Monday, December 13, 2010


Yesterday, I emptied out a handbag for my daughter to use, and I came across things like baby hair bows, lipstick with the indent from my lips, and a spare contact lens—all of these things, relics of a life. But I didn’t tear up until I started looking at the papers…the Sainsbury’s vouchers, ASDA receipts, even a handwritten note from my old neighbor. It hit me like a fist between my ribs: you will never live there again, in that place, in that house, surrounded by those people. England. I could hardly bear it, those reminders of complete and utter loss, the end of something meaningful and real and beautiful.

When I first moved to England, I was so scared. I refused to drive until I finally hated myself too much for being such a chickenshit—two months! I didn’t know where to go to buy wrapping paper or thread or yarn. I didn’t know what anything was—what the hell is a queue? And the endless roundabouts—are you kidding me? Plus I didn’t always understand the accents and all the words they used—my movers had been from Birmingham, and I just sat there bobbing my head pretending like I had a clue what they were saying. But they didn’t understand me either—why I didn’t have a tea kettle, to start with. Then along comes the neighbor (who would become my dear friend) to the rescue, letting me borrow a spare kettle. Meanwhile I’m fuming because I HAD TO HAVE AN EFFING TEA KETTLE! Like it’s some sort of law.

I was miserable. I missed my family. My friends. My neighbors. I missed knowing how to ring call people, how to find what I needed, how to say what I wanted to say and have it understood. I missed Monterey jack cheese and ranch dressing and Mrs. Butterworth and freaking Velveeta. I wanted to go home.

But before I knew it, England was home. I learned to love our new tea kettle, new friends, the travels, the pubs, Bounty bars, Yorkshire tea, digestives, and custard slices. Our first visit back to the U.S., a year after we’d left, was nice but…strange. Though our family and friends missed us (and likewise), we weren’t missed. Because life moves on without you when you’re not there. So when the time came, we were  ready to go home. To England.

But eventually, it was time to move back to the U.S. I’ll tell you, it took me a good six months to come out of depression after that move. Because something happened to me while I was in Britain. I was Changed. And in that change, I began to understand who I was, and in some sense, where I belonged. I was HOME. But our families weren’t there, so we knew we couldn’t stay forever. But, damn it, it was home. Until Britain, I’d been a half-Ecuadorian too-young mom who struggled to find her place in suburban America. I never realized how hard that identity was for me until I’d left it behind.

But in all things, we eventually adjust. Right? Right?

This is what I wrote when we first began preparations to move back to the U.S:

I'm scared now. I'm rather frightened to go home. I feel the kind of melancholy that only permanence can cause. And this, this return, is oh so permanent. So final. And we have friends here. We have created a place for ourselves here. In some ways, I am more American here than I ever was in the US. Here, I have felt free. Our only obligations, for the first time ever, have been to ourselves. Selfish? Ignoble? I prefer to think of it rather as a generosity to our own souls. And it feels good. Inside, I am screaming: Finders Keepers!!! Once again, I see change before me, only this time, a return to status quo. I love and miss my family and friends, my church. But I am afraid.

And yet

"I have accepted fear as a part of life—especially the fear of change...I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back..." --Erica Jong

There is a pounding in my heart.

ba-bump. ba-bump. ba-bump.

I fear for what I will leave behind.

I wouldn’t give up my experiences elsewhere—not in Ecuador or Britain or any of the states I’ve lived in, but sometimes, I wish I’d lived in the same town my whole life, never knowing what I was missing. Sometimes, I feel fractured, like I’ve left parts of me in different places. I love our home now—it’s home. But I don’t belong only here. And some parts of me don’t belong here at all. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never fully belong anywhere.

Maybe the only real home I have is my family and my writing—the only things I can take with me wherever I go, my personal little turtle shells.

You know, now that I think about it, turtles are pretty cute with those little shells.

I wish I could somehow relate this to writing, but it’s not really analogous. Sorry. 


