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Hi, loves. 🌿
(Finally) from across the pond
This story starts so many years ago now, a decade, really.
I met a man and at the end of our first few weeks together in New York, he asked me to move with him to Munich for five months, where he was finishing up a two-year academic fellowship. He already had a flat, a salary, intel on the loveliest cafés and doughnuts and glühwein, wouldn’t I just come and see? For a few months? See whether the city and the relationship all pleased me? I could finish up my MFA thesis in peace? What other plans did I have?
I sublet my apartment and we took off from JFK on a cold night in February 2012. I slept on his lap in the Brussels airport on our early-morning layover, and when we landed at his (now our?) studio apartment in Munich, I took a nap and he cleaned the dirty dishes that had been in the sink for six weeks while he had been back in North America with me.
I found Munich daunting and majestic and strange. Within a few weeks, it was blanketed in snow and I spoke no German and I thought, almost everyday, this is all so, so hilarious! And also: What am I doing? And also: How did I get here? Some combination of these things. I’d lived in Brooklyn for 12 years. I had no plans to leave.
Apparently I didn’t know the first thing about my plans.
But then that became my life with this man: after Munich we moved to Vienna and after Vienna we moved to Los Angeles and now, ten years since boarding a flight to Germany, we boarded one to Heathrow, but now with our nine-year-old in tow. Now, this sort of thing — this sort of, where am I and why? experience — has become a semi-regular part of my life.
Cambridge is the polar opposite of Los Angeles, which is the most welcome thing for us: quiet, wet, cold, small, walkable, old. Where we had lots of dear friends in LA, here we have none — or, I should say now, a few! — and where we had hours in the car back home, now we are clocking 15,000 steps a day in muddy boots, just to get peanut butter for breakfast.
It is so unlike our life at home, and yet something about it feels utterly familiar to me, perhaps because it is reminding me so vividly of our time in Munich. We live in the smallest, most cookie-cutter, institutional apartment, just as we did ten years ago. (Now it is essentially glorified student housing for families.) And just like back then, there’s nothing I am going to do to make it more homey: no trips to IKEA, no rugs or pillows or candles. No personal mugs or blankets or posters. We are going to live here for half a year like nomads, unconcerned with the stuff of life. I think this might have, at some point, really bothered me, but maybe now because I’ve done it a few times, or maybe because we have a “real” home back in Los Angeles with all of our beloved belongings (our books! Our paintings! Our rugs!), I am not so desperate to recreate it here. Here is somewhere else. Ours and not ours.
And, of course, in some ways, it is utterly different than our stint in Munich because now we have a child and that changes the calculous entirely. It doesn’t so much matter if I want a rug; what matters is if she has friends, a room she feels comfortable in; if she misses home and friends, if she has enough to keep her occupied, if she’s settling in at her new school in her new uniform with the new vernacular (she did come home on Day 1 and say “I’m going to take a wee in the loo”). In this respect, it is nothing like life in Munich, where we traipsed around to beer halls and cafés and worked for uninterrupted hours at the TLL and spent weekends in bed watching movies and reading and falling in love. At the end of the day, nothing much mattered. Were we doing okay? We were so happy we didn’t even ask ourselves that question.
I feel like my kid has aged out of being written about: it’s her life now and private, but I will say to anyone who was jealous of us taking off — and I don’t blame anyone for it! Any escape is an escape! I’d be envious, too! — that there are challenges to this leave-home project, big and small, many of which have brought us all to our knees. There have been moments when I’ve questioned why we thought this was a good idea. Why displace our happy kid now, when she’s so ensconced in her own life?
I’m sure I’ll continue to ask myself this, but she has shown incredible resilience and bravery; she’s moved us to to tears in her game-ness, in her utter joy for the new (dessert after every dinner in the dining hall! a bunkbed! a pool!). She’s now meeting kids who are showing the same and more: like the three Israeli kids of another fellow (meaning another scholar, like my husband) here who didn’t know a lick of English and were thrown into British schools in September. All the kids here on sabbatical with their academic parents are in similar boats: starting over, often against their will, and knowing it is temporary. Why make friends, ours asked us, when I know I will leave soon? It was a hard one to answer, but when I thought of my own closest friends in Montreal, in New York, in Vienna, in LA, I never for one second wish I’d hadn’t met them. They could be friends for a long, long time, even when we leave. You don’t know yet.
But for now, each small moment is enough: the joy the sabbatical kids find in each other as they play pool or Twister or foosball is absolutely marvellous to behold. The same can be said for our family walks in town, our crammed-into-a-tiny-bed laptop-movie nights, our first bites of the local pizza. Each small moment is enough.
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