Since we moved onto Cologne’s enchanted-sounding Lothringer strasse, into our Harry Potter cubbyhole of a flat, we have watched seven people come and go from this building over a mere four months.
The flat my husband and I rented is normally let out on short-term leases, the last tenant to live here more than six months was the owner, years ago. We should have known that the transitory energy of this space would also affect also.
A mere 25 days from now, after almost ten years living in Europe — a grand total of six countries, seven cities — I will be moving back to the USA.
For the first time in my life I am making two international moves in one year. That is a record, even for me.
Moving to Cologne at our expense not only broke the bank, but it also broke my will to continue with this DIY expat life. A beautiful and quirky city, yes, charming and lovely people. But, having a broken bank means no disposable cash to go out or attend any of the multitude of events taking place. Difficulty finding work begged the question: What exactly are we doing here? And why here?
The sensation that I have been moving sideways grew stronger and stronger. Working so hard all the time with so little to show for it.
Just because I keep moving (countries) does not mean I am moving forward.
I’ve realised how tired I am. Tired of always worrying about visas and being at the whim of an employer to whom my legality in a country is defined. Tired of immigration offices, tired of being a guest worker, tired of being a foreigner. Tired of harsh winters and cold wind. Tired of doing grocery shopping every single day because of our tiny little fridges. Tired of language barriers. Tired of cobblestones. Tired of closed-toe shoes.
More importantly, tired of feeling disconnected from family and friends on a regular basis. Skype has filled the gap, but nothing beats person-to-person interaction.
The realisation that I am not the vagabond I was in my 20s was a massive shock: I want stability. I want to live in the same house for more than a few years. I want a dog. I want warm weather. I want to look at job listings and be eligible for each and every one even though I may not be qualified. I want to have a right to discuss politics, criticise my government, contribute to positive changes. I might even want babies.
In 2002 I fled America once my obligation as the witness to the prosecution of a murder case was over. What started off a journey of healing has now morphed into one of extended escape.
I’ve never returned to live in America because I’ve been scared.
Scared of gun violence. Terrified to drive a car. The night Wendy died I promised her I would learn to drive. I still have not. I’m afraid to fulfill that promise because it means I have to let go. I have to move on from that night. I have to get into the driver’s seat and chart the course of my own life. Europe, with its wonderful public transportation, has allowed me get away with not doing what I said I would eleven years ago.
I am still scared of America, I always will be. Though, I can’t help but think that there is a reason I have an American passport, there is a reason for me to return, there is something I will need to do there. If nothing else, conquer this fear of being behind the wheel that has followed me around Europe for eleven years.
Being in Europe has been amazing. Europe saved my life, healed my broken spirit and heart, gave me purpose, found me my true love. But now it’s time to go “home”.
A new era cannot begin until the previous one ends.
Here’s hoping I’m strong enough to meet the challenge.