Friday, March 29, 2013

'MURICA - Part I: Arrival

The thing with sitting down to start a blog entry about my fabulous United States vacation is that I now have to recall five weeks worth of excitement and emotions...a feat that I've now decided to separate into parts. I'd like to think that people enjoy reading this blog and for the most part, I've tried to keep up with it. I think these last 5 weeks (and the week before I left) has been the longest I've gone without writing anything (or I'd like to think so anyway) so forgive me if I prattle.

I was leaving Busan at 8 in the morning on Saturday and arriving on US soil at 7:45 in the morning, also Saturday. (time travel...) My long flight from Tokyo was leaving at noon or something. The way I figured it was that I could stay up all night on Friday (when everyone in the US was awake), catch my plane, and during the long flight from Tokyo I could get my sleep (while everyone in the US was sleeping) and therefore getting a jump on adjusting to the time. Well in the war of Samantha vs. Jet lag, I am the very clear winner, which you will hear about later. 

So I wake up Friday morning at 10am or so like usual, have a regular old work day, come home and get all my bags ready to go. We met everyone for dinner and a last night of hoorah which turned into an all night karaoke party. I had to drag Al out of there at about 5:30 so we could rush home, grab my bags and head to the airport. Once there and on the plane, it really hit me that I was going home. Let's just say that as euphoric as I was, my nerves were going crazy. I wasn't really sure what to expect out of my time home, and the thought of being in the United States had me quite jittery in a way that only someone who has been away for a very long time could understand. The best way to explain it is that my new "normal" is now very different than the normal I would be going back to. 

And back to it I got. Fast. After that excruciating 13 hours, I made my way through customs and on to the sky train that would take me to the correct terminal. As I was looking out the windows at the landscape, I spot a row of American flags. I am so overcome with emotion I have to keep myself from tearing up right there on that train at the sight, of all things, flags. I take a deep breath and get myself together and realize with much happiness: I'm home. I head to the gate where Corey was waiting for me. Gah! Nervous! Excited! And there she was, of course not facing the way I would be coming from, so I latched onto her and we cried and hugged and laughed and it was just an exhilarating thing seeing my best friend of over well over ten years in the flesh and not some digitized version on skype. We boarded a plane the size of a roller skate to Nashville where my mom was waiting and also crying. Because here in Korea I don't really need to censor things I say in public because no one understands me, while waiting for my bags I shout loudly to Corey as I'm walking to the bathroom, "Hang on, gotta change my tampon!". I quickly realize that yes, everyone just heard me say that. This is not the first time that I will forget where I am and how to behave.

As I walk out of those baggage claim doors, get my first whiff of American air in 14 months, hop in a normal vehicle and not a taxi and start down the highway, I am completely overwhelmed. Beyond overwhelmed, actually. The next ridiculous thing to get me very emotional was the sight of the big green signs on the interstate. I spotted them and just about lost it. It's slowly sinking in where I am and that I now have five unencumbered weeks ahead of me in this glorious, Taco Bell filled country. As I have Corey next to me and my mom in the front, I look out the windows at the Nashville scenery and think, When are we going to Target?

'MURICA - Part II: Music City & The Lou

First things first, I have to announce that I am now 5 pageviews away from 5,000! Before starting this new entry I saw that I have 4,995 and I have YOU to thank for coming and reading my sometimes mindless rambling. 5,000 views isn't too much to brag about when you think of all the awesome blogs out there but for my little space online that occasionally keeps you updated on my life abroad, I think it's quite the THANK YOU!

Also, I'm sorry if the pictures I post look like they're all over the place. I can't figure out how to place them properly.

Now back to my overwhelming trip down the interstate...

As I watch my surroundings completely in awe of where I am, I start to get a little anxious to see my cat, Eers (Full name: Mountaineer Pioneer Cormier). I've missed him so much. Although I very much consider him my cat, he's now lived at my mother's house for almost three years. I know he still knows who I am because he does things that he had always done with me but doesn't do them with my mom. We all drag my luggage inside and I get a little choked up when I see him. I pick him up and he stretches in my arms and I'm just one happy camper.

