I still read the Caretaker Gazette, to the consternation of my husband, Bob. His eyebrows ask, “Haven’t you had enough?” He’s ready to settle down. Indeed, we have exactly the life we want in the United States. Running water, electricity that’s on way more than it is off, friends who speak American, personal sovereignty, family, all our stuff, and dinner with Netflix nearly every night – we couldn’t ask for more.
I’m pretty sure I won’t ever emigrate again. I’ve moved forty-five times, sixteen of them with Bob and together we’ve lived in five countries. Surely, the search for new beginnings is out of my system by now. Yet, I’ve marked my calendar with my passport renewal date, and continue subscribing to the Gazette. Let’s look at what’s behind my travel addiction.
I’ve always been flighty, a natural response for an introvert in a loud world. Like a horse, I want to know I can clear that fence and flee if I choose. One of my earliest memories is being chased by older kids carrying balloons. “What’s so scary about balloons?” I ask my mother and she tells me how startled I was as a baby by the roar of the helium balloon tank at the Bronx Zoo.
By the time I was eleven, there were six kids in our family and I was the only daughter. My dad would bellow, “Settle down kids! Or there’ll be pissing and moaning and blood on the floor!” His predictions often manifested. There were trips to the emergency room, backyard conflagrations, lost kids, naked kids, and once the Fire Department was summoned to extract Bobby’s head from the picket fence.
I’m not guiltless in the pyromania department. One night I inadvertently set my mattress on fire and had to drag it out the window onto the roof where it was duly extinguished. So I guess I created some of my own drama. But I digress. Let’s just say my childhood was a tad too stimulating. So I would take a book to my room or up a tree and travel to other worlds.
My parents helped fuel my wanderlust by moving us around like a cat moves her kittens. At sixteen, I found myself packing for what was to become our eighth new home. For a year. Those families who stayed put envied us the ease with which we were able to settle into a new neighborhood.
To remove us from underfoot while they unpacked, our parents would say, “Go make some friends.” So I would boldly (the introvert, mind you) knock on a door, introduce myself and my brothers, give our ages, and ask if they had any kids we could play with. They’d shoo their children out the door and off we would run.
As easily as that, we were allowed a fresh start. Whatever reputation we earned in our last home was left behind. This was do-overs big time. All those mistakes, poof! Sure we had to earn ourselves a place with these new friends. But we had an edge. We were simultaneously liberated from our baggage, and wiser because of it. I think our new friends relished the chance for a new start with us, too. We took them at face value, uninfluenced by neighborhood history. Whatever had happened before didn’t concern us.
And then there were the cultural nuances. Every move opened up new territory. Short skirts were in, then suddenly out, submarine sandwiches became hoagies, flashlights turned into torches. I enjoyed the challenge and was entertained by some of the misunderstandings. The day I asked for some cheese for Bob’s breakfast huevos and received hysterical laughter comes to mind. Blanquillos was the proper term in that neck of the woods.
An addiction was born. I found every fresh start intoxicating. At home, every situation exacts a particular response and I rarely miss cultural ques. But I’m not as accountable in cultures I wasn’t born into. Abroad, I’m at liberty to misconstrue the expectations of others. It’s expected and largely forgiven.
Travel allows me to step outside my comfort zone, to test my mettle, question my values and see the bare bones humanity in the intersection of our cultural differences. I am reborn each time I leave home. It is this freedom from convention and subsequent reinvention that drives my wanderlust. But I think I’ve got it reined in now.