Return To My World

“I suppose you’re transitioning to being back,” a friend commented, “How is that going?”   I responded with a “pshaw”.  You’ve seen it – that gesture of flipping a hand from a palm down and resting position to a full stop position that exposes the palm … all while blowing a raspberry.  I then dug deeper and made the ridiculous comment of, “Oh, I’ve been doing this for years.  I don’t even notice anymore.” What a crock.  Of course I’m going to notice a transition of returning to my world after living somewhere else in the world for nearly nine months.

I don’t know why I so blatantly lied — perhaps because I’m trying to laugh more and analyze less. Perhaps it’s because this is going to be a short transition and not even worth the turmoil.  In just a few months I’ll be right back into environments of unpredictable electrical outages, slow download speeds, extreme variations in climate, and tomato-based sauces over everything.  It really doesn’t matter why because the truth is that there have been some transitions to contend with.

Babysitting Dogs

Until early January of this year I would wake up concerned about troop movements and the resulting civilian medical needs.  Had the Iraqi army advanced?  Were the Peshmerga holding their lines?  What did Iran say?  How did Turkey respond?  And where exactly was Saudi Arabia in this mess?  How many people had been displaced and what do they need?   Then, just like that, my assignment ends and within 48 hours, I’m at mom’s house.  “Oh great,” she says, “you’re home.  You can babysit the dogs.”

For the next three weeks, my days of rest were frequently interrupted by letting dogs out then back into the house, taking dogs for walks, providing updates on whether or not Niles (the big one) had a good poop, and making sure Frazier (the little one) was wrapped up like a burrito in his electric blanket.  It was really cold in January.  And humbling.

Carpet Management

Up next was what to do about the new carpet.  You see, the Roomba Mom had been given to help keep up with the dog hair would not go up onto the carpet to vacuum.  Now, operations to recapture Mosul are a big deal.  But this?  This here is truly an emergency requiring immediate and focused attention.

According to the documentation in the box and the Roomba expert on the phone, the robot interpreted the dark colors on the carpet as a ledge and something to be avoided.  No retraining possible.  So we relocated the dark carpet to the back bedroom and rolled out the new and lighter carpet that had been lying in the hallway awaiting my arrival.  After placing the carpet just right in the living room we stood back to assess the situation.  It was perfect.  Except for the dark border that surrounded all that cream color loveliness.  I could see how it might be interpreted as a ledge.

The situation remains tense and is as complicated as anything I’ve seen in Northern Iraq.  This too is an extreme situation in which multiple and conflicting desires must be managed.  In this case, the conflict is between allowing dogs in the house, enjoying a floor devoid of dog hair, eliminating the need to manually vacuum every day, and being driven by an overriding desire to have a pretty carpet in the living room.  Things really are quite complicated.

Attractive and Age-Appropriate Men

After babysitting dogs and managing carpets I went to my brother’s house.  My objectives were to remain in the eye of the “Family of Five” storm and reconnect.  Mission accomplished, the time had arrived.  Time for me to make my way back into the world.  To engage and use the social skills that had been put aside for the past nine months.  And to do so without the safety net of family, their unconditional love, and the sound of their laughter when I explained my struggles with most social situations.

The entire family came to see me off.  At the airport curb we unloaded luggage, gave kisses and hugs all around, and waved goodbye with promises to be safe and communicate more.  I then turned and saw that a very attractive and age-appropriate man standing at the end of the curbside check-in line had been watching the proceedings.  And he was still watching.  And smiling.  At me.

I turned back around and felt my tummy flip as I watched my safety net drive away.  I took a breath, gathered my things and walked, with my head down, to the back of the line.  “Please God,” I whispered, “not yet.”  I took a few extra moments to fumble and hope that by the time I looked up, the attractive man would be facing forward.  He wasn’t.

“Family?” he asked, staring at me.  “Yup.” I said with a finality that ends most conversations.  But not this one.  Now, here is the thing.  When I’m in the field, I talk to attractive and age-appropriate men all the time.  Sometimes I even live with them.  But we never talk small talk.  It is one of the reasons I enjoy my work, no small talk required.  Sunni-Shia divide, possible responses to mass displacement, chemical weapons delivery methods and medical interventions, team safety in potentially insecure locations … easy.  Small talk?  Not so much.

“Going home?” he asked.  “Yup.” I said.  He continued smiling but said nothing.  “What would Lily do?” I asked myself before coming up with what I recalled would be a socially appropriate response, “And you?”  The small talk continued from curbside to the security line.  And I must say, I did good.   Right up until it was determined we were on the same flight.   Then, just like that, I started looking to create some distance.  I simply did not have the energy nor the wherewithal to continue small talk beyond security check.

I opted for a strategy of patience.  At both the ID check and screening lines I selected the longest lines.  I graciously invited a mom travelling wither her infant and toddler to go ahead.  I kept the change in my pocket at screening which required a TSA agent to do a physical check.  I took time collecting my things from the x-ray bins and putting them back just so.

No joke.  I ran away and hid, albeit in reverse, from the situation.   From security to the gate I kept the small-talker in front of me.   This gave me the flexibility of jumping into the restroom when he looked back or feigning interest at something in a store when he slowed his walk.   At the gate, I waited to see where he would settle and then, found a place, around the corner, where I could keep an eye on the gate and stay out of his line of sight.   And yes, I am more than a little embarrassed to say that I am not making any of this up.

While waiting for the plane to board and after I relaxed a bit, I recognized a twisted sense of accomplishment: it seemed as if those months monitoring troop movements were paying off.


By the end of my assignment, personal hygiene had fallen pretty far down on the list of priorities.  Caring about the efficacy of my undergarments was nowhere to be found.  I then returned to my world and while catching up with a very good friend who loves me no matter what, she confirmed:  things just weren’t holding up as they should.

Since I had nothing but time, I decided to upgrade.  I quietly approached the lady at the counter.  “Hi,” I said, “I’m 48 years old and I don’t know how to select a bra.”   Brenda was a few decades older than I, had snow white hair, bright blue eyes and the slightest remnants of an Australian accent.  “Honey,” she said closing down her register and putting out a Be Right Back sign, “Look around you.  Nobody does.”

She led me to the dressing room and while wrapping her tape measure around pertinent parts, asked questions for which I had no answer:  underwire? wirefree? demi? padded? push?  She then stepped back and asked, “How much time do you have?”  “As much time as you do”, I answered.  “Well then,” she said with a sigh of relief, “we have all the time we need.”  I felt a wave of comfort wash over and I turned over full responsibility for my life to Brenda for the next three hours.

At least twenty bra styles later, along with coaching on what to look for in the future, questions about my expectations for the garment, and encouragement to go “a bit sexier”, Brenda and I made final selections.  Bras that stayed in place when my arms went up, that did not pooch here, that laid flat there, and that did not rely on straps for support.  There was even some lace.

Exhausted and elated I gave Brenda a hug and my undying gratitude, and walked out of the store with more than a bit of a swagger.  It felt good to have new priorities; even if only for a short time.  “Now,” I thought to myself, “where are those attractive and age-appropriate men?”

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