THE BLOG

Notes of A Temporary Expat 1

06/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I pop the no-jet-lag in my mouth and look around the plane. The upholstery is a bit shabby, but they still give out pillows and blankets. A nice touch, I think, hoping the engine is in better shape than the seat covers.

I am on Aerosvit Ukranian Airline, flight 132 through Kiev to Budapest. The service is typically Russian, brusque to say the least. During the occupation, Hungarians used to refer to the Russians as "Primitivo," meaning crude, or without sensibilities.

I booked a flight to Budapest on Cheap-O Air to escape American megalomania and to hit the reset button of my life. Since my rite of passage days, touring Europe in a VW van, I have wanted to live in Europe for a spell. But I always had something "more important" to do. Now there is nothing to stop me.

An apartment in Europe is a time-honored way to heal from heartbreak. I will walk old streets with a history different from my own, and sit in old cafes, sipping strong coffee and writing about what happened, from the distance of an ocean. I need to breathe in beauty to restore my soul. Most of all I need a place that is, for me, a neutral zone between past and future.

My life blew up a year and a half ago -- that is nine months times two. I mention that because I've noticed that rebirth, like birth, seems to happen in nine-month cycles. The first nine months were for getting through the trauma, which was severe. During the second nine I integrated the events into my being and self-concept, piecing together my shattered narrative. It was marked by a dream of trying get a heavy suitcase into my car, and realizing I would have to reconfigure all the luggage therein before I could drive anywhere. I still don't know where the car is going. Fortunately, I don't have to.

Narrative is a connective tissue made of memories and events, facts and fantasy, and a set of beliefs, which we use to form identity. Our story allows us to bridge past to future through the present, weaving our immediate experience into something coherent. We interpret the present via our understanding of the past and our imagined future.

When trauma strikes, the narrative that you used to make sense of your life shatters. Past and future blow apart, and the present is without a bridge to anywhere, like a landmass shattered by lightening or earthquake. Past and future, as you conceived them, drift away. You are left with shards and no way to connect them.

When I moved to Massachusetts two years ago, my personal narrative said all my life I had been preparing for what I was about to do, and everything before it led to this moment of my life's work. It said all my loves had led me back to this, the great love of my youth. Surely a glorious flowering would occur: the culmination of everything I had been and done.

Instead it all exploded into shrapnel. Not only my day-to-day livelihood, career dreams and mission, were smashed; not only was my lover dead. My story, of who I was and why I was here, was destroyed. I was left in a void of meaning and purpose.

If you are resourceful and wise, when something like that happens, you do not try to put the pieces back the way they were before, That can only leave you a fragile facsimile of who you were. Instead you find a way to arrange them, like a stained glass window made of many pieces, into a new shape. You devise a new story that bridges past, present and future. I devised a sort of scotch tape theme to help me through. "I am a lover," I said, " and sometimes when you love, you lose." It got me here, and gave me the freedom to take this step.

So I sublet my flat in Massachusetts, and, for approximately half the money, rented an apartment over a courtyard in the heart of town on the Pest side, near the Margit Bridge. Now I am on a plane which will take me to an empty slate, where there is absolutely nothing waiting for me, except one old friend who moved there 10 years ago, and an apartment for which I have an address, a lease, and four keys. I am flying without a net in order to begin again.

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