We weren’t planning on going ‘home’ as soon as we did, a year and a half into our 4 year post. I thought we’d go on a holiday in South East Asia but we received an offer we couldn’t refuse – the wedding of a close friend. I was almost as excited about the food as I was returning to ‘the people’. Dillusions of grandeur have kicked in now that I have balconies and can create Eva Peron scenes…
“The truth is I never left you”
(although I did used to sing ‘loved you’, changes things slightly)
I planned a list of ‘must-eats’, the Gregg’s steak slice not to everyone’s taste of course, but the one I had in Liverpool 1 was awesome. The group of nursery staff that laughed as they push-chaired past knew nothing of the splendour of the moment. I had some ‘must-visits’, places to visit on my sentimental journey – Thurstaston beach on the Wirral, Port Sunlight, Albert Dock. That’s what’s happened to me as an expat, I’ve become more sentimental, sing it Doris Day!
We made lists, ticked the boxes, travelled the length and breadth of the country, a chippy here, a pub lunch there. Pies, there were several pies. All the while we breathed it in; the sunset on the M56 with the waxing gibbous moon, the children’s faces as they played/went feral with their cousins and pals – the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, walking on jewelled wet grass, the cool breeze, the nights that stay light beyond 7pm (didn’t help the jet-lag mind), playing outside without sweating like I’d stepped out the shower. These were moments of bliss. I welled up daily, fought the tears, attempted mindfulness to stay in the moment, not fearing the past or the future. I’m a novice and the tears will out.
We’d made a list of pros and cons before moving to Thailand. There was only one con – missing people. I thought it would be fine, I took each individual and thought of how, after a time they get on my nerves anyway, as I must theirs. Wild eating habits and other idiosyncrasies. I rationalised my emotions. I can Skype, I can Whatsapp, I can keep up to date on Facebook, but emotions aren’t rational, it can’t be done. I underestimated the gravity of the loss of my favourite heads and then there they all were.
The documentary I featured in (still on about that is she?) was aired a year after recording and left family and friends worrying that I was, perhaps, still lonely and crying into a plate of shrimps on a barge, or xenophobically walking the food aisles in ‘Big C’ supermarket exclaiming ‘soft shell turtle!’ and ‘what? Cheese is dearer than crocodile?’ in a strange secretarial posh-scouse voice (not an oxymoron, thanks).
A lot can change in a year. At home babies were born, new relationships bloomed, but really all that changed here is that I adjusted, adapted to the new life, bought expensive cheese and wine, threw myself into yoga and started drafting a novel in between the school run.
The fact that friends I’d nurtured over decades weren’t here has remained the same, though some have visited and ‘threaten’ to come again – do it. I have some new friends in Bangkok, they’re well good but it took a while to seek them out and perhaps they won’t be here for the length of my stay, some have left already. I may dig a well and throw them all in, bring them up to make a suit of their flesh, or just to drink booze with me from time to time.
My best girl in Manchester planned us ‘An afternoon with the O’Haras’ in the park or the pub, rain demanded pub. I managed to say possibly four sentences to each person, like the bride at a wedding unable to speak to everyone as much as I’d have liked:
1) Yeah, it’s ace, we love living in Bangkok
2) Probably about another 2 1/2 more years then who knows, somewhere else maybe
3) No, I’m not still as lonely as I was on the ‘documentary’ (using this term loosely)
4) Yes, we’d love you to visit (I mean it too)
Really we should have made a speech.
And then little Sam, aged 5, said he had something to say to me. I knelt to his level:
“I want you to know that you have got friends, we’re your friends. And we didn’t want you to move to Thailand.”
Well that was me gone, snot and tears – name for my memoir? His parents explained that he’d watched the show and was in floods at my weeping. I’m sorry for crying at you, Sam. I tried to pass it off as ‘happy tears’ but I doubt you bought that, you have wisdom beyond your years. Your pirate joke a prime example:
What’s a pirate’s favourite letter?
Well, you’d think so, but in actual fact they’re rather fond of the C
Goodbyes! Nobody ever says they love a goodbye despite there being some ‘good’ in a goodbye (badaboom-tish). I think I spent 1/3 of the holiday choked and unable to speak, just breathing you all in. You’d think I was returning to war. At my Primary school when the Juniors left to go to ‘big school’ we’d stand and sing ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’ – the best lyric ‘give me a smile I can keep all the while in my heart while I’m away’. I can see everyone laughing (not at me, like). That’s a gift for me, your smiles, so I wanted to thank you all – friends, family, old and new.
I’ve selfishly tried not to consider the impact of us going, more concerned at first about how to settle my family in, while not having a mental breakdown in the school playground. I’m sorry for not getting onto the fact you’d miss us too, it felt a bit conceited to acknowledge that maybe we’d leave a hole.
So now I’m ‘home’, I’m happy to have seen you all, and sorry for those of you I missed. You’ve boosted me, drop kicked me up into the universe, inspired me to keep on keeping on, to have more adventures – those beach trips, I’m doing them for you
Jack Kerouac wrote (On The Road)
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us and its goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy adventure beneath the skies.”
*Rest in Peace Steve Ryan, you beautiful man, it was a pleasure to know you.