Sarah sat still on the edge of the Shannon river. The grass was rough, pricking her bare skin. The air was heavy and humid. She loved this sensation as if walking through the air, and the resistance it offers on these days. She knew that soon it would all be over.
The new home will be thousands of kilometers away. Instead of an average of 18ºC, with heavy rains and wonderful warm summer days, she’ll have to get used to boots and stamping through snow. The silence at the river, the slow movements, the luxury of watching an insect crawl by. This all would be gone.
If she could decide, she would stay. But she can't. Her family always moves. Her life is punctuated by sand colored cardboard boxes. People think it's a clean cut between the old and the new. Like a new chapter in life. But they are wrong. Every time she is told to pack her stuff, some part of her stays behind. People are a fractal combination of past experiences and places. The move shatters one part into a thousand pieces, like a mirror crashing down and shattering. It is up to Sarah, when - if - she’ll visit this place again to pick up the pieces and figure out if they can be fit together again.
Stuff, her mum calls it. "It's all just stuff," while she clings onto a receipt of a day out with her friend; they rented bikes and were gone the whole day and arrived home way too late. She was fearing the worst from her mum and had texted her to soften the blow of the imminent punishment. But her mum just waved when she started saying her well-rehearsed apology. "You told me where you were. You are late, life happens. It looks like you two had fun." She hadn't told her mum the whole truth, exactly why they were late. But she didn't ask. Maybe it's true and mothers were young women once.
With every move, Sarah transforms. She's a patchwork of places, languages, and cultures. Part of her, who she is, the essence of her being, her Sarah-ness, will be left behind. She'll have to patch up the holes once they settle at this new place. Start again. Explain again who she is to others. Even though she has no clue.
Dinner was take-away. Just because Fryra didn't have the energy to cook. There was food and the kitchen ware wasn’t yet sold or smashed. But the thought of having to do one more thing: prepare, cook, eat, clean was too much for her. She saw that Sarah was happy about that choice, feeling like her mother. They couldn’t decide what to order: The Indian place downtown who fed them so often? Or the fancy Venezuelan place they went to for special days? Or the chipper down the road, near Sarah’s school? Or… so many favorite restaurants to go to, one more time.
“Let’s do Donald Duckje” Sarah suggested. Nodding, Fryra looked around the stuff for something to scribble the restaurant’s name on and a pen. Fryra wrote out our favorite places on little scraps of paper and Sarah counted out
Donald Duckje zat op een krukje, liet een scheet, tien meter breed, tien meter lang, pang
At the end, they went - again - to the Korean restaurant around the corner. It's a small, dingy looking place. The owner is old, should be retired, but likes too much chatting with customers to end this part of his life. He offered Fryra to find her a new husband. “Five fine men came here yesterday. You’ll like them, especially the smaller one. Ex-boxer, strong arms” he said with a wink. Sarah rolled her eyes. She laughed, half-flattered, half-annoyed. The menu, attached to the windows, was yellow and faded from the sun. Inside it was always dim with the smell of Kimchi hanging in the air. The first time they saw this place, they wondered if it's still open. Then Fryra got a tip from someone at the co-working space: Best Korean food in town.
"Can I go out and meet friends?" Sarah asked. Fryra looked around the mess in her little place. She wanted to say no, knowing that she needed Sarah to be home and help her. But she couldn’t bring herself to say it. The normal litany of questions followed: Who, when, where, what...? It was more of a habit to ask those questions, then real concern or checking in. Sarah knows it.
Once Sarah was outside the door, the apartment was silent again.
Fryra observed her teenage daughter from afar. She wants to join her, but knows better. Learned the hard way that kids need a time out from parents. And parents can't solve all of their offspring's problems. Especially not those they cause. Do they have to leave? Something in her is tucking, begging her to pack up and go, reminding her that her time is over and ordering her to go away. She tried to silence the voice. She really tried, but maybe not hard enough. Maybe she should have tried harder, ignored it for longer, and plunged into more activities to drown it out . Damage has been done, again. No way back, again.
Around her is stuff. That's how she calls it. It wasn't always stuff. There was a time when stuff had other names: Memories, books, pictures, souvenirs, reminders, elephant collection. When did it become stuff? The day she packed her childhood books in a box, closed it and loaded it up into the car to drive her childhood up north where they rented a storage box. She will always remember that feeling. First she was struck that she felt something. Normally she approaches life very analytically, cold others would say. But the moment the books were in the cardboard box, a part of her left. She moved before, but never like that. She thought she knew what to expect, but that emotion springing up in her was a surprise for her. By putting her childhood away, she, unconsciously, made the decision to turn her back on something that was always part of her and leave it behind. Grischka’s and Taran’s adventure will not be her companions anymore. She will go exploring alone.
The move was only for 3 years. She could have taken it all with her, but the future was too uncertain. She could also throw it all away, but the past was too precious. Renting out the smallest storage room was a compromise. She did the math: If they come back in three years, the value of storing the big items would even out the value of having to buy them again. Renting a storage unit made sense. It was logical. Her brain was satisfied. Taking the smallest possible storage unit also forced them to make choices. What to take, what to throw away, and what to store.
"When will I get it back?" Sarah asked.
"Three years. Then my contract is over."
"Will we come back?" was the next question.
Questions Fryra hated because she couldn't answer them with certainty. But an answer she owed her daughter.
"Don't know. Other people will be living in this house and we can't just kick them out. We'll see where we will be". An honest answer. But not a satisfying answer for a child. Too much uncertainty hangs in it.
