Today is quite a significant day and I feel I ought to write something monumental to match it, but no sooner do I start typing than all the words fall away from me. I can’t catch them. It’s been a year today since we moved to the US, and I don’t know what to say about it. A year since we left England. A year since we last saw all our dear friends. A year — a year! — since I’ve walked through places that I can see with such clarity in my mind, that still feel so close that I should be able to just get up and go out the front door and go to them right now. What words are for that?
It has been a hard year, there’s no doubt of that. We’ve had a mysterious and devastating medical problem and E2’s diagnosis of multiple food allergies, which have both completely upended our lives. We’ve had a sudden, frightening job loss and insurance problems and run up medical bills that we are still paying off. We’ve lived most of the year stressed in a house that was being sold out from underneath us. And we had a surprise tax bill that wiped out a huge chunk of our moving fund — the chunk that was meant to buy us furniture and bedding and all the stuff that makes a place feel like home. I have really struggled to find a balance in my relationship with my mother, after 15 years of distant independence. And there’s been a lot of loneliness. And, for M, more heartbreak than either of us had known was coming.
And yet, for every set-back, there’s been an answer. M got another job, one that suits him better. And, as of the first of this year, we are all, at long last, completely insured. The medical bills are being slowly paid off . We have learned to manage our dietary restrictions, and even found a couple of safe places to eat out. We’ve bought a house of our own which we both love. And I’ve found a couple of friends whose company I really enjoy, and I’m working on making a few more. And my mother has been an enormous help, an absolute force of love, provision, and care.
And though the funds for buying furniture disappeared, we’ve managed to pick up a few pieces — a second-hand dining table and china cabinet, a family friend’s old washer and dryer. And today, something that has really lifted my spirits: my father’s office was getting a new couch for their lobby and throwing the old one out, so he grabbed it for us and brought it round this afternoon. I had assumed it would be… well… probably pretty awful — perfectly usable but not all that nice. But to my utter surprise, it turns out that it is a low-line, sleek and modern, leather sofa of exactly the sort I would have chosen if I were paying for one. I have spent the afternoon standing in the living room just staring at it in joyful disbelief! And not only at the sofa itself, but at the way it has transformed the living room — which, up to now has contained only a rocking chair, an end table, and the china cabinet and, thus, not felt like a living room at all. And that, in turn, has somewhat defined the feel of the whole house: empty living room led onto strangely unfurnished family room led onto bedrooms with mattresses on the floor… It makes a home feel unhomey, to be so spare. And it makes a person feel unsettled… uncommitted… transitory…
But this couch has changed that. The room felt like… a room. I found myself today mentally arranging end-tables and coffee tables and area rugs and potted plants. I feel I could invite someone around now without embarrassment and endless explanations as to why the place feels so odd. I feel inspired to unpack the mound of moving boxes that has acted as our one design statement for the last two months. …It’s amazing what a couch can do!
But there has been one set-back for which there has been no answer… there is no answer here. M’s heart is broken at being so far from his older two kids. And no amount of house, or couch, or homeyness, or — the reason for the move — financial stability can make up for that. And what financial stability we have achieved has all come at his expense anyway. He hates that he gets no paid sick days, no holiday this year and a meagre five days next year; he is weary from working such long hours in this extreme weather (it was an 11 hour day on Friday, when the temperature was -20C); and despite his hours — and paycheques — being painfully short of late, he has had only two days off since Christmas weekend — and he’s on call again this weekend as well. To be working so hard, and to be going to school at night as well, to be stressed by the erratic hours, to feel the pressure of his upcoming exams, and all while missing his kids so desperately… Well, I know it feels like he is being kicked while he’s down. There is only one solution for that, and I know he wants it badly.
And so, on this one-year anniversary of our arrival in the US — one year and one day since M asked me to make sure we came home someday — it feels appropriate to announce that we have decided to move back home to the UK in the next three to five years. We’ve been talking about it on and off for a while, waffling and unsure, but once we made a firm decision, agreed on it, and put a timescale to it, it felt like a weight had been lifted off our shoulders. It certainly felt like a weight had been lifted on mine — M, I think, was walking fully a foot off the ground.
Don’t get me wrong — this has been an amazing, changing, growing experience — and necessary to get us out of the hole we were in in the UK. I am grateful for the gains we’ve made (and hopeful that the world economy will continue turning on its ear so we can somehow afford the move back) but they have come at a great cost that we can no longer shrug off. When it comes time to leave the US, I know my heart will break afresh. The truth is that I have two homelands and it will tear me up to leave this one, knowing it will be for good this time. But M and I both know, in our hearts, that this is not right, being here is not right. For all that has gone right with it, there is one crucial wrong that just cannot be ignored. And that, in the end, has trumped everything.