I woke up this morning with yet another surreal litany of sorrows: a black and stiffened toe, which had an unfortunate collision with the doorframe last night. A sore throat, which usually portends a cold threatening to overwhelm my immune system’s last line of defenses. And rain outside our window. That’s right. Yet. More. Rain. It is the first of May, for crying out loud! Give me a break here! We came to Portugal because I thought the weather would be better than London!

OK I’m done whining now. But so far, the score for May 2010 is not looking good. World: 3. Zoe: 0. Sigh.

Luckily, yesterday was a much better day. I spent it doing precisely what I had hoped to do on Thursday, namely, nothing. I caught up on email in the morning, as I found a distressingly large amount of them sitting unanswered in my work account from the past six weeks of travel and company. Whoops. I then spent the afternoon reading (which is technically for work, although really it doesn’t count as such), napping, and generally faffing about. Again, all the things I’d hoped to do the day before, but was prevented from doing due to luggage deliveries, water heater workmen, etc.

Even my desultory attempt to go to the gym, which was really only an excuse to get out of the house, was cut short when I discovered that I’d left my lock there the day before, so had no way of securing my bag while working out. Normally I would’ve just risked it, but this time I was glad for the excuse to leave, to leave the sterile, windowless gym for the noisy, leaf-shaded streets and go back home to my book again.

Usually, a day like this — alone, quiet, peaceful — would come as sweet balm to my overstimulated introvert’s soul. And don’t get me wrong, it was a nice change after six weeks of nonstop company and travel, crowded souks and social meals. But still, there’s something missing. I am not getting the bone-deep relief that I normally get from such a day, the feeling that my emotional lungs are expanding, absorbing the solitude like oxygen. Instead of feeling like the wonderful, quiet little haven it normally does, our flat suddenly seems small and dark, sterile and empty. What happened?

I am forced to wonder if maybe, just maybe, I have gotten used to having other people around. Gasp! I know. What a concept. I’ve said it before, but Gabe and I have a joke that he is a dog and I am a cat. He is always up for anything and loves to be around people, while I am often prickly, quiet, and need to curl up by myself on a couch for long periods of time. However. Very grudgingly, I have to admit that there there may be more woof in me than I originally thought.

The first quarter we spent here, I struggled with acute homesickness and a lot leftover grief from my dad’s passing. By the time winter came around, I was feeling better about being here, but there followed many long, cold, rainy days spent alone, cooped up in our flat. In the end, four months of introspection, work, and alone time proved too much even for my introverted soul to bear, so the past six weeks with loved ones has been a real boon to me.

Which reopens a question I thought long answered for me: what makes a home? Not the home where eat your meals or sleep at night, but the capital-H type of Home — where your heart is, to coin the old saying. For me, that Home has always been Santa Cruz, which I realized only after I had moved to London and was too far away to do anything about it. From then on, I thought that Santa Cruz was in my blood, that it was the place itself that I missed when I was away, along with the people in it. After that, I swore I would never leave it again — ha ha. Life plays funny jokes on us sometimes.

After spending most of another year abroad, I’m starting to think that it’s not the place you’re in that matters after all. It really is the people. When my mom was here in Lisbon, it felt like home. But now, without her here, it once again feels empty, and all too reminiscent of those long months of solitude earlier in the year. In fact I think I felt more at home in a Tel Aviv hotel room last week than I do after nearly seven months of living here, simply because there we were surrounded by people we love.

I still see the beauty here, and I enjoy the life we’ve built, the people we see, the things we do. But I am still an observer here, an outsider, and there is a growing part of me that is more than ready to go Home, to be surrounded by our families again, to be with our friends and community. This year has reminded me of the importance of having community, not only from observing a strongly community-oriented society from the outside, but also from feeling the lack of my own.

Shockingly, it seems that I am not an island. And it’s only taken me thirty years to figure it out.

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