Looking back with the benefit of nostalgia, it is easy to forget the homesickness, the loneliness of that year. I do not look upon it as a wasted opportunity, but rather one I chose to endure in my own fashion. Others partied, northern-style, staying out late, growing up disgracefully. I took a more sober approach. I enjoyed being an enigma to my fellows, and, in a way, I enjoyed wallowing in my own self-pity, overworking myself, setting challenges I would lose sleep needlessly to fulfil. I looked for the real, the genuine experience, rather than living in my own little Erasmus-island. I was there to embrace the local culture, warts and all, and so I did. Suppressing my instinctive withdrawal from any harsh reality I might encounter, I soldiered on, exploring in foreign territory. Craving a wholemeal cheddar-cheese and Dijon-mustard sandwich for nearly ten months. Learning instead to thrive on a diet of crackers, coffee, plain chocolate and oranges. I inserted myself into that world, that time-zone, that lifestyle. I even went to church.
Then, when my time was up, I was expelled from my brave new-found world. Released from the institution. And now I find myself aching to return there. A part of me is missing. I noticed it when I first returned. I craved pizza rather than toast. I pined for the colourful shop-window-displays, bursting with pride and elegance, and found no solace in the unfeeling, haphazard piles to be found gracing the grubby glass fronts of Regent Street.
What can have happened to provoke this shift in personal geography? I no longer belong here, or there, or, in fact, anywhere. I am a displaced person. Having abandoned what passed for ‘my own’ culture to embrace another for so long, I find on returning, that I have lost it. I no longer fit. The world around me jars each time I open my eyes to it, and yet I cannot exist in a bubble. My time there is fast fading, and yet the world here is hardly in focus, but fuzzy, as if viewed through a smudged lens.
Homecoming is never easy. It is in the nature of time, being of a linear persuasion, to march onward, letting those things one drops fall by the wayside. Somewhere along the road, I seem to have lost myself amid the dust and general confusion of growing up. My rock of ages slipped its moorings and drifted out to sea, taking the rest of the Armada along for the ride.
So what do I do now? Try to find out who I really am? Or just choose an identity to borrow? I could so easily become the perfect girlfriend, then wife, and daughter-in-law, even mother. Or do I continue to drift, hoping to bump into something or someone significant enough to run me aground and show me how I am no longer so out of my depth?
My mind is filled with problem-solving paraphernalia, yet no solution fits my puzzle. Logic is overthrown and I dawdle along the path of least resistance, dragging my feet in the mire and snaring my clothing and hair on brambles. I gaze longingly towards the past, using the eyes in the back of my head, ever fixed to the rear, but I refuse to turn. What good would it do to return there? To dwell, to swallow the pill I keep toying with – swirling my tongue around it, and capturing it securely in my teeth before spitting it out again for further inspection…
I am myself, and yet who I used to be is already long-gone. Old friends no longer know me, and I have little use for what new acquaintances I gather, as I now expect them to be transitory, changeable, fleeting.
I work because I must. Not to do so would outrage me, pushing my fragile sense of stability further toward ‘off-balance and out-of-kilter’. I long for time to think, time to sit and wallow, to pinpoint my position, work out how in hell I got here, and where to go next… No time is forthcoming, however, so my questions remain unanswered, although the answers must be within reach. Somewhere in this vast confusion, there is one with my name on it.