Why the traveling, moving, relocating, packing and unpacking? Why the rebuilding of lives, over and over again? Fryra thinks back at her first move, at least the first one she remembers. She was six and had a best friend in kindergarten. Her friend used to live nearby and she used to go to her friend all alone. It was the time before smartphones and Whatsapp. Her mum called her friend’s mum when she left. She went down the five floors, silently, scared a neighbor would come out and talk with her, through the corridor, opened the heavy door and then finally outside. Around the corner. At the zebra crossing she looked left, right, left and cross. Left again, then right up the stairs. At the top, left along the row of apartment buildings to the door at the end. Here she rang number 17. Her friend’s voice greeted her distorted through the intercom, the buzzer rang and the door opened. Up she went some more steps. Her friend waited for her. Once inside, her friend's mum called her mum and then they played.
Tania was her name. Her first, best friend. But one day they left. Only for five years her dad said, then my contract is over. She didn't make a best friend in the new kindergarten. It took her until grade one before she could say with certainty “Yes, I have a best friend”. He was a boy. He lived too far to just call in. Her mum always drove her. He left two years later. Only for some time, he said. I'll be back once my dad's contract is over. She cried while waving him goodbye at the airport. She never saw him again. Maybe that was the day she decided best friends are not for her. The pain of losing friends too big to carry.
"What have I done?" she murmurs, looking at Sarah coming up the hill. She feels scared of repeating history, of turning Sarah into Fryra, of giving Sarah the same lot than she was given. She doesn’t want Sarah to carry the same pain she’s being carrying.
"I can do this" she comforts herself, pushing down her doubts and questions about this move, and putting on her best smile, the one that should shine love and courage but is a washed out fake copy. Good enough to make people feel comfortable. Not good enough for her daughter. Sarah wears the same smile.
After Sarah left, Fryra looked around. Part of her wanted to sit down on the couch, close her eyes and forget. But forgetting doesn’t help. And, it’s also impossible. There is only one thing left: Keep going.
She remembers a call she had with a co-worker. There was a huge blow-up two days before. He nearly stopped her project because of his philosophical views and principles. She felt like punching him in the face, but, luckily for him, they are a remote team. She decorated her discord posts with emojis trying to do justice to her feelings.
During that call, they were discussing better ways to coordinate team members. He was called on first to share ideas, but just said, “I don’t feel like doing this call”. Then it was her turn. She also didn’t feel like doing this call. But, she didn’t have any option. Her opening words were, “There is just picking yourself up and keep going.”
And also now, not feeling like it, Fryra kicked herself into action. Cause I was busy working by Elkane started playing from the speakers while she sorted through her office stuff. Old receipt and invoices. Bin. Birth certificates. Red folder. USB cables. Keep a long and a short one, rest for the 2nd hand store. Her hands methodology going from one object to another. She knew that if she paused, the momentum would be gone, and she’ll start thinking about her decisions and reminiscing about places and people.
“Who the fuck moves to Iceland?” her friend asked. She replied “I, who the fuck else”. They both laughed. They both moved around, didn’t need many words, and knew that certain things can’t be boxed into language.
Her sister wondered what her fascination with islands are: Gran Canaria, Mozambique, Japan, Ireland, now Iceland. “At least it’s still kinda in Europe '' her sister joked. She settled a long time ago. Fryra couldn’t never understand why her sister bought a house, being stuck in a place gave her goosebumps. She shrugged her shoulders “I guess I like diversity. Why make things easy?” she answered.
I’m a boss by Trailer Tunes changed the mood in the apartment. The heavy bass filled every corner, and the quicker tempo infected Fryra’s movements. A lot more things landed in the bin. She quickly picked it up and tossed it in, nearly playful.
But it was Go Bravely by Denisa Chaila that stopped Fryra. She loved the artist, not necessarily for her music but for what she represented: Moving, mixture of cultures, and making it in your new home.
“A new home, is that what I’m looking for” Fryra asked herself in a hushed voice, afraid the walls would hear it and shout it off the roof tops.
Denisa’s voice pierce through her, ripping her from her thoughts.
Be the intrepid explorer of what is unknown
Ignore the people who can't comprehend that you are more,
More than your pain, more than your trauma
More than the people that you know, the things that you do or the way you've grown
She once tried to explain it, the constant moving, to a friend.
“I never felt at home anywhere. I was a visitor for most of my childhood. A stranger in a country. My dad had this vinyl from a German socialist singer. His name was Hannes or something like that. He had a song about a populated river and kids playing in it. But the song, or the lines that stuck with me, 20 years later are from a different song
Heute hier, morgen dort, bin kaum da, muss ich fort
Hab mich niemals deswegen beklagt
Hab es selbst so gewählt, nie die Jahre gezählt
Nie nach Gestern und Morgen gefragt
It translates like
today here, tomorrow there, just arrived, but I have to go.
I never complained, chose it this way.
I never counted the years,
never asked about yesterday or tomorrow.
It just spoke to me. It’s like the song understood me. I was a teenager, but the song was about me. Why do you look like this?”
“It’s not really an explanation. You are a logical person. You got a PhD, but can’t draw a theoretical model about why you keep uprooting yourself.” her friend retorted.
She struggled with an adequate reply, something satisfying, like her kooky answers during her PhD defense. “It’s hard to describe. It’s a feeling in me, like a voice that calls from somewhere. It’s not fear. It’s… it’s kinda the realization that what I was looking for here I wouldn’t find it. And I don’t know what I’m looking for. I just know the answer. It’s not here. It’s like in the Hitchhikers Galaxy. The answer to the question is 42, but the question remains a mystery. Why I keep moving is still a mystery for me. I just know that I have to move.”