For the first time in many years, my ex-fiancé and I sat across from each other in the Korean church we grew up in. It was lunchtime on the Sunday after Christmas, and we were seated in the former Pizza Hut turned cafeteria, eating rice, kimchi and ribs.
We avoided each other’s gaze.
The holidays bring people home, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to see him. But I was.
He’s a Marine stationed in North Carolina with family who long ago moved to Korea. As for me, this was only the second time I’d visited the church since I returned to Augusta six months ago from almost 10 years in Charlotte; I’d only come because a good friend and her family was in town, and this was my last chance to see her kids.
Despite the awkwardness I felt at sharing a meal with a complete stranger I’d once planned to marry, I made small talk. “How are your parents? Where’s your brother at nowadays?” I think he felt as uncomfortable as I did; he kept staring off toward the kitchen, where the older Korean women, my mother included, were milling about.
Afterward, when we had nothing left to say, I latched onto my good friend like she was my bodyguard, left the lunchroom, and waved awkwardly when he drove off in a black truck.
Now that I’ve had a little time to digest this peek at my past, and reflected on 2015 in general, I’m realizing just how much I needed that unexpected encounter.
In 2006, after I finished undergrad, I sent a hard copy of my resume and samples of my college newspaper articles to every media company listed on the North Carolina Press Association’s website. The goal was to start a career in journalism. Informing that endeavor, though, was the desire to get a fresh start—to get away from the city that had soaked up so many of my tears after the fiancé broke up with me.
In retrospect, our end was really my beginning. It was the kick I needed to help me discover the most fulfilling work adventure I could have asked for, especially as a sheltered but curious young woman in her 20s.
In June, I moved back to this unfamiliar hometown of mine for, ironically, another fresh start. It’s been tough. Leaving behind a job that’s long been embedded with my identity is one thing; leaving behind that and the very life I’d created for myself (to return to a city I know very few people in) is another. But the real kicker—literally? Finding out, maybe six weeks after I’d unpacked my last cardboard moving box, that I was pregnant—a life change I was not prepared for in the least.
In short, the second half of 2015 was tumultuous. My world has changed so drastically that I hardly recognize it anymore. On New Year’s Eve, as the calendar changed from 2015 to 2016, I found comfort in a glass of milk and chocolate chip cookies instead of the goblet of wine I usually would have had. (And I think that has little to do with the alien growing in my belly.)
In some ways, I’ve wondered if moving back to Augusta was taking a step backward. Despite how much more closer the boyfriend and I have grown since we eliminated the distance gap, and how grateful I am to have been able to walk away from a job that was turning me into someone I didn’t want to be, I’ve still not found my place here yet—professionally or socially.
The most vivid moment I can share of me wrestling with this change was a night I closed myself in my closet, hiding from the boyfriend as he played video games in his man cave. I sat cross-legged on the carpet as hangers of clothes I can’t fit anymore stared malevolently down at me, and cried big, sloppy tears. My nose stuffed up and my vision blurry, I wondered if the baby could taste the saltiness of my hormone-induced pity fest.
But seeing the former fiancé a couple of weeks ago showed me how far I’ve come since I last lived here. I’m not the same woman he proposed to, and there’s no way I could ever become her again. Having a career and paving a way to my own definition of success and happiness are too important to me. The girl he loved was naïve and willing to entrust everything in someone else’s hands. Her goals were undefined; her manner was meek.
What’s more, seeing him reminded me of a time permeated with sadness, doubt and pity. After he left, I clung to the hope that we would find each other again. I wondered what was wrong with me to have driven away someone I thought was my soul mate.
But I got past all that with time. Just as I’ll surely figure out my place here in Augusta—in time.
2015 was a big year of transition for me. The journey hasn’t been all great, but the journey’s not over. I know who I am and what I’m capable of. That’s what I’m holding onto in 2016.