This week marks our one-month anniversary of being back in the UK. Our European adventure already seems like a distant memory. Circumstances have forced it towards the back of our memory bank.
This morning I found myself perusing some old photos just to familiarise myself with our wonderful experience, the sunshine and the sunsets we shared. Our healthy smiling faces seem almost unfamiliar now. I envy those people in the photographs. I miss the ‘us’. The way we were in those uncomplicated moments. The ‘us’ that were free, together, connected and content.
To say it has been tough acclimatising to normality is an understatement. For one, we are separated by miles. Our family is divided. Chris is living at his parents with Buddy. I am living at my mum’s with the kids. After 10 months of close proximity, our separation is insufferable – I ache to be together.
The kids and I regularly retreat to a bedroom late at night and huddle together on the bed. It is our safe sanctuary. Our comfortable place where we can keep our memories alive. Be completely ourselves and share our worries and woes. Like mingling in a crowded room, making polite small talk, dutifully smiling and nodding at all the right times, yet yearning to return to the safety and reassurance of family who see your soul. No need for words. We just know.
The terrifying thing is that I can start to feel the disconnect. Ever so subtly Chris and I are learning to live apart. Each day we fight our own little battles, throwing ourselves into the endless to-do lists and mustering on with everything that ‘normality’ demands of us. We have become comfortably absent from each other – and that scares the life out of me. After all we have shared together, it is just not right.
Today it is our 13th wedding anniversary. We did not wake up together. I shall have to wait until this evening, when I can steal a few sacred hours of alone time with my husband, to reassure him that this independence is simply resilience in disguise. We are doing what we have to do. It is temporary. Everything will be okay. We are stronger than ever. I still need him.
Nonetheless, it is not just the disconnection from each other that I worry about. I feel strangely detached from almost everyone who hasn’t shared our remarkable experience. It sounds ridiculous, but until you have travelled for any period of time, you can’t understand how it changes you and your perspective on life. We belong to this small group of people, who understand this peculiar detachment. We no longer slot into the norm. It feels like an uncomfortable, itchy jumper that we just can’t wait to pull off.
I remember watching a film once about the struggles soldiers have adjusting to the monotony of normality after war. Obviously, our situation is a far cry from the heroic actions of our military personnel, but I understand the notion of not fitting in, not relating to normality, and needing to return to a life that feels reassuring, yet adversely less comfortable. Living outside of your comfort zone is deeply addictive. The adrenalin from fear and uncertainty has a toxic pull. I want to run a million miles away from daytime TV and aisles of breakfast cereals.
‘It is time to escape the well trodden path of monotony’
But running is not always easy. We have a few hurdles to overcome before we can race towards the open road again. This time, we have a significant emotional curveball that not only threatens to overthrow our best-laid plans, but could actually stop us in our tracks…
Just a week or so after our arrival home in the UK, Chris’s mum was hospitalised. Chris stepped up admirably to become his Dad’s full-time carer whilst his mum underwent a serious operation on her spine. Sadly, as soon as his mum was discharged from hospital, Chris’s dad’s health deteriorated and he was admitted into hospital too.
Organising our life and making plans now seems so irrelevant when faced with the prospect of losing someone so precious and loved. How do you even contemplate leaving at a time when your family need you the most?
‘But, time doesn’t stand still for anyone’.
The truth is, we don’t know what to do. We feel so guilty for continuing our efforts to leave. Standing still feels wrong. Moving forward seems worse. We are stuck in a limbo land of dread.
My 40th birthday has made an inconvenient appearance. Brexit has sent the nation crazy. The weeks are passing by. And, now the rain has arrived.
Relentless, persistent rain.
The constant drizzle, mist and cloud cover has brought me to a whole new cheerless low.
The old feeling of being trapped gurgles beneath the surface. Every new dreary morning reminds me of why we left. I can feel the weight of the clouds on my shoulders.
I miss the sunshine. I miss drinking coffee in the early morning sun. I miss feeling invigorated and energised. I miss dependable sunshine. I miss the spring in my step and the melody in my mood. I miss breakfast conversations. I miss waking up near the ocean. I miss my flip-flops.
Above all, I miss Chris.
And as much as I love our family dearly, I have to be honest to myself. Being here is killing us.
As much as we need to stay for our loved ones, we need to leave for each other. Our own little family is suffering from our separation. We are losing our way. The rain is washing away our spirits.
Everywhere I look, I see familiarity, routine, uncut grass, unhappy people, consumerism, traffic jams, unrealised potential and Rain. Rain. Monotony and rain.
In the three years we have been absent from our hometown, this place hasn’t skipped a beat. The ease with which we slipped back in, as if we had never been away, was so alarming I almost choked on it. For some, that ‘sameness’ may bring comfort. For me, it reminds me of how short life is, and how easily the years can pass us by without us even noticing.
Watching Chris’s mum and dad struggle with their own health over the past month has also served as a stark reminder that life passes all too quickly. We can’t take next year as a guarantee.
There are no guarantees.
As selfish as it is – how terrible I may be for saying it aloud; ‘I still want out’.
This existence cannot continue indefinitely. However hard it may be, we have to put a timeline on it. We have to chose a date when our life will commence again.
Our need for adventure and diversity beckons like a heady drug. We have lived the conventional life. We have nestled in our comfort zones. We have also experienced the wonders that lurk beyond the comfortable path of monotony. We know where our hearts lie.
Adversity, as usual, will stand in the way. Our moral conscience will pound at our hearts; but we have to move forward and live a life that is our own. Our families love us enough to want that for us too. Of that I am sure.
There will always be a hundred and one reasons to put our dreams on hold. Making difficult decisions is never easy. Nor should it be. We can either stay and do the right thing by others, or we can go and do the right thing by us.
A ship in a harbour is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for. We only ever planned to dock here for a short time. We never intended to drop our anchor. As tough as it is to say goodbye, the time has come to set sail.
We have set the date of the 20th August 2016 as our proverbial sail date.
Come hell or high water, our little family will be together again, one way or another. Nicaragua is our next destination. San Juan Del Sur is calling our name.
The countdown is on.