Mom, Corey and I had a fantastic four days of sightseeing, hanging out, shopping (my first steps into Target were nearly orgasmic) and eating, eating, EATING. I'm sitting here in Korea about three pounds heavier than when I left from all the heavy, nasty, hugely-portioned, yet excruciatingly delicious food I ate while home. And Nashville has some of the best around. I'm a sucker for anything southern and food is no exception. Being from West Virginia, I'm not quite a true southerner yet I'm definitely not a northerner. I consider anything south of the Mason Dixon "The South", so technically I think I qualify. Although I don't have the thickest of accents, I definitely have a slight twang to my words which I hope most find adorable and endearing. Anyone from the Carolinas or Georgia would consider me a northerner and anyone from New York and above would definitely think I'm from the south. WV is just stuck right there in the middle, not sure where it belongs. The farther south I get, the better the food gets, so one of my first meals was definitely some old fashioned BBQ, sweet potato fries and a giant glass of sweet tea that I sucked down like the nectar of life. This meal definitely wasn't my only foray into BBQ territory during my stay. And I have to say, the best southern food comes served on a plastic plate, everyone knows this. 

Was I jet lagged you ask? NO, I wasn't. Remember how I said that I won the war? Well, I stayed up all Friday night with no sleep with the intention of sleeping on the airplane on the way over. That didn't happen. I was unhappily placed in a middle seat between a Japanese man and an Ecuadorian man for 13 1/2 hours. I "slept" for perhaps...three?...hours, if that. There was also a god awful movie selection so Pitch Perfect it was. Not great. I walked out of those baggage claim doors at roughly noon on Saturday, Central time, before daylight savings, meaning that my body thought it was 3am Sunday morning...about 40 hours after I had originally woken up on Friday morning, now running on that three measly of sleep I got on the plane. I told Corey that in no way was she allowed to let me take a nap at any point on Saturday, that I was to stay awake until a decent time comes that's acceptable to go to sleep that night. So, I got a Red Bull and plowed on through the afternoon and into the evening, completely exhausted from the travelling and extreme lack of sleep. At about 10:30 that night (now over two days of no sleep but the little on the plane) I popped two sleeping pills and crawled into the most comfortable bed I had experienced in over a year. Because of my tiredness and the sleeping pills, I was up and at 'em and ready for the day the next morning. Each night for about a week I took two sleeping pills to ensure I stayed asleep the entire night. I think for two days after arrival, Sunday evening and Monday evening, I got slightly yawny around 7 or 8 in the evening, but certainly nothing crippling like normal jet lag. After those first few days I was on a normal sleeping schedule and didn't get tired at all. So the formula for conquering the jet lag battle is don't sleep for two days + sleeping pills = NO JET LAG! It was 100% worth the not sleeping to not be miserable and up every morning at 4am for two weeks like I was the last time I made this trip. Never again. 

During the weekend I kept hearing news of a giant of a snowstorm heading straight for St. Louis, Missouri, my next stop. My plan (and my hotel) was for Thursday-Sunday so I was going to meander on up there Thursday afternoon or so. That wretched storm was supposed to hit Thursday. Are you kidding me? So I track the weather over the next few days and sure enough, that sucker was coming at full force right in the middle of my travelling. Great. Because I was in no way wasting a day up there and eating the money I had already spent on the hotel for Thursday night (non refundable) I got Wednesday night at the hotel as well and went up the night before. I felt terrible leaving my mom's early but there was nothing I could do with Superstorm Helga or whatever its name was making a beeline straight for St. Louis. I pack my things, jump in my little rental Civic and head 4 1/2 hours northwest to The Lou. 

I was terrified to get behind the wheel of a car. I hadn't driven anything, not even a bicycle, in the last 14 months, so the idea of driving a vehicle was downright terrifying. I test drove my mom's jeep a few times before getting the rental. I kept forgetting the little things, you know, like blinkers and whatnot. It was actually kind of amusing but I got adjusted fast. One thing I was looking forward to was plugging my ipod in and just driving and singing and turning the heat up as high as it would go with no complaints from a passenger as to how hot it was in the car. About 2 hours into my trip to St. Louis I was completely over it and just wanted to get there already. I arrived at my hotel, a lovely Hampton about 10 minutes from Zack's, at about 2 in the morning, safe and sound with no sign of snow yet.

