What Stays

The packets we are asked to read about our countries suggests we pack light, bringing what we need: a formal shirt, a gift for our new host families, comfortable shoes; nothing that has too much sentimental value, nothing we would be upset to lose.

The nature of packing is that we are never prepared. It is an exercise in instinct and organization whose exact science remains a mystery to most people, including me.

I’ve tried to get ready for this trip in the same way I prepare my luggage, dancing around the same question: when you leave home, what do you bring with you and what stays behind?

I think mostly about my sexuality, a part of me that in my daily-life occupies very little room but takes on a new shape and value in other countries. I wonder if the years of fighting for the ability to define myself openly are worth leaving in the United States, in return for the space it creates for comfortability in my new home. Is the ability to be open about that part of my life something I would be upset to lose? Is not bringing it a loss in itself?

I get nervous at the thought of someone asking about mi novia, because I’m not a liar. I don’t want to hide who I am but I recognize that I can’t choose how other people respond. I can’t make choices for another country about their culture, only arrive.

It seems that in the end the debating I do with myself means nothing. There’s only one rule when you’re packing to travel: that you’ll never be fully prepared. All the lists and scenarios are variable. And the experiences you have had, the things you’ve learned, and the person you’ve become before you leave can’t prepare you completely for what’s out there. That’s why instead of fighting myself I’ll go into this with a near-empty bag (figuratively speaking.) That way there will be room for me to bring something back.