"I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance."
-- Beryl Markham (West with the Night)
Rodeo Weekend 2007: Audrey kicked back at Panama Red (then Panama Bay) in downtown Livermore, CA, USA
I've been dreaming of greasy In-n-Out wrappers and 100-degree summer days and rounding small town corners to encounter the smiling faces of old friends. I wake to the smell of manure and sawdust. Garth Brooks croons to me in the perpetual twilight of each Norwegian summer night. I am haunted... because I missed Livermore's rodeo for the third year in a row. It leaves me aching. Between the rodeo, the Alameda County Fair, and my church's Fourth of July picnic, June and July are just about the toughest months for me to be a world away. The remnants of those wholesome traditions, so very, keenly American, cling to me.
The expatriate lifestyle is one to which I still count myself as new. Not only do I remember the questions which run through the anxious mind of someone making the decision to leave home, to make a new home somewhere else... I still have those questions. Doubts are only natural. Sometimes, Jonathan and I will talk about our future in terms of a life spent here in Norway. Years upon years. This isn't something I would have guessed before we came. I might even have denied it vehemently for the sake of my parents and friends. But it comes up. Then fades away again. Unresolved. Left to simmer.
In this way, I fear I am committing one of the cardinal sins of the fully-embraced expat life; I am leaving the old place slowly.
This cloudy future, sawed open as it has been by our leaving, forked and filled with options, weighs on my mind and heart. Wouldn't it have been easier to remain on the well-rubbed trail through the cattle pastures of my hometown? Where I could ask questions of those who had gone before me knowing they would have answers. Where the similarity of experience from generation to generation could have softened every blow. Where language and history and heritage were no barrier to me.
Perhaps not. Perhaps my pioneer's heart would have deviled me anyway with decades of yearning for greener fields. Wondering what would have been if we'd only had the courage to leave. Quickly.
After more than two years in Oslo, I find that I have been remiss. I understand some Norwegian, but I do not speak it. I am attuned to the country's calendar, but I abide by an American one. I have made dozens of good friends, but many of them are expats like me, rather than native Norwegians. These are things I was warned about before I came, and then again soon after. I paid them lip service but did not take true heed.
Which is why I suppose it is human nature to leave slowly. To look back over one's shoulder, the way Lot did.
Though raised on John Wayne and Gary Cooper, I'm no cowgirl. When I ride, I use an English saddle. But I can't deny the genuine thrill I get when a bronc comes twisting and hurling out of a chute. Nor can I pretend I don't sometimes prefer a big sky, tumbleweeds, pickup trucks, and barbed wire fences. Yellow acres of waving grain. It all gives me the urge to dance in a line, leather fringe swinging, boots stomping and slapping. What is that?
Living proof that you can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl.
Unless you do it fast. Ripped off like a bandaid. Uprooted like a weed. And I'm unwilling to do it quite that way. Decades without watching a slightly-out-of-sync junior high band march in the rodeo parade? Decades without entering my poetry at the county fair? Decades without watching freckled, wiry kids present their cows, pigs, and sheep at the 4-H pavillion? No. I can't agree to that so quickly. At least, not yet.