My first day in this new city was spent alone in the hotel, eating a Lean Cuisine from the store downstairs while watching the snow swirl outside and the newscasters freak on the TV. I was told later that although St. Louis is cold and gets a little snow during the year, that this storm was pretty much unheard of and was paralyzing the city. Jess, who lives about 30 minutes outside the city, was stuck there and Zack, though 10 minutes away, was unsure if he should venture out to get me. In the end, he and his friend Steve (who I knew already because he came to visit Korea last summer) put Zack's Oldsmobile to the test and bravely came to collect me and save me from my boredom. We crossed the snow packed roads to his house where Jess arrived a little while later. It was craaaaaazzzzyyyyyyyy seeing them again!! I'm used to hanging out with them in a particular setting and surroundings and now, here we all were, together again in this completely normal, non-Korean situation just chilling and drinking at somebody's house listening to music in good old America. Totally 100% weird and awesome and amazing and seeing their faces was only the beginning of the happiness that will stay for the duration of my visit. 

In Korea, Zack and I always hung out a bit more than Jess and I. Jess and Al always seemed to gravitate toward one another with things to talk about as did Zack and myself. Not that Jess and I never hung out or didn't get along, Zack and I just became better friends. But while in St. Louis, I feel that Jess and I became a bit better of friends and I'm really glad for that. I tell you what, they have some amazing people to surround themselves with there. Every single person I met was fabulous and so accommodating and just plain out nice to me. Everyone made me feel so welcome. I did some awesome things: went to a ballet (first time!), Union Tree Review played a show (incredible band with an even more incredible lead singer), the lead singer of said band took me to the zoo while everyone was working (even though some of the exhibits were closed, boo), had a crazy hotel pool partay and saw the arch (which is absolutely massive) twice...among lots and lots of other things. I ended up staying two extra days on Zack's futon because there was no way I wanted it to all end so soon. Even though it was definitely out of my way with an almost five hour drive there and expensive and I still had a five hour drive to my Aunt Shelly's in Kentucky and yet another five to get home to was absolutely worth it. I regret nothing. Nothing. 

Tuesday night I had a great dinner at Jess's parent's and said my goodbyes to her because I wouldn't be seeing her anymore (but not really a big deal, she's coming back to Korea!) then headed back into the city to have a quiet last night at Zack's. Woke up the next morning very, very sad to tell him bye because, really, I don't know when I'll see him again. I managed to get through the farewells without crying or anything, something I told myself I can't do or I'd embarrass myself, and waited until I was far down I-64 before I really let it all out. The thing about the job we do is that you form these incredible relationships with some pretty amazing people and then you don't, or rarely, see them ever again after the short time you have with them. Zack really is one of my favorite people in the world so to say bye without knowing when I'll see him again is somewhat heartbreaking. 

So, off I go with another city checked off my list and some new friends made. Lucky for me I-64 starts right in St. Louis and finishes off in West Virginia. Easy enough! Five hours to Mount Sterling, Kentucky...

'MURICA - Part III: Family, Country Roads & A Lot of Driving

As I leave The Gateway City heading due east, I start to get excited to see my family and just hanging out for a few weeks doing nothing. My cousin Kayla (who I grew up with and is more along the lines of a sister figure) had her first baby while I've been away so that's definitely at the tip top of my list of things to be anxious for. Mount Sterling, KY is right along I-64 so I made a stop for the night to see my Aunt Shelly and Uncle Chad and their little girl and my favorite Chinese cousin, Meizhi.

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?

 So far, so good. Taya's not scared of me and I'm not as bad with babies as I thought I was. After I get over the initial shock of seeing her, I realize...Kayla made that. Kayla is someone's mother. After the shock, confusion sets in because I don't really see Kayla as a mother. Perhaps because I was around for only a little bit of Kayla's pregnancy, missed all the end parts, the birth, and the first 10 1/2 months of Taya's life, that I feel like this cute little infant just sprung into existence on her own. It was hard to place them together, as mother and child. It was just regular old Kayla and this baby that has now entered the family. To this day, I still struggle looking at Kayla as her mother. Tommy, her husband, I can easily place as Taya's dad, but for some reason I still am having a hard time with Kayla being her mom...and I really think it's just because I wasn't around for so much of it. All I know is that the Belt family now has one cute little baby added to it, Kayla mothering her or not, and I just want to squeeze the poop out of her.


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 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.

