Category Archives: memoirs

Day 26: People, People Who Need People

expat blog challege, expat issues, memoirs

Prompt: Recognize someone who has made your expat experience better.

Not long ago, on an Americans in Australia forum, someone posted about what a hard time she’s had making genuine friendships since moving abroad. This led to a long discussion with many other people who agreed, and about some of the problems they’ve experienced. It made me feel so lucky because, for all the cultural adjustment issues I faced when moving here, making genuine friendships was not one of them. It would have been so hard to go this journey alone, and so I have to recognize not one person, but a group of ladies who I’ll group as The Book Club Girls, all fellow Americans Down Under, and some of the loveliest people I know.book club

My first friend in Australia was Mimi. We moved at a similar time, and from reading each other’s blogs, had a feeling we’d get along. We did, like gangbusters. We became inseparable, and I don’t know how I would have weathered my first year in Oz without her. In many ways, we’re so different, but it was always in a complimentary way. No matter what, we could always make each other laugh, which is no small thing when times are confusing and lonely. Mimi moved back to the U.S. in 2012, which was so sad for me, but when I think about the other girls whose friendship I so value, I can see how many connections she forged for me, which is a priceless gift to have left me with.

Mimi quickly introduced us to V and her husband, and we three couples became quite the tight group. I loved having dinners and game nights together or Sister Wives viewing nights with just the ladies. V is a sensible, dry wit, and I think we “got” something deep down about each other, as I have more than a little bit of that in me, as well. V also moved back to Canada, and I still really miss her. We always threaten to plan a trip together – one day, V – one day!

Just a couple months after I moved here, Sydney Smiles (SS) put out a query on an expat forum about starting a book club. Mimi and I agreed to join, and after slogging through the most laughably terrible book, we convened at a restaurant in The Rocks with the three of us, plus N and a girl who we never saw again. (V, of previous paragraph fame, joined up later, in case you’re keeping score at home). We had a great time chatting, and started our monthly tradition. I’m so glad that SS took the initiative to get this group together. I can appreciate now that she was making a real leap of faith by inviting complete strangers to join up like that. She’s an absolute dear heart, one of the most honest and caring people I know. She loves my little girl, and is an ace with her, always finding new ways to entertain her. Plus, you should see what she does with nails!

No lie, Sydney Smiles did these for me. She’s an artist!

Our fellow Book Club original, N, is also an absolute gem. She’s lovely inside and out, completely kind and genuine. She’s been in Australia the longest of all of us, and was always happy to share all her tips with us, which was always a massive help. My first big solo outing after Hushpuppy was born was an afternoon wedding dress shopping with N. She got married to her awesome guy in the States, so I couldn’t be there, but it meant a lot to still share something of her big day with her, as she’s been and continues to be such a sweet friend. Oh, and she’s seriously funny, too!

Along the way, Mimi introduced a few more girls into the Book Club fold. When I was away on a trip to the U.S., she sent me a message, so excited about G, a girl she’d met through a mutual friend. I believe her description was, “she’s from New Jersey, she’s Italian, she’s loud and hilarious. You’re going to love her!” OK, from that description, I had my doubts, given my borderline introvert tendencies, but then I met G when I returned. She marched right up to me and said, “I’ve heard so much about you!” then she proceeded to completely win me over. She’s exactly as Mimi described, and I love her. She organized a surprise baby shower for us, and she brings a thoughtful gift for Hushpuppy pretty much every time she sees her. She livens up every room she enters, and we’re all better for knowing our favorite character.
M and her husband moved over for work after I’d been here maybe a year and a half. Mimi also invited her into the group. I love chatting with her, as she’s bright and witty. She’s super with Hushpuppy, and never had a moment of trepidation with her, even when she was a newborn. She called to offer to take the baby off our hands for a bit while so Partner-in-Crime and I could go get a coffee or something, when Hushpuppy was just a couple weeks old, something I still feel sorry for not taking her up on! She’s one of those people who knows how to make everyone feel comfortable, in a down to earth way.
Finally, Mimi also introduced us to A, who bravely showed up for a big, boisterous Thanksgiving dinner where she didn’t know any of us. It’s hard for me to properly say what a dear friend A has become to us, but as she’s heading back to the States in just a few weeks, I feel particularly keen to try – though, I must tell you, she’s far too humble to care to read gushing things about herself, and is probably going to stop right here. Through our friendship with A, I have learned what it is to really be there for your friends. Everyone says, “let me know if I can do anything,” and we all mean it, but A somehow knows exactly what needs to be done and just quietly makes it happen. After Hushpuppy was born, she said, “I’m bringing dinner on Friday,” and she arrived with a massive plate of sushi from our favorite Japanese place, knowing that I’d not been able to eat sushi for the past 9 months. It was heaven on a plate. When our apartment flooded, I put out a desperate call for help, and she said, “I’ll be right there,” and took Hushpuppy off my hands for a couple of hours. When we were hosting Thanksgiving on a Saturday, she messaged on Friday and said, “I’ll be near your house. I can stop by to help.” I knew she meant it, and I put her to work! She’s like that for all of her friends. We’ve had so many long conversations, meals, divine parties at her place, and on and on. I’m feeling sentimental with her imminent departure, knowing that her presence in all of our lives is going to be dearly missed.

