As I dreamed of the adventure ahead of me, I saw a white beach with me on it, absorbing the heat of the sun. The sun’s rays burned out the last of the infection following me these last weeks, taking the cough and ear pain with it. My Alida, the only kid able to join me, played in the sticky sand. As I lazily looked over at her, she grinned as she caught my eye, basking in the sun and knowledge she has mama all to herself.
A dream like that is feasible, especially when flying to Florida.
Last Friday our three-week adventure to the States began, unfortunately a day later than planned because of the German union’s strike. Our flight on Thursday was cancelled, putting off my dream another day.
Flying to the States is always exciting, but has become a bit strange for me. Years ago on a trip “home” to the States, I went to lunch with the women in my family. It was a typical luncheon place with options for various combinations of sandwiches and soups and salads. No big deal. But for this American girl who had spent already several years outside the country, it was. I stood overwhelmed in front of all those choices with no idea where to begin. Do I choose a sandwich first – but which one? How could I possibly choose among all those possibilities? Should I order a soup to go along with it? What size beverage should I get? Everyone is walking away with empty cups. Where do they get their drinks?
Luckily my sister-in-law recognized my distress (before the lump in my throat developed into something more) and gently pulled me in the right direction. Without making a show of it, she quietly told me what she was getting and made a suggestion of what I might enjoy. She then pointed down a hallway and said, “Drinks are there.”
I’m not sure she knows how much she helped me that day, but she saved me from making a fool of myself and having a breakdown right then and there. The breakdown came later, when I was alone with my German husband in the room that used to be mine. It came, but not just because I was overwhelmed in that particular situation, but because I knew in that moment I no longer belonged. I had come home to a place that no longer brought comfort and ease like a home should.
That whole trip was awful. It seemed in every situation I felt misunderstood or awkward or at a loss for what “normal” Americans would do. The years abroad had changed me into a different kind of American citizen, one whose home is no longer “at home” in the States.
It was a milestone, that defining moment when I became wiser and sadder simultaneously: wiser because I no longer come to the States expecting to belong and sadder because of that loss. And yet it has changed me for the good. Without the weight of that expectation to belong, I can be the oddball out and yet find joy in the times I suddenly find ease and comfort in being an American “at home”.
Okay, so my dream has not yet quite come into fruition. Saturday a thunderstorm brought rain in buckets. I could only laugh at the irony of the beautiful spring weather in Germany we had traded in. Sunday afternoon we spent a few hours on the beach even with the cold wind, determined like all the other spring breakers covering the beach to make our Florida time worthwhile.
We’re still at the edge of our adventure, just beginning to watch it take shape. I can’t wait to see all it brings with it – everything strange and comforting.