Every time I checked Siri's instructions, I glanced at the clock.
"Ugh, I'm so late," I muttered to myself, merging onto the next exit ramp. "How did I let myself get so far behind?"
So the internal berating continued until I pulled up to my friend's house.
"Hey, I'm so sorry!" I called, barely out of my car.
"No worries!" she said, a huge smile on her face. "I'm just so glad you're here!"
It's true. She didn't care one bit how late I was (though it didn't stop me from apologizing multiple times the rest of the afternoon). My other friend didn't mind either when I rescheduled dinner twice, nor did my aunt when evening drinks became an early-morning coffee before I took off again.
They were all just genuinely glad to see me.
I, on the other hand, spent each moment filled with guilt and concern that I wasn't doing enough. That they'd think I didn't care because I'd only managed a few hours for them. Every time I had to send a message saying, "I'm sorry, I just don't have enough time," I felt terrible. What kind of friend was I that I couldn't make that time?
So it goes for the expat returning home.
I had experienced this same feeling last year. Even when I was literally bouncing with excitement to see everyone, I couldn't help but feel like I was failing. There just wasn't enough time.
There still wasn't.
When you're gone for a year, every minute feels like it should count. You spend months desperately wanting to see your family and friends. You fantasize about the hikes you want to go on or the food you want to eat.
And then you land.
Suddenly, reality hits.
By 1 p.m., jet lag has you down for the count, unable to open your eyes because it's 3 a.m. back in China. As everyone goes to bed, you're wide awake because it's the afternoon for you.
If you're like me, you also have things to take care of. Maybe you need to move your stored boxes to a new unit because the old one is costing you too much. Perhaps you have to spend a few hours sorting out your banking details. Living overseas, you have limited access to certain amenities (like clothes that fit your female, 5-foot-11 frame) and at least a day or two needs to go to shopping.
It's incredible how fast the time goes.
Sitting on the Lightrail back to my friend's car, we chatted about her life. I apologized again. I really felt terrible I couldn't give her more of my time.
"Alex, I get it," she said with a sad sort of smile. "I'd love you here more — hell, I'd love you back here permanently — but you have a lot to do. We all get that."
For better or worse, living abroad was a choice that changed everything. One I am thankful I made each and every day.
Ultimately, I'm just lucky to be surrounded by people that get it. Better yet, they smile through my short hours with them, ending it with sincere best wishes for another great year a world away.