  1. This was quite possibly the most moving piece I have read in a long time Cee. I have moved around a lot in my adult life and for a long time, home seemed hard to find. There are perhaps one or two places beyond my childhood home where I have felt most 'at home' but I had to move on from those places and indeed it was hard for a long time after I had left them.

    Let me wipe a tear away here for a sec...

    Ahhh - yeah, anyways, home is indeed now something I find in my writing. When the writing momentum is good and the prose flows easily, then I get that same feeling I got at those couple of places where everything just...fits.

    Just like this piece you just wrote.

    It just fits.

  2. It's so hard to move away from places that are HOME. I've never lived in England, but I know what you mean. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. That was lovely. We forget sometimes how much our sense of self is related to our sense of place. I know that I miss my home, and I'm only on the other side of the continent, not halfway across the world. But when I say 'home' I don't mean where I grew up, but where we chose to live.

    Beautiful post!

  4. I've always liked the saying "home is where you hang your hat" but I've thought it's not that easy. I'm so glad you're happy where you are and have adjusted there so well! I'm thinking that all the places you've lived have made your writing richer. :)

  5. It doesn't need to be analogous to writing--it's lovely and it's honest and it's you. Those are things you never have to apologize for.

  6. Growing up, my family moved every 4 years (and we weren't a military family). I often wonder what it would have been like to have stayed in one place, gone through school with the same group of friends. Sometimes I'm glad we moved around, and wonder how ANYONE can stay in one place their whole life. I get your not-quite-fitting-in feeling

    I want to go visit England. It's at the top of my list...but I'm afraid I may not want to come home again if I do.

  7. I moved around all the time when I was a kid. It broadens your perspective. You'll always miss England, but you're so much richer for the experience.

  8. I did not know you lived in England. How beautiful to be there. I'd love to visit. It's in the plans...someday.

  9. Sometimes its not about the writing, its about the person behind the words. I now know a little bit more about you, what makes you the person you are, and I'm appreciateive for that!


  10. i don't think i could ever live somewhere else. For one, i couldn't be away from family and for another i love MN too much.
    But, sometimes i think i'd like a little adventure living somewhere else

  11. I started to comment, but decided to blog on it at my 'home' instead. Thanks so much for the thought provocation, lovely C!

  12. Loved this post Carol! It was beautifully written and really hit down the center of my heart. Especially since I know how to you feel... Life does go on in spite of us being away... it's hard to really admit and deal with but... it does.

    Ahhh! Now the tears... *hugs*

  13. You write what you are, so in a way, it has everything to do with writing. I lived in the same town all of my life (save the 3 years or so I lived elsewhere) and I have the same feelings you do. Just because you don't have something to compare it to in that situation doesn't mean you don't still feel it. Chin up, darlin'.

  14. Oh, Carol. *HUGS* This is beautiful, hon.

    I've lived in the same place nearly my whole life and feel like I've never had a chance to find home. I don't think this is it. I yearn to find it and have no idea where to start. I feel pretty lost sometimes.

    I'm sorry you had to leave a place that was sincerely home for you, but I imagine you're a better person for what you've seen and felt in the finding and leaving of each place. If I could trade experiences with you, I would.

  15. Oh Carol, this is a lovely. Thank you for sharing this post with us.

    I think I'm a gypsy, a turtle...wanderlust, always. I'm at home wherever I go, and have always been that way. Now, as long as I have my husband I am happy and home. He is home, my shell. Fortunately, he craves adventure and travel as much as I do, and his tastes are as varied. (and he picks up foreign languages far better, and speaks spanish, italian and french extremely well)

    I have loved some places, cultures more than others. Some places hold a special part of my heart (Paris, Charleston).

    I think I'll go make some tea and think of you and England.