I know I’ve carried on a bit here, and picked far more than one person to recognize, but these girls have made all the difference to my experience living abroad. I would have been lucky to have had just one of them to make life here richer, less lonely, and a lot more fun, yet somehow I was blessed with all of them. Thank you, ladies, you will forever have such a special place in my heart.

Day 23: True Colors

expat blog challege, expat issues, memoirs

Prompt: Respond –  Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ―Terry Pratchett

Day trip to Miami

My life was pretty colorful before moving abroad. I loved living in Florida. I could pop out to the beach anytime, our weather was gorgeous, and I was surrounded by the dearest friends I could ask for. Once, a grad school friend came to visit me from New York, and she said, “I know you live in Florida because you’ve worn white on the bottom three days in a row.” It’s true, I loved my white denim. Florida agreed with me.

Though I always wanted travel to be part of my life, I probably would have been happy living in Florida for a long time. Had this move to Australia with Partner-in-Crime not come up, I don’t know why we would have left. We had good lives and were happy.

When I arrived in Sydney, I felt terribly sad for a long time. The sky was an insanely blue color, far richer than at home, but I hardly saw it, and it did nothing to brighten my spirit. I felt out of place everywhere I went, like I’d landed on another planet. I couldn’t see much good, only different. Everyone wore black, which made me feel more out of place. My white-on-the-bottom had no place here.

Sometimes I put on an outfit, and P-i-C tells me that it’s great … if we lived in Queensland (the Australian equivalent of Florida). But now, I don’t care. I’ve slowly accepted that it’s fine to be me in whatever colors I please. I do have a few “Sydney outfits,” and I love wearing those, too. I feel like, when I put them on, they say, “today, I’m Sydney-me!”

sydney me
Sydney-me loves to drink wine. Florida-me is a beer drinker.

Sydney-me is not a put-on. She’s new, but I like Sydney-me. She’s an extension of Florida-me and Georgia-me and Brooklyn-me and Montana-me. It’s a little bit of dress up, but still authentic.

Our intention has always been to go back to the States one day. When we do, Sydney-me will go along. She’ll wear black. She’ll say “quite” and will probably slip up and say something annoying like “car park” instead of parking lot. She’ll drink wine, and have an opinion on which Shiraz is the best for the money.
I have a degree of nervousness about going home one day. I know that everything is going to look different. The things that don’t conform to the way I like things here are going to really annoy Sydney-me. I wonder how my friendships will hold up. My friends knew the other me-s, but will they like the addition of Sydney-me to the mix, or will they find her pretentious, uppity, and a boring know-it-all? Will they wish that Sydney-me would just stuff her stupid black leggings in her suitcase and go back to where she came from? I worry about this, but Sydney-me goes where I do from now on, so I live with the consequences and benefits of adding this experience to my life.
It’s not just what my friends will think, but what will all the new colors look like to me? Will they be vibrant and familiar, colors my eyes have been so desperately missing, which look even brighter when seeing them again. Or, will the emerging new shades be shadowy, colors that were always there, yet mostly out of sight, until uncovered by Sydney-me? I suspect both will emerge, though what the balance of vibrant to dark will be, I cannot even guess.
Not all expats ever go home to where they started, but I expect that one day we will. At least, back to the physical place we came from, though it will never be the same to us. On one hand, it’s a scary thought, all these new colors, but the more I examine it, the more I know that whatever the tones, our lives are richer, our marriage stronger, our children’s lives vaster, our memories splashed with a whole pallet of colors we didn’t even know existed before we left home.
I think that this is all the Me-s in one. All manner of color.

Day 13: Something I Left Behind

expat blog challege, memoirs

Prompt: Something I left behind.

Following on yesterday’s post about my frequent bus travels and fear of driving, you may find it surprising that in the States, I was an avid driver. I was one of those people who would drive aimlessly for an hour just to relax. Out of all the many material possessions I left behind – many sold and quite a few still haunting my mom’s house – my car was the closest to me.

