A couple weeks ago we passed our one-year repatriation anniversary. Not coincidentally, a couple weeks ago we got back from our summer trip to England and Sweden. We had a lovely time, and I'll sneak some pictures in here to add visual excitement to what will most likely end up a rambling stream of tired, red-wine thoughts about leaving home, going home, and loving home.
We were in England for about ten days. James's brother got married at a lovely country manor in Devon. It was a small event and elegant; the bride was stunning and graceful; the boys did an admirable job at sitting through a two-to-three hour formal dinner. We spent the rest of our time exploring the area close in to my in-laws' house with a couple adventures farther afield. This is the pattern of our trips to England: a few days at home, a few days out exploring. As the kids get older we get out exploring more, but there is always lots of time at home watching movies and eating too much food.
After England we went to Sweden, ostensibly to get our apartment ready to sell, which mostly meant coming to terms with leaving and saying goodbye. When we left last year, we knew we'd be back the following summer (this summer), and we knew we still had our place there, serving as a sort of anchor to a time and place of great emotional and psychological significance to our family. Having a place in Sweden allowed us to keep one metaphorical foot in the country, and even though we knew we would never be moving back, we had convinced ourselves that we didn't have to say goodbye yet.
But we had to say goodbye.
Within weeks (days, possibly) of moving to Corvallis we knew we had found Home. That we were much happier here than we had been, and our lives more fulfilling. Sweden was a fond but increasingly distant memory that lost resonance with every passing week. But when we walked in the door of our apartment on the sea, all those weeks slipped away, and we slipped right back into that place. Our beloved neighbors met us when we got out of the taxi, opened our door for us, came with us down to the beach, where we all jumped into the Baltic Sea—me for the first time in all the years we'd lived there. Friends, seeing us in the water, emerged from their apartments to say hello and give us hugs and remark on how big the kids had grown. It was the sort of homecoming you always hope is waiting, the kind you leave home for, the kind that makes you ache for everything you left behind and everything you became after you left.
We spent four days at our beloved Stensnäs Udde, swimming in the sea, going for walks, sharing meals with friends, and reminiscing about everything that happened in our years in that place. Wondering how we could hang on to it—if not the apartment, the sense of timelessness of a Swedish summer; the beauty of a light-filled, well-appointed home; the joy of meals with dear friends; the deep calm of taking pleasure in living near nature.
We agonized over leaving that spot and selling the apartment. Not that there was any real choice to be made: we weren't moving back. There's no professional future for us there and the winters are too much. Our day-to-day life here is exponentially easier and more rewarding. But still. It was time to officially leave a country, a language, a culture, albeit one we never quite felt at home in. I was sad at the grocery store, remembering the meals in our regular rotation, the foods we would buy, the funny letters—å, ä, ö—on the packaging, the aisle of premade Bearnaise sauces, the way you collect a shopping cart in the parking lot and bring it in with you—that is, the day-to-day stuff, the stuff that makes up your life, the actions that you repeat ad nauseum until you don't, not never again; it's probably easier to walk away and never come back, because the coming back haunts you with the otherness of that previous life.
Right, so we agonized: over the fresh, light wood floors and marble window sills of our apartment; the thirty shades of blue of the sea in summer and thirty shades of grey in the winter; the lilting language that was falling, had fallen, from us. Over this place where our babies had been born and had toddled and had formed their mouths into vowels we may not hear again.
But we had to leave, and we have to sell the apartment (in progress), and we had to come Home. Now we are here and we are happy, and while I don't want to move back, I am still, at moments, haunted in that difficult melancholic way that pulls you into the land of what-ifs. I feel this way about Los Angeles sometimes, and I suppose I am grateful that there have been places that have so captured my heart and my imagination that I am not quite done with them. But what do you do with a place that you are not quite done with? What does that place do with you, to you?
We said goodbye. It was harding leaving this time and I cried looking around our apartment for the last time, as the car waited outside for me to turn out the lights, lock up, hide the key for our broker. We have left that life, and it was a good life.
Have you left a place you loved—and gone back? What was it like being there again?
PS. I feel remiss in writing a whole post about our time in Sweden and not even mentioning the dear friends we met over two days in Stockholm, the beautiful shining souls whose faces pop into my mind every time I think of Stockholm or of friendship or of women I admire. Thank you, dear Lotta and dear Sophia, for coming to see us.
All photos by me, except for one by August—he shot the 7th pic in the England series.
Angelina Sanderson Bellamy
I know exactly what you mean! But the twist for us was that after we moved to California for two years and then returned to Sweden, we actually found that in that space, we had changed and Sweden had changed, so we returned to Sweden, excited to resume our lives and excited to return to all of those things you mention above. But it was all different, and we found that it wasn't something that we actually wanted for ourselves anymore. So we moved. Again. To the UK this time. But while the sense of nostalgia is very small and I have no desire to move back there, we do still own our house there. No idea what to do about that, as I am not sure I could bear to sell it. Not yet anyways...Thanks for the blog- it was fun reading.
Glad you enjoyed it. You've done so much moving, and so much resettling. I'm amazed you are in one piece! Hope you are feeling settled and happy and home where you are now.
So happy to see you're writing again, I've missed this.
What a beautiful and very true piece. I cry every time I leave the mountains— my spiritual home, but one I’ll never be able to live in until I retire. I also struggle with homesickness for a home that no longer exists... the fresh eucalyptus-infused air of the Northern California coast and the family that was once intact there. These are strange, unsettling feelings that I find difficult to process. I’m glad you had such a good trip. The pictures are gorgeous and perfectly evoke what you are describing.