Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been a bookworm. My parents could tell you that until I started driving, I had no idea where anything was in my hometown because from the moment I sat in the car, a book was opened and I was lost to the outside world. When I was in college, and later when I was working, I would have three or four books in progress at a time, grabbing little moments here and there to devour a few pages. Now that I’m not working, I’ve changed my approach – I read one at a time, getting completely lost in it, until it ends and I feel just a little bit sad that it’s over.
One of the books I finished recently struck a chord within me, and I haven’t been quite able to let it go. It’s called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (yeah, it’s a mouthful) by Catherynne M.Valente. For those of you with daughters, or those of you who don’t mind reading stories intended for younger audiences, and who are wanting a feminine role model with higher aspirations than being pretty and living forever, check out this story. September, the protagonist, is loyal and brave and a little bit odd, and the good guys aren’t flawless and the bad guys aren’t malicious villains twirling their mustaches in the corner.
Anyway. There was one small passage of the book that resonated with me, that sticks in my mind, that really perfectly describes how I feel right about now. It’s toward the end of the book, but this shouldn’t spoil anything for you if you plan to read it. It reads, “You are bound to us, now, but you will never live fully here, nor fully there. [It] means you cannot stay and you cannot go.”
There was an article that circulated amongst some of my expat friends about how your life changes when you become an expat, when you voluntarily pack up your life and go to another place, with the intention of one day returning home. And this article echoes the same thought from the passage from Fairyland. You’re caught in the in-between. You don’t belong here, but you no longer belong there. You’ve changed, your friends and family have changed, and how will the pieces ever fit back together again? I think of that often. All of the e-mails, the Skype dates, the Facebook likes and the Twitter re-tweets can’t begin to mirror the relationship that you had before you broke ranks and moved away. And you do your best to fully integrate into your new life, but a little piece of you can’t. The piece of you that says, this is not my couch that I sit on everyday, this is not my language that I struggle to speak, this is not my food, these are not my streets, this is not my home.
But despite the little voice that occasionally whispers that you are a stranger here, you start anew. No, nothing will be the same again, but you create a new normal. You find favorite restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops. A local pastry becomes your favorite breakfast food, a city park becomes your regular weekend walk. You make new friends, with people you likely would have never met in your old life, and grow to love them and rely upon them and text them approximately forty times a day to share your latest strange experience. You see beautiful cities that you might not otherwise have had the time or money to visit. You turn your rented apartment into a place that you call home.
Our life here is wonderful, strange, thrilling, occasionally lonely, fun, a little bit scary, and an adventure. If I’m completely honest, it’s occasionally even a little boring. But ultimately, it’s a life we chose – and one we would choose, and have chosen, again. We told many of you our plans when we came to the US for Thanksgiving, but there are many of you we were unable to see in person. So, after months of not knowing the answer to the often-asked question, “When are you moving home?” – we now know.
We were asked, and have agreed, to stay in Budapest one more year. To say that there were a lot of factors that went into our decision would be an understatement, but ultimately we’ve decided this is the best plan, for both Richie’s career and our family. I won’t lie and say that it was an easy decision – for me, particularly, it was difficult. We had always said that we were open to staying a third year, but thinking about that possibility in the abstract is very different from facing the decision in reality. I might have had a bit of a pity party of one, not unlike when we first decided to move here. This one was much shorter, though, and ultimately I am happy with our decision. And now I get to plan a few more trips, attend the wedding party of dear friends, play with a baby for a full year instead of just a few months… and, of course, go to Oktoberfest for the third year in a row.
As always, plans are never set in stone, but here’s the general idea right now. Richie would wrap up the year-end work for the 2014 audit in late February, spend a few weeks transitioning his replacement, and return to the US sometime around early March 2015. Since January and February are the coldest, iciest, and snowiest months in Budapest, and since my husband will be working such long hours that I’ll barely see him, I will likely repatriate in December 2014 when we come home for Christmas (along with the dogs). My parents have graciously agreed to let me stay with them, so we’ll see how well three standard poodles and a miniature schnauzer get along….