One year ago today—as Timehop gently reminded me this morning—I was in the Vienna International Airport watching the Ducks get pummeled by unranked Arizona in Autzen Stadium.
I was waiting for my flight to Newark with a connection to Las Vegas. It was a one-way trip. I had submitted my Close of Service documents and said goodbye to Peace Corps Staff, my fellow Volunteers, and my Albanian counterparts, neighbors, and students the day before. A one-week hospital stay in Tirana had resulted in no conclusive diagnoses, but both I and the medical staff in Washington, D.C. agreed it was best for me to go home where I could be properly cared for.
Second-ranked Oregon was unbeaten until we met the Wildcats and lost 24-31. As I watched our offense fall apart, I distinctly felt that my life was falling apart as well. The day we added that first “L” (for Loss) to our record, I added one to mine too. I had sworn an oath to serve my country for 27 months, but I fell short of that commitment. Not only that, I was discharged abruptly, and had no plans in store for my next steps in life. I called my mother and knew that there was a bed waiting for me in my childhood home, but that was it.
I’d had mostly Wins so far in life. I am a very lucky person, and most things had gone my way. My record was straight W’s. Until 2014, when my body and mind collapsed under the weight of the challenges that Albania had given to me. I could not rise to meet them. I got beat.
I still think about what happened to me there. Every day. Some days the flashbacks and the dreams are worse than others. Lately they haven’t been so bad. I can’t eat spicy or oily foods because my GI tract has still not recovered, even after one year. Other people who’ve been to similar places and contracted similar bugs tell me I’ll never be the same. Sometimes I wish I could return to being as thin as I was right when I got back—the thinnest I’ve ever been in my adult life—but I know, while I might’ve looked slender, the way I felt physically and mentally was not worth it.
A lot has happened in the past year since I gritted my teeth and recorded that first “L.” I took lots of powerful medicine and spent a couple weeks on the couch eating crackers and drinking juice as I healed. I talked to people who were qualified to help me recover from my bad experiences. I gained some weight back (a little more than I needed to—oops!) Slowly but surely, I got better, but it was the hardest two months of my life.
I got several job offers and chose one. I got a promotion. Then I got a better job offer and took that. I bought my first car, I moved out, I have health insurance and a savings account. I’ve made new friends and connected with old ones. I’ve started my application to graduate school. I still don’t know “what to do with my life.” But I like where I’m at now.
I met someone and fell in love. He made me feel like the bad things about me weren’t so bad and the good things about me were actually pretty great. It was easy to be around him. We wanted to be together, so we made it happen. I got a shiny ring and we had a wedding with really good cake and my whole family and all my best friends came and we circle danced. Now we have a home together with a big, fluffy bed and lilies on the counter and a freezer filled with dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.
The Ducks recovered from that loss to Arizona and ran the gauntlet the rest of the season, beating the Wildcats in the Pac-12 championship game and Florida State in the first round of the inaugural playoff. We moved on to the national championship with a Heisman-winning quarterback where we lost to Ohio State. This time around, it wasn’t so bad. I had experienced losses before. I knew that you can bounce back from an “L,” that it doesn’t ruin your season.
It’s one year later…and I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t trade my losses for a perfect season, ever.