'MURICA - Part IV: Last Days & Last Thoughts

I get back home, pack the slightest bit then call it a night. The next morning I reluctantly set my alarm and wake up at 9 to get things done. Another thing on my to do list for today is that my Nanny and I have an appointment to try and swindle the DMV into giving me a West Virginia driver's license. My license now, which is a Canadian one, expires on my birthday next week. Uh oh. I'm not letting it expire because then I'll have to retake the written AND driving test again. I'll let you in on something, it took me five, count it, FIVE times to pass my written test when I was 15 years old. I do not want to take it again. So I gathered up my voter's registration, SS card, mail with my name on it, birth certificate (which I had to get a new one. Found out I wasn't, in fact, born in Lewis County when I got to the court house and they couldn't locate me. Born in Harrison County, imagine that) and every other piece of identification I could get my hands on. My Nanny did the same, was in on the lie that I just moved in with her so yes, I am a permanent WV resident, crossed our fingers and hoped for a new license.

Nope. Because the US doesn't have reciprocity with Canada (what?), I have to retake the written and driving test again regardless. WHAT! You're joking. So, let the sucker expire, ain't nobody got time for that.

Telling my grandma goodbye in the DMV parking lot was probably the only time I got sad. Because she got sad. My Nanny means the entire world to me and I know very well she can be a difficult old lady, but I love her and I feel like she is under appreciated sometimes. I try really hard to go out of my way when I'm home or whenever I can to make her feel like I care. I mean, the reality of it is, she's a grandmother and although she's pretty healthy and kicking it for the most part, no one knows how many years she has left. I want to make sure I do everything I can to be grateful to her and her Fox-News-loving ways and spend quality time with her while she's still around. So yes, I was sad to leave her. 

I finally get to Nashville 8 1/2 hours later to find a Cheesecake Factory Vanilla Bean Cheesecake in the fridge with "Happy Birthday" candles on it. Please be mine, please be mine. "Hey...uh...whose birthday was it..." "Oh! Yours!" YEEEEEEESSSSSSSSS!!!! 

I got an early birthday celebration with one of the greatest things in the world: cheesecake. And not just any cheesecake, Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, which in my experience, has yet to be beat. Another tidbit of information: Asian cheesecake sucks.

My next and last few days in the US were spent mostly shopping. And not really for happy things like new maxi skirts but for that dreaded yearly supply of things that we must get before heading back this way. Deodorant, toothpaste, tampons, ranch's essentials.

I did get to spend some relaxing last days with my mother, which was super nice considering I had been on the go for two weeks straight. I also got to spend some last morning cuddles with my cat.

My dad flew in Thursday morning so after I picked him up (with him being very confused as to how to navigate an airport, no less) we head downtown Nashville so I can show him the sights. He's never been here and I don't live here so I really don't know what there is to show him. I know downtown. That's really about it. So we walk and go in all the cowboy boot stores and get some BBQ at Jack's (famous), see some more then head to where the Grand Old Opry is. It turns out that the GOO is just a big industrial arena style looking building and what my dad really wanted to see was The Ryman, which he didn't and got the two confused. So we wandered around the Opry Mall (biggest Forever 21 I've ever been to next to the one in Seoul, dying) and then went back downtown so dad could hear some know, because it's Nashville. We popped into a few bars that had some country playing and hung out for a bit. It was getting late and I had lots to do so we headed back to where his hotel was, had some dinner then I dropped him off and went back to mom's. I took one last bath in her giant tub and then afterward I somehow managed to get most everything I bought into two suitcases (exactly 50 lbs) and two monstrous carry ons. There are still two boxes at my mom's waiting to be shipped here of stuff I couldn't fit. Mostly food items. It's going to be like Christmas, I can't even remember what's in them!

I crawled into that very soft bed one last time with a lot of different, opposing emotions running through my brain as I drift off into my last American sleep. The next morning came fast and we loaded up, went to get my dad and headed to the airport, right now my least favorite place on earth.

I don't like my parents being in such close proximity to each other. It makes me extremely, extremely  uncomfortable. So really, my last few moments there with them was spent in complete anxiety mode. I did my best to hide it and said my last goodbyes to my mother. She was visibly upset and I obviously wasn't anywhere near crying and it makes me feel really guilty. I apologized for not being able to cry and be sad because mad is still my go-to emotion. She understands and we hug and she leaves. I feel for her and my dad. Watching your kid go off and leave for another year. But knowing that it's my last one does make them feel a little better, I think. My dad is flying out as well so we go through security together and find my gate. He sits with me until I leave for Dallas because his flight isn't for another few hours. Once I'm called up, I do this, finally, for the very last time and tell my dad bye. I'm a little more upset to leave my dad because if you read this blog you'll know that he recently had a minor heart attack. It makes me more worried about him and just that much more upset to leave him with only my brother to look after him down there in Wilmington. I board the plane (while hitting everyone down the aisle on the head with my gargantuan bags) and off I go.

