Brian readjusts to suburban life after returning from a Peace Corps tour; by Benjamin Goodwin.
It had been a difficult few weeks since he returned from Panama and the transition had not been easy. It wasn't so much the cultural differences as it was the climate change. Even the nights in Panama were hot. Although the 60-degree weather in Connecticut was unseasonably warm for early winter, Brian could never seem to get comfortable. At night he would cover himself with as many blankets as he could find, but the weight of it all made it hard for him to sleep.
Brian pulled into the massive parking lot, which used to be a plaza full of family owned shops. He wondered which one of them he parked his mother's Toyota on. He silently prayed to himself that he would not run into anyone he knew from high school. There had been a few run-ins with past acquaintances since he returned, none of which had gone well. It was never going to be the people he wanted to see. His old friends had mostly moved away and the only people he ran into were the kids he always avoided when he was at school. These people had become townies, perpetually stuck in the quicksand of easy-living suburbia. They went to community college and commuted from their parents' houses. They were everything Brian wished he wasn't and it was distressing to see them.
Brian gazed upon the towers of shelves in the seemingly endless row of aisles. He had never felt farther from Panama. He looked at all the people mindlessly walking their carts from row to row. They were on autopilot. Brian tried to turn his autopilot on, but couldn't seem to stop looking at the dazed shoppers. He walked down the paper products aisle and began his search for the lowest priced paper towels.
His decision to leave the country had not come easy. Throughout his final semester at college, Brian felt lost. He had made plans for his future, all of which had fallen through. The problem, was the plans all revolved around a girl who suddenly decided to end their relationship. He had dated Hallie for three years and had a great amount of difficulty reestablishing himself as an individual. They had been a couple for so long, it was a seemingly impossible task for Brian to be his own person. He missed the comfortable codependency and constant validation that came with being in a relationship.
He daydreamed about joining the army for a long time. He would burn the picture of her in his wallet and enlist in the service for his country. But ultimately, fighting a war he didn't understand seemed to be an empty gesture. He decided on the Peace Corps one night whilst doing some Internet research on teaching programs in other countries. He met all the requirements and was accepted without much hassle. He imagined that when he told Hallie about this, she would ask him to stay. She would admit that she was wrong to have ended things and beg to reconcile. This did not happen. Hallie wished him luck and left him at their favorite local coffee shop after giving him an awkward forced hug. He never burned her picture.
The shopping was done quickly and Brian made his way to the cash register. He hadn't had a conversation with anyone besides his parents in the last few days. He noticed the pretty cashier and started thinking of things to say to her. He wanted to say something witty and intelligent. If he could work into the conversation that he had taught children in Panama for two years, he wouldn't hesitate to do so. But by the time he reached the front of the "ten items or less" line he had not thought of anything interesting to say.
"Did you find everything okay?" the girl said with a polite smile.
"Yeah. No problem," Brian responded.
"Cash or credit?" she said.
"Cash." He reached into his wallet and took out a twenty. As he handed it to her, their hands touched for the briefest of moments that only Brian noticed. She made the change and handed it back to him.
"Have a nice day." She was already looking at the next customer in line.
"I will," Brian said. "You too."
When he walked back outside of the store, the cold met him again. He was starting to get used to it.