This morning I turned in my car: I don’t have one or access to one, for the first time in 21 years, very nearly half my life. I find myself unexpectedly teary over it, but i don’t think it’s really about the car. This is something I’ve been meditating on for a long time: from one point of view this whole expat journey over the last four years can be viewed as a series of subtractions, of taking away all the things I’ve been used to one by one.
It’s not nearly as grim as that makes it sound; they have all been either voluntary decisions or at least agreed to in advance.
In October 2006, we sold out vehicles (three: my tiny convertible and pickup, Ted’s H2) and left the US and everything familiar except each other. We left most of our furniture in storage and I left about 7/8 of my books. We hung our boats in my in-laws’ garage. We moved from a 5 bedroom house with backyard and pool into a 2-bedroom apartment, though a spacious one right in the center of everything.
A year later, we moved to Taiwan, leaving the security of being in a country whose language and foods were at least close cousin to our own, and of being in a place where we could at least talk to most people. We left being able to row regularly and that source of a social group.
Aside from a few possessions – the books I’d brought and those I’d bought, the computers, Ted’s rocking chair, my yarn and so on – the only constant we had left was each other. We’ve frequently talked about how much harder the expat experience would have been if we hadn’t been together. So of course, the next sacrifice to make was each other, at least each other’s physical presence. I’m feeling that particularly now: he visited here twice and we had a trip to the US together in my first three months here, but since Europe takes all its holidays together in summer there’s no chance for him to be here on business – this is our longest time apart since I left, from his departure on July 2. Twenty-one days so far, another four weeks or so to go.
And now I’ve given up my car. It’s not like it’s a huge gap in my life; I’ve been finding that I enjoy my bike rides to work far more than the days I drive. And if for some reason I don’t feel like riding one day, it’s only about a two minute walk to the bus stop both at home and at work.
Then there are the losses we’ve suffered in those years that would have happened even if we’d never left the States: both of Ted’s grandmothers and my uncle. (I notice tonight that I still tear up at the mere mention of losing an uncle, thanks to John Denver’s song Matthew. Just as well. I think I’d hate if that stopped.)
Aside from the losses of people, they were all our decisions. For example, we didn’t have to sell our house; we chose to. I didn’t argue about only getting a rented car for three months, because I was so happy they’d agreed to seven months of housing, and I knew it was a reasonable bike ride on good paths. And of course we still own all the stuff in storage, even if we can’t use it or see it at present. Still, I think I understand why I keep spending more than I should on clothing and stuff: a drive to acquire, as if I could stop my losses that way.
If all goes as planned, I will have one more set of losses: the majority of my stuff including clothes and a stable home with a fair bit of space, if we do the year of travel we want. As long as I get Ted back, I can deal with that (and of course we’d gain so much in that transfer.)
Since John Denver is still on iTunes, it turns out that I can’t hear Leaving on a Jet Plane without crying, either. Big surprise.
Added ten minutes later: Yes, of course I’m just weepy tonight and probably hormonal, and of course the flip side of all that is that we made our choices for a reason: we gave up routine and material stuff for adventure and fabulous experiences we’ll treasure always, not to mention good resume building job experience and a somewhat ridiculously high standard of living. And the separation is only physical; we talk daily, and I have such an absolute reliance on Ted that I never ever worry about whether this might hurt our relationship. We are apart and we will be together, and of course settling back to living together is always a bit weird and rocky but it passes. No one should feel sorry for us, I’m just venting.
……………………………………………………………………………… but still, I want my mate back.