My Aunt is a breast cancer survivor and has just gotten her brand new boobies and her hair is really starting to grow back so it was great being able to visit in such a happy place in their lives. My Uncle brought some pizza home and we all sat around and talked and Meizhi played Minecraft on her Kindle (what is with Asian kids and Minecraft...must be in their blood). By this time I decided to get off the sleeping pills and that night I slept soundly without them. The next day I happily showed my Aunt the wonders of Pinterest and then we went for my now third Mexican meal (Heaven). It doesn't get old. I got the biggest Chimichanga on the menu and nearly ate the entire thing (tough to do by American portion size standards). We then went to pick up Meiz from school, went back to the house for a little bit longer then I had to head out for my last 4 1/2 hours of driving back to good old Weston, West Virginia.
Seeing that sign as I crossed into my home state got me a little emotional, to be honest. I looked at it and it just kind of all hit me at once that I'm actually in West Virginia. I also completely forgot how effing far Huntington is from Charleston. Good Lord. For some reason in my head I thought it was a rock skip and I'd be getting on I-79 but it's waaaaay farther than I remembered. AND it was raining/snowing/sleeting. Lovely. (I'm saying this now in case I forget later, there was not one bit of travelling I did that wasn't impacted by the weather in some way...not one.) As I slowly make my way into Charleston, get onto 79 north, creep my way to Flatwoods (which now has a Moe's! Gah!) then Glenville, finally I see the South Weston sign and AT LAST Weston exit 99 looms in front of me and I escape the interstate. I look around and I actually think I remember saying out loud, "this is weird" as I peer through the rain and snow at Sheetz and Walmart. Another two miles or so and I'm finally home, in my grandma's arms as we hug and laugh and she tells me she has potato soup and cornbread on the stove, which is exactly what I wanted. Cornbread. Probably in my top five favorite foods. And I'm not talking that nasty sweet blue box Jiffy stuff either. I'm talking the savory, home made in an iron skillet cornbread, completely saturated in butter. Absolute euphoria.
My Aunt Kathy (cousin Kayla's mom) messaged me and said they'd be arriving at my Nanny's in a few minutes. OMG the baby is coming! Taya! Sweet sweet baby Taya! I already told Kayla that I wanted to skype with her one more time right before I got to Nanny's so she wouldn't be afraid of me. But really, I knew for a fact I was going to absolutely lose it when I saw that baby. I wasn't there when she was born, something that deeply affects me in a very, very sad way. Family is the most important thing in the world to me and mine is very close, so to not be there for Taya's birth is something that I am always going to be upset about. I bawled when I found out Kayla was preggo and I knew I was going to have some kind of crying jag attack when I met her and that I'd probably scare her, being this crazy crying freak. I didn't want that.
They walk in. I spot the baby. I immediately start tearing up. Sam, no, no, no, you're going to scare her, rein it in! Rein it in! I get myself under control as best I can and walk over and start talking to her. She seems alright with me, just looking at me like 11 month old babies do. She's recently started walking so we all go into the kitchen and sit on the floor and she walks back and forth to us and does, what I'm told by them, is her little ritual: she opens up one of my Nanny's bottom cupboards and pulls out every piece of tupperware she can get her tiny hands on and throws it everywhere. Adorable. She slowly starts bringing me lids and bowls and we play this back and forth game and she likes me! She really likes me! See the lids in the pictures?
My time in Weston wasn't the relaxation and expected boredom I was anticipating. My dad came up the next day to visit so I got to spend the weekend with him. My first Sunday dinner at my Nanny's was delicious because she let me pick what I wanted to eat: Lasagna it is! My cousin Korey (Kayla's brother) was the first one I saw and he picked me up and hugged me with one arm. Sheesh. Has he gotten stronger since I left or did I get lighter? I'll just think that I got lighter.
Over the next week I got to see one of my best friends in the entire world finally, JESSICA CRISLIP. We had some lunch in Buckhannon and it was so nice sitting there talking with a friend that I've known for over a decade. So easy. So great. (as was the food) I also got to see a friend Andrea, who has been a very close friend since college, and I got to meet her first baby that she also had while I was away. Last time I was home she let me know she was pregnant, I come home meet the baby, and she's also pregnant THIS time! So when I get home next year she'll have two. Crazy!
