Thursday, June 2, 2016
Expat Talk: Just One Week
These are Rainier cherries - and they're my favorite. I love their two-toned hue as much as I love the fact that they're cultivated in Washington state (not to be confused with Washington D.C., which is on the East Coast!) where I'm from and that they're named after Mount Rainier - that beautiful, snow-capped peak that greets me at every turn when I'm back home.
I've struggled with this word on/off for a decade or so, ever since I moved to the UK. I've decided (in this instant, as I type this) that it's okay and acceptable to have two homes. So, instead of feeling guilty or dumb or weak for not swearing allegiance to one or the other, I've decided that I have two: one in London and the other in Washington.
"You're going home?" a co-worker asked, before I switched my out-of-office on two weeks ago. "For just one week?"
"Just one week," I replied. Even I heard the doubt in my voice: would one week be enough, after having not been back for over a year and a half? Surely, it should have been two? I felt a twinge of remorse and guilt at having indulged in two vacations already this year.
The anxiety crept in: my visit would be emotional. I'd be a wreck. I wouldn't want to leave. I'd fall into a deep, familiar depression as soon as I landed in London.
But guess what?
None of those things happened. Of course, I cried a little when I said goodbye to my family at airport security. I confessed on Snapchat that waiting to leave felt like "waiting for the executioner" (dramatic, much?). I cleaned up my mascara-streaked eyes in the airport bathroom.
But it turned out that one week was just enough. One week allowed me to connect with my parents and my brother in a way I hadn't done for a long while. I cherished their company: I listened to my mom when she talked; I felt joy as I ran next to my dad at the gym; I laughed really, really hard with my brother in the conspiratorial way that only siblings can.
I saw that they were getting on just fine without me being there - and it made me endlessly happy.
And then I cleaned out my room. I took a journal back with me to England - one I had shared with my best friend in high school - but other than that, I put clothes in bags and items in boxes for Goodwill. It was alarming that there was no sign of my adult self in those bags and boxes - as if I continued to return as a ghost, occasionally haunting my room with my presence while my past self lived on in its scrapbooks and photo albums and childish key rings and framed high school awards.
Or maybe it was the other way around.
"You've done a lot in just one week!" my mom exclaimed next to me on our way to the airport. "We've managed to fit in a trip to Snoqualmie, you've shopped for everything you wanted to, eaten everything you've wanted to ..."
And I agreed. Just one week was enough to pull me out of my reverie of living in the past. Just one week allowed me to truly appreciate every moment with my family. Just one week encouraged me to look toward the future, to their visit (hopefully!) to England again this Christmas.
I did not return to London with those pangs of gut-wrenching homesickness I used to feel after longer visits - a sickness that used to hit me like a sailor being knocked side-to-side on a rocking boat. Instead, I felt even-keeled and calm.
I longed for the peace and friendliness of the Pacific Northwest, for my mother's familiar footsteps on the floorboards above my head, for the stairs whose height I'd memorized by feel. But, this time, the longing was of a gentle, nostalgic sort - not hysterical.
And I feel at peace with that.