The packers came last week to cart away all of our earthly belongings. It took almost two days for them to box everything up and stash it all in containers on the back of their truck.
And now, we wait. There’s still a week to go before the plane takes off with us on it. That’s just one short week to say goodbye to the people and places that we’ve come to know so well.
Our house is full of ghosts, so full I can’t stand to be in it for long. Here’s the office where I wrote these articles, Skyped my sister and changed countless diapers. Here’s the kitchen, with containers of frozen soup still stacked in the freezer as dishes dry on the counter. That empty space over there? That’s where I liked to sit and read when I had a few, rare, quiet minutes to myself.
The rocking chair is gone, too. We sat there most nights before bedtime, the baby and I. "Rockababy!" she still calls at night, pointing to the empty space where the chair once was, so we stand and rock in place next to her crib, instead. After she’s asleep for the night, I move on to the next bedroom, where the older kids and I once snuggled together to read bedtime stories. Of course, there are no more books left on the shelves to read.
It’s all over, it seems, in a flash, though I can still picture it all in my mind’s eye. Our three years in Beijing, which once seemed interminably long, are almost over and done with,
and it seems likely I’ll never again return to this place I’ve called home for so long.
The first time I stood on the Great Wall, I was stunned by its solidity. I’d somehow imagined it, all my life, as a two-dimensional picture, just as it appeared in the travel books and encyclopedias of my youth. Yet here I was, actually standing on it, shoes clacking, lungs heaving as I climbed those imposing stone steps. It was real, solid, seemingly endless.
I suppose I could find the time to drive out there and stand on the Wall one last time, commanding myself: Remember this. But the Wall has already retreated, faded, moving ghostlike into my past. I look at pictures now and I wonder: Did I really ever stand in that place? Did I really chase whiny children, sweating, down that Wall in the heat of summer? Did I ever stand there, shivering, after a snowfall? It seems impossible now.
Soon another family will move into my house, making it theirs. They’ll walk right past my ghosts, oblivious to their presence. They won’t see what I saw out the kitchen window. They won’t ever plant their feet on my floors. Truly, they won’t: I’m fairly certain the house will be torn down to the studs and rebuilt after we leave, like so many others I’ve seen in our little compound. The house will have new floors, new cabinets, fresh paint. My ghosts will remain, invisible to all.
And me? I’ll be in a new house, trampling someone else’s vacated space, in Amman, Jordan. I’ll have to start all over again, with a new language, new schools, new shops and – hopefully – new friends.
China is over for me. Oh, but the friends I’ve made! I could use half of this column just listing the people who’ve come to inhabit my heart. These past three years have challenged me in ways I never could have expected. China has pushed me, even broken me in some ways, but I think I’ve pieced myself back together relatively well – better, even, thanks to my experiences here.
So I’m ready. I’m pulling out the tiny roots I’ve been so carefully tending, preparing to transplant them into the sandy soil of Jordan. The ghosts I’ll leave behind for you. You might not notice them, but I’ll always know they’re there.
Donna Scaramastra Gorman is a freelance writer and mother of four who has lived in Beijing for the last three years. Her work has been published in Newsweek, The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. You can follow her adventures in Jordan through her blog at http://emailfromtheembassy.blogspot.com.