There is a part of me that is telling me I need to write something positive or I will start to lose my readers but, if I’m honest, I have really been struggling, both in finding that something positive and in life in general. Things have felt very dark for me lately — very dark — and I have had great difficulty in pulling myself out of that, be it for M’s sake, for the girls, for my mother, or for myself.
After another rough night with the baby, I slept in later than I’d planned, which meant we’d have to go to the mid-day mass — not my favourite choice because it feels like the whole day is gone by the time you get out again. Grumpy and groggy from my broken night, I was checking my email in my PJs when M came in with a face that broke my heart. We go back and forth, taking turns having little break-downs, and it was obviously his turn. I shook off my sleepiness and turned to face him so I could listen properly.
He can’t get past this lay off. He can’t find closure. There are loose ends to it that haunt him, taunt him — a few things that just don’t add up (but which I won’t disclose here because… well, you never know who reads a blog and I am not trying to grind any axes) and make us quite certain that there was more to it than a simple lack of work. He and I have gone over it and we think we understand what happened, but it still eats away at him. Could he have done something to prevent it? Did he do something to bring it on?
One local company has agreed to let him go out with one of their guys for a few days to see if he’s up to the job — it’s a wonderful opportunity, given that his strange foreign qualifications have slammed so many doors shut. He has done two days already. But he hates the work — it is nothing like what he did in Britain, nothing at all, and so he feels like he is starting over again, as clueless as a first year apprentice, and just as useless, and that tears strips off his confidence and his pride in equal measure. And then, when his pride and confidence are lying in tatters on the floor, leaving him weak, his mind goes back to the lay-off and all those nagging unanswered questions…
By the time he finished talking to me, it was too late to go even to the mid-day mass — I had to go to the last-ditch Sunday evening one on my own. As I sat there, I let my thoughts go back to my conversation with M. He had asked me if we could go home — was there any way? — and I had looked up airfares and rents on the web. The flight tickets would cost us around $5000 and the rents… well, our landlord had appreciated having a tradesman in his house and had kept our rent artificially low… The best we could get now for the same rent would be a one-bed flat. If only we hadn’t left, I thought… If only we’d known… I considered that one-bed flat. Could we do it? Could we all pile into such a tiny space — a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, no garden, and those hated night-storage heaters — and make it work with four of us? Compared to the alternative — no work, no health insurance, all these paralysing unknowns — it suddenly seemed quite plausible.
A thought occurred to me — probably the first positive thought I have had in days… Maybe this is a lesson we needed to learn. Maybe this whole failed move has been a lesson in humility and gratitude that we neither of us would have learned any other way. Back in Britain, we moaned about what we had: the tiny terraced house with only two bedrooms and no heat upstairs, so crammed with people and things that you had to move something out the way every time you reached for anything else; M’s job where he was on his broken knees all day, or in someone’s cobwebbed loft, or driving hours to an out-of-town job; our financial situation, which seemed hopeless, the status quo slowly draining our savings down month by month. But the fact is, we were housed — dry and sheltered every night and, more importantly, secure in our lease that the house was ours. And M did have a job, one he knew how to do, and an autonomous and responsible one at that. And though we were hemorrhaging money… could we have done anything else about that? Something… something… Could we have drained ourselves down to nothing and stretched it out a few years until the girls were in school and I could go back to work, or M could make more money, or something…?
The fact is, we moved because we wanted. I wanted to own a house of my own. I wanted what I had grown up with — a nice, big detached house with a yard and a dog. And because it had been a part of my past, I thought — I assumed – it was supposed to be part of my future as well. M wanted a job that paid as much as life cost us, that made him feel all the dust and sweat and skanky cobwebs stuck to his head were worth it. We wanted a babysitter, and nights out, dinners in restaurants, and trips to the bar together. We wanted holidays. We wanted, we wanted, we wanted.
And, having moved to the other side of the world, it turns out that we can’t go out because I can’t eat anything here that isn’t homemade or has a label I can scrutinise. So we have no dinners out. We don’t even order in pizza. And the babysitter is driving me slowly round the twist. And the house of our own seems a far-off, distant hope. And the job not only doesn’t pay, it doesn’t exist. And as of the end of the month, we will be uninsured, barring the possibility of COBRA, which M’s ex-HR department tells us is particularly expensive for this company.
So I sat in church tonight, next to heavy column that rose up to a towering ceiling covered in gold-leaf and saints, and asked God to help me. As I did, the thought occurred to me that I’d had everything I needed back in England — and it wasn’t enough for me. I told God that I thought I’d made a big mistake and I wished I could just go back. And the thought occurred to me that I could — the only reason I thought I couldn’t was because of a fear that we would lose more stuff if we did and be in a worse position, but that perhaps that love of stuff was what got us in this mess in the first place. I baulked that we’d never own a home if we went back — we’d be renting until we died and living month-to-month — and then wondered if that was so bad, if I was perhaps still letting wants rule my thinking. The priority at this point, surely, was to focus on the basics: a roof over our heads, a job, and health cover.
And that’s when I realised how changed my standards have become, and I thought… I thought perhaps this was a lesson we needed to learn. M has said that this experience has changed him — that he appreciates now what he had, and thinks maybe now he could do the things which had seemed impossible then and which might have helped to make it possible to stay. This experience is changing me as well. The challenge, I think, is to channel that change so it alters us in beneficial ways, and not bitter ones. It would be so easy to let it run out of control, and get swept off in the wrong direction.
So I am not sure at all what we ought to do, or where this will go. Perhaps this try-out will come to something and M will land a job here, or perhaps we will go back to a one-bed flat and a more philosophical attitude to the world. Either way, I am glad at last to have something positive to hold onto.
And yet, there is one selfish, stubborn thing in my heart that will not give way to my new enlightenment. If we went home to squeeze ourselves into a rented one-bed flat, I can’t shake the idea that I’d have to drop all the friends I had before — not contact them at all — and start over making new friends. I just don’t think I could stomach the shame of being friends with so many people who own their own beautiful homes — who have their lives sorted and sussed — and then have them come round to our flat to witness our obvious failure. I know that isn’t the way to think — and I know my friends wouldn’t see us that way and would be agast to hear me say it — but I can’t help feeling the shame and inferiority.
Everyone hold on tight — it would appear that I have not yet had all of my painful lessons.