Under Stars and Stripes

The best way to describe being home is that it feels both foreign and familiar at the same time. I walk down the pedestrian mall, and I feel, as Siena says, "out of place." I recognize everything. It feels like I just saw it yesterday. I'm not comparing it to Spello or thinking about Spello… and yet, I have this sense that I'm both under a microscope and wildly distant from what I see. It doesn't feel like we've been gone for a year. And at the same time, nothing here feels the kind of easy that comes from steady residency.

It's not particularly comfortable.

I'm okay in my house. I'm great in my house, actually. I love my house with an American possessive prideful materialistic joy that I can't quite contain. And since the house was finished only minutes before our tenants arrived a year ago, there are pieces of it that feel new. For instance, we were all surprised to find that we have a downstairs bathroom now! Who knew? Well, I guess we all did—I have a vague memory of painting it, but since none of us ever used it, we'd forgotten. Even beyond the parts of our house that were completed so late we'd forgotten about them, there are juicy bits that we'd neglected to look forward to. Like, oh, goodness, have you ever seen so many books together in one place as on our bookshelves? It's like Disneyland for the five of us who have been virtually without books for a year. The feel of the paper grain, the smell of aging sawdust as the pages turn with a rustle, and words that are instantly understandable, no translation needed. It's magic. The thought of a trip to the library is blowing my mind.

And then there are friends stopping by in a steady stream of love and hugs and bags of food. We're feeling like we are in a dream state, so having people to ground our place is steadying.

At first, I didn't even want to write. I actually thought I might have to write an explanatory parting post and be done, because the thought of writing here filled me with a kind of choking anxiety I couldn't place. Which is so strange, because the night before we left, after a day of saying goodbyes (which I'll detail later) all I wanted to do was write, and though I didn't because I knew I needed to sleep to prepare for our early morning exodus, I wanted to get it down in black and white. It's become my process, my way of coping and working through my life. I needed it.

And then we arrived and I had a sudden need to never write another word for the rest of my life.

So it's nice to know that my tendency towards drama is virtually unchanged.

It took me the day to realize why. Over the year of writing in Spello, I created a vocabulary, a way to capture my experience, even if that experience was at a flamenco show in Sevilla. My process was always the same, same place, same cat curled on my hip. And here, I feel rootless, rudderless, without the pantry of words I could wrangle to express my heart. It was an illusion, I hope. Because I woke up this morning, like I would often wake up in Spello, with half-formed themes and sentences struggling to come to fruition. It was encouraging. And so here I am. Not in my bed, no ape rattling by, no shouts of Italian greetings outside my window—but instead Siena in the bathtub upstairs, while Nicolas relishes the peace of his sunlit room to re-read his favorite books and draw at his desk, and Keith is outside teaching Gabe about architecture with the century-old bricks from our original foundation that somehow we still haven't gotten rid of, and I am standing at my bamboo parquet kitchen island (that I'd forgotten about, as it was put in 3 days before we left and then was completely covered with to-do lists and paint cans—I saw a to-do list on it yesterday and mentioned this to Keith, and he said, "Yes, but this time the to-do list just says one thing: Get Aperol.") with my cappuccino and the humming dishwasher, and it feels okay.

The words feel scattered, sure, but at least they are making an appearance.

Which is a comfort.

So I think I'll be able to stick with my plan of writing through the transition. After that, I'll be moving my focus on figuring out how to get Il Bel Centro published. Which is, I realize, the next step in the dream.

I'm getting my bearings the best I can, and the fact that I can write again is helpful. I will admit to having a minor anxiety attack at Five Guys yesterday. All of a sudden I started scoping out the exit—Keith noticed this, and promptly directed the family towards the door as "Mommy is getting that panicked look in her eyes." We all were finished anyway, and Siena hurried, saying that she was feeling "like everything is about to come crashing down on me, and I feel strange".

And strange might be just about the best way to describe it. Or, I'll feel fine, and then all of a sudden, I'll unpack our Italian vintage aperitivo glasses from the Pissignano flea market, or our Vinosofia stemware, or our book about the Infiorata that Marcello gave me, and I have this odd sense of something being out of place.

I think that something is me.

I know this will pass, and time will make this all feel more like predictable background rather than jarring foreground, but I'm committed to telling you the truth, and the truth is that I feel unglued, unstuck, like a cutout cartoon character superimposed on a photograph. Just…odd.

There are nice parts of that. Our Chinese food dinner was incredible after a year of asian food deprivation, and it was fun to go to the video store again, and look at covers for DVDs that I never even knew were movies. And all the candy packaging has changed. "Skittles After Dark"? It was a little Rip Van Wrinkle-y, but not unpleasant.

In summary—when I'm in my house, I'm fine. Home is home, and this home is so thoroughly our home that it feels quite natural to be here. But our experience walking downtown yesterday was so disquieting that I am reluctant to go to populated areas again. To be surrounded by English, and Americans that are not tourists but rather firmly planted on their own soil, and to have so many of them—it's oddly difficult and everything feels too big and too bright. I've read about reentry adjustment, and maybe I read the wrong stuff, because they all focused on what would be hard (shopping, seeing friends, etc.) or that feeling depressed was natural, but nowhere in my reading about reverse-culture shock do I read about people feeling like they are moving through water—like they must speak slowly and carefully and hold their bodies in space with tender exactness. I don't know, maybe that's just me.

But now we are about to try this stepping out thing again. We're going to Main Street Market, home of some of my favorite food shopping in Charlottesville. I have firm plans to buy soft cheese. I'm hoping that a day in America under my belt, and smaller circumstances with less activity, will make for a better experience.

And if not, at least I will console myself with some good Camembert.