I gathered up a few pictures from around my little town for your viewing pleasure as well
I also met up with another bff, Erica, and we went to a good old fashioned Lewis County High School basketball game. They won! Because they won this game they advanced onto sectionals which is the first time they've done that since 2003 when I was a Junior! A few other 2004-ers were there as well and Jess also showed up.
By the time the weekend rolled around I decided to head up to Pittsburgh to stay with Corey. She and Jess just got an apartment together. Jess will be moving up after the school year is over in Buckhannon (she's a school psychologist) so that was great getting to see their new place. I'll be honest, I had a bit of a breakdown being there. I was sitting in their new living room with their stuff still in boxes just looking around at what their new life would be. I suddenly became very...I guess for lack of a better word...jealous. While being away, I had forgotten how just plain out easy life is in your home country. There are no day to day struggles to get simple things accomplished. If you are hungry, you pop into the first restaurant that sounds good. If you see a recipe online but don't have all the ingredients, you can easily find them at the closest grocery store. It's the small things that you take for granted that I constantly struggle with living abroad. Corey and Jess have this great, amazingly cute new apartment with these extraordinary features like a fireplace and dishwasher and a bathtub. Then they have normal, regular people jobs with normal people cars and can go to normal restaurants where they can read menus. And on top of all that, they are living together and are having a great time just being young and fabulous in the city. Although I am very happy for them and it's my best friend duty to be supportive, I couldn't help but to be a bit sad and slightly envious that I'm not there experiencing all this with them. Needless to say, I broke down. After my cry fest was over, it really did turn out to be a great weekend. I have to realize that "normal" life will get old no matter where I am, I just have to struggle a bit more than average people right now. And once back in the United States and settled, I'm sure I'll have moments where I will wish I was back in Asia not having to deal with real life.
Cor, Jess, another friend Jason and myself all met more people and went bowling. Now, I'm not much for bowling. It's one of those things that it's like "meeeeh bowling" but once I'm there I end up having a good time. And, for some reason, I'm good at it. I bowl maybe once every 4 years but my (usually pink) ball somehow ends up getting me a lot of spares and occasionally a strike or two. I bowled a 133 first game. I'm told this is good and no one would believe me when I told them I never, EVER bowl.
We had plans on going out to the most amazing place in Pittsburgh, Bar 11, the next night but Jess, unfortunately, got pretty sick so we stayed in and played cards. Never made it to Bar 11 this trip home, which is a huge huge bummer, but a sick friend is a sick friend, and I was with them regardless. The following weekend was St. Patrick's Day and I had plans to get back up to Pittsburgh because I'm sure it was going to be epic. So I left without saying goodbye to Corey or anything because I assumed I'd see her again. Wrong.
By this time I had exactly two weeks left in the United States. My original plan was to spend this upcoming week in Weston, go to Pittsburgh for the next weekend, go to my dad's in Wilmington, North Carolina to visit him and my brother (still haven't seen him yet!) on Sunday, then my dad and I were going to drive from Wilmington to Nashville (11 hours...) on Wednesday, I'd spend Thursday (my last day) with my mom then fly out Friday morning. Well, I got to thinking that I really haven't got to spend any time with my mother. Corey was there for my first weekend so a lot of my attention and time was split between them. I got 1 1/2 days with her before I left for St. Louis and then I'd only get one more day with her before I left? I felt that was very, very unfair that my mom got 72 hours of Sam-only time during my five week stay. My plans needed rearranging. Even though I had two more weeks, I didn't really have much free time left to see everyone I wanted to see and do everything I wanted to do. I was feeling incredibly stretched at this point, as Bilbo Baggins said, "like butter scraped over too much bread". I decided to go to North Carolina as soon as I got back from Pittsburgh. So I left Corey's, drove to my Nanny's for dinner, hung around for a while (more Taya time!), packed up again and left to head south. (And if you don't know how far Pittsburgh to Wilmington is, it's far, look at a map, that's a long drive for one day). I stopped in Greensboro, NC on my way because it's directly on I-40 to see John and Ryan! First Zack and Jess, now John and Ryan! Happy! We met near UNCG for some Mexican food. Again, so strange seeing them in a completely normal situation. Me, John, Ryan, Mexican food...no big deal.
