That I am an American has never been in question. I need only open my mouth and — if you are a Brit — you will recognise the fact immediately. If you are an American… well, twenty years ago you would have known right away — these days, you might be a wee bit confused. But I was born here and grew up here, and — though I know am fully British as well (not half-and-half, but whole-and-whole) — my Americanness is not in question.
And yet my being American is just an accident of birth. My parents, both Brits, were here only temporarily when I was born, working in the States for a few years — so the plan went — before moving back. My father’s sudden death turned all that on its head and I ended up growing here… ended up an American. And yet, if we had stayed in the UK and hadn’t moved back to the US last year, that fact would have become only an anomalous blip in a long and continuous line of Britishness: my parents and grandparents and all my ancestors completely British, my children and all my decedents just as British as well. Indeed, when we go back to the UK, that will be the case again. Pulling back and looking at it from afar, these two quick forays into America will become mere interludes in a long line — generations — of otherwise unbroken Britishness.
And that feels so very strange to me, because my Americanness is such a big part — such a real part — of who I am. It’s really quite startling to think of it as an accident, as a blip…
We are going back — that is decided. We knew it the morning before we left. We both agreed on it a few months after we moved here. We have been looking forward to it, and I have waxed lyrical here on my blog about it. We are both quite settled. We will all be Brits once again.
Imagine my surprise then when… well, let me explain…
I was watching one of my favourite telly programmes — this was a couple of weeks ago, M had just got home from his trip to England. It’s a property programme, a bit of eye candy, in which two experts guide househunters to their dream home. I always watch it with a mix of excitement, jealousy, despair, and irritation. The houses are interesting — the voyeurism is too — but the prices are ever eye-watering. The house we bought here in the US would cost us five times as much in the UK. And yet, their budget is always astronomical. Where do these people get their money?!? It intrigues me, frustrates me — I can’t help but watch.
But as I watched it the other week, the sensation was strange, less voyeur and more uncomfortable than usual. I was thinking about going home, thinking too much. How will we ever move back? The figures never add up — even a two-up, two-down terrace in a questionable area of town seems beyond our means, and it always depresses me. But there was more to it today… the sensation was strange…
And then the surprise, a quiet voice in my head: I don’t want to go back.
I stopped dead at that — every thought stopped as my brain tried to comprehend what it had just heard. It had not been expected, not even suspected. Had I really said that…? Why would I not want to go back…?!? I know I want to! I didn’t believe it… it’s not true! And yet… and yet… I knew right away that it is true, at least in a little.
I’ve been thinking about it ever since, rolling that quiet statement around in my mind and trying to make it balance with all the other feelings I hold. And I think I understand. Our first year here was rough — we were fighting fires almost from the moment we arrived and we had hardly a moment to draw breath. But, though we are still fighting a few fires even now, things have begun to slow down considerably. There’s been a bit more time to to sit and relax, to enjoy the warm air of the summer, to go out and see a bit of the world… to see a bit of America.
And I am beginning to remember what is wonderful about America. We have been to fibre festivals, and driven through mountains and farmland and small towns to get there. We have gone to lovely state parks, with deep woods and vast lakes, and sat in the sun watching the light dance across the water. We have had dinner at grand and historic inns that sing out the vibrant history of the country. We went to Gettysburg, and the place affected me profoundly, stopped my heart. These past few months, I have seen the America that I had remembered, the America that I had hoped for. These past few months, I have begun to fall in love.
But the problem is that when I say “we”, I mean my mother and I, with the girls. The fibre festivals were daytrips during the week; the state park was a Tuesday with some old family friends; Gettysburg was a quick break while M was in England. My mother is so excited to have her daughter and grandchildren nearby, and she delights in taking us away like that. M and I don’t have the money for getaways or dinner on our own — he toils away at work all week, and sees the same city neighbourhoods day after day, and then our weekends are spent at home, busy with domestic chores and conserving our pennies. In the year-and-a-half that we’ve lived here, he’s got away for one weekend: it was a fibre festival that, yes, was set in some beautiful countryside but, to be honest, it’s quite possible he was too bored to notice it.
So we’ve been going on separate emotional journeys, he and I. I have been discovering what there is to love — and loving it. And he has been seeing exactly the same thing he’s seen since the day he arrived: the same dirty city from the same van, doing the same dirty jobs in the same dodgy neighbourhoods. He is not much impressed and wants to go home; I am being a surprised by that quiet voice in my head.
I’ve been honest with him about: told him about the voice, told him my feelings. “We need to make sure we go on the same journey,” I said. “When it comes time to go home, we need to have shared this, so we understand each other’s feelings.” He agreed with a grunt. But so far, we haven’t. This weekend, I will take E1 to her tennis lesson while M works on the furnace. Next weekend, he is working. Perhaps in October… I want so much to take him to Gettysburg… and there’s another festival in New York, through some beautiful Pennsylvania countryside. Oh, but the money… the money!
Money or not, I have to make this happen. He has to get away — heaven knows he needs the break, and he needs to see America too. But most of all, he and I must — absolutely must — go on this journey together, the same emotional journey. Because when we do move back to the UK, and I do say goodbye to America… my America… I will need him to understand what I am leaving.