Displaced creative Sally Rose
When Sally Rose first started this column, her most perplexing issue was where to go next after five years of being based in Santiago, Chile. But then a devastating personal tragedy struck and she had no choice but to return to the United States. In this month’s post, she reports on her transition. —ML Awanohara
I’ve been back in the United States for not quite two months. Back in New Mexico, where I’d lived twice before.
I’ve owned a condo here for the past two years, but I didn’t expect to actually live in it. It was supposed to be my pied-à-terre, my escape hatch, an occasional break from my real life, that of a perpetually perplexed peripatetic expat. Now, everything is topsy-turvy and, at least for the foreseeable future, it will be home.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” (mistakenly attributed to John Lennon)
Repatriating wasn’t part of the plan, but circumstances change. In my case, death happened. As I wrote about in my last column, my son, Phillip, passed away in May. Instead of visiting with him, it’s all business now, taking care of whatever has to be done.
It’s a month on and I still haven’t seen Phillip’s fiancee. She’s working at a summer camp for children, out in the New Mexico wilderness. Our reunion will have to wait a while longer.
Am I glad to have a little hidey-hole to come back to? Maybe, but I’m hoping it will be a temporary measure in an otherwise peripatetic life.
Phillip would have understood. “If I wanted to just hang out with ‘Americans,’ I would stay in the United States.” I used to say that often, long before Phillip encouraged me to follow my dream and move to Chile.
In our first conversation about my going overseas, Phillip told me, “I’ve been wondering what’s taking you so long.” He knew, even before I’d decided, that I would become an expat.
The expat life is a kind of calling
A few months ago, I read an article about a woman who’d grown up in Portugal. As an adult, she moved to London and assumed the expat life. As I recall, she didn’t stay there very long, maybe a year, before moving back to Portugal.
She commented that she felt like a failure because her expat life in London didn’t work out.
Maybe failure is the wrong word. Being an expat isn’t for everyone. For me it was a kind of calling. When I went to Chile, I learned Spanish, taught many students, learned from many students, and created a family-like circle of friends.
Before I left Chile, the Universe brought several people, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, back around to say goodbye.
The neighbor, whom I had met in the laundry room when I was a newbie to Chile. She was the one who introduced me to Chilean sopaipillas, which are very different from Mexican sopaipillas.
Even after I moved out of my apartment in the Bellas Artes neighborhood of Santiago, I ran into the drum-and-flute band. In the late afternoons, they used to wander through the neighborhoods of Bellas Artes and LaStarria, busking for donations. I felt like they had come to tell me goodbye.
I ran into my original landlord, the famous Sr. A from my memoir, A Million Sticky Kisses, three times in the two weeks before I left.
Coincidence? Could have been, if you believe in it, which I don’t.
At my despedida, my farewell party before leaving Santiago, I looked at the faces of my guests and realized that two-thirds of them were Chilean faces. I smiled. I had created another life in another part of the world. Mission accomplished.
Against the wind, becoming a repatriate
Once I arrived back here in New Mexico, it took two weeks for me to unpack. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally, and unpacking didn’t seem important.
By now, I’ve tackled everything except the three boxes that I had mailed back to myself. I threw them into my storage locker here at the condo complex. I wonder what’s in them, what part of my other life I considered important enough to save.
I’m struggling to get into a routine, some semblance of normalcy. No exercise regimen, no writing routine, no Pisco Sour debriefs with a bestie once a week. Not yet.
I’ve tried Pilates, my preferred form of exercise, but it’s different here. Instead of being a relaxed, gentle atmosphere of breath-work and stretching, like in Chile, it’s hut-hut-hut, military style. I don’t like it.
I’m taking the stairs to my fourth floor apartment, whenever I don’t have my hands full. It gives me a little cardio workout once or twice a day, but it’s not the same as doing Pilates. I miss it.
And don’t get me started on how I have to drive everywhere, or how much I dislike hot weather, or how difficult it is to make new friends in an old place.
As I wrote about on my own blog, I feel like I’ve been yanked out of a familiar and beloved garden, leaving torn roots behind.
Last year, when I visited Scotland, I spotted this graffiti on the side of a building.
“The things I love are not at home.”
I wondered who wrote that and what that meant to them.
I’m not sure where “home” is, but I know that the things that are most important to me didn’t get packed into those boxes that I shipped back to Albuquerque.
The things I love most aren’t “things.”
Let me leave you with this thought:
Perpetually Perplexed, and Now Grieving
* * *
Sally, Thank you for updating us. I know from personal experience how hard it is to repatriate but your circumstances make it even harder. I’m rooting for you! I’m also imagining that your restless, roaming spirit will not allow you to remain home for very long…but we shall see. —ML Awanohara
Born and raised in the piney woods of East Texas, Sally Rose has lived in the Cajun Country of Louisiana, the plains of Oklahoma, the “enchanted” land of New Mexico, and the Big Apple, New York City. Then she fell in love with Santiago de Chile and entertained herself (and us) by “telling tall tales” from that long, skinny country, where she made her home for five years. Where will her next act take her? The author of a memoir and a children’s book, Sally has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.
STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!
If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and SO much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!