Ten years ago this month, I returned to the UK, after four very long years living ‘the dream’ abroad. As one of the minority of English people that actually like living here, I let myself go back to that time when I moved away and thought about why I couldn’t settle and why I had to come home.
This first ramble is part one of a story, about what home is to me…
And as she looked down at her stomach, slowly expanding with unexpressed belly laughter, she thought, ‘what the fuck have I done?’
Standing on the patio, hot and heavy with the putrid smell of ripening kiwi, contemplating the sparkling ripples of the blue and green (should never be seen?) Adriatic Sea, she tried to feel the pleasure in her beautiful surroundings. ‘It is a glorious view’ she thought ‘but there’s more to life than a fucking view!’
It had been two years, a new life abroad, stress free, simple, calm, peaceful and idyllic. How could she have got it so wrong? A lifetime of yearning to live in another country and after just two years she was yearning for home! So not cool, she thought dismally, as she admitted to herself that not only did she love England but had never, nor would she ever, feel at home here.
But she had loved it here, she’d been so certain that she knew and understood this country, the people, the culture, when she married Drago she had eagerly drunk it all in, it was so unlike life in the UK, so natural and uncomplicated, the people so warm and welcoming, she felt that she had become a part of his world, she was accepted and that she belonged. The ten summers spent here with Drago and the children, learning the language, making friends, it had all led up to her decision for them to move and make their lives here. She was ready to simplify, to ‘work to live’, to draw and paint, to spend more time together. OK, she had made the decision after a particularly bad year or two of marriage but hey! she had always wanted to live abroad, he had always wanted to go home and children were adaptable right? It was as good a time as ever, a new start to the marriage and to their lives, it was exciting, terrifying and unifying, it was going to be great for everyone.
She thought back over the past two years, when had she stopped laughing? Not real laughter at least, the kind that comes from your belly and ends in blissful tears. Polite laughter was the partner to political correctness, she loathed both and her face had become tight with the abhorrance of pretence.
It had started out brilliantly, the kids finished school, they packed up the car, said their tearful goodbyes and left for their new home. They spent the whole summer at the beach, swimming, sunning, partying, there was an endless stream of visiting friends from the UK, there was sunshine, wine, glorious strolls through beautiful old villages, dinner under the stars at mountain restaurants, it felt like an endless holiday! And then September arrived…
The thing with tourist destinations is just that, they are tourist destinations! when the tourists leave, they tend to take the soul of the place with them. Life does go on of course but at a much slower pace and those impromptu gatherings, the laughter, the ‘friends’, they all disappear. The folk that live and earn their livings in tourists spots have to appear full of life and fun, why would anyone go there otherwise? But as soon as the last tourist has left, those fun loving people turn their backs on each other and enter their tedious hibernation.
The gusto with which Drago had adopted the stereotypical, macho Balkan attitude of ‘I do what I want, you do what I say’ hadn’t been helpful and her doubt had set in quite early but, armed with the guilty knowledge that this had been her decision, she felt she had no choice but to adapt and go with it, to be the same as so many of the other wives, women that had never known anything different. She had no job prospects, conversational language skills not being quite enough :), she could count the number of friends she had made on three fingers, she had no money, two children in school, she had to rely on her husband. So she tried, tried to enjoy the peace, tried to make friends, tried to embrace the solitude, tried to create wonderful food from the pitiful allowance she was receiving, tried to forget her wonderful friends and family in England, tried to convince her children that they were happy, tried to love an increasingly absent and cruel husband, tried to follow her family tradition of laughing the bad stuff away.
She looked down again at her huge stomach, the evidence of her massive mistake. All those years of believing that life would be better in another country, that she would fit in, that being in the sun, seeing the sea, living a simple life would be enough to fulfill her. It had all been a fantasy. She finally understood that fulfillment came from within, that it wasn’t where you lived but who you lived with that mattered. She recognised that she had always been ‘out in the left field’ and always would be, but back home she had friends and family that would throw a ball out to her and bring her in, with shared memories, the same history, love and most importantly, the same silly, politically incorrect, belly reducing humour!
She looked out to the beautiful sea and took a deep breath, how the hell was she going to tell everyone that she wanted to go home?