See ya, Bucharest
I’m thinking about Holden Caulfield these days, and how on his last night at Pency Prep, he went alone after dark to a hill on campus that overlooked where the rest of the student body was watching a football game. He tells us he’s looking for a nice “goodbye feeling” — we come to learn in the pages that follow that the poor guy has suffered one loss after another without ever getting a chance to mourn, celebrate, appreciate.
Fortunately for me I have a few more skills than old Holden so I see him as a non example rather than a model. Still, saying goodbye brings up a range of memories and connections. The idea though of wanting a nice goodbye feeling is relatable, though, probably to anyone who moves from one place to the next even if the rest of Holden’s circumstances don’t relate.
For us, the coronavirus didn’t exist when we decided to come here; by the time we arrived six months later the world was a different place. And this place, this city, felt empty. I remember the first people in my neighborhood that I recognized seeing frequently were the homeless men occupying the nearby city park and the two middle schoolers who slowly walked the same loop each day, side-by-side, clearly crushing on each other and relieved to be out of the sight of their parents.
All the opportunities we hoped for getting to know this place the way we knew and loved our last place evaporated in the pandemic. As I prepare to depart, I wish I knew more about Bucharest and Romania. At the same time, this place offered our family exactly what we wanted and needed. Our daughter couldn’t yet crawl when we arrived; she learned to walk here. Now she runs, jumps, climbs. She walked all over and through the groves of trees in the three giant city parks within walking distance of our home, looking for sticks and rocks to pick up and carry. She stomped through puddles that pooled around clogged storm drains, and took great glee in going from playground to playground, asking to be pushed as high as possible on each set of swings she could find. On her last week of preschool here, her teacher reported that she was speaking in sentences in Romanian. The sentence? “Push me higher, more!”
The enduring benefit of this international teacher life is the opportunity to meet and befriend such great people who share our unusual and self-induced chaotic expat life. My slice of Bucharest has offered me a fulfilling combination of soulful connection with new and old friends. Saying farewell to these folks, and taking our squishy little kiddo out of the place where she began to really become a person are the hardest parts of this ending.
So I sympathize with Holden — leaving, then starting over, is always hard. And, I’m grateful for the gifts afforded us during these two years that could have been much, much harder. I’m down to less than two days remaining here. Instead of waiting for that nice goodbye feeling, I’m savoring the unique and the mundane moments which cobbled together made such a strange and wonderful experience here.