Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mourning Sickness

Our Brazilian exchange student has departed for sunnier skies after her four month stay. I'm on the verge of wearing a black arm band or something, and I frankly was not expecting this to be even fractionally so difficult. My job being what it is, I didn't really shoulder the lion's share of the burden (what little trouble she was) while she was here, though I certainly tried to do my share on my weeks home. It's really Susan's life that has changed more than mine (and she is indeed quite sad).

But whether it ought to be or not, it's quite terrible! Susan and I spent some time today cleaning her room for another visitor coming tonite, and we were kind of blubbering fools at having to clean out all last traces of her life with us (the room still has a little trace of her smell). All the threadbare cliches apply (there's a reason they got to be cliches in the first place): it's like a part of one has been cut away; the house is empty and lifeless; now I understand what people whose kids head off for college feel like, etc. etc. In four short months I've grown accustomed to passing nearly every experience--movies, a new restaurant, a car test-drive, a pass thru a clothing shop, any random advertising, anything really--thru a filter of how she might react to it, both as a 16-year-old girl and as a Brazilian staying in America. And there is the whole angle of Susan and me, childless couple, exercising parenting skills (or at least parents' outlook) where there were previously none. A new world.

I now expect to come thru the door and find her working at her studies in the kitchen or draped over the comfy chair in the living room (with or without a protective pillow depending on whether she was watching "Friends"--her favorite--or anything remotely suspenseful), and instead the emptiness of the house is awful. How quickly one becomes immersed in some degree with what events are on her social or school calendar; we got to know quite a host of other exchange students, none of whom we'll likely see ever again.

It's silly, of course, since we knew the date of her departure from the moment she arrived, and she has returned in perfect safety to her loving family who were eagerly awaiting her return home--it's not as though something has happened to her!

But something does seem to have happened to us. I felt from the outset that we were ready and happy to do something to help out these exchange kids who were slated to come but who did not have families yet (Susan answered something of a distress call from the importing agency), and I never really thought about how it would affect me. It seemed like a favor done to someone else, and has turned out to be an experience for me.

I'm sure we'll see her again, either on a now-planned visit to Brazil or by her traveling up here to visit us (we made her promise to take some portion of her honeymoon someday up here!). But of course it won't be the same. She won't travel 5,000 miles to casually watch television, and we will no longer be privy to the minutiae of her daily life; indeed, we don't know much of her life away from Appleton, which, actually, is pretty much all of her life). So I'm so very happy that things went so well as they did and that we've had this chance for our paths to cross: we got so very lucky in our planetary alignment with her; but I'm rather broken up at this taste of a thing that goes on without one.

Farewell, Miss Dani. We will miss you.


Joshua said...

Actually, I know a bit of what you are going through.

I dated a Brizilian exchange student my junior year of HS. We talked about her having to leave, and pretended it would be alright. I even had myself convinced I would not miss her after a short time.

It just doesn't work that way. Of course, part of it is that she is gone. But part of it is that she is gone and there isn't a damned thing that can be done about it. If you move away or someone moves from you, it does not feel the same as when an exchange student goes home. It is more as if the world had been conspriring against you, and you were just a puppet on a string.


Heather B. said...

As a former exchange student, I've always wondered how my host mother really felt about me. I mean she took care of me very very well during my 5 month stay and seriously waited on me hand and foot, but I always felt like a burden (though she enjoyed having someone to care for) and like she would be happy when I left. I received an email from her son the other day and I found out that she actually does miss having me to care for.

Anyway, I really loved this post.

wunelle said...

Dani was very little trouble, though integrating her life into ours took some doing. Due to a SNAFU with the exchange agency she ended up going to a local Catholic school (which I couldn't abide were she my own child, but she attends Catholic school at home and her parents were fine with it, so...), which required us to drop her off and pick her up each day. And then the social calendar, which revealed us to be the crustacean-like creatures we are!

But it's more really that you can't help but come to care deeply for this person and to take an interest in what is unfolding in this very vital part of her young life; how natural it would seem for us to help her pick a college to attend and to assess her boyfriends and all the other things that parents and their kids do.

Life returns to its former (crustaceous) ways, but things aren't the same.

green_canary said...

I understand how you are feeling... I had a cousin come and live with me for a month and when she left the house was suddenly empty. All of the things I took for granted during her stay, our evening dinner/TV routine (she'd cook, I'd eat), her habitual cleaning out of my refrigerator (I don't cook and everything goes bad), and her habit of taking out the trash and replacing my air fresheners (I don't and I don't) became glaringly obvious in her absence. It's nice having someone share their life with you, even if it's only for a little while.

Lizzie said...

If I may be annoyingly Pollyanna-ish for a moment, it's wonderful when people touch our lives unexpectedly like that. Missing someone that you didn't even know 5 months ago is a true testament to the bond that was formed. It won't be the same when she comes back to visit or when you go visit her in Brazil, but having met her and gotten to know her also means you are not exactly the same as before you knew her. In the end, I think that's what it's all about - how the people around us change us, even those that are only in our lives temporarily.

wunelle said...

An excellent point, of course. And though I AM a nostalgia whore, I'm not generally one to see a glass as half empty. It's been all a good thing and I'm truly grateful.

mango said...

Ah, as an ex-exchange student myself this post really warms my heart.

It's lovely that you are planning visits and the like - totally brilliant. I am sure she cannot wait until you visit and she can return the hospitality you showed her, and show you all the wonderful things in her own hometown.

Happy new year wunelle :)

wunelle said...

I'm sorry I never even considered being an exchange student, though I must quickly point out that at 16 I was in no condition to undertake such an adventure. This is another of many ways in which Dani seems remarkable; she's considerably more put-together than I was at her age.

The visit will be fun indeed!

Happy New Year yourself ;-)

Anonymous said...

Does it make you almost want to have kids yourself?

wunelle said...

It does, especially if we could pick them, let them stay a finite time, and then jettison them!

Actually, it does make one think about a lot of stuff.