  16. What a lovely, and heart wrenching post. I can sympathize. I spent the first 6 months I lived abroad crying because I couldn't understand why everyone was yelling at me! (Turns out, it's just a culture where the language is harsher than English and the people can be abrasive, even though they most often have your best interests at heart). And then I cried again when I moved back to the States, because I knew who I was in that foreign country and had no idea who I would be or should be back in the U.S. Living in another culture does change you. From your thoughts and feelings to the cadence of your speech. It adds something to who you are. And it's a bit scary to move back to a place which knew you before. How does the new you fit in? And will the place to which you return will change those new things about you that you like?

    I truly understand the uncomfortable sensation that you belong nowhere because I often feel it myself. But then again, on good days - I wonder if perhaps, in a way, we don't also belong everywhere.

  17. Thanks for sharing this experience with us! I know I felt the same when I moved to New Orleans (not technically another country, I know, but still, massive culture shock). It took me months to feel at home, and now I can't imagine living anywhere else.

    What an awesome experience that must have been.

  18. I understand well what you mean. I feel as if there are little pieces of me all over the world. In England. In India. In the USA. Most recently in Tibet.

    I miss England so much sometimes. Like you, I went into a real depression when I moved from there to the states. It hurts.

    You have an award at my blog.


  19. This blog is so personal, so open and so lovely. I love how you're cracked yourself open and shared a piece of your soul with us. It's like a window into your mind. You're very lucky to have had those experiences. I would give anything to live in England! I've never even seen the ocean before. Cheers to you. :)

  20. You could have related your experiences to writing (home = writing only what you're comfortable with; moving to Britain = trying new styles; etc.) but I'm glad you didn't. By sticking solely with your emotions, it's a much more powerful (and personal) piece.

    I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum -- I haven't traveled enough, and long for places I've never been -- but I know where you're coming from. And I'm glad you've found what's most important for you: your family and your writing. You can bring your turtle shells with you wherever you go.

  21. This post was touched such a nerve with me, Carol. I lived in the UK for four years (three in London, one in the West Midlands) and it was almost exactly a year ago that I was forced to move back to the States because they wouldn't renew my visa. It was really heartbreaking. I had a life, a career, friends, and I'd finally found this place where I really felt I'd belonged for the first time, and that was all taken away from me. I had to start all over again here in the States, and I MISS Britain so badly. In fact, yesterday I made the mistake of watching BBC America for too long and it just totally depressed me. I'm not sure I'll ever get entirely over it, to be honest.

    I can tie it to writing, though, because when I get my billion dollar advance, I will buy a house in England and NO ONE WILL BE ABLE TO MAKE ME LEAVE! And you can come visit me whenever you like. :)

  22. I know just how you feel, honey.

    I was born in London, grew up in New Zealand. Lived in Australia for three years, came back to New Zealand, then went back to London for another ten years. Not withstanding the numerous 'around the world' trips I have taken ..

    Now I'm home - in NZ. Well, I think it's home. I struggle with it to be honest, as much as I love it here.

    PS. The name Wendy, means 'wanderer'. And that's exactly what I've been. Hopefully I'll be at peace one day.

  23. Oh Carol, what a sweet, tender post! I'm so sorry that you are missing Englad so much. What an amazing experience you had to live there. I have to admit I am jealous - but not of the heartache you had to go through to leave. That would be so hard. I hope that you will be able to return there someday if you love it that much. Maybe you can retire there? To write lovely books and let me come visit you whenever I want! :) *hugs*

  24. I know where you're coming from. When I was nine, my family moved from Seattle to Phoenix. I was the ONLY PERSON who seemed to miss Seattle at all, and I still don't think I've ever really come to feel at home in Phoenix. I still get homesick for a place I lived in almost nine years ago...

  25. What happened there is that you wrote the true emotion that you feel...and if you want to tie it in to writing...then it's clear from this piece that when you feel strongly about something the words come well and easily. The hard thing about life is that we can never stay in one place...literally or figuratively...and that means we are always leaving something behind.

