I always knew I would get away. In my life, in America, I’ve lived on both coasts, but spent most of my life in Knoxville, Tennessee. I even moved back there from college; at the time, I saw this as a failure. I didn’t want to end up in the same place forever. I thought I was meant for the bigger world. No one who knows me was surprised that I ended up in Europe. But I’ve been surprised by the unpredictable encounters with loneliness. Today’s topic is family; tomorrow’s will be friends.
My family is very close-knit. It was exciting to have them meet Mathieu, and then in turn to meet his family and find that they are so close as well. He had been living abroad for four years when I met him. He had handled it well, and I was so happy to be with him and to start our lives together, I didn’t have time to become apprehensive about leaving. In packing, and selling furniture, and boxing up belongings, instead of nervousness or anxiety, I was focused and determined and ecstatic. I knew he would be supportive and, having been through such an intense move himself, was ideally placed to be empathetic and positive.
It wasn’t until I was at the airport, surrounded by my family’s good-byes, that I realized the implications of what I was about to do. In a way, I was choosing one love over another. I chose a promised future love over an unwavering past of love. I chose uncertainty over unconditional.
It’s always with a leap of faith that you leave behind the familiar for the unknown. I had (and still have) strong confidence in mine and Mathieu’s love. All anyone could say was how lucky I was to be moving to Europe. But the loneliness awakened as I crossed from the Appalachians to the Alps.
Now of course I haven’t lost my family’s love. We’ve learned to communicate in new and different ways. If anything, that love has increased, as distance always has a way of magnifying things. This distance is vast, through both time and space. I miss them. I miss them in unique and random ways every day. Small things will remind me of someone, and I’ll want to share a moment immediately. Then I remember that it’s four o’clock in the morning where they are, or that I can’t just pick up the phone and make an easy, free call, and the moment will pass unshared. And the loneliness creeps back in.
Sometimes I’ll be in the kitchen, trying to recreate a childhood favorite, and I’ll have a question about a method or an ingredient. I should call Mom, I think, she’ll have an answer. So I try her on Skype, but she’s at work and can’t pick up the call. I try my grandparents, but they’re out to lunch. I send an email off to a cousin, but by the time I get a reply it’s way past dinnertime here and I’ve just had to go with my gut. In this way, I learn. But I miss the interaction. And the loneliness sneaks up on me.
Holidays are the hardest. Today is my little brother’s birthday. He celebrated with family this weekend. My dad took him out to eat at the restaurant where I used to work. My mom made her famous “all-day spaghetti sauce” and had him over for dinner. I got to talk to him on Skype for 10 minutes, watching him open the gift we sent him, but it was already past midnight here. Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and I know the plans my family is making, the dishes they will cook. I can hear my 99-year-old great aunt singing show tunes while my dad roasts chestnuts and my cousins play Scrabble.
And sometimes the loneliness swallows me.