The Loneliness of a Peace Corps Volunteer (page 3)
The Loneliness of a Peace Corps Volunteer
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4
I gotta go
Jim’ story was a variation of Gary’s. Sadness crouched in the silent corners of his room, his life. As he spoke about his longing for Detroit, the hospital he had worked at, the waterfront, his right hand whisked away the subtle appearance of a tear or two. But I could see it there — honed deep into his eyeballs — a haunting aloneness and I felt helpless.
     “Can you wait until payday and we’ll all go up to La Paz together to get our paycheck?” His head shook, hands sequestered in his armpits, three long words of closure: “I gotta go now.”
     We stood and watched the shadows fall on the adobe building across the street, the sun heading down the mountain. The dark cool shade expanding, my eyes rested there. I leaned against the door to catch my balance.
     “I’ll see you in a couple of days, Bill.” Jim held my shoulders with his hands, then we shook hands, signifying we were in agreement. He was going to leave Colquiri and Peace Corps. We’d have dinner in Oruro and then he would catch the next train to LaPaz, then home.

     Two good friends leaving within a couple of months shook me up. After Gary left, a Peace Corps psychologist had come to visit the Bolivian Volunteers. I had lied to him. I told him, “Everything is fine, except my Spanish, and I’m working on it.” I didn’t tell him about my long bike rides out into the campo during siesta time where I would stop, get off my bike and stare into a horizon that had no end, no colors, no buildings, nothing. Riding my bike back, I would think of something to tell Cathy about what I saw so I wouldn’t blurt out, “I’m so lonely here! I can’t even tell if the work I’m doing is helping anybody!” I couldn’t imagine uttering the deeper truth: “I’m not happy being married. Something is missing.” Gary and Jim leaned on me while I held tight to this self-portrait: “Doing good, being successful, happily married.”

     The collectivo came at dusk. I climbed on. I walked straight to the back of the bus, unimpeded by goats and chickens. Circling and circling, down and down. Darkness came on fast. I was tired, not from a lack of rest but something more, something draining me. I leaned my arms against the seat in front, cradling my head, much like I had done on the bus home after losing an “away” basketball game. Then I started crying. The coughing, sputtering, backfiring bus hid the sounds of my sobbing. Jim and Gary’s suffering was a ladder down into my own pain. The isolation, the hint of a marriage already growing apart. I leaned into that empty space between my arms and felt the only comfort available, my own.

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