A frightful attack outside a subway station in Queens, New York, led me to leave the city in search of safety and serenity.
You see, although I had been rescued by good samaritans who stopped my attacker and held him down until the police could arrive, the police refused to record any statements. Instead, they questioned why I’d been in the ritzy area I was in and were seemingly sympathetic to the stranger that brazenly assaulted me. For the first time in my life, I understood what it meant to be devalued as a woman of color. The experience rocked me emotionally as well as physically. With time, the bruises began to heal but internal scars of worthlessness reared time after time. I became a shell of myself, fearful of everyone, including the law.
Seeking a getaway, I spent a week in Seattle, Washington, where I enjoyed trips to the mountains, cabins, wineries, and lakes. That sense of freedom was instantaneously stripped away upon my return home. Refusing to live that way, I sold or donated most of my belongings and moved to Seattle two weeks later. I spent that year getting re-accustomed to walking alone at night, conquering deep-seated fear and anxiety while going about my daily life. I’d quickly found a job, made new friends, and started casually dating. Still, the fear of being alone, even for brief periods, was crippling.
My “good life” was packed with work, education, lack of sleep, and paying hefty premiums for healthcare and organic food. My visits to the doctors proved unpleasant, my frequent visits were unfruitful in addressing my constant physical and emotional pain. The pressures of society continued to cripple me so I turned to dance to cope with the stress but it temporarily masked how I felt inside. Within a cycle, questioning my decision in contrast to bursts of assuredness. Once I became resigned to submit myself to fate, a plethora of opportunities became available to me through the help of friends. Not able to secure a prescription to help me manage my condition, I decided to live my life without limitations and fear. I began to reminisce about how free I felt during my solo travels. Once again, I made the decision to travel the world in search of meaningful connections, hoping to dispel my encumbering fears of being preyed upon by those who chose to do horrible things in this world. After reaching out to several people that had moved abroad for extended periods, I set my sights on Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Portugal.
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The stress seemed to dissipate once I left the country. My health dramatically improved with the change in diet and a decrease in stress and anxiety. I dropped my guarded “New Yorker” exterior and took on the Australian mantra of “no worries.” I became gainfully employed and was able to assimilate into the culture with ease. I had ample time to pursue hobbies and other passions. The momentum continued when I moved to Wellington, New Zealand, the following year. Oddly enough, I fell into an American subculture that encompassed local business owners, hip hop and New York aficionados, and visiting American celebrities. In addition to that, I developed close relationships with the ex-pat community and locals of varying ethnicities. By seeking solace abroad, I’ve been able to forge my path, tackling whatever careers and passions enraptured me. Gone are the days where I feel compelled to swap my ethnic name and appearance for an ambiguous identity in search of greater pursuits, or simply to feel worthy.
Back home, the anxiety and frustration of long hours at high-pressure jobs, a poor diet, the constant reminder of sexism, racism, bigotry, and the threat of violence envelope me in a perpetual state of loneliness and darkness. While abroad, I’m often viewed as a woman that happens to be American, or that happens to be Black. In contrast, in the U.S., the summation of who I am is skin-first; another Black body that needs to work tirelessly to justify my mere existence. Through my travels and experiences as an ex-pat, life has continued to be peaceful and stable, including my time in Portugal and Spain.
Living abroad has enabled me to experience life in all its complexity and simplicity without the extreme pressures of corporate burnout, societal let-downs, racial tension while capitalizing on the freedoms it provides (like access to affordable education, healthcare), and chemical-free food. By embracing change and being increasingly present at the moment, I’m continuously shedding my prejudices and apprehensions about the ever-changing and unpredictable world we live in. Some days I’m able to express my gratitude for the situations that many Americans, like myself, have been through. No matter how scary, it’s made me resilient and provided the catalyst for my adventures. When I encounter the love that strangers have for my home country, I feel a sense of pride because my experiences are part of my history. I’d always thought the USA was the only place in the world to be and the only way to truly live. To be relieved of the heavy burden of uncertainty has allowed me to focus on myself, build and strengthen relationships, and create the life that I’ve always wanted to live.