Expatria · Trauma · Wendy · Zuzu Arbus

The Transition House

Our ultimate home in Europe, Lothringer str., Koeln.

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.

13 thoughts on “The Transition House

  1. Hi
    I sit in brussels reading this visitng my parents in another country and another bedroom once again. I was really moved reading your blog.it made a lot of sense. I hope florida is a move forward and to see you again one day. Rowan xx

  2. I was sorry to hear about your next move, but…sometimes these things happen for a reason. You’ve come to that realization–it’s just time to go home.

    What a strong spirit you have, Zuzu! To be able to come to that realization in the first place and accept it, rather than staying in place and just spinning your wheels, shows you have grown. You are strong…and you have some purpose back in the US…maybe one you don’t even know about yet.

    I’ll keep you and your hubby in my thoughts and prayers, and send lots of positive energy, hugs and care your way. Take it easy, and all the best with your next venture!

    Sher :0)

    1. Sher, thank you for such kind words!

      Believe me, this was no easy realisation to come by and every day, several times a day, I turn to Steve and say “I can’t believe we are moving to America.” I don’t think the shock will wear off until after we are there and settled.

      I love the “spinning wheels” metaphor you use, especially with my whole -learning-to-drive- thing. 🙂

      I do hope that I have some purpose that has yet to reveal itself back in the States. I definitely want to get involved in activism again, but who knows, maybe there are other opportunities I can’t even imagine, just like the multitudes of strange jobs I found in my expat tenure.

      Sending you big hugs and strength to deal with another Prague winter. Come visit me in Florida any time!


  3. I know this is going to be HUGE & SCARY but I also know that you are up for this and any challenge! You’ve overcome bigger and scarier things before, moving to sunny Florida, finding a new job and learning to drive will be nothing compared to what you’ve already overcome.

    The fact that you’ll be in my hometown gives me reason to visit my family even more since my sister Zuzu will be there too! I can’t put into words how excited I am to finally meet you in person and give you a huge hug!

    The fact that it says up there that you might even want babies too – YAY! Just the thought of you as a mom makes me giddy.

    So. Excited!

    I think this will be very good!

    1. Lidia! *SQUEEE* Thank you for the love and encouragement!

      I can’t wait to meet you in the spring, and I know that moving to your old stomping grounds means I will be able to see so much of you! Yes!

      These last few weeks I dream about driving a car almost every night so I think that some part of me is ready to take this plunge behind the wheel. I’m so going to be like an old lady driving down the street, but hey, Boca’s population is majority elderly so my driving style will fit right in. 😉

      Love you lots, Sis, and looking forward to giving you a monster hug in person. xoxoxo

  4. you most definitely ARE strong enough.

    if your journey home, or travels afterward, bring you to the MidWest specifically Central Illinois, I hope you’ll remember I’m here in Springfield IL! :)would love to finally meet you one day 🙂

    1. Thank you, *lynne*! I need all these votes of confidence!

      I would also love to meet you in person one day, and same goes for you: let me know if you’re ever in Florida. Maybe one day you’ll take Nova to Disney World or Harry Potter Magic Land. 🙂

  5. Your news surprises me, but does make sense. You ARE strong enough, Zuzu, and I’m so proud of you for facing your fears of America. We all must own why we are where we are…it can be so easy to just tread water. You’re wise to know you’ve learned what you need. Time to start moving forward again. Much love to you both!

    1. It surprises me too, Catherine. And to move to Florida of all places — the county where the G.W. Bush coup took over the USA in 2000 and changed the world forever. A huge decision, but it’s time to be closer to family and yes, time to stop treading water and move forward. Here’s hoping that all the spiritual tools I’ve collected these past 10 years will serve me well once State-side. Thank you for the support and love right back to you! xoxoxo

    1. Thanks, Vesper!

      Yes, we’ll be in Boca Raton area of Florida. Beautiful, safe, right on the Atlantic. No more winters ever again! Wooot!

    1. Thank you, Henry! Yes, HUGE! I hope it will be for the best, but at least we know that we can’t maintain this expat life anymore. We’ll have to make life in the US work for us somehow. See you next year in Miami! 🙂


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