I packed my bags and left. Got on a plane with a one way ticket and began a new life.
It has been over six years since I made the decision, the evening of my determination still vivid and clear in my mind. I had just received notification that I was accepted to university, when standing among my celebrating class mates, the realisation that I would not be a fresher come September solidified in me.
It was almost seamless, the adjustment to the new world. I felt lost and purposeless for a while, but these feelings were numbed by the awe and discoveries that the new environment brought. I admit, even nowadays I still feel a little phony, a little out of place; but as the years go by I notice myself loosing my guilt over mixing up what I reference as ‘home’. I feel comfortable saying ‘at ours’ or ‘where I live’ when I mention customs from my adopted country, and I tell people I’m going on ‘holiday’ to visit my family, as opposed to saying I’m going ‘home’. I now ‘come from’ somewhere different than where I want to call ‘home’.
And still, after six and a half years, I find myself taking these trips at least twice a year, returning to the town that saw me growing up from a child to a disenchanted youth. Now, as a young adult, I feel claustrophobic, limited, controlled, under constant surveillance, with my every steps monitored and my options controlled by others every time I come back. Simply put, I am accountable to others again, and it does not agree with what I want. Before each visit I hear ‘oh you are going home, that’s nice, have fun’, and I feel awful as I really rather not go. When the ‘holiday’ is over I am expected to be sad, but I count the minutes until I can walk through the security check at the airport and begin my return journey. Yes, I am ungrateful, and I’m a little ashamed. But is it so wrong to feel like I belong to a place different from where I was born? I feel like I am betraying my country and my family every time I look forward to leaving them again. But I still love my native tongue and I speak of my birth country with pride. I just don’t want to live there. Does that make me an awful person? Or the result of wanting something else than a factory town in the middle of a crumbling country can offer…
Behind the screen where I type my sadness, I can see two sets of china for tea or coffee next to a number of aperitif tumble sets, keeping the unused champagne and wine glasses company in the cabinet. The coffee table is covered by a tablecloth embroidered by my late gran, one of the select few that were kept. Even now, almost two decades later, I remember her thin fingers pushing and pulling the needle through the fabric as she bent her back over the emerging pattern. There’s a TV that may very well be older than me, the screen watching back at me as I type. The same set of lexicons stand guard on the bookshelves that helped me gain extra points on my primary school quizzes.
Although the address changed, the items that I grew up with still fill up the rooms, a time capsule that my mother simply cannot break. And while familiar objects lend an atmosphere of the olden days to these new and alien surroundings, their well known shapes and shadows darken my mood. I’ve become an outsider, looking in on the objects of my childhood, and I am only willing to take responsibility for my state as a stranger partially. Having to stir my coffee with the same spoon that I ate semolina porridge with as a child arouse an almost inexplicable anger in me, as I feel even the cutlery is mocking, no, blaming me – I may have left, but they stayed, items of domestic simplicity my mother could rely on more than me.
Shortly after I moved abroad the flat where I spent the last few years of my adolescence was sold, and ever since then I feel like I don’t belong. Anywhere. I no longer have a place I could call mine in the town where I grew up, and the new one I’ve been trying to make mine still only offers me a rented room. Yes, I abandoned this town; but what with all the subsequent moving of my mother, I feel like I am no longer welcome here anyway. This is the third address where I am occupying the sofa for a week or so in the past six years, a semi-welcome visitor who becomes a nuisance when the coffee table needs to be moved so that the sofa can be opened, and don’t forget to watch out for the carpet underneath. Mother reads in her bedroom while I vegetate for a week in the living room. Welcome ‘home’. We watch a movie and she falls asleep on the sofa, I try to take as little space as I can so as to avoid all bodily contact, and when the movie pauses to load, her “what, is it over?” angers me. When the credit finally rolls she runs back to her room, a slave to her monotone habits that she fortified around herself in the last half dozen years, alone. And I try not to feel guilty that my own mother is not used to spending time with me, or vica versa.
I suppose this feeling of non-belonging may very well be common among those who leave their birth country to make a life in another. A constant state of limbo, neither here nor there. I feel like a bad patriot. I feel like someone who has lost the right to her birth country (I cannot even vote), while I cannot fully claim being a full citizen in my adopted country. The misconstrued views of the weird but acceptable Eastern Europeans turn sour when I hear day after day that I am stealing full citizens’ jobs (ha.ha.ha.) or when the media frenzied ‘refugee crisis’ makes me feel like a soon to be unwelcome visitor, regardless that I worked and paid more tax during my few years than most natives in their lifetime.
Even though these feelings of being lost, unattached and rootless darken my thoughts from time to time, I would still do it all the same if I was given the chance. Instead of thinking about how I am abandoning or betraying my past, I would like to think that I am working on forging my future.