One Year of Living in America
I write this post with incredible joy, alongside a heavy heart. On November 16th 2016, I both left my life in Australia, travelled back through time and arrived to my new one in the US. I carried only 5 suitcases with me of everything I had now owned after selling and giving away all my other belongings, and arrived in LAX to the love of my life with our empty car and the knowing that this was it. No more goodbye, no more long distance, and no more cross-continental communication. We did long distance for almost 2 years straight, making a total of 7 2 week -3 month trips to see each other in places all over the world. We were so excited and so scared.
I knew what I was signing up for when we began my visa process to move to the US. I knew that I would suffer incredible grief and loss and sadness for the home that I had for 19 years. In a way, it was like I was retiring from living in Australia. I knew I was leaving for the long haul. It still hurts to even say that. The weeks leading up to moving, I grieved. My heart broke in two, knowing the conversations and moments I was sharing with loved ones would be savoured and stuck in my memory and the time goes on, and I slowly forget those little interactions and quirks and final moments with people I love. Knowing each iconic cultural experience I immersed myself in would be the last in a while. I didn't plan on having a "one year america-versary" because I wanted to go home and visit by now, but with visas and the nature of immigration, I haven't even left the country for the past 365 days.
The first 6 months of living in a new country was scary. I felt completely foreign. The country I had just moved to literally just elected the most horrible man as their leader, who stood for harder immigration laws, lesser women rights (without even saying those words), higher security and ICE on the streets, and for a while there, I was scared. Where on earth do I stand living here as an immigrant? I wasn't even guaranteed permanent residency, and in 2 weeks I'll actually be sitting in my local USCIS waiting for someone to decide my future and whether or not I qualify for a little green card that tells me whether I can reside in a place I've already willingly built a life.
A year of no drivers licence, no bank account, no job, and no relationships with people. I've filled those voids in by finding a way to drive on my passport, I use David's account for finances, and I recently got permission to work if I wanted to (outside of freelancing). I've become incredibly resourceful. I swapped long distance with David, to long distance with the last 19 years of my life and everything that was included in that, including relationships with my dearest family and friends, vegemite and the southern hemisphere's order of seasons.
Without being a downer, I need to break the romanticising of "moving countries". I hear almost on a daily basis, "Wow moving countries is goals". Yes, yes it really is. My opportunities have almost tripled, people are so much kinder here, Christian values are engrained into American culture. But just picking up your life and moving across the world is never as easy as just doing that. Also as a self employed business person. I also hate the social abnormality of being an Australian in a smaller city in the US, where I am asked so often "Where I'm from?" or "How long are you in town for?" in which I repeat the same story, almost as a script, with a subtle hint of sarcasm to cover the sadness I feel for having to bring up my life back in Australia. Because I'm not fully healed from how much it hurts to be so far away.
The same day I got on that plane to come to the US on a one way ticket, was the same day my life also flipped completely upside down in the best way possible. In the last 365 days, I've gotten married, lived in my first apartment with David, adopted the best little cat in the world, bought a brand new car together, basically started from absolutely nothing. After we got married, we drove back up to Portland from Southern California with no place to live, no furniture except a toaster, a dining table and an IKEA voucher for our mattress (because we had bought one and returned it a week later in CA). We started with nothing. No credit to my name, bad credit to David's. No rental history, no employment history. No help or assistance from family, we lived thousands of miles away from any family we had. We didn't have a wedding to kickstart us into marriage. We started from bare bones, which was both the best and most difficult thing we could have done. We got to make our life completely our own, but at a financial cost and an emotional cost.
The early weeks of 2017 proved to be hard. The winter here in the Northwest was brutal to say the least. We didn't see sun for over 100 days. There were only 7 days of partial sun between December and April in Portland, and both the adjustment of moving and the seasonal depression hit me hard. I hit a big wall and broke down and gave up on myself and my own strength to fight through the abnormality of moving countries. I started collecting plants to remind me of Australia. I got a Eucalyptus tattoo on my 20th birthday as a constant reminder of my roots and where I'm from, but also a mountain range tattoo on my shoulder to remind me that I can now find strength in a new home nestled among the northwest's incredible ranges.
