One of the harshest things my mother ever said to me, fully unintentionally, was that the feelings I had about wanting to go back to my life in Brazil were somewhat in vain. Not meaning to dismiss them while essentially doing so, she said that in spite of my expectations, the life I left behind no longer existed. Things would never be the same because they had changed for the people I left behind, as well as for me. I had lived different stories that started to shape the young girl I was becoming – international, full of weird experiences and a blasé attitude towards the unknown – and I would never again organically fit in to that ‘old life’ I idealized in my mind. The harsh reality that I would probably no longer belong anywhere sort of came crashing down on me. I was about twelve when this little gem of a truth bomb was dropped on me, mind you. It’s interesting to think about the role played by selective memory here. One single comment, most probably meant to ease my suffering about being a kid stuck between worlds, not only stayed with me after all this time but has long since transformed the way I look at change. The permanent nature that the concept of ‘change’ has had for me since that comment, even when apparently temporary, is one of the main reasons that I mourn each good-bye. And god knows I’ve had plenty of those in my life.
The international school should have had a subtitle that read “Now that you’ve said good-bye to all of your friends and family back home, you can start to say good-bye to most people you like here too!” It was quite an extreme situation, looking back on it now. Anyone in your class, no matter how important or irrelevant they were to your daily life, could fuck off back to whatever country they came from or move to a new one again. Including you. You know that super cliché story line in American movies about a kid whose mom or dad is a little flaky and keeps packing up their stuff, moving from town to town and putting the kid in different schools? This was just like that, except the moving around was between countries and continents and the parents usually moved because of jobs and not crazy ex-boyfriends who beat them or drug deals gone wrong or whatever dramatic shit these movies end up being about. Not to mention that the new school was filled with other third culture kids who shared the same experience. Logic would suggest that the best way to tackle this little inconvenience was to never become too close with anyone. Logic, however, did not play a part in our society. Or it did, but its twisted version. We believed we had to make the best out of our time with anyone we liked. We spent outrageous amounts of time together with those we knew were leaving. This masochist little exercise made good-byes much harder and the transition into not having someone around tougher, but it was our way of coping. It was valid because we knew, from previous experience, that things would never be the same again. And this was our way of holding for dear life onto something that was slipping away. It was after almost two years of dreadful good-byes that I started to long for my previously simple life in Brazil – and my mom shattered that little fantasy forever.
As we speak, I’m one week away from leaving behind the life I have now for a temporary stay elsewhere. Moving to New York City feels kind of surreal. Even with several hiccups along the way, I can say that I managed to make this happen the way I wanted it to happen. And of course I’m still essentially homeless in the city, but hey… horrible apartment hunting experience is what being a New Yorker is all about, right? In all seriousness, with all of the madness of the last while, working to get this NYC thing going, juggling grad school with stress and ambition and general reality checks about being 26 and not having much of a clue how to achieve the goals I’ve set for myself in life, I have formed a life in Amsterdam that has a certain degree of logic to it. The familiarity I’ve created essentially out of thin air with the people in my life is something I treasure dearly. And while I know that true friendships and feelings in a more general sense don’t change with distance or time, routine certainly does. And I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t somewhat apprehensive about what changes this ‘big change’ will bring about. It’s perhaps more of a testament to how fragile I consider my level of social capital to be that I’m concerned about my place in ‘society’ – society here consisting of course of my little network – when all I should be thinking about is this amazing opportunity. And in a way, that is all that I can actually think about – the excitement is quite overwhelming nowadays. Except that I am seeing the eagerness of the people in my life to meet up more often than we usually care to as a clear sign of one of those international school good-byes. And this moving thing, albeit temporary, is starting to feel very real.
I’ve been reading this book called “How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed” by Slavenka Drakulić – kind of a long story and I don’t particularly want to go into the book’s topic right now because I’m still forming an opinion on it. At a certain point, however, the author quotes a friend of hers from East Berlin who tried to flee and was arrested, only to then be ‘purchased’ by West Berlin and once there meet and marry an American. Living in Iowa City, where her husband is from, she says: “Yes, I don’t like to live here […] but if I have learned anything from my life it’s that since I don’t belong anywhere, only movement matters. Traveling, being able to travel, this is why I escaped, and what I enjoy more than anything in the world is the fact that nobody is stopping me.” It got me thinking about how in spite of my dramatic outlook on life sometimes, I relate to her statement entirely. It is rather clear to see that this rooted existence I’ve been leading is to blame for my apprehensiveness about change, once again. And yet I can’t help but feel this distress about it doesn’t quite suit me.
As ‘grown-ups’, my sister and I have experienced a kind of role reversal with my parents, whereby they have continued to roam the world and we have somewhat stayed put. At least where residence is concerned. People usually travel to their parent’s homes and re-visit their past through boxes of photographs and documents of a previous life. In my family, it’s our parents that do that at our homes. My mother never took the bulk of our family pictures and I hold most of my and her ancient documents and sentimental-value-type possessions. My father never took his personal things either and my sister has been the guardian of his past for approximately eight years now. The times I’ve fantasized about leaving Holland for good were always followed by anxiety about what moving would mean. Not only to me. It would be like snipping the link my mother has to the Netherlands as well. It would be saying good-bye to a whole childhood and teenagehood and young adult life, with nowhere to visit once I’d be gone. It would be one of those intercontinental moves that my parents have done, shipping expensive furniture and paintings and documents. It would be kind of a massive deal which in many ways has served to put question marks in my head about simply fucking off to the next place.
The thing that struck me about the quote I used here is that in thinking about this idea of not belonging anywhere and enjoying the movement instead, I’ve come to realize that I’m much more afraid of becoming stagnated than I am of flying off somewhere new. And it’s not that I didn’t know this before, but I think my circumstances have really served to chain me down. Not entirely, obviously, but I have been carrying a now seemingly unnecessary burden regarding losing something which, quite frankly, I’m not entirely sure I have ever had. Not belonging here or anywhere else for that matter should be about mobility and not fear of losing whatever I have constructed in terms of social relations. I of all people should and do know how little distance matters and how enriching the experience of finding a new social world to fit into in a new place actually is for personal growth.
So while my mother was probably right and things may never be the same once you leave them behind, the real question is perhaps why the fuck you would ever want them to.