Once in Dallas I realize that it's lunchtime and I need to have one last fabulous American something or other before I depart. I see McDonald's. Filet-O-Fish? Um, YES. I only have about 15 minutes so I scarf it down, enjoying it as much as possible then grab my window seat. The plane is a 2-5-2 and I was praying no one would sit next to me but, alas, this plane is packed full so unlucky again. 

This time I made myself stay awake the entire flight so I'd be exhausted when I got home. I was arriving at night so there was no extended period of time between landing and bedtime to make myself more tired. I watched Breaking Dawn, Silver Linings Playbook...another movie I can't remember...two travel shows, Big Bang Theory, New Girl (twice) and did some reading. By the time we landed I was about ready to murder anyone who got in my way and made my trek off that plane and through the airport longer than necessary. Customs was a breeze thankfully, got my bags, spotted Al (aw) and got on the subway I haven't seen in five weeks.

Fast forward a week and I'm now sitting on my floor drinking a Coke Zero (I want a Diet Pepsi) and snacking on coconut crackers (I'd rather have some Apple Jacks) while still not really adjusting well to being here. I'm homesick. I'm homepeople sick. Everything about being here seems...wrong. I'm having a very hard time when I feel like I should be in the United States. Al doesn't like it here. I don't like it here. But here we are, because we're somewhat imprisoned by our finances and Al's American Visa situation. It'll take another 6-12 months before he can even work in the United States and once we're there, we have to buy two cars and have enough money to start a we don't have right now and money I'd rather be spending on vacations to exotic destinations. Priorities. 

But, at the same time, I would regret moving home right now because there is still so much travelling I want to do first. Our plan is to go home by way of Europe with hopefully a shorter vacation during the year thrown in somewhere this summer. I think I'd be really disappointed and probably a little distraught if I'd move home without seeing some more countries. I feel like there are so many incredible places on this planet to see with my own eyes that it's hard to choose which ones to do now and which to hopefully, eventually, do later. 

As much as I miss home and really am having a hard time being here, I gained like three pounds while I was there. I forgot what a sedentary life Americans lead. I think I've gotten more exercise while being here this week by just walking all the places I have to walk and lugging my groceries two blocks than I got the entire five weeks I was home. Home-car-work-car-store-car-gas-car-home. There is such little activity being done, just sitting all the time. I get exercise here on accident. In the US, you have to actually put an effort into making sure you get enough to stay healthy. It's something I have to keep in mind when we move back or I'm going to be a super fatty. And the food, oooooh the food. It's so amazingly scrumptious. Before I left Korea, I had in mind all the things I wanted to eat and trust me, the list was long and didn't include many vegetables. But once I actually got home, I found myself not really wanting it after a while. I would eat it just for the sake of eating it, whether I wanted that to eat or not. Even if I didn't really want that Yoohoo (omgyoohoosogood) right then, I got one and drank it anyway because I knew that soon I wouldn't be able to have it. Same with Filet-O-Fish. I ate like three! (I don't care how gross you think that is, it's delicious) It's not necessarily what I wanted eat for lunch, but, welp, I can't get them in Korea so I might as well eat it anyway. Is that a salad covered in ranch and barbecue sauce? I'll take three. I did that with most things, actually, so that's probably why I got slightly chubbier. Hopefully once I'm moved back and realize that all the food would be around anytime I truly wanted it, I'll steer clear. 

That five weeks was such an up and down emotional roller coaster for many, many reasons but all in all, I had a great time and I don't regret anything, other than the fact that five weeks definitely isn't long enough. There are some things that I wish would've gone a little differently, but it's nothing I can help now so there's no use dwelling on it. I'm just going to figure my situation out here, enjoy my new duvet and six new pairs of shoes and just wait for summertime when I can go to the beach every weekend and get a tan and get through the next 52 weeks as quickly as possible.

I'd like to thank you for just spending seven hours reading about my American tales. I'm tired of writing so I can only imagine you're tired of reading. xo