One year ago…
I stand in the terminal, frozen. Vaguely aware of the kids and Joel, struggling with our bags. Dublin to Budapest flashes across the board in menacing red letters. Around me I see only strange faces, hear only strange words. This will be my life, these people my surroundings. I can’t move.
Joel somehow herds bags, kids and wife to a table at a nearby café. Before I catch my breath a cold Guinness lands before me, its golden foam promising temporary relief.
I start to refuse, but instead sip slowly and the tightness in my throat loosens, ever so slightly. Enough to breath. And just barely enough to step on that plane…
When we land I concentrate on the in and out of my breath, fidget with the kids' hair, clothes, cleaning their sticky hands, gathering their trash… trying not to think of the next step and knowing there’s no going back.
I snuggle one child or another in the front of the bus that picks us up. I don’t know which one, only needing something warm and real to hang on to. Although we’re back on the ground I feel like I’m floating and cling to the only thing I understand here, my family.
In what feels like minutes night falls and we’re crossing a bridge. I glance to the left and it is like our Budapest guide book coming to life before us, only the lights more brilliant, the night even deeper. My breath catches, but it’s not nerves this time. I glance at Joel across the small aisle and my first smile today plays reluctantly across my lips.
But soon the roads narrow and the bus bounces over a playground of potholes. It begins to rain as we unload kids and bags from the bus, as we drag days and weeks worth of packing through the gate, loading the hallway of our temporary home with the remnants of our past life.
When the colleagues sent to greet us close the door behind them a quiet settles in and I am struck by our isolation. Surrounded by strangers, we are left alone to navigate this alien land all by ourselves. After six years of marriage and two kids, I feel like a grown up for the first time.
One thing remains the same, however. My kids need snacks, drinks, toys to play with, baths and bed. The routine remains unchanged and tonight it grounds me, the neediness of my children saving me from the vast emptiness just outside.
I watch American TV on my computer as I struggle to sleep that night. Every few hours I wake and click through for another episode of The Office, longing for a taste of home throughout this long night.
Forcing my eyes closed, I imagine tomorrow, the daylight, a hot cup of coffee. I am lucky I don’t know what it actually holds, but tonight I find enough calm to slip in and out of sleep until dawn...