To celebrate I’m traveling halfway around the world, literally—I landed in Melbourne last night. The rest of my family will be in the UK soon enough as well, though the four of them will be staying with friends south of London, while I’ve gone a wee bit farther than that.
In the fall it felt like the tide was receding, the waves pulling back and back, but I sense it’s coming in now. If the autumn was a time for missing home, now comes the realization that the things we take for granted are ours only temporarily. Our older children’s self-sufficiency in getting around the city on their own, safe on the streets and confident in their wayfinding. The reliable and ubiquitous trains and buses that make a car unnecessary. The reasonable cost of living. The suspension of parental school duties; the absence of office life. The city at our feet, always open to exploration. And most palpably, the anticipated wrenching away from friendships being forged.
We’d be packing for home now if I’d had my way. One semester would be long enough, I argued, but as the logistical challenges mounted last spring it seemed foolish not to commit to the full year. As long as you’re renting your house and finding a Berlin flat, identifying schools and negotiating work contracts, why not make the most of it? In the end I saw it would not be worth the hassle for a mere semester. I resigned myself to the long haul.
If I’d had any doubts before, the unrelenting Minnesota winter has convinced me that Berlin is, if nothing else, a refuge from the tundra.
But it’s so much more than that. I’ve let new people in my life. It’s amazing what can be conjured over coffee dates, a dinner out, a night at the movies, a ride home, quick exchanges on the stairwell in the boathouse. Trust can stretch across nationality and language barriers and age, a sense that someone is meant to be in your life.
One friend could be my daughter, but no matter. Over breakfast at Café Bilderbuch I stopped midstory, unable to continue, feeling a sudden wrenching that this friendship we forge is so short lived, exists only in this false boundary of a year in a city not our own. Later, at home, slicing wedges of pineapple, I felt it again, the sting of a loss to come, knowing that so much will happen in her future that I won’t be present to witness. Future visits await, surely, but the casual nature of our interactions will be gone. And it hurt.
One friend could be my mother, but again age loses meaning. Her incisive question posed on the S-Bahn between 12 Years a Slave and dinner in Ludwigkirchplatz tore off any remaining band-aid.
I never let this happen when I studied in France for a semester during college; no one new crossed the threshold. I was looking back the entire rainy spring I spent in Tours, pining away for my boyfriend. For four months I staggered about from classroom to café with my fellow American students, visiting castles and going to dank caves for wine tastings, but my heart wasn’t in it. The final May morning when the van came in the early hours to take me and my classmates to the airport to fly home, the waste of those months laid itself bare before me, and my remorse was overwhelming. I was going home, but I’d never really been gone.
M is in countdown mode; he calls it ‘4-1-9-2-9.’ Four weeks of school in January; one week of winter break. Nine weeks of school; two weeks of spring break. Nine final weeks of school. Fly home.
When one of our girls, usually our middle child, is lost in a sea of hurt, reminded by some token of home of how she’s cut off from her friends and husky, he’ll simply say to her, “4-1-9-2-9.” The ‘4’ already ends today, the last day of January; the ‘1’ week in England begins on Saturday.
I find I resist the countdown. As much as my feet dragged the first half of our stay, I am loathe to return too soon. It’s as if I’ve just gotten my head above water, and returning now would send me into the depths again. I’m in my own ‘1’ (nearly ‘2’) in Melbourne by the grace of my sister, and this patch of summer and sister time is a most welcome celebration of the halfway point.