Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Some Things Can't Be Written On a Page

Thinkin' - Back City Woods

December 2011. Plano, TX. Days before our departure my family, friends, and I lounge in the dim of the fireplace and Christmas tree. Leftovers are in the fridge. Twelve stockings hang limply from the hearth. Painstakingly sought for Christmas presents have migrated from shimmer-status beneath the tree and are now clumped in small piles around the room – naked and awkward after the festivities of the morning.  My 20-month old daughter and 2-month old son are sleeping upstairs, for now.  I take a sip of wine and nervously smile at everyone around me.  My brother, Jonathan and his girlfriend will fly back to their home in Los Angeles in the morning. My sister, Ginger and nephew back to Colorado the following day.  We all live separate lives, getting together briefly a couple times a year.  We grew up in Plano. I went to college 2 hours away. I returned a few years after graduation. My husband and I had settled happily in an affordable home with a huge yard and live across the street from the community clubhouse where my sister had her 12th birthday party. V and I weren’t opposed to going somewhere else it was just that no place ever seemed worth the hassle of uprooting and leaving. “If we’re going to move, we’re going to move big!”  I always said, “Or to Austin. I really like Austin.”

V and I have hosted Christmas in our hometown for the past few years and as I eyed my family, the reality that I too, would join the ranks of my siblings and move from home, was still intangible.  The movers were coming in less than four days, but even knowing that, the thought has still not cemented itself in my mind.  We were moving. To the Netherlands. I felt like that awkward glasses-kid with in the Ally Bank commercial – “What does that even mean?”  I eyed the glittering Christmas tree and started slipping. The lack of sleep from the newborn baby, the excitement of being surrounded by my family, the utter panic of knowing I was leaving everything, everyone, every holiday for the next two years behind made my mind race. I was starting to mentally drown as my innocent by-standing siblings chatted about bowl games or concerts they wanted to attend.  My breathing shortened as fleeting thoughts scrolled. What? What could I possibly expect in the next couple years? What could connect me back to this life I was leaving behind? Grasping wildly, I looked at my brother and his beautiful, smiling girlfriend and like a branch reaching across rapid waters, I grabbed it. “If you guys get engaged while I’m overseas, I promise I’ll come back for the wedding!” Record. Scratch. The room went silent and stared. “Oh honey,” V said. My brother hung his head and quietly excused himself from the room. His girlfriend started patting me on the knee like the mental basket-case I was. “What? I mean, oh geez – I didn’t mean anything, I’m just saying. . . you guys have been dating for like. . . years. . . I mean. . . I just really. . . like her, Jon!”  Deflated, I was finally ready to pack up my bags.

I learned my lesson. I really did. But it didn’t prevent me from spouting off the same exact phrase to my best friend, Nikki’s cousin, Cody on New Year’s Eve.  Fortunately, he rolled his eyes, shook his head, and took a sip of his beer.

Fast forward to less than a year later: October 2012. I’m at my Mom’s house in Texas for our annual visit. My sister, Ginger had come down as well and we’ve just had a lovely lasagna dinner with my cousins. My mom’s phone rings. “It’s Jonathan!” she exclaims. I grab the phone before she can open it. “Oh! Hi Celeste. . .” and he tells me his news. I start screaming and hand the phone immediately over to my mom.  She starts screaming and asking questions. Ginger sits dismissed, in a rocking chair, “Hello?!? Can someone hand the phone to me? I’m right here!” Days later a date is determined. November 2, 2013 Jonathan and his beautiful, smiling girlfriend, are getting married.

Fast forward six months later to April 2013. Cody and his girlfriend head for a beach vacation in Puerto Rico. Facebook photos reveal a promotion and an engagement ring in the same week. I like, comment, then try to call him on Skype. Days later a date is determined. October 4, 2013 Cody and his New Orleans girlfriend are getting married.

Huh. Two promises. Two weddings. A month apart. What to do?  Unlike a lot of my expat friends, staying a month in America just wasn’t feasible by myself with my two small kids. Taking V (as he’s still on the American vacation policy) wasn’t really an option, either. Even if we could, the price (financial and emotional) of leaving the dogs for a month would be too much, anyway.  So, after V was in America for two weeks straight in July – the decision was made – our family would head to Jonathan’s wedding, but I would go to Cody’s wedding as our family representative.

As the time neared, the reality that a solo trip home to Dallas for a week could possibly be the best vacation in the entire world was solidified. I knew where to go. I knew what to do. I had the currency I needed. I knew the language. Not to mention. . . I was going to be able to sit, see, and talk to my friends and family that I hadn’t seen in a year! No chasing children, no naptimes – grown-up meals with grown-up conversation. Even the 12-hour plane ride in which I had nothing to do but read, write, or watch movies sounded like heaven.  It sounds like a simple fun-filled get-away, but this trip held more importance.  It represented a life vest to me, my decision to move away from Dallas, and a chance to firmly (without other agenda or distraction) grab on to the life, friends, and family I had left behind.      

It was time. As I sat on the plane and poured words old-school-style onto a piece of paper, I felt relieved.  With Schiphol becoming a speck below me, so did the weight of a year of facebook likes, emails, or the occasional Skype phone calls.  My multiple but nevertheless, electronic efforts of connecting with people I loved had piled onto a scale which resulted in occasional feelings of total inadequacy.  

The hardest part about being an expat is not leaving home. The hardest part is that you can’t be in two places at one time. As I sat in my living room that Christmas night in 2011, I was overwhelmed with the unknown. Grasping on to the few happy moments I could anticipate, the thoughts of the unhappy ones didn’t have time to surface.  During my absence from Texas I’ve missed surgeries, chemo treatments, hospital visits, funerals, chemical plant explosions, and divorces.  I’ve also missed 1st birthday parties, new houses, promotions, new girlfriends, engagements, and new boyfriends.

Besides the wedding, I had lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea plans with various friends and family over the next few days. Still questionably insignificant, but on the grand scale of things, an hour or two gift of time was all I had. Armed with a rental car and a flexible schedule I fully anticipated not letting any more sands of time slip through my fingers. I'd be there. Hugs would be given. Tears would be shed. Smiles would be exchanged. After all, there’re just some things that can’t be written on a page.