Family life proved and still proves to be tricky. I haven't seen my entire family in over a year. Most of my family don't use social media, which also means communication is limited. I miss Julian like you would not believe, and there is nothing I wouldn't do to be able to cook my Mum a meal in our house here in Portland and then take her for a hike to our favorite trails. But circumstances show that we're not there yet. I'm promising myself that it's a factor of time, and we'll be there soon. We live far from David's family, but with over 6 trips to California this year, we've seen them so much it's filled the void of not having blood close. I cling onto those relationships and the small moments more than I should, because they are so sacred and there are far and few in between.
This past year has been so healing for me. The first 3 months of living in Portland, I did a lot of unlearning and healing from the hurt that I've experienced in my life. I remember one particular evening I spent it all in the bath, crying and hurting and basically letting everything angry and damaged leave my body in the form of words and screams and tears. David held me tight and let me cry for a few hours and I felt better. There were many nights like this. There were also nightmares. Dreams of family members showing up to our house in Portland with spite or anger, wanting to manipulate and ruin the life David and I have created for ourselves. Dreams of family coming to visit but their planes crashing, family back home getting sick and me not being able to travel back in time to see them. Memories of traumatic experiences were resurfacing, almost so they could be dealt with and accepted before they vanished from my mind. It was an emotional rehabilitation that my body decided it was ready to go through but my mind hadn't caught up yet. After the season of healing was over, David and I adjusted into marriage and the sun started to appear, things were really happening and looking up. I was finally booking in work and finding myself busy enough to keep the days from feeling like years. And then it was the click of a finger and I felt like a different person. I had friends, I had a routine, I was creating a life.
Marriage for us has been a lot of those moments. Little moments that change everything. Moments of understanding, healing, realisation. It's been an honour to witness that happen for David and for myself. May came around and we found ourselves driving down to California for about 9 different shoots we had booked, we came back for a little bit and for May all through until November, we have been travelling at least twice a month, all for work. The travel had been a mask for a lot of the issues I wasn't dealing with, but almost became a comforting hum after a while and while it was exhausting, it was almost necessary to cope and started forcing me to be real and vulnerable with myself. I began seeing more of the US, the states that had different cultures, cities that were internationally known and desired, David got a job with an amazing company, and I started realising how to care for my own health better. We went vegan, my energy levels skyrocketed, I learnt that my body doesn't respond well to coffee, all these little things that we wouldn't have learnt if we weren't forced to care for ourselves. It was care or crash.
Things would be looking up, but I would have a hard phone call that would remind me of where I once was emotionally and what my life once looked like. I had the chance to make my own decisions on how to deal with things, and I began to be impressed with my approach to conflict and resolution. I was maturing at a rapid pace and I was less touchy over small things.
The last 3 months have been purely constructive and incredible. I learnt a lot about the way I deal with emotion, and David has been an amazing leader in keeping me accountable for healthy habits in that. The hard conversations always ended in laughs and tickles and cuddles with our cat. I have made hard decisions and accepted sad truths about things no one should have to deal with, but I have joy in those decisions because I have seen where my life has come in the last year and I couldn't have asked for a better first year. I am, in no way, the same person as I was when I first moved here. And I doubt I will be the same person this time next year when I re-evaluate my second year of living in a new country.
All in all, America, you have been a scary and beautiful place to live. I am terrified of your weather, and that the volcano we live 40 minutes from could blow any day, that people are armed and there are heightened political tensions. I am scared of your economy and your opinions on war and my safety when I walk down certain streets. But as scary as that all is, it's the fear and the chaos that is healing me and keeping me working hard. Besides, your country is incredibly beautiful, your people are darling friendly, your food is fantastic, your diversity is admirable and I am so honoured to be a part of such an interesting and quirky place in the world. Australia, I miss you more than anything ever. But we'll be back. For now, though, America, you're my new home. And you're the place that I'll start to miss when we're gone for too long.
David, I would move countries for you a million times over.