I couldn’t figure out why everyone was talking to me. Complete strangers wanted to discuss a potential afternoon cold spell, my shoes, the menu. During a long walk along the shore I could barely complete a sentence because I was interrupted by so many greetings. It took me a few hours before I realized that I didn’t know any of these people, they were just being friendly. That’s how it is in the States, especially in the South. But wasn’t I American too? And if so, why did I feel like such a foreigner?
It seemed like such a simple trip. Well, not simple at all—a whirlwind from Reykjavik to Hilton Head to attend a wedding. But it would be quick. My parents could extend their already planned visit to our home in Iceland and babysit the kiddos while the mister and I snuck away to attend the wedding. He’d stay on in the States for a full week, but I’d hustle back to relieve my parents. So, basically, I was in the states for 3 days, plus two full days of travel. With a trip this quick it would be like I never even left. No biggie.
And yet, it took only those first few strangers for me to realize how disorienting an expat’s trip back to her homeland can feel. No one in Iceland or Russia talks to you on the street. If I get any sort of acknowledgment, it’s a nod or a scowl. This has become the norm for me. That, or simply ignoring all the noise around me because I don’t really understand what anyone is saying. But in South Carolina, the more strangers approached me, the more strange I began to feel, the more out of place.
Don’t get me wrong, the trip was also amazing. No kids for three nights! A gorgeous and intimate wedding on the beach with dear friends, kayaking in the afternoon, lounging by the pool, stopping in at Target for a quick load up of American products at discounted prices! (My god Iceland is so expensive, I spent the whole trip gasping at the cheap American prices). This was bliss.
But then it was over. I parted ways with the mister at Dulles and spent four plus hours at the airport purchasing American magazines and getting an inexpensive and quick mani/pedi –more things I can’t do in Iceland. And, feeling that vague sense of confusion, vertigo, floating. Where do I belong?
This week in DC, between meetings at the State Department about his next assignment, the mister is walking through different neighborhoods and looking at what types of houses are on market. It’s true, we are starting to talk about our move back to the US this summer. While this move is (at the very least) nine months away, it’s now solidly out there. After nearly seven years overseas we’ll be heading back to DC. What will that mean for me? Certainly, it will be a homecoming. I know that even though on this last jaunt I felt like a foreigner in my own country, eventually that sensation will pass. But what about the other pieces I’ve left undone, or done differently because we were away?
When we were last living in Washington we were childless (save for the first three months of B’s life before we moved her and us to Turkey). And I had a big-time, full-time, well-paying job. And we owned a great house in the heart of DC that we could afford because we had two incomes. And now? I’ve done a lot of writing. I’ve done a lot of child-rearing. I’ve done a lot of little project managing of various and interesting things. I started a small studio that develops a handful of interesting children’s book projects. I’ve lived in far-flung locales, learned another language, and explored and mused, and hey, even blogged a lot. But where does that leave me when we return to America? And how will all this be used in our transition to life in DC?
My parents left and the mister is still in Washington and I’m sitting at home with the little ones now in bed while these questions hurl at my worried conscience. Last night, I started to peek at job sites and real estates sites and in no time I got heart palpitations. Tonight, I’ve resorted to chips and beer and blogging it out. (Wasn’t it getting boring that so many of my blogs were just sunshine and adventure?)
Our move is still many, many months away. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned with this nomadic life, it’s that you have to live in the now or you’ll never get to really enjoy a place. So I’m letting myself question all this today. Then I’ll tuck it away. I’ve designed Fridays as my “think about the future” day each week. And in the meantime, if you’ve authored the “What Color is Your Parachute” book or have any great advice for how to handle transitions, what I should do differently with my life on our return, what I should do with my career, how we can afford a house in DC, etc etc. then, please, by all means: SPEAK UP! I’ll certainly need your help as I float between countries, places, and eventually try again to repatriate. And anyway, who could ever really answer that massive question about what the hell it feels like to be American? We all know it’s a complicated response with all kinds of different answers, which probably even include that vertigo, that questioning your sense of place, and an acute need for healing from chips and beer.