Thursday, January 24, 2008

In Which I Cry Between Park Kul’tury and Biblioteka im Lenina

Temperature: -2C
Snow: Not an issue. Most sidewalks are pretty clean; some are even dry.
Number of requests for directions on the street: Today? Just one. But yesterday I was stopped three times.

I hesitated to write this entry, as I will inevitably sound childish and spoiled and materialistic. I ultimately decided to include it, however, because I know it will serve to measure, in some future time, how far I’ve come.

So here's the truth: I cried on the Metro today.

Logically, I know it is part of the process of adjustment. I remember sitting in front of the mirrored closet doors in our Buenos Aires apartment, crying and looking at my lumpy, pregnant reflection. I hated being there, and more than anything I was hoping someone would see what a dumb idea it was for us to be in Argentina and yank us back to Florida.

I remember shortly after arriving in Bratislava sitting in my car in the Carrefour parking lot, crying on the phone to the Spouse because I was having a lousy day. I also recall a summer day, just a few months later, when I sat on my balcony looking out over the city and thinking, “I don’t have any friends here. That’s okay for now. But I don’t have any friends here.”

And I have described these experiences countless times to other newly-arrived and similarly-blue expats. “One day, a few weeks after you arrive,” I would tell them, “the newness of the place will have worn off, and you will think ‘Oh. My. God. This is where I am.’ And you will be depressed. But usually this moment is the nadir. And one day, not that much later, you will suddenly realize how much you have adjusted to the place. And it won’t be so bad. You might even come to love the place.”

I did. But that's getting ahead.

Here’s what I hope is my nadir.

As much as I currently have zero interest in being social and meeting new people, I forced myself to go two new places.

Last night the Spouse and I attended a wine tasting, sponsored by a local wine vendor. It was okay. The other people talked to us. They were funny, educated, and well traveled. But I didn’t feel that instant Best Friend Vibe. And we hadn’t eaten dinner because I thought there would be more food. Furthermore, the evening, while pleasant, resulted in both of us being up way too late on a School Night.

Tired and cranky (okay, perhaps even just a little hung over), this morning I ventured to a lecture series on Russian culture. A Very Nice Woman I met via an expat forum invited me and even offered to meet me at the nearest Metro stop so we could go together. VNW was delightful. The speaker was interesting. But I couldn’t help measuring myself against the other women in the room.

I know. I know.

But I did it. So sue me. Better yet, whomp me hard enough that I think twice before playing that head game again anytime soon.

Because this is what I thought while I sat there:

This is a very large and very expensive apartment that is tastefully decorated and beautifully furnished by people who clearly have no small children living with them.

If I live to be 100, I will never have a living room that looks like that one.

I cannot say that “everyone else had a driver.” But there were a lot of big, black SUV type cars sitting out on the street with drivers who were reading while their clients sat next to me in the lovely living room. Did I mention it had Oriental carpets?

I no longer have a car. I will not have a driver here. If you know me, you know I’m not shy about spending money. But I cannot justify spending $1000 a month (plus gas) to have someone available to drive me places. Nice as that would be.

My roots are longer than the dyed part of my hair. I have two choices: go to the Expat Salon where they speak English (but charge a fortune) or wait until I get help or learn enough Russian to make an appointment somewhere closer to home.

Yeah. I know. I can take a photo from this summer with me, point, and say, “This, please.” in Russian. But the thought makes me tired. The other women were discussing upcoming appointments at the Expat Salon and, frankly, I was jealous because I don’t see myself ever doing that.

I’m fat, old, and provincial.

Okay, there were women of all ages and sizes there today. But I have a remarkable ability to see only the thin, athletic, pretty ones with the really cool purses. Who are younger than I am.

I’ll never get to a gym again. I don’t have the time now and they are too expensive here.

Yeah, that might not be true either. I was spoiled in Bratislava. And I do a lot more walking here, so it might not matter. But I miss the activity.

So by noon the talk was over, I was back at the Metro, and hungry. I went in the out door. Dead end. I didn’t get yelled at, but I might have. I had to go around the building to the proper entrance.

I forgot that this stop handles two lines, and I went down the escalator to the wrong one. No big deal: just go back up. Except I had to wait for an entire train’s worth of people to get on the escalator in an orderly fashion (walkers on the left, standers on the right). It took a few minutes. And I was getting irrational with hunger now.

I found my line. I found the right platform. I even found a place to stand without feeling like my pocket was surely being picked. And because I was both tired and hungry and insecure, my lip started to quiver, and I started to cry.

On the Metro.

I want grown up furniture and real Oriental carpets and a decent dye job (and maybe even a pedicure although I’ve given up on my hands). While at the same time I hate myself for being materialistic, coveting other people’s things and fitness clubs, and feeling inferior.

“Oh, never cry on the Metro!” Russian Girlfriend in Bratislava counseled me later via SMS. “You’ll attract the wrong kind of people. Or develop sinus infections! When are you coming to visit? I’ll give you a make over. You’ll knock ‘em all dead.”

God, I adore this woman.

“Stop by the office,” said the Spouse. “The Sandwich Guy is still here. You can get a decent, cheap lunch and sit in my office.”

I don’t remember the last time a sandwich tasted that good. I sat there and chewed while he talked on the phone. It was just what I needed.

At the French school I vented to My Favorite French School Mom. “Oh, in our last posting I was insecure for a year!” she confided. “Plus, how do you know these other people are even happy?

Huh. Maybe they’re not. Not that I wish for them to be unhappy.

But she’s right: it’s hard to tell what someone else’s demons are, even when you know that someone well.

So food for thought, a lesson learned, a decent meal, and an early bedtime. As the Spouse pointed out, it will never be harder than this.


MiamiBob said...

I felt much the same way that wonderful morning, having spent the entire night on a bus, when we pulled up at the entrance to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island. It's an awful feeling of being "here" irredemiably. Didn't cry though. One of the other recruits made the mistake of doing that while having his head shaved. As the drill instructor gently explained to the fellow at the top of his lungs, face two inches away, tears and sweat are the same thing, so if you're sweating doing pushups, you can't be crying.

Anonymous said...

1. I think there's a lot to be said for a bit of a cry. Very cleansing.
2. You're a very inspiring person yourself you know AWE inspiring I might say. Really. I'm in despair at the idea of moving myself and two dogs to Switzerland. You seem to manage a hell of a lot more with aplomb AND a sense of humour. I suspect the coiffured ladies envy you many things: your gorgeous girls, your amazing flexibility, your wit and the sense of absurdity which makes it all work.
And I don't even know you!

It is selfishly comforting to know that even Super Women have to work up to it.
Hang in there :)
Jen from Aus

Anonymous said...

PS Just had a massage - the digging in to my dodgy hip was not pleasant, but the hot stones were. Any chance of one where you are? I doubt there are too many things it won't cure.
Anyway, the reason for my PS - I saw a lovely pic of you at a party in Bratislava and immediately thought you'd be such fun to know - you absolutely radiate a love for life.
I think that's better than a rug really.

Your Faithful Correspondant said...

Jen, I added a better photo of me to that entry. Thanks for all your kind remarks.

Thanks to everyone who emailed or left a comment. I got some really touching notes. Made me cry again, but in a good way.


Anonymous said...

Glamarama!! Gorgeous pic AND you look like you're having a blast! It's all swings and roundabouts :)

Julie said...

I know just how you felt! Feeling frumpy, castigating yourself for having such small, materialistic feelings, yet still not being able to get a handle on them. I like what your friend said: a love for live and adventure is FAR better than an oriental rug. Oh, yeah: I have small children, too! My living room will NEVER look like those I covet.

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