“Badass?” questioned the Costa Rican airport official, eyebrow raised, as he stopped my forward progress through security.
“Yes,” I replied with a sly smile.
“Wait here,” he said as he left to bring over more security personnel. They gathered around me and again asked “Badass? Seriously?”
“Yes, after the bull,” I replied and laughter broke out. They were reading my tiny dog’s international transport papers. I named her Malacrianza after an infamous bull in Costa Rica known for spearing human necks and whose name roughly translates to “badass.”
The airport officials passed Mali around, cooing “Malacrianza” through tears of laughter, then bid us blessings and farewells on our journey.
How could I leave a country full of such good-natured people? To return to a land in which airport officials search me every single time and the overhead announcement is full of threats?
At this point, I had already decided that I couldn’t really leave Costa Rica. But here I was, leaving Costa Rica. It’s like I set this plan into motion and couldn’t stop it.
BUT I’d been struggling with this decision for so long I owed it to myself to give the U.S. a try, right?
“You can always go back,” said every single person I ever burdened with my unbearable indecision.
Back in the US
“A process server just came by the house looking for you,” said my mom. I had been “home” just one day. What on earth could they want?
This brought back stressful memories of the prior year when a tenant thought she could break the lease and sue me to get her security deposit just because her brother was a lawyer. She had no case, but the bullying from her during that whole bureaucratic process took a toll on me.
You don’t even know how many times I’ve asked myself “Why can’t we all just get along?”
I thought about what to do. In the movies, when a process server is looking for you, you hide. I considered it, but I had no idea what I was hiding from. I had nothing to hide! I called her.
“Wow it really is you then,” she said as she handed me the papers. Apparently I’m the only one who had ever called her back to schedule the serving.
The lawsuit was a mistake based on misinformation, but the city I grew up in was suing me for $110,000. Welcome home!
It took a month of bureaucratic work to dissolve the claim and I received many apologies, but my stress level increased nonetheless and I began to question what the heck was wrong with my people.
It felt like everyone was judging and all up in everyone else’s business, quick to jump into a fight. I couldn’t even drive somewhere without being judged with a horn for driving too fast, too slow, or for who knows what.
In Costa Rica, I learned to mind my own damn business, to stop finding things to complain about, and to instead find things to be happy about.
“Good morning, how’s it going?” I asked the Costa Rican caretaker who was cleaning up after a huge storm that crushed his house with a tree, broke our septic tank, and killed the power and water for days.
“Pura vida!” he replied, laughing, “We Ticos can be up to our necks in shit, but everything is still pura vida! It’s a beautiful day, there’s monkeys and birds, and I’m alive, well fed, and healthy.”
SO, what did I have going for me in the US?
- Love and support from so many friends and family
- A fun old car that my uncle gave me
- Spinach in a box that’s already been picked off the vine and washed!
- 70mb of internet
- The fact that I wasn’t being sued for something real
- My health
- My grandmother
- A garage full of stuff that should be fun to go through …
I opened the garage and found everything was covered in mold. Everything.
I was in that garage night and day for weeks unpacking, cleaning, and organizing. I never wore a mask.
That is when the diarrhea began and my hair started falling out in clumps.
After a week of this, I went to a doctor who’s known me for 15 years.
“You’re stressed,” she said over my head through glazed over eyes and a disconnected voice. “Take Adderall to get everything done and Xanax to deal with the stress.”
This is a problem. It’s like there is so much pressure to get so much done in the U.S. that no one has the time to stop and think about what the heck the doctor is actually asking them to do.
I needed help, not pharmaceutical band-aids, but I obliged anyway. It’s easy.
I took the Adderall and cleaned out that garage in no time. My family was like “wow you have accomplished so much.” Yes, thanks to speed, determination, and creeps on Craigslist.
“Don’t use Craigslist, it’s not safe. Join ZIPIT,” said my girlfriends. “It’s trusted women selling to other women.”
I was not approved to join. Apparently, I’m not southern enough or married enough or knocked up enough or who knows what. Rejected.
So I sold a table on Craigslist to a guy who texted me later that he also wanted to buy my panties. What the heck happened to you, U.S.?
Just when I thought things were calming down, I got a letter from the IRS with a bill for $5,000. I’m one of very few expats I know who actually do their taxes, but I did them wrong. There is no A for effort with the IRS.
Just when I thought my homecoming couldn’t get any more ridiculous, the weathermen started warning everyone “Be prepared folks, this is going to be a historic rain event. We can’t stress this enough, it is going to be ugly.”
A historic rain event? What the heck is that? I remembered weathermen from when I lived in the US – they were always dramatically forecasting storms that didn’t materialize. But a rain event? Are they kidding? I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough.
There was no way South Carolina was going to have any kind of disaster worse than what I’d seen in Costa Rica. I’d never heard of rain being called an event. It was a part of life in Costa Rica. We just call it “rain.”
