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Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Returning Comes Twice

Maybe this is part of the integration process on my journey, I explained to my mother after midnight on a Saturday evening, relying on the verbal cues to communicate as best I could as the frustratingly limited internet forbade me from seeing her face through a video chat. I'd been sharing a little of the emotions that had been coming to the surface in the past week or two, initiated by sparks of sudden memories which were oddly enough, not from here or from my past BC (before California). These memories were from the country I'd simultaneously despised and struggled to adapt to for nearly half my life. These were memories from California.

I'd spent 17 years in California resigning myself to unfulfilled yearnings when the sensory flashbacks would come. A smell of ketchup on kebab, a misplaced call to prayer, dancing lights on a runway, all evoked memories that no longer had a home to attach to so they floated in my mind, pulling me while even then knowing that I could no longer return. At least that is what I thought. Until I found myself on a plane heading for home.

Yes, I struggled with culture shock and adapting and proving wrong the assumption that just because I'd lived here before, it would be easy to fit back into the fabric of people's lives who had continued to thread colours into the empty spaces after I'd left and would now to have to find a place for me in whichever way felt most comfortable for them. At last the flashbacks would end, I assumed. After all, I was now home where the majority of these memories had been created.

I walked the campus I'd been as a teenager, solaced my heart with the reassurance that I wish I'd known all those years ago that I would be able to return, and began creating new memories. I spoke at a conference, sharing my life story in 6 minutes and 40 seconds, a coalescence of a lifetime of loss and love that made me who I was today. I blogged, I processed, and I decided that I was ready to leave behind my TCK label as the sole definition of who I was and assume a new identity that I was yet to completely unfold.

Then these memories began to come. I found myself emotional once more, wanting to visit such idiosyncratic places as the mall, favourite restaurants, or the local public library. The missing was not for the campus where we had lived for so long, but it was for the life I had created outside of that campus, escaping at least once a week for retail or food therapy, and through the repetitive finding the familiar. Now I was listening to Sara Groves Painting Pictures of Egypt and realizing she described my journey exactly.

Remember, you lived this life for 17 years, it is part of who you were, my mother gently reminded me. She understood the angst I felt at having to fold into who I was today the difficult years where we lived in fear of my father popping up unexpectedly or attempting to kidnap my baby brother, where we fought to keep a semblance of normality on a campus where spirituality had been twisted into a false religion, where our accents and ways of relating to life were just different enough to make us stand out but not enough to make us interesting.

As I listened to my mother, I realized that this too was part of my integration journey. Perhaps for the TCK, integration necessarily becomes the lifelong journey. Perhaps we can never completely leave behind who we are, or believe that the process of bringing together all the pieces is ever finished.  

And the places I long for the most are the places I have been. . .But the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I've learned, those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned. . .

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