thought volunteers should be in the classroom, but he didn’t say I had to, so I stayed. And I did my best to fly under the radar.
I buried myself in work, creating clubs that required more preparation and thus more distraction. I wrote articles for “Chai Times” and resurrected “Murphy’s Law Review.” I created two different English language resources for teachers and volunteers to use. And I stayed in contact with him, chatting online an average of five days a week. He had always been a long-distance love because he lived in another part of Turkmenistan. Now he was an even longer-distance love. And trips into Ashgabat were painful for a long time because it was a reminder of who wasn’t there but should have been.
We broke up in January. The distance was too difficult. We’re still friends; we still talk regularly, but of course it’s not the same. And it still hurts, eight months later. I never told anyone here because I didn’t want to field the inevitable questions or hear “but you two were so cute” or be viewed as available. I don’t see myself as being available for a very long time if ever again. I had thought that when the end of my service approached I would be planning a life with him, but I’m not. I’m planning a life alone.
I kept this to myself for so long because I wanted my blog to be mostly positive and I didn’t want to write about it while I was still under the cloud. But I need to say it. I want this to be like a kind of ipecac, forcing the toxin out. And I want my blog to be an accurate telling of my experiences here.