Hello 2020, and goodbye England, my old friend. We started the new year, and the new decade, with a quick one-week trip across the pond, which included a couple of days with friends, a few days in London with my parents and dinner with my in-laws, and of course meeting my new nephew and niece, who were born just over three months ago and whom I couldn’t wait to cuddle. We had a fantastic time – various viruses notwithstanding – and soaked up every minute with the people we just never get to spend enough time with. And before we could blink, we were back in Austin.
We’ve done a few of those mini trips before, and they never fail to cause emotional turmoil for me, simply because they’re so short I can’t process the back-and-forth quickly enough. It’s almost like travelling in parallel universes, and my poor brain can’t keep the mental me and the physical me in the same place. It’s hard to explain, but those of you used to flitting between worlds and lives will understand what I mean. Jet lag doesn’t help either, but I’m so used to feeling jet lagged that it doesn’t bother me very much.
This trip was especially bitter-sweet for me, however, I don’t think this occurred to the rest of my family. I actually hadn’t anticipated any more than the usual emotional wobbles. But I think something inside me had other ideas, and when I flew into a proper panic attack at the airport, just before boarding the plane to London, I realised something was up, and I needed to take stock. I just felt a huge sadness come over me, the sense that everything was too much, too exhausting, and that I just didn’t want to be where I was right that moment. I didn’t want to be leading this very life. I couldn’t stop shaking and crying, and my poor family didn’t know what to do with me. Luckily, I managed to calm down during the flight, still unsure what precisely had set me off, but with hindsight, it all made sense. I was exhausted and just absolutely overwhelmed by life. Nobody realises how tiring those trips back to family and friends are. And I don’t mean tiring in the physical sense, hey, that’s the easy part, and I have plenty of practice. The mental overload is incredible. Add to that the fact that it’s pretty easy to feel sad at the moment, considering the state our world is in, whether it be bushfires in Australia, attacks in the Middle East, and the awfulness that is current politics. In addition, my subconscious was starting to say goodbye to the England that was once my home. See, when we landed in London and queued up for immigration, I realised it would be the last time all four of us walked through the same entry section together. Once Brexit is complete, I will no longer be part of the same gang. I will be the outsider and have to enter the country separate from my husband and kids. On the surface, rationally and sensibly, this isn’t a big deal, and shouldn’t matter. After all, I’m an educated white middle-class woman married to a Brit, so if I wanted to find a way to live in the UK, I could. But emotionally, this is really hitting me hard. It’s like a door I hadn’t even noticed was there is closing on me. I can no longer just go and live in England. I know I’m being a bit of a drama queen right now, but I can’t help it (I blame living in the US for being more in touch with my emotions).
My husband, who is now half American anyway and has disengaged from his country of birth to a large extent, would just shake his head at my dramatics. He couldn’t wait to get home to Austin, and away from the UK with all its current nastiness. But for him, America has different emotional connotations than for me. It’s the country he chose to live in, the country he left his home country for. Just like the UK was the country I chose to live in and that I left my home country for, almost 22 years ago. The US is only second on my expat list, and while I love living here and consider it my current home, England got there first, and will always hold that special place in my heart. And so the whole Brexit saga feels even more like a betrayal for me.
After our lovely week, we got dropped off at Heathrow in the early morning by an English cabbie, who drove at breakneck (i.e. normal) speed through the narrow lanes of Hertfordshire and gave us a “Cheers mate, safe trip!”, crossed worlds and landed in Houston, to be greeted by a warm, drawly “Welcome home, y’all”, and I couldn’t help smiling. I had missed the warmth of the Southern drawl. How crazy to experience all these nuances in the space of less than 24 hours and know it’s my normal. It is, indeed, like living in parallel worlds.
Still grappling with the fact that England no longer wants to be the home it once was to me, I then woke to the news that Harry and Meghan had decided to quit their jobs in the royal family and leave the country for Canada. I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about the royal family, and don’t care one way or another what people think about the monarchy. In my view that whole topic is a waste of time and energy. But this time, I couldn’t turn away. As a fellow non-Brit who tried to make her home in the UK, I feel your pain, Meghan! I’ve been very aware of the hostility the Sussex couple had to deal with from the horrendous British media over the last couple of years. Having experienced the odd xenophobic incident myself, which is something I like to push to the back of my mind, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to read nasty stuff about yourself on a daily basis. It’s the hypocrisy and plain meanness that get me. When I saw a clip of a woman – one of those hard-looking, thin-lipped witches, you know the type – claiming that she couldn’t understand what Meghan Markle’s problem was, as “we welcomed her with open arms”, all I could think was “No, love, the only time you’re opening your arms is when you get a spray tan”. There is a real lack of self-awareness and perspective, and general ignorance of what people of other countries and cultures go through that really scares me. I feel the country is totally poisoned by it.*
My hope is that we can put all this horrible divisiveness behind us at some point. I can see and feel so much kindness around me, in my friends, family, and surroundings, and maybe I’m just a bit too caught up in my January hole right now to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It breaks my heart to watch the country I once loved so much and where I really and truly felt at home, slowly choke on its own hypocrisy and vitriol. I know it can do better than that.
*Please understand that I am totally aware of the fact that this mindset and tendency towards hateful rhetoric is not only apparent in the United Kingdom, but also in other countries (the two others I’ve lived in for sure). It’s just hitting me especially hard, coming from the UK.