Friday, February 20, 2009

Fishing Out of Water

I'm going to regret doing this, I know, but as no one ever reads this blog, nor ever will, maybe I'll use this post as a catharsis to make myself feel a bit better. I'm suffering today from what Winston Churchill called 'the black dog.'

It's a massive dose of depression. No reason. The sun's shining, which is rare in Britain, I'm healthy, I've still got a job (even though the industry is suffering) and I'll be on holiday in less than two weeks. I have a husband who loves me, and when I go home, I'll be seeing relatives who feel the same and friends who care. So, why am I sitting here in my office, with my door shut to the world and tears running down my face?

Because I'm stupid, that's why, I suppose.

I'm stupid because for some reason, I was 'blessed' with a talent for language learning. I was able to study a foreign language and grasp more of it than the odd word or the ubiquitous ability to conjugate verbs. I wanted to use another language to communicate, to travel to other countries and engage with people who lived there in their own language. I was able to do this and, in doing this, I learned that learning a language, was more than just the ability to speak another language, it was the willingness and openness to immerse oneself in another culture, because language is just a mere manifestation of another culture. The trouble is, unlike a lot of English-speaking people, I didn't regard the 'other cultures' I visited as quaint or as a diversion. I thought I felt at home there, in Mediterranean Europe.

When I came back to the States, after my first trip (which had lasted three months), I know now that I went about beginning to subtly reject the country of my birth. I was in my third year at university. I only sought out the company of girlfriends who'd been abroad with me and our conversations consisted only of reminiscing about our time spent in Spain and Italy; but there was a difference: they'd viewed the trip abroad only as what it was - a vacation. For me, it was a goal. Somehow, I'd live in Spain or Italy. Someway, I'd work there. I'd go native, marry a citizen and raise bilingual children. Such was the stuff of dreams in the 'do-anything' Seventies.

Naive, eh?

As for male acquaintances, I carried on dating, flicking between two conservative Southern boys and pretending to be amused by what they had on offer, yet all the time comparing their somewhat awkward pawings and pokings with the filet mignon I'd had on demand in both Spain and Italy. These boys (and I considered them that) wanted pleasing; both my Spanish boyfriend and my Italian fella knew how to give pleasure as well as receive it.

(Now there's an argument raging in my main office, between the Italian owner's son and the Polish man hired to speak with the Polish drivers for our firm, people quite willing to work in the UK for better wages, but who really can't be assed to learn the language to communicate.) This is why I was hired for this job - to speak to Italians, French and Spanish, all of whom this company deals with on a daily basis, because the English enterprise can't be assed to learn how to communicate. So here I sit, a foreigner in this land, speaking languages not my own, on behalf of other foreigners.

And the irony of my situation is, although I'm communicating, there's really no one communicating with me. No one's speaking my 'language'. I can't tell anyone what interests me or how I feel because no one wants to know. I can't tell my family at home because I've made my bed and now I'm condemned to lie in it. They're all right, so I should be too. I can't tell my husband because - well, because I've tried before and he hasn't understood a gist of what I'm saying and I only end up apologising for feeling the way I do. And I can't begin to tell my friends because they all think of me now as something on the order of an exotic flower, an anomaly both familiar and foreign. They can't imagine me being unhappy, having successfully escaped from what they see as a mundane existence.

I'd take 'mundane', happily. I'd take the umpteen phone calls daily from elderly aunts trying to interfere and offer useless criticism of my lifestyle, I'd take cousins and local friends arriving unannounced and entering my house without knocking for a snouch through my fridge, I'd take living alone for the rest of my life with a small dog, if I could have that house in Virginia. I'd admit failure and work at anything if I had the courage to walk out on this life I have here and start over, but I wonder if it's too late. The husband's just rung with a rant about a parking fine I got which he'll pay. That's trivial. I got the fine trying to do an errand for him in an hour's lunch break and I parked on a double line to save time. That's life in Britain.

I have the internet and e-mail and the occasional phone call, and that's the 'contact' I get with my home. I want the physical and everything bad that that entails. Absolutely everything, if I could just go back in time, know what I know now and just stay Stateside. I hear various people complaining about America and Americans, how stupid they are, how they prefer Biblical myth to scientific reality, how they want God and Christianity incorporated into the secular Constitution, how they cling to guns and inbred prejudices. Yes, all that's true. But Europe has their village idiots too and their foibles go back further than ours.

I made a mistake, fishing out of water. I want to come home. There might be nothing there, I might be just as much on my own there as I desperately feel I am here, but at least the surroundings would be familiar.

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