The traveler’s curse

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“Don’t ever tell anyone anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

– Holden Caulfield

My brother says we weren’t so much raised as traveled.  (Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s in his unpublished book.  Sorry, Chris.)  And it’s true: one of my friends’ favorite pastimes is instructing me to give “the list” when someone asks where I’m from.  It’s rather a jerk move because when someone asks them about their day it’s not like I force them to list off their movements of every hour.

Don’t get me wrong — I loved it, the constant unknown, the exploration, the newness, tastes, smells, sounds of a different place.  I loved arriving at a new house, echoey and imposing, with empty rooms waiting to be chosen and filled.  I loved unwrapping our shipments and rediscovering possessions.  And I loved the people.  People from all over the world who became acquaintances, friends, family.

When someone asks about my childhood, about the moving, about the difficulty of packing up and leaving a place, I usually tell them I loved it but that it isn’t for everyone.  I don’t tell them about the indescribable ache when yet another best friend moved to a different continent.  I don’t tell them about my friends who found the moving depressing and semi-traumatic.  And I can’t tell them about what it feels like to have different places make residence in your body like so many unsolicited but vital organs.

Every memory, every move, every culture and friend and experience has infused my life with so much vivid color that I can’t help but write adjective-heavy blog entries extolling the virtues of the nomadic, international childhood.

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Though I wouldn’t trade my childhood for the world, there’s still the “otherness” that follows me like a shadow — easy to ignore in the right lighting, but occasionally starkly contrasted against my life.  It is the otherness of feeling that I don’t truly belong anywhere, which is an acceptable feeling during the occasional existential crisis, but not something you want on a regular basis.  I will never be fully American.  Nor can I claim to be Omani or from any combination of the Middle Eastern countries I love.  But the otherness shadow is always there.  It’s there when I bring up the craziness of Egyptian roads and people stare at me. (If you’re from Africa, why are you white?)  It’s there when I smell shisha or hear Arabic or crave Lebanese food.  And it’s also there when I’m in these countries and know that I do not share their heritage, their culture, their language and customs.

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Having friends scattered across the world is wonderful, but achey.  The friend who talked to you late in the night about nothing and everything.  The friends who infused your life with brightness when you were wandering alone.  The friend you constantly laughed with because your weird sense of humors hit just right.  The friend who shaped your ideas and challenged your assumptions. The friends you shared life with, eating, joking, failing at exercising, singing, adventuring.  The friend you haven’t seen in 10 years who welcomes you to stay and everything has changed but nothing really has.

These people, who were so essential in illuminating your life during certain years, become distant with distance.  They, who were so colorful, are now fading, preserved in memory, on Facebook, on Skype, but not tangible, daily relationships. But they are part of you, and the more you move, the more of them you meet, the heavier your shadow becomes, filled with not just places but people.  And these people are not content to be a shadow: they are part of you, shaping you more distinctly than a place or a move.  It is something, trying to keep up with all these pieces of yourself, trying to preserve memories, let them go, wade through bouts of nostalgia, and, above all, being thankful for all the love that has been in your life. Past, present, and future.

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It’s fine.  It’s growing up.  It’s TCKs…and everyone else.

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