Excuse me for the space of a post while I wallow in my misery … I’m in the grip of terrible, all-consuming homesickness.
These periods of misery overtake me every so often when I’m living here in Hungary, unexpectedly: they come straying like some big black dog, and they stick around. They will not be shooed away. Churchill’s famous metaphor for depression seems appropriate. As the Black Dog Institute (yep, actual name) in Australia puts it on their website, the image of the black dog:
… seems an eminently apt description of depression: an ever-present companion, lurking in the shadows just out of sight, growling, vaguely menacing, always on the alert; sinister and unpredictable, capable of overwhelming you at any moment.
Without wanting to trivialise the impact of clinical depression at all, replacing ‘depression’ with ‘homesickness’ in this description seems to provide a fairly accurate description of this fragile expat’s state of being most of the time.
And then there’s another metaphor that I can’t shake: that of the little mermaid.
The original Brothers Grimm version of course, rather than the Disney one. My hair is not coke-can red, and my breasts are somewhat less perky than those two clam-shells would be able to help me out with.
I came here, to the other side of the world, for love alone: I crossed the oceans, I chucked caution to the wind and a whole lot of possessions to the Salvation Army and I left almost everybody I love behind, to be with this man: who I once opened a door to and fell irrevocably in love with.
And the Witch of the Deeps (in my mind she kinda has the face of ex-prime minister Helen Clark) let it happen. But ‘Be warned,’ she said:
You will suffer horribly, as though a sword were cutting you apart. And every time you place your feet on the earth, you will feel dreadful pain … In exchange for my spell, you must give me your lovely voice. You’ll never be able to utter a word again!
The old hag knew what she was talking about. Travelling 20,000 km from home to be with him for an initial year was the first time I had ever left New Zealand. And I suffered horribly. In 2004, that first time I came here, I remember sitting alone in our flat and weeping aloud for hours at a time in sheer loneliness, longing for my ocean-dwelling kin. And every time I placed my feet upon this flat earth, yes, I felt a dreadful pain. I looked towards the horizon seeking mountains to reassure me, and there were none.
My lovely voice. Truth be told no, it’s not a lovely voice (even if it does the odd Adele song fairly recognisably in the shower, and serves the purpose when Maja needs some musical amusement). But it is – it was – my voice. Hours of wine-fuelled philosophising deep into the night, long lazy afternoons of coffee-fuelled gossip, whole weekends full of shared reminiscences … I left all that behind me too.
And just as the Witch foretold, my lovely voice disappeared – the most gut-wrenching sorrow of all. I was doomed to labour to make myself understood in a tongue that was not my own, in which I could no more express myself than a two-year-old.
But the thing is, over the years (this is the fifth time I’ve lived in Hungary for an extended period), things slowly got better for me. Unlike for the poor Grimm brothers’ mermaid, whose prince actually turned out to be a bit of a dick. (The bastard went and married someone else!)
If I’ve never learnt to love this place like a home, I’ve certainly learnt a shitload of coping strategies: English-speaking friends, striving fiercely to understand this strange race I find myself living among … and the vital importance of always having my own space to escape to; even if it’s only somewhere on the internet.
And Maja came along, of course – her wonderfulness travels rather perfectly across international borders. And we’re working on this house, which is slowly starting to feel like ours, not his … So that most of the time I’m Ok. More than ok. It’s only sometimes these days that I can sense that black dog lurking around – that I feel like I was born in the water, and I just can’t breathe this air.
Oh, but right now I’m in the very thick of it. Short of jumping on the next plane back or self-medicating til I’m comatose, what should I doooo?
A note: images in this post are paintings by John William Waterhouse: The Mermaid (1901), Lamia (1905)and Boreas (1903).