Ten hectic chaotic days Stateside later, and we’ve wrapped the requisite bachelorette party and done six months’ worth of wedding planning in about four days.
Trips home are now riddled with errand-running. You come “home” once or twice a year, and it’s dentist, coffee-dates, teary dinners with friends you’ve only seen over Skype in months, and a different season from when you were home before. One trip it’s the height of summer, the next trip it’s snowing. You marvel at how much – and how little – has changed. You eat your favorite bagel and get a latte made just right. You see how your feet skip over familiar cracks in familiar sidewalks and you wonder how this piece of earth has remained so very much the same when so much else has changed.
My bachelorette party was in Las Vegas, but it wasn’t the typical “What Happens In Vegas” booze-fueled shitshow. We stayed in suites with a kitchen and went to Trader Joe’s for snacks. We “slept in” until 8am. The highlight of the trip, for me, was lying around one of the rooms with nine of my nearest and dearest girlfriends, all in jammies (read: yoga pants, we’re kind of #basic), trading trashy magazines and talking about our lives. Things have changed since we were younger and dumber, and we prioritized hugs and conversations on this trip which was exactly what I needed. I walked away, as I always do after interactions with these deliciously smart and funny women, holding my head a little higher and feeling my backbone strengthen a bit with their love.
And “home”….Baltimore in winter can be a slushy, dismal mess. But it blessed me this week with one of those brief but beautiful snow episodes that last only a few hours but leave everything momentarily quiet and fluffed with white. And after that, just overcast and cold. Two things I can tolerate in moderation, especially whilst living in a desert.
There is a moment that occurs for expats when your stay begins to feel less like a vacation (or durance vile if you’ll allow me some drama) and more like, “Ok…this is where I am and where I shall be for awhile.” I haven’t yet met anyone who has said, “I’m home!” when describing their expat experience in Abu Dhabi, but there is certainly a definitive period of time in between feeling like you’re in extended stay mode and when you begin to assemble your exit strategy where things solidify for a bit.
In another week or so, it will have been one year since I moved to Abu Dhabi, and during that time I have felt a near-constant flood of homesickness and struggling with the day-to-day realities of living here. I stubbornly cling to my American ways: Wheat Thins, a longing for a nearby Target, and my firm belief that I am here as part of some grand experiment designed to test my patience. I am a creature who, for all her love of shiny new things, abhors change. I want to adventurously try new things…within the safe, cozy boundaries I arbitrarily set as I see fit.
I’m not sure when this shift will take place for me, when my past life will begin to slip. I’m not sure that I want it to, entirely, but I do know that something needs to change. Abu Dhabi and I need to call a truce with one another. I will stop blaming every single annoying thing in my entire life on its existence, and it will stop being so annoying. I believe this to be a fair and balanced deal.
Living abroad is exhilarating and challenging. It pushes you to new limits, it forces you to unpack a lot of shit that you didn’t know you had hidden in your depths. Of course there are some people who come here to start over, to build an entirely new life and persona. They leave their shit behind, casting it off with a one-way ticket and an empty promise to write. I wasn’t one of those people. I dragged all of my shit with me, and then proceeded to build a nice big shit pile, on top of which I sat and judged the hell out of everything around me.
As the dust settles, and my loving friends remind me that I am not this person, I know I need to dismantle my throne. To stop comparing and judging. To accept that I need to move past this extended-stay mind frame and begin to let go of expectations. Not that I need to put down roots – in all this sand, I’d get blown away with the first dust storm. But I could stop carrying around all of the trappings of my old life, all of the armor that makes me feel safe, all of the quips and snarks and witty (to me) comparisons of just how different (read: crap) things are here than they were at “home.” I don’t want to be that person. That person is not ok.
My friends remind me that home will always be there, and that if I don’t let go and just be in this place, I will wind up with regrets about my time here. I will walk away with a false and soured opinion, I will never have faced this expat life here with fresh eyes and hopeful intentions. I came here with squinty side-eye. I can’t leave that way.
I can miss the bare branches, the red brick, the grit and dirt of my home city. I can miss my friends and family like a phantom limb. But I cannot blame Abu Dhabi for these losses, and I cannot fixate on them. They will still be there; those lattes and those cracks in the sidewalks and those hugs. For now, I need to find things here that I will miss someday when we do finally leave. Because if I don’t, the losses are mine in ways that are much grander than simply saying goodbye.
With heels dug in and fists clenched, I will embrace this expat life and live in the present and finally let go of all of these expectations and comparisons I’ve been dragging around. They’re heavy, and they’re slowing me down.
You and me, Abu Dhabi. Let’s do this.