My first ever car was a Chevy Cavalier with a stupid “Heartbeat of America” sticker affixed that I picked up my Sophomore year in college. During my Senior year, I was T-boned going through a 4 way stop by a lunatic who never even slowed down. I luckily got out unscathed, but the Cavalier looked miserable, and as I only had liability insurance, I could never afford the thousands of dollars it cost to get it repaired properly. Still, I drove it to my first internship in Florida, but it was never the same again after the crash.

I was offered a job at the theatre where I interned, and I accepted on the condition that I could take the summer off, as I had some travel plans lined up. I went home to Georgia, and my dad decided that he didn’t care to see his gainfully (just barely) employed first born riding around in the ol’ Increasingly Unsafe at any Speed. He very generously offered to make the down payment on a new-used car for me to start my adult life with. My mom and brother were both happily driving Saturns, at that point, so off to the Saturn dealership we went. My budget was pretty small, and I narrowed it down to two cars – a sensible green sedan with no air conditioning or a sexy red sports car with manual transmission and only 18,000 miles on it. I didn’t drive a stick, so I was leaning towards the sedan (no air conditioning in Florida – what was I thinking?). My dad, however, was sold on the sports car. He told me he’d teach me to drive it, so we arranged financing, and I was the proud owner of a 1997 Saturn SC-1.

As promised, my dad taught me to drive it. Inexplicably he, a man never known for his calm nature, found stores of patience somewhere deep inside. I, however, turned into a terrible brat, struggling to master a new motor skill at age 22. Somehow we both survived – literally and figuratively – and at the end of the summer, I packed up my car and drove it back to Florida. Never one for car names, it was always just “my car.”

 

I detailed my decade long wanderings in my day two post, so you already know that the Saturn and I clocked many, many miles together – our big moves were from Georgia to Florida, Florida to Montana, Montana to New York, New York to Florida (twice), and Florida to Georgia.  And, we made many trips in between.

 

She suffered a couple of popped tires from my poor parallel parking jobs outside artist housing where I lived in Florida. Somewhere – who knows where – in Illinois, her sunroof got stuck, and I had to replace the motor with $300 I’m sure I didn’t have. She got fitted with snow tires in Montana, where I put most of my paycheck from Wal Mart into paying her off a year early. I got a parking ticket in Brooklyn when her battery died and I couldn’t move her to the other side of the street before the street sweeper came. Her brakes went bad, and the car mechanic I was briefly infatuated with fixed them for the cost of parts because he kind of liked me, too. Somewhere along the line, her roof became leaky, and every time it rained, she’d flood and then smell mildewy after. Besides being manual transmission, my car was manual pretty much everything. No power windows or locks, and the stereo had a cassette player in which I plugged one of those CD adapters into a Disc Man, and then later my 20-song iPod Shuffle.

 

She made long trips during big life changes, packed to the absolute rafters, always with my potted plant (a gift from my mom when I moved to college for the first time) and my big stuffed cow in the front seat. She also made shorter trips. When I desperately needed to get away from my ceaseless job, she’d take me from Sarasota to Gainesville, Georgia, where my friend Leah was still in college, overnight on a Friday to Saturday and back again on Sunday afternoon. We, along with my mom, nearly got killed when she spun out in the middle of the highway after just barely missing a deer crossing the road on our way to Iowa to visit a grad school I would decide not to go to. She spent more hours than I can count lost in New Jersey, with me cursing Jersey barriers, as I tried to find my way home to Brooklyn after Newark airport drop offs. She took me down Alligator Alley and across the state of Florida many times to visit my favorite theatre, dear friends, and someone who I was also briefly infatuated with. She drove me an hour south to Partner-in-Crime’s house most weekends for a good year, and grudgingly home on Monday mornings, as this one was much more than a brief infatuation. She drove me in the middle of the night back to Georgia when my dad died suddenly, and she was my fastest way home.

 

It was only a few months later that she was my final remaining large possession, and I sent her to the graceless fate of being sold to Car Max for $1,500. I wasn’t sentimental, at the time, but looking back, that was a mistake. By the time I sold her, she had over 90,000 miles on her – 78,000 of them mine, clocked over 9 years of faithful service, most of them just she and I. I knew her soul, and with all the places we saw together, the songs I belted at the top of my lungs in her, and the secret tears I saved  for my time with her, I cannot escape the belief that she knew mine, as well. It was a mistake to not honor her better at the end of our time together – the end of my 20s, my last days as an American resident for some time to come, the end of my infatuations and driftings, and the end of my days driving long stretches of highway, steering wheel in one hand, stick shift in the other, both feet on the pedals, and two eyes on all the things that lay ahead.