Thursday, April 17, 2014

For My Boys

"The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we'd done were less real and important than they had been hours before."

Rewind to this time last year. My YES Abroad Finalist status to Indonesia had brought a wave of boundless happiness and excitement at the future to come. I had been surprised with a proposal to Prom that brought tears to my eyes because of its perfection, and I had even found the perfect emerald colored dress with my mom. We had booked plane tickets for a family vacation to California, the first trip to Disneyland in my life. Everything was perfect. After five years of hardship, things were starting to feel normal. Better than normal.

On the evening of April twelfth 2013, my kitchen was flooded with she smell of popcorn popping in my beloved popper. That evening my parents and I were settling down to listen to the first YES Abroad conference call. My heart leapt with excitement while simultaneously feeling heavy with nerves as I watched the green-lit clock on the oven waiting for the hour to strike. As the clock hit 5:30 pm, I dialed the number to connect. I paused for a moment. Overcome by the joy that we together were feeling as a family, I looked to each of my parents with a grin. "Let's get this show on the road." My dad was just as ready as I was. 

Minute by minute flew by, my anticipation for Indonesia growing with every word spoken about the upcoming journey. My cell-phone in my hand shrieked at 5:38, signaling that an unknown someone was awaiting on the other end. "Should I answer it?" I looked to my dad, whose head gave me a nod. 

"Helllllllo!?" My enthusiasm came to a puzzled halt as soft sobs greeted me on the other end. 

"Hello?" I whispered again. Something wasn't right. 


"Yeah?" My brain ferociously searched itself for ideas of what could be happening. 

"Cody is gone." Everything stopped. My stomach dropped. Surely she couldn't mean my Cody. And what did she mean, gone? Cody was supposed to leave for deployment that morning to Japan. Obviously he was surely gone from Bozeman by now. My silence posed the question that I couldn't speak. And her returning silence was the answer my heart couldn't fathom.

I have lost two crucial pieces of my puzzle over the past three years. Pieces that no matter how I hard try, I will never be able to replace. There are countless days when my body's entirety feels like its drowning in grief- as though to carry on with grace without my two best friends is less probable than the eight planets coming into perfect alignment. There are days, weeks, months, where every corner of my brain is flooded with their memories, voices, and stories. There are seconds where I question my strength, my momentum, my courage... Because those two boys provided both. 

But then there are days at the beach. Days where the sun's rays radiate a little bit of their spirits into my own. There are days when I meet a newborn boy named Luke or Cody, and their small smile reminds me that for every life taken, a new one is born, and what a beautiful truth that is. I live for the days when shared stories unify the people that have been touched by the souls of these two outrageous, courageous, young men.

Through their lives, and through their deaths, Cody and Luke left me with boundless knowledge and grace that my heart alone wouldn't have been able to find. It's because of these two that I strive. Everything that I do, the person that I want to become, I do it for my friends whose time was cut far, far too short. I loved them yesterday. I love them today. And I will love them forever, just as they have relentlessly done for me. That's all that my heavy heart has for now. Don't forget to tell your friends and family that you love them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Indonesia is Weird

“Silakhan, Kak Mal. Take a seat!” It was my second night in the home of the strangers that were supposed to become my family, and I was still very much in my anxious, exchange-rookie stage. Cautiously I took my place at the table, fearing the food spread that was going to be presented for dinner that evening. My beaming mother placed a plate in front me.
“Why did she give me a heaping pile of burnt cheese?” I thought to myself.  
“It’s pisang keju coklat! You can only find it here in Indonesia!” My puzzled face and limited vocabulary encouraged her to continue. “Banana cheese chocolate!” Bananas? Did she mean the mushy, fruit nemesis that I had battled my whole life refusing to eat... Slathered in... Cheese?
“What is this country on?” I thought to myself. 

Flash forward to my first Monday at SMA Kartika. I was instructed to be at school fifteen minutes before usual sporting my school hat. “6:45 am at school? This country is absurd.” I grumbled to my host-mom.  After sluggishly making my way through the towering, steel gate, my faithful classmates grabbed my hand and started shouting the four words of English they knew. 
“Come on, Mal! Let’s go!” Before my eyes, students began falling into perfectly harmonized lines, segregated by class and gender. Reminding me of civilian soldiers, these students began saluting their elder students and teachers. And shouting. An abundance of shouting in their mother tongue that I knew a whopping five words of ensued. The fun didn’t stop there and next thing I knew, we were marching. My clumsy, bule feet attempted to march in sync with my perfectly practiced peers, without success. The girls behind me were lucky enough to witness the show I had made of myself and didn’t make an effort to cover there laughter.  After 45 minutes of standing, marching and reciting, my mind began to wander. I feared the long year ahead and attempted to count the number of bizarre, Monday flag ceremonies I would have to endure.

On my first day in my new home, I was exceptionally curious about the bathroom situation. I had heard the horror stories of squat toilets and bucket showers so when I saw the western-style bathroom and toilet paper supply, relief washed over me. My excitement was quickly taken down a few notches when I came to the realization that I had not a single clue of how to flush the toilet. I locked eyes with my white, porcelain foe. I decided to search for a lever on the side in hopes that it would be like my trusted toilet back home in the states. In my search, I found a knob on the side that seemed like it should do the trick. I rotated the knob. With the force of a firehose, water began spouting from an unknown source, drenching my entire front. This toilet was not in fact a conventional toilet. This toilet was a baffling, bizarre bidet.

I’m proud to report that I’ve come a long way since those initial days. In my early stages of living in Indonesia, this place seemed straight up weird. But here’s the cool part. These things, and so many others, they can no longer be classified with that word because these things are now my ordinary. Pisang keju is one of my most favorite treats.  And I can now actively participate in school flag ceremonies. Rising with the sun is no longer a battle, and I appreciate the extra hours of the day I can spend enjoying my country. I’m unfazed by toilets that make pig-sties look like palaces. Motorcycles frantically weaving between each other no longer put me on edge, but instead leave me smiling at the harmonious flow that is Bandung. I’m thankful for the school uniforms that were once a drag, and relish in not having to pick outfits for school each day. In the eyes of many, Indonesia is weird. But it’s these quirks and idiosyncrasies that I’ve come to love most.