I’ve spent a week thinking about a theme for my multigenre narrative. What kept coming up in my writing was
Being an expat
Keeping in touch
This is my eighth year abroad. I don’t miss living in the States. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but mostly I appreciate missing the inflammatory election year ad campaigns. I have written about moving abroad before, many times, in my notebooks. And I usually end the entries with anger or tears. Though I planned to leave the States soon after college, the exit was bumpy.
Actually, the exit was a nightmare.
There was nothing great about it. I was grinding my teeth. I very nearly hated my in-laws. By the end of it, I just wanted to get on a plane. I would have gone anywhere. When I write about this time, I want to find something that shows grace or purpose. Instead, I find a year that I’d like to undo. I wouldn’t know how to re-do it, unless I backpedaled a few more years and didn’t marry.
The other pain of writing about moving abroad is this: I feel obligated to include a line or two stating the obvious.
My in-laws are nice.
Great. See. They’re nice. It just happened that the year Justin and I moved abroad is a shitty stretch in our relationship with them. I think I am tired of writing the disclaimer. Yes, my in-laws are nice. I’ve said it three times now, and I mean it. But they also hated that we moved abroad. My father-in-law was angry and my mother-in-law told me I was taking her only son. I think they thought we wouldn’t really do it and when we did, signing contracts with a South American school, they were the only ones who watched our school’s recruitment video with frowns. My father-in-law wanted to know if there was an escape clause in the contract.
I almost said this was the escape clause.
I was so angry. For years I’d wanted to leave the Midwest. Early in our dating, Justin agreed to go with me. A few years out of college, we were finally packing crates to ship to Colombia. I wanted everyone to be excited. When my in-laws were not, I tried and failed at compassion. I could see their side but couldn’t generate any empathy. They had one kid who grew into an adult who wanted something different than his parents. That’s the story of a million. More.
So I was angry over my head. This was when I began thinking how much happier my in-laws would be if their son had married a local Polish girl and took a mortgage one town over. I thought my husband might be happier with that outcome too, given the tension of family dinners.
I simmered for years. A couple years after we moved abroad, I said something to my mother-in-law (no doubt recorded in angry cramped cursive in a journal) and she told me, not unkindly, that I needed to get over it. She was right. I needed to get over it. For years, anytime I thought of my in-laws, I got tense. We learned to keep our tone cordial, missing out on a fuller, truer range. Maybe that’s just how I know them now, carefully.
That doesn’t feel okay and it doesn’t seem right that a painful break away should continue to sway our current relationship. I can say my in-laws are nice (four times) but I can also say how it happened. And I can say I want better yet.