How can I be homesick for a country I wasn’t born in, a culture that isn’t mine?
Every morning in Massachusetts, I make a pot of tea. Black and white china decorated with the names of English foods (“FRESH MILK & JERSEY CREAM” says my milk jug), tea cosy covered in a flowery print, tray I bought at John Lewis. And strong Assam to drink. Some days, I make myself a slice of crisp toast spread with marmite.
I left London 15 years ago with two preschool children, to find a better life in a small town, in the country where I was born. But back in England, that foreign land, I spent a week walking down familiar streets, seeing old friends (some from nearly 30 years ago—I was a teenager when I first went to England), meeting new ones, and talking. Talking about music and literature and technology, politics, gossip. I had a week breathing the cool, slightly sooty air of London, watching a sky that is much brighter than when I lived there because of global warming.
A woman I met when I came to Great Barrington—an erratic escapee from New York like so many here and, like so many, heavily medicated—said one day that she thought I should move to a university town, somewhere I would find like-minded people. I was grateful for the thought, because she was the first person who had actually seen me, who I was, not just assigned me to a category—‘poor do-gooder single mother’ or ‘rich hippy single mother’ or whatever it might be. But in the years since, I’ve found that there is no category that fits me at all. Or rather, I just don’t fit here.
I had good reasons for leaving London. My partner had moved out, leaving me with two children, a small flat, and huge monthly payments. British Rail plans had blighted our neighborhood so I couldn’t sell the flat, either. I was tired of the dogshit and the danger, and I wanted to raise my kids where they could run in the grass and climb trees. I wanted them to have a place they could call home.
Eventually, we landed in a small New England town, Great Barrington. It is beautiful, surrounded by low wooded hills and set in a river valley that winds gently from Vermont down to Connecticut. Great Barrington seems to most people a perfect escape from the city, an ideal place to raise children. And we have a perfect life, with a Victorian house on ‘the Hill,’ and a small business in a building on Main Street.
But my search for community has failed. Much as I love this place, I haven’t put down roots. I haven’t found the kindred spirits that would make this place come alive as a home. I look back to the decision to leave London and wonder how, after all these years, life could take me full circle: to wondering if I might—now, with an American husband—move back to the place I fled.