(This might be a blog post to skip if you’re over hearing about how much the world, for us, has changed. We do realize we’ve kind of been going on about it.)
“I don’t think anyone expects the reentry to be as hard as it is. We hear a
lot about culture shock, but there’s a reverse as well. Coming home is hard. It’s still home, but it’s also not. And we get frustrated with ourselves because it doesn’t all happen naturally and easily, the way we think it should.” — A Pilgrim
In the past two months, we’ve had some interesting conversations with acquaintances and friends who have lived abroad – ambassador’s kids, travelers, international business folk. As we’ve found our present circumstances fitting us about as well as a scratchy shirt, we’ve been wondering if we somehow missed a memo from the universe on how to live now. Everything is … mostly normal, but somehow still vaguely… wrong. And to those of you whose quick snarky reflex is to write us an email about “obviously, America has changed in the past five years,” please don’t. Things are a little less than obvious from where we’re standing.
It has been good to realize that other people have struggled in the same way. We have watched friends move – and and move again. An acquaintance who had been educated abroad, and lived abroad for five years after college, had to take a weekend alone to balance between fear and anticipation about going home. Others have had children to help create the transition – planning schooling and finding a roof for the whole family gives one time to think and decompress and prepare for the personal stuff. But, in the end, it’s all a little bit of background noise and distraction. When the quiet moments come, it still hits you: everything is changed. Everything.
It probably would have been good if we’d been forewarned. Instead, it was one small disaster after another – stupid visa drama, stupid house stuff – which is the way life always goes. In some ways, we were whirled around and spat out on these shores, completely unprepared. In many ways, we shouldn’t have needed to prepare — after all, this is home, right? …sure, sure, there’s that cliché about never being able to really go there, but that was a cliché, right…?
“…I think once an expat, always partially an expat. That square peg feeling will recede, but it never entirely goes away. You lose the person you were before … Life continues there, as it does here, and we can’t be in both places at once. And in some ways, we can never only be in one place again. Part of us is always there.” — An Observer
It’s peculiarly comforting to know that other people have found themselves in the same conundrum. An irritating restlessness, a maddening inability to just settle – whether this is settling in or settling down. Something is always wrong, like the three bears’ chairs — too soft, too hard, too this or that. We’ve been house hunting in various nations and towns since June, when we arrived, and we’re hurtling toward September (ED: Or, we were when T. started writing this. And now we’re IN), still sleeping in the guestrooms of friends and relatives, still depending on the kindness of, if not strangers, people who themselves have their own needs and their own plans and agendas.
We’d started to feel, frankly, a little insane. And we knew — we know — that some of you think we’re crazy, too. Some of you have been quite clear on that fact.
We will settle if we can. We will choose when we know the parameters of our choices. We would give much to simply sit down like normal people and get on with the business of living, instead of longing desperately to just go home — to a place where we no longer live, to lives that no longer exist — and maybe never did, as hindsight and nostalgia eventually colors everything.
[When I came back]”…I found other people are not so interested in other cultures. They don’t understand our need to explore new places or our nostalgia of places once lived. I still have a certain fondness for anything [from that place]. I think moving away … is a good thing. You still have ties … So, it’s not like you’re never going back, which was my fear — That I was stuck. Maybe that’s what ails us. We got used to always learning new things and going to new places, trying new foods.” — An Expatriate
The good thing about building again, from the ground up, is that it is possible. Entire nations, razed by war, learned to salvage bricks and make from the shattered stones a new mortar. We’ve certainly not been decimated by violence, rather than by the ever-moving stream of life, of the things that just are — and so it’ll be a simple matter to find a few cords that are familiar, and set ourselves to weaving them again, into making a life. To thoroughly mix metaphors.
It’s funny, but the last five years of our lives are a real issue for not us, but for landlords and banks and people who like to account for who we are and where we’ve been. It was tricky getting started in the UK for the same reason, but we had the excuse that we were students. Now that we’re back… well, who are we? And what do we have to show for our years away?
“It’s surprisingly hard, in a confusing way. And it’s sort of this unseen wound or ache. It’s worse because no one expects it — not you, not your family.
But if it makes anything better, everyone I know who has come back — even just from long-term travel — has experienced something similar. And it takes everyone by surprise. Everyone.” — A Pilgrim
We’ve been kind of through the fire… but someone finally took a chance on us. It took filling out long applications, pulling tax forms, check stubs, and bank statements. It took an act of faith — a real one — for the people who own the house. But, we’ve made the first tentative stab of putting down roots — maybe just shallow ones for now, but roots. We’ve got an address.
-D & T