“I learned very quickly that when you emigrate, you lose the crutches that have been your support; you must begin from zero, because the past is erased with a single stroke and no one cares where you’re from or what you did before.”
― Isabel Allende, Paula
So, I find myself on a Sunday night contemplating the coming week, and whilst it is a fairly common experience to have that feeling of dread in the bottom of your stomach, for me it’s not due to the anticipation of work in the morning. It’s actually a long time since I dreaded going to work, not since my time as a secondary school teacher. No, I know this will probably sound strange, but for me, it’s the fact that I’m leaving Brussels tomorrow to spend a week back in the UK.
There are a number of reasons for the way I feel. Not least because the main reason I’m going is to attend my Uncle’s funeral. But it’s more than that. I feel at best ambivalent towards my so-called ‘home’ country; it’s where I come from, where I grew up, and yet I’ve never felt any kind of pride in my nationality, I’ve never felt it was an essential part of my identity. I’ve often heard people say that they were born in the wrong era, but I think I was born in the wrong country. I feel no loyalty towards the British monarchy, I don’t support any football team, I don’t think that London is the centre of the world. I speak at least one other language fluently, and at least two more to a basic level. I was always aware that I felt differently than a lot of my friends and family, and I didn’t have a name for it until I started learning about Europe at University, and then I knew instantly, as soon as I heard the word, that I wanted to be ‘European’
The ultimate expression of that wish is living here in Brussels, at the heart of Europe, working for the Commission. In a way, I couldn’t agree more with Isabel Allende – emigrating does erase your past, but to me that’s a blessing. Rather than ‘losing the crutches that have been your support’, I feel like I have lost a millstone around my neck; I feel light, free, and at ease. I have only been living here for about 6 months but it already feels like my home. Everything is exactly as I always imagined it would be, it is everything I hoped for and more. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying everything in my life is perfect, I’m not even saying Brussels is perfect, what would that even mean anyway? What I am saying is that I feel like my life has finally started, after being in a kind of limbo for a long time. After many false starts and failures, I am now at the bottom of that ladder I so want to climb, which feels a lot better than being halfway up one I didn’t.
Now, when I’m faced with the prospect of leaving here and going back, even for a short time, I feel a vague anxiety that is hard to describe. To go back there is jarring. To walk around places I’ve lived and see everything exactly as it was before feels somehow as though I’ve stepped back through the looking glass. Like I’ve suddenly woken up in an alternative dimension where the last six months never really happened. Like it has all been just a dream. How long will it take me to stop feeling this way? A year? Ten? Never?
Well, since I’m really just writing this as a way of putting off packing my case, and it’s getting late, I probably ought to go and get on with it.