I went to bed that night under a dry sky, confident that I’d wake up the next morning to a normal day. Little did I know, my world was about to be shattered.
This was chapter 7 in my Leaving Costa Rica Saga. We are almost to the end, and a new beginning… Subscribe here.
We cant wait to see how this turns out, Erin! We sure hope it end up back in paradise!! We will live there, full time, one of these days! We had no Idea Craigslist could be so creepy! Keep your head up!!
Shane and Terri
Yeah unfortunately my Craigslist experience wasn’t unique :/
Thanks for the kind words!
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to return to the States after so many years in Latin America (I’ve been here two decades). It’s tough to settle back “home” again.
Holy COW! You’re brave to move back. I haven’t been back for years except to visit. Can’t wait to read more and hope you’re okay after all that mold!
Thanks! I actually didn’t make it that long in the US and am still recovering from the mold, although I’m healthier than ever – that’s all coming up in the next posts as my story unfolds…
I loved this! But the endings are often annoying. I’m already subscribed to you, so where is the follow up blog to this one? (It looks like this is your most recent one, but others end like this with no link to the follow-up to it.) I don’t see anything that says next blog or previous blog, just related blogs, and you can’t tell if it is the following blog to this entry.
Anyway, I’ve been subscribed to you for several years, actually… back in the day when I wanted to move to Costa Rica. I visited once for a yoga retreat at Pura Vida (2008), yes, that’s the actual name of it (a property of R&R Resorts). I believe it’s in Alejandro (sp?) – about 20 minutes outside of San Jose. I had the most amazing time, so good I cried leaving for the airport. I met some amazing women travelers who inspired to start traveling again. Anyway, since then (a few years later) I took a leap… In 2013, I was a 33 y/o single woman who was loving life as a freelance writer, yoga and hip hop dance teacher, but cash flow had become super sluggish, so I decided to take a ‘career break’ and teach English in South Korea. It was a 3-year life lesson and adventure. But it was no fairy tale. I was a grown woman who had lived a lot of life among youngsters (20-somethings) just starting out. It was hard to connect with people. Came back to the US to find, or at least I felt, unemployable… even with my marketing-communications background. Still having the itch to be abroad, I accepted an English teaching job in Saudi Arabia, which is present day. Unhappy and frustrated with life, and, obviously, with one too many bad decisions on my part.
What amazes me most about you and your stories is that you really do find the silver lining in everything. I appreciate that about you! Really. It’s so hard for me to do that. I make the best out of all of my F-ed up life situations, but I do it begrudgingly. Not so much with a smile and bursting optimism. I’d love to be able to work as a “digital nomad”… But unlike you, my adventure-tolerance is not so high. I need to have certain creature comforts that don’t include neighboring with wildlife. ;P I admire you for that though! I also read your blog about working from anywhere, and have noted the sites you recommended. I just can’t seem to get a good start for my writing business, and I feel I need to have other strong skills than just writing…
Anyway, sorry for the long response! o_O I love how you are growing as a storyteller. Really enjoyed this piece. I’m hoping I can learn to appreciate more, and don’t sweat all the curve balls life throws my way so much. Although I feel I’m still struggling to find my happy, I know that I’m fortunate in more ways than I realize.
Thanks for the long, thoughtful comment and for reading for so long! You can’t find the next post to this because I have not written it yet. I should have already, but life gets in the way sometimes and I have to prioritize other things over this blog.
Your comment made me go and change the “previous post” and “next post” links to orange buttons – that should be hard to miss now.
In regards to your comments about happiness and my ability to find the silver lining. It takes practice. I spent most of my life as a cynic and even now that is usually my inner first response to things. It took me becoming aware of that and a desire to change, then lots of practice telling myself to stop making situations negative and stop reacting with a negative response, stop taking things personally, and look for the good in things and in people. It also helps me to think about what I’m grateful for everyday. Not just the normal stuff like health, etc, but really get detailed like this morning I’m so grateful for the turmeric in my oatmeal and the rich dark coffee. I’m in the US and sick from the climate, stressed with my grandmother in the hospital, and yearning to get back to Costa Rica, but if I wallow in that I’m only creating misery for myself. Instead, I’m choosing to focus on the beautiful fall leaves changing color, the time I’m able to spend with my grandmother, and other things that are positive…like the coffee, yum.
I think also in some aspects the pursuit of happiness is constant until we just decide that we’ve achieved it. We need to find happiness now where we are because achieving a level of change that we perceive will bring us ultimate happiness only presents new challenges that could easily be perceived as destructors to that happiness. So we should do what we can to create an external environment that agrees with us and then not stress about things we cannot change.
Freelance writing is a big business! Have you signed up on any of the sites that aggregate freelance writers? Or with any freelance groups? Check out https://www.freelancersunion.org/