  26. Oh Carol. :( I'm so sorry you had to leave such an amazing place. I know how huge an impact it had on you. Some day you know you'll at least get to visit again though! And even though you miss it, even though it's hard and often depressing to know you had to leave it--at least you were there for the time you were, yanno? Okay, so that probably doesn't make you feel better, but imagine if you'd never experienced it! Your life wouldn't be as full as it is now.


  27. Holy moly,
    I could have written this myself. Having parents from different sides of the world means that I have at least two countries that I feel are part of my home. And then I moved to a different city for Uni, and now I'm moving back to the city where I grew up to be back with family. But I also want to live for a while in the country where my Mother grew up. I have a love of change, new experiences and travel, yet each time I move on, I leave a little piece of me in the place I have made a home for that time.
    And it doesn't matter that you can't align this to writing. Writing is life, and I know that myself and my writer friends are drawn to writing because of a feeling of being different or displaced, and trying to connect through our writing.

    Great post,

  28. Treat yourself to this Cee (and in fact - all of you) Zero 7's "Home"

  29. +JMJ+

    Carol, this post made me tear up!

    I know exactly what it's like to move to a country with a completely different culture--which you think will be okay because they speak "English" there, right? (LOL!!! For my first few months in New Zealand, I barely understood everyone who spoke to me . . . and I wanted to murder everyone who said in suprise, "Your English is very good!" Yeah, because it's spoken in other parts of the world, too, you know.)

    Confession: I went to New Zealand with the long-term option of eventually making it my home. Unlike you and England, however, I didn't fall in love. It just wasn't the country for me--although the decision to fly back to the Philippines is one I still occasionally regret.

    And when I did come back to the Philippines . . . I found I had been so changed by the New Zealand experience that I couldn't call it home, either! I missed my friends; I missed the relative freedom; I missed the temperate climate; I missed the safe city streets. That was about five years ago, and I still don't really feel settled.

    If home is a place, then I'd give anything to find it someday. The idea that home, for me, is in my writing rather than in some specific geographical location is both incredibly comforting (because I'll always have my writing) and incredibly sad (because it means I might always feel rootless).

    You might have noticed that I'm kind of obsessed with settings on my blog, with a settings-themed meme every Saturday. Well, now you know the root cause! =P And here's another layer to it: one reason I'm so paralysed when it comes to writing my own fiction is that I always stop short right before the setting. I always want to put my characters in my dream home--but how can I write about it if I haven't got there yet?

  30. I've never lived in a different country, but I have lived in several different states. I guess each one has felt like home at the time. This is the place where our children are growing up, so that makes it pretty special.

    I reviewed The Marbury Lens on my blog today. Thanks so much for your review which made me want to read it in the first place!

  31. This was such an emotionally powerful post, Carol. You expressed those feelings perfectly. Moving is such a difficult thing to do. I've never had to move to a different country, though.

  32. You capture so well the dynamics of moving and then returning to such diverse and richly cultural places.

  33. Thanks for sharing that! That was very touching, and I'm sorry that you miss England. I love Europe; I often joke about moving there. Just think, when one door closes, another one (or ten!) opens! Who knows what other awesome world travels you will have.

  34. miss u. i picked up matched at a grocery store in chicago. i left the book i was reading at my house and there was no way i could go five days in chicago without reading. so, per your review, i purchased matched. i love it.

  35. Great post. My wife is like this any time we move. At first she hates it and then the thought of leaving kills her.

  36. Wow. Great Post! I have felt this way too. I didn't move out of the country to do it though.... Just to California from Mississippi. But you described it beautifully - the finding yourself, etc...

    Loved this!

  37. Oh my gosh, what a beautiful and moving post, Carolina. Thank you for sharing. I have cousins in a small town outside of Birmingham (part of the family that never emigrated to the States) and you make me homesick for them.

  38. That was similar to how I felt after moving back to the U.S from Australia. I miss it there. We plan on moving back at some point; I even left some of my favorite books there.


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