I finally arrived at the coast at about 2am, no thanks to my GPS screwing me up and my dad yelling about how he "doesn't trust those things." My brother was already asleep so I saw him the next afternoon when he finished working. If you know me well, you'll know that I love my little brother more than I love anyone on earth. We're not as close as I'd like to be because of how life turned out for us, but I really hope that changes once I'm back to a somewhat normal existence in the US. He's a good kid. He just moved to Wilmington for a job and lives with my dad for right now and to say they butt heads sometimes is probably an understatement. Neither one of them would be a peach to live with and I'm not really sure how they coexist, but, for the most part (except for one time) everyone got along and I had a good time. Plus, I love the Carolinas. I prefer South, but either will do. I was just stoked to go to the beach! The last time I was at the Carolina coast was definitely a few years ago, and I love it. I love the smells, the clean water, the seagulls. It was fantastic.
My bro had a job to do in Myrtle Beach (or as Zack likes to call it, Hillbilly Cabo) so I rode down with him and he dropped me off at the mall while he finished. I know Myrtle like the back of my hand. Although it was only for one semester, I went to Coastal Carolina University freshman year, so on top of family vacations, I did live there for 4 months, plus my family kept a camper down there so we would just go down on long weekends a lot, so I know my way around pretty well and I don't really feel like a tourist when I visit. The last time I was there was my 23rd birthday so it was nice seeing some familiar sights. We went down to Pier 14 and had some lunch. I'm trying to eat as much seafood as possible while here on the coast. I loooooove peel and eat shrimp. I don't want it warm or seasoned either. Just chop their heads off and throw them on ice, let me do the rest. And just so you know, Asia is a seafood devouring country, but America seafood and Asia seafood are astronomically different. For instance, American seafood isn't staring back at you when it's brought to your table, nor is it still moving. I definitely prefer it dead and without eyes or tentacles.
I've been to Wilmington twice before, both on One Tree Hill missions to seek out places like the River Court and Karen's Cafe. (If you aren't following, it's a television show. Pretty much the greatest show to ever air) My brother so kindly took me down to the location of the River Court one more time to find that it has, sadly, been demolished. Where there was once a basketball court and bleachers iconic to the show, there is now just grass and a pretty view of the river. Sad face.
After a few more good meals (I desperately wanted some Applebee's chicken fingers for some reason) and I got some last whiffs of the air smells unique to the Carolinas (pine trees? Salt water? Factories?) I set off home on a Thursday afternoon. I can't even put into words how sad I was to leave my brother. The only thing I had to console me was that this will be my last year away from him. Maybe it's a big sister thing but all I want to do is build him a little house in my backyard and keep him in there and take care of him and cook his meals and make sure he's safe at all times. Obviously that's unrealistic because he's a grown man, but still! He's my baby brother. It was decided that my dad would fly to Nashville to see me off and then just fly out right after I do, so I also said goodbye to my dad, but not for good, just until the following week.
I get on I-40 for another long road trip. By this point, I am so sick and tired of driving. Because my iTunes is on my laptop here in Korea, I couldn't add any more music to my iPod or my iPhone so I was stuck with the same old stuff over and over. It was great at first but I've done so much driving that 2,000 songs or however many I have just doesn't cut it. Especially when I skip half of them.
I am now down to three more days in my hometown. Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I leave for my mom's in Nashville Monday morning. Now I'm REALLY pushed for time to be able to get in all my visiting and eating (yes, that's a priority).
Remember how I planned to go back to Pittsburgh? Well, Corey had informed me the weekend before that they were starting the St. Patty's day festivities at around 8am. Fun! Well, maybe I'm just really dumb, but I assumed that considering it's one of the biggest drunkard holidays of the year that everyone would also be going out that evening to keep the night on going. I was wrong. Corey nor Jess, nor any of her friends there had any plans whatsoever to go out...anywhere. They were gonna hang out at someone's house all day. I'm sorry...what? Erica and I had planned to come up and go out, something I was fiercely looking forward to. I really didn't want to sit around with people I barely knew, not doing anything. Corey said her and Jess would leave the house and we'd all go out but there was no way I was making her and Jess leave the place they really wanted to be just so we could go out. So Erica came to Weston and we just stayed in town had the townie night we wanted to have anyway.
