My two homes
Two nights back in town and I'm not sleeping well in San Francisco. I'm sure this has something to do with an unusually extended case of jet lag but I could care less about cause, I'd just like my mind back.
This relative sleeplessness is not helping with my American reentry.
As expats, or ex-residents of anywhere, there's a tendency to split yourself across two mental realities: two time zones, two homes and two countries. I live in San Francisco, but a part of my mind is always in New Zealand.
This split personality syndrome is most immediately jarring when I travel away from New Zealand and back to the US. Coming home to America is always a bit sad, for no other reason than it's hard to not live where the plurality of the people you love reside.
So, I knew that this week was going to be a slightly low one, with or without the hump of insomnia to counter. I knew it in advance of the succession of goodbyes last week. It was evidenced by the inverse relationship throughout my last week between the rising butterflies in my stomach and the diminishing time I had left at home, but it was also evidenced by me having gone through all this before.
Going home to NZ and coming back is a high, followed by quite a massive dip. It creates a comparison that isn't entirely fair to America.
I had an almost impossibly lovely few weeks in New Zealand, filled with days that largely looked like this: lazy start, coffee with x, meet a friend for lunch, afternoon stroll, dinner, finish the day with a glass of wine with my parents and a debrief for an hour or so. I spent the majority of my time with family and close friends. I did nothing too ambitious: I watched a lot of Cricket, drank tea, ate really good food and had a love affair with NZ red wines.
In America I am self-employed. I spend large tracts of time alone. I live much more typically and reasonably. Things have seemed a lot less exciting the last two days.
I am well versed by now on the mental journey of visiting New Zealand and leaving again, moving between my two homes, but I haven't yet figured out how to counter the fallout.
When I come back to Wellington it feels within a few hours as if this is just where I live. The combination of people and place feels instinctual. It makes me feel normalised and oriented in a way that is refreshing. I am back around people I have decades, or even life-long, histories with.
But, I have to tell myself, while it feels more real than San Francisco, it actually isn't. This is not my life. I come home and I slot into my old life, except that now it is drained of all the frustrating bits. I don't work. There're no bills to pay there. The city seems alive and radiant and the green of the hills seems luminous. I never get sick of the city. Everyone is happy to see me. I can never overstay my welcome.
I return from my actual home to the place where I am from and then leave again before the welcome wears out and the shine wears off.
When I left New Zealand on Sunday, it prompted a strange mix of feelings. It felt unnatural to be leaving my family, moving away again from my parents and sisters and niece and nephews and close friends but exciting to get back to my wife who I love and the normalcy of everyday life and all of my things.
It still feels weird that I don't live in New Zealand but there are great things to leave for.
It struck me while at home, that as a self-employed, currently childless person, for the coming couple of years I could make it home for frequent, semi-extended mini-breaks such as this one. I only barely scaled back my work slightly while I was here, so it wasn't much of a hit financially.
I am excited to think that maybe at Christmas time I might be able to come home for maybe as many as six weeks.
Part of me worries, probably irrationally, that these long trips home could be making life harder on myself, given the inevitable highs and lows they can bring about. Am I taunting myself with these extended views of what my life would be if I'd never left?
I don't think that's entirely correct. The joy of being home is well worth a maudlin week or two when I get back.
Ideally though, I would like to be able to train myself to be a bit better with the transition between my two homes; to know that when I come back to America New Zealand isn't going anywhere, that my life is in America now and I'm lucky to be able to get back as regularly as I have been.
How often do you get to come home? Do you find leaving hard?
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