I no longer own a device that keeps time. My watch gave out gradually over the past year, until the jeweler where I took it to replace the battery (with increasing frequency) told me that the battery wasn’t the problem. So I relied on my cell phone—which no longer works, since I moved to America. We’ve been driving around in a 1998 Toyota Corolla—with a nonfunctional display.
But by my best reckoning, a week ago, early in the morning, I shut the door on my empty apartment in Delft. I had a hard time leaving. I went upstairs one last time, dropped something, and was amazed by how loudly it echoed. Our stuff was gone. (Aside from, you know, three monstrous suitcases, 2 backpacks, a small suitcase, and a laptop bag.) I got teary and tried to hide it from the friend who was driving us to Schiphol.
Hours later, I cried like a baby as the plane came down over Philadelphia. Where was the green land? Where were the water and the windmills? All I could think was how overdeveloped and grey the landscape looked. Go ahead and tell me spring is just slow to come here, but it was depressing. I felt like I’d left my heart somewhere else. I’m not saying that to be dramatic, or because this blog has become a weeper, but because this blog has been about our experience as expats and so it’s necessary to say that the reality of leaving has been hard. Sometimes it’s felt impossible. Sometimes I feel angry and certain that we did the wrong thing. Sometimes I feel hopeful. And a lot of times I ride around in a car.
On Saturday we took our laptops to a Barnes & Noble in Delaware. We chose a table in the café and then realized we were dead-on facing the international travel section. I resolutely opened my computer and began to work, trying not to stare too longingly at the maps and books of places I have been, or dreamed of being. As people came and went at the tables around me, I was surrounded by Americans planning their summer vacations.
To my left, a woman asked her (apathetic) husband: “That big wheel, what’s it called? The Ferris wheel with the views over the city?” He shrugged and pointed toward the London guidebook she was already reading. “Look in there.” The London Eye, I almost said out loud. It’s called the London Eye.
A well-dressed lady sat down at my right with a stack of books on Tuscany. Lucky you, I thought. A man picked up a map of Amsterdam and it was so tempting to talk to him, to say: I was there Saturday. Where are you going? When?
But no one likes a stalker. So I kept my head down and tried to work on the Delft guidebook I’m writing.
We drove to Massachusetts yesterday through about six hours of rain ranging from torrential to moderate. We’re “moving” today into a two-week sublet, and the apartment hunt has begun. I used to consider finding apartments on Craigslist one of my primary talents, but now I find it overwhelming and annoying. Why don’t people post photos? Why are things so expensive? Why is there “no real kitchen”? We need a place to live; we need phones; we need insurance; we need new toothbrushes. Our possessions (those not currently filling a 1998 Corolla) are scattered in three American states plus a cargo boat. Make no mistake: moving internationally is a pain.
I suppose I should be writing some of my observations after a week in the US, but instead I will tell you that before we left Delft, another American expat and I were trying to list our “most American” traits. “I like country music,” I suggested. “Do you?” she asked, and I couldn’t tell if she was excited or horrified. I don’t like spending much time in a car these days, but I have reconnected with the part of me that views the automobile as a private, soundproof (or so I pretend), karaoke room.