My friend Joey was DJing at the bar formerly known as the PC for St. Patty's so that's where we headed (aaaand because it's one of the only two bars in town) with our green on and ready to partay.
Last time I was in, there was one night out when I set a record: Me + five ex-boyfriends in one 30x30 space. Or was it four? Can't remember. Either way, yes, I've got a lot of exes floating around town so I'm bound to run into them. Lucky for me, we all get along swimmingly so it's more of something to look forward to. Only two were there that night, Mr. Duston Marsh and Mr. Alden Butcher, but all was well. Erica and I even met up with Alden and a friend David later and played ping pong in the new event center his family owns (above). Small towns bring everyone together. They also are a cesspool for rumors, and me living overseas and only coming home once a year does not make me exempt. At one point in the night, Alden let me in on the fact that he is the new owner of a very shiny new Hyundai Genesis, a very nice little car in which he took me for a 15 minute drive around town. Here is the text conversation I had with my cousin Kayla a few days later:
Kayla: Did you start a rumor the other night about you and Al having an open relationship? Because that's what just got back to us.
Me: Lol wtf no. Alden and I left the bar together to take a drive in his new car? Maybe that started it? God forsaken Weston. Love it.
Kayla: Hahaha! We thought you did it on purpose.
Me: No, not on purpose! That took what, five days? Pretty slick.
Kayla: Very slick indeed. We had to see if it was true or not. We were cracking up.
Me: This is why I live for coming back into town.
And so it goes, the perils of living in a 5,000 population town. Luckily, Al could care less about these things and thinks it's hilarious, but others probably aren't so fortunate when things like that happen to them around there.
Sunday, my last day in town, was very emotional, but not in a sad way like it usually is. This time around, I'm just more pissed off that I have to leave. My Nanny makes Sunday dinner for my entire family every single Sunday and she's done this since before I was born I guess. Although the amounts of food she makes has slowly gotten smaller over the years because some of us have moved away, she still does it and those who are still in town come and eat a delicious meal. This Sunday was like every other Sunday except 1. it was my last one and 2. it was also my Uncle Bubba's birthday. We ate and celebrated and I looked around at everyone and silently took in my surroundings and the fact that I wouldn't be looking at any of their faces again for another year. And although this seems like one of the saddest things in the world, again, I'm just really, really mad.
Later that afternoon, I fought the snow to go to Burnsville to visit Andrea again because it was her little girl Hayden's first birthday party. So much fun! You can't beat party food. And bubbles. Can't beat those.
I met Alden and a few others for dinner that night before going up to my Aunt Kathy's one last time to say goodbye to her and Uncle Bubba, Kayla, Tommy, Kasey (somewhat ignores family events; this was the first and last time I even saw him), Korey and sadly of all, Taya bug. I still had weeks worth of stuff strewn over my grandma's basement and was leaving for good in the morning so I had to say my goodbyes and get back home. Again, I just couldn't get sad. No tears, no anguish over what was happening, just anger at the fact that this was now my third time saying goodbye to my family.
They live on this enormously steep hill. Their driveway is, I swear, 90 degrees at one point and the cement is cracked and chunky. I haven't trusted myself or any of the cars I've driven in the past to actually maneuver my way up to the top for at least four years. I park at the bottom and walk up, rain or shine. If I'm lucky, someone drives me back down, which is what Korey did for me this night (love you cuz). He's one of the sweetest, most genuine people in the world and definitely one of the Best Belts. He's always hard to say goodbye to, mostly because he's gigantic and so his hugs just engulf me.
The weather has turned cold, as has my heart for having to go through this again. I get in my little rental and head back to do the one thing that screams leaving: packing.
The weather has turned cold, as has my heart for having to go through this again. I get in my little rental and head back to do the one thing that screams leaving: packing.