Pinch Me

feel fine

We were smack in the middle of expat limbo. We’d been living in Houston for not even a year when G was offered a job in Qatar. For a healthy dose of geographical schizophrenia we went backwards to our old life. We returned to Canada for a weekend. We did what we said we could never do. We revisited, reflected, and planted ourselves in the middle of what was. The old us.

I didn’t do well in my first year in Canada. I was that woman that you meet who’s new in town and isn’t happy. I struggled, more than anywhere before. It remains to be my toughest move. I had three very small children, a husband who travelled extensively, and a budget that had us exploring one hundred ways to cook mince. We’d taken out our first mortgage and it wasn’t how I had dreamed – a pink house in the burbs, they called it Californian salmon in the brochure – but it was pink.

I was miserable. This was not what I’d signed up for. I wanted the exotic, the foreign language, the extremes of power outages and tracking down supplies. Instead I was in a mini-van in the burbs, I was shopping at warehouse supermarkets and watching Oprah while folding the washing.

“I could have this life in Australia” I said to G more than once “I don’t understand why we’re here? We could be doing the same thing at home, but with better weather!”

The little travellers were in heaven. We lived on a cul-de-sac, there were kids to play with, bikes to ride, a basement full of toys. Libya became a distant memory for them, we were now a family with snow suits, toboggans and toques. I hated the cold, I didn’t ski, I was geographically mismatched. I was an eskimo in the desert, a Caribbean reggae band performing in the Alps.

I think the major change came when I returned to the office. Calgary was in the height of the boom and the pace was fast, we all got swept up in it. It was the modern day gold rush – people came out west for jobs and opportunity. We watched friends build businesses while others sold to corporations. I made girlfriends, really good girlfriends. I giggled at work and felt good about seeing people get jobs that they were happy about. I learnt how to speak Canadian, I drank beer at hockey games, listened to the Bare Naked Ladies and found tears on my cheeks when the little travellers sang the National Anthem in French.

And when the time came to leave, I realized I didn’t want to go.

There it was again. That problem, the home/heart problem. Where was my heart? Somehow, maybe when it initially broke, my heart had managed to separate, compartmentalize and save a little piece for Canada. It happened when I wasn’t looking. I knew how it worked, I was going to have to leave that piece behind, it would sting initially and then move into a dull ache that would resurrect itself in the form of a Facebook status update “Stampede time!” or the words of a song “It’s the perfect time of year, somewhere far away from here…”

Over the weekend that we returned, we didn’t so much slide, we plunged straight back in to our old life. The little travellers attended birthday parties and played on the same cul-de-sac. We sat at familiar tables in houses that could have been our own, we knew where to find the wine glasses. The neighbours sang Happy Birthday to the third little traveller and made him cupcakes – and for a minute I was about to suggest that we all go back over to our house, and then I remembered that it now belonged to a South African doctor and his family.

That evening at the local hotel we sat with the hockey playing in the background while catching up and retelling old stories. I looked out into the car park and saw the beginning of snow. It began lightly and within minutes it changed to huge, fat, cotton ball snow. My favourite kind. The snow that makes you stop and notice. It was the first for the season, October 4th 2009.

The third little traveller has woken me up every day this week with a running commentary of how many sleeps until his birthday. We are down to one. This morning as he lay inches from my face he asked “remember when we went back to Canada for my birthday Mum? And it snowed? And now I’m going to go swimming on my birthday in Qatar! What do you prefer? The snow or the sun?” He knows my answer will always be the sun, but I know that my answer no longer comes with the same speed and ease that it used to.

The compartmentalization comes into play. It was all a surprise, I wasn’t meant to fall in love with Canada. Thinking of  snow now makes me see faces, houses, favourite ice-cream shops, lakes and mountains. The snow takes me to dance lessons with little girls in pink leotards, drinks after work with suits, concerts and hockey games that require a walk in minus 20 temps to get inside the building.

It doesn’t matter where I am, or what I’d prefer, when you leave a piece of your heart somewhere, it will always be the perfect time of year, somewhere very far from here.

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