One week ago I left my apartment in Berlin to take the 24-hour journey back across The Pond to Newfoundland.
I was a mess.
My roommate held me as I sobbed my goodbyes and crawled into the taxi bound for the airport. The poor taxi driver, who spoke little English, offered me “paper” to dry my tears with. At the Munich airport, a random New Yorker asked if I’d join him for a beer because he could sense my distress. For an hour we talked candidly about our separate lives and I unloaded my concerns about moving home. Onto to a total stranger.
The world is full of good people and beauty. I have repeatedly learned this lesson over the year.
Not all that long ago I wrote about how I came to my decision on the Camino to come back to Newfoundland for awhile because I belong here. While the sentiment hasn’t entirely changed, as I sit on this bus barreling down the Trans-Canada Highway bringing me to my parents and my brother and my cat, all I can think about is how I can get back to Berlin.
We travellers. We’re fickle jerks.
I find it hard to believe I no longer live in Prenzlauer Berg. I find it hard to believe I won’t be going back to the apartment I adore so much, with the roommate I adore so much, where my insomnia doesn’t exist. Where I spent most of my mornings curled up under a red blanket reading a good book found at the St. George’s bookshop just down the street, one of my favourite places in Berlin. I find it hard to believe I’ll no longer hear the trams zipping up and down Greifswalder – a din of humanity that lulls me into a comfortable sleep, without fail, every evening.
I feel like I’m a visitor to Newfoundland, and not the other way around.
No one tells you this before you move abroad. There’s no clause on the visa application saying, “Hey, protect your heart. You’re going to make a home for yourself and you’re going to find it really hard to leave it.”
I’m overwhelmed by the space in Newfoundland. I have been in this bus for hours, counting dozens of shallow ponds rimmed in marshland. Hurtling past endless evergreen trees marching against the wind.
If this is reverse culture shock, I get it. I picked up a container of strawberries at Sobey’s and they were priced $6 – I can get a pint of those for the same price in Berlin. I quickly put them back on the shelf. Before noon today, I’d already had conversation with six friendly strangers. Walking into Canadian immigration at the Halifax airport was like walking into a different planet – a giant CANADA sign, flanked by two waterfalls, and friendly immigration officers who genuinely seemed to care about my year in Berlin.
It’ll take some time to make sense of this.
The one thing I do know: I was happy in Berlin, happier than I’ve ever been in my life. While Newfoundlanders keep getting blindsided by things like the imposed levy and increasing taxes, my lifestyle in Berlin was far more luxurious and far less expensive.
But it wasn’t even about an affordable lifestyle. It was about being surrounded by multiculturalism, and easy travel opportunities, and people that became some of the closest friends I’ve ever had in my life. It was about sitting in beer gardens with the warm sun on my face; it was about taking the train to the other side of town to meet with a friend; it was about feeling proud to be a part of a bigger community. Even better, it was about being anonymous.
Remember that time I wasn’t sure if I’d last until Christmas in Berlin?
I feel selfish. I feel ungrateful that I’d come home to so many people who are happy to see me, and I’m so full of hurt. And I am so happy to see them – I hope they know this. I hope they know how much I love them. My mother’s home making pies for me; my cousin just spent three days chauffeuring me around town and feeding me, while not asking for anything in return. My friends all came out to see me on Saturday and we sat around, barbecuing, slipping back into our old conversations as though a year had never passed. It’s comfortable, and I love these people far beyond my own comprehension. And I don’t know how to talk about my experiences without coming across as a high-falutin’ ingrate.
It’s not that I don’t want to be surrounded by the friends and family I’ve known my whole life. It’s just that I’m irreversibly different, and I kind of like it that way.
Right now, I feel helplessly out of place. I’m lost, without a place of my own, and I’m struggling to come to terms with this.
People keep telling me I’ll come around; I’ll get over it. But I don’t actually want to. A part of me knows I’ve outgrown St. John’s, and I’m afraid of slipping back into it. I doubt I could ever live in Berlin for life, but right now St. John’s is not the place for me, even if I stay here for several months.
July and August are filled with weddings, friend reunions, and (hopefully) sunny days at the park with coolers full of beer. On Saturday, my friend Lisa drove Nancy and I to the top of Signal Hill so I could catch sight of the city’s twinkling lights in the harbour. It felt good to take a deep breath of that crisp Atlantic air.
Yes, I thought. I’ll always be a Newfoundlander. But for the first time in my life, I don’t think that’s enough.