Aug 21, 2017

Leaving Europe

I’m walking backwards on the moving sidewalk. Slowly losing to the sun as we chase it westward across the pacific ocean. I’m tired. We were up late packing and last minute trash runs and tidying so we only got to bed at midnight. My alarm went off at 4 A.M.

My first waking thought is: shit. Muddy-headed, irritable, and off-balance from sleep deprivation, I am not excited to travel. Everything that must be done sits in front of me, and all the problems which I don’t yet know about. The reward for all of this is a strange bed in a strange city, where straw by straw we have to build a new life.

Yesterday around 9pm, in the dusky summer evening, bathed the yellow light bouncing off a cloud overhead, I popped open a really good bottle of Sekt from the winery where I used to work. I took a glass out to the terrace and Saori joined me with hers (sparkling water in this case). We sat mostly in silence, thinking about our time in Germany. I was here for three and a half years, Saori for a year longer.

Talking about our favorite memories from living in Germany, thinking about everything we did, all the cities, beinnales, ski trips, hiking, saunas, in the end, what we both enjoyed the most were house parties in Stuttgart. Spending time socializing and eating in pretty and lively apartments with warm and interesting people. Saori’s friends led me to a job, and led us to an amazing apartment. Our friends moved us out and up all those stairs, recruited me for a better job, fought for us at our offices, helped us with taxes, intervened on our behalf. They cheered our good news, consoled us, shared their stories and experience, took us with them on road trips, planned trips around us and with us. We sweated together in the saunas, and did yoga together (well, more Saori than me). Many went to great lengths to see us, and many cried when we left. It’s makes it all the more painful to leave knowing how much our friends will miss us. Saori and I both feel a bit unworthy of the friends we have, or at least confused as to how we got so many good friends. Leaving these people has been the worst part about leaving Stuttgart. A great apartment is nice. Drinking a glass of wine on the roof is nicer, but nothing can beat sharing a bottle or two with friends on the roof.

It’s also hard to leave because it’s the first time we’re unpicking the lives we’ve made for ourselves. Most of my major life transitions have come at more or less “natural” moments, or at least were out my control. Ok, maybe leaving Phoenix for graduate school in St.Louis was also a decisive moment, but even that was something coming- I knew from undergrad I wanted to go to grad school, and it was just a question of when. This move is a bit more radical. We intentionally interrupted the course our lives were taking. We stopped the track, and peice by piece, unstitched the tapestry of our lives here. It’s kind of painful. An act of destruction required to create a new tapestry, but there’s pain nonetheless, especially thinking about the rebuilding it’s going to take.

We will make new friends. I am mindful and heartened by the fact that there are great people all over the world. It’s an exciting prospect to begin our lives in Portland knowing a few who live there already, and a slow treasure hunt to find new ones. It will be harder than Stuttgart though. There aren’t as often the kind of social events which brought Saori and I into contact with the friends we made there. And there’s also a vulnerability to people living in a foreign country. The strangeness destroys the automatic defensive mechanisms. Heimat is a word in German which losely translates to homeland. Where you’re from, a strong part of your identity, the small geographical area where you grew up and live. In their Heimat, people’s lives fall into strong routines with those automatic barriers. We have to push a bit, throw ourselves out into the community. Meet our friends’ friends.

I’m flying an airline called Condor to the US. It’s a German budget airline, just imagine RyanAir, but for 10 hour flights. The legroom is the smallest I’ve ever had on an international flight, I was lucky to get my roll-on in an overhead, and the in-flight entertainment is pay-per-view. You have to buy coupons with codes. Now to be fair, there are two movies you can watch free, proided you brought your own headphones: Garfield, and Harry Potter V. Be still my heart, and lurching stomach.
The in-flight safety video threw in some half-hearted humor which was largely inexplicable. A Marilyn Monroe puts on her own oxygen mask before helping her lookalike daughter. Charlie Chaplin. “That’s one small step for you, one great leap for passenger safety,” explains a man in an space suit.

If not for the cramped seats and nickel and dimed entertainment, the whole flight experience would have an air of campiness to it. People watching movies were interrupted with a commercial for duty free items for sale on the plane. Hostesses hawked cartons of cigarettes through the aisles. Like a Chinese import shop, they made a special announcement they were selling glasses for observing the solar eclipse. $4. I bought a pair.

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