Lately I’ve been chock-full of visitors. Friends and family who have known me since way back when, or at least, as way back when as you can get at the ripe age of 25.
I have bit of a pause now from the constant activity that accompanies visitors and also, a breather from the constant barrage of Belgian beer, chocolate and food that’s imperative to a visit here. It may seem like Belgium is lacking a distinct culture to the untrained eye, but that’s a fool’s mistake. Belgium has a very palpable sense of culture, it’s just mainly focused around eating and drinking. (There’s really no surprise as to why I’ve nestled myself so comfortably here. ) Besides, handling the peppering of questions about this confusing little country is always less overwhelming and less complicated over a few beers.
Unlike usual though, spending time with friends from the US has left me hopeful. When American friends and family leave, I’m usually reduced to this mopey rag, secretly fighting a terrible inner battle, trying to hold two parts of myself together. There are a lot of tricky things that pop up in an international life that are impossible to prepare for or foresee. One is that terrible struggle, the actual feeling of wanting to tear your heart in as many pieces as possible so it can be everywhere. (I remember reading sentences like this before I ever moved around and scoffing at them, thinking that the sentiment was a little melodramatic. But now I know it’s an actual truth. That feeling really does exist. Or maybe all of us expats are prone to melodrama.)
But this go-around of friends has keyed me back into critical parts of my self that I’ve thrown under the bus so I could absorb this new culture. I think any attempt to live somewhere new, whether that’s moving from the US to Brussels or even just moving neighborhoods, can only be done successfully by casting off all the old – at first. It’s the spring-cleaning of attachments, daily routines, and everyday language to make room for the new.
I think of it very much like a brutal, culture-based episode of “What Not to Wear.” On one hand, it’s exhilarating to chuck out all the bad items you knew were going to be discarded eventually. But then there’s the hemming-and-hawing about your favorite, worn pair of sweatpants. And the shirt that you never wear but always kept for its emotional value because so-and-so gave it to you. But because Stacy and Clinton are making you cry on television, or because you have non-refundable plane tickets, you dutifully put it all in trash bags and cinch them up. What you’re left with is an entirely empty and devoid wardrobe. The only thing remaining is the physical space that will eventually contain your future items. And that’s exciting. And overwhelming. That possibility of what will be.
And because you’re completely naked, you have to try on everything around you. You start with the basics to cover your essentials: finding your new emotional and cultural underwear. When you finally get that stuff covered, there’s a feeling of excitement. It fits, it feels comfortable and you’re no longer exposed. And that feeling of coverage at the very basic level makes everything ok. You know that at the very least, you’re no longer flashing your proverbial hoo-ha to the world unless it’s what you want.
Then you move on to construct the most important part of your new wardrobe. The outer parts, the bits and pieces that everyone sees. The part that gives you your style and your je ne sais quoi. You realize that since you’re starting from the ground up, you don’t have any old stuff to dictate your style. You don’t have to shop thinking that you really should find stuff that matches the expensive pair of pants you spent money on a year or two ago or that you already have five dresses so you don’t need another one. Those pants or those dresses aren’t around anymore. You can purchase whatever you want. This gives you room and the courage to try items that you never would have dared before. And somewhere along the line, you realize that these new pieces give you a new feeling about yourself. You present yourself differently to people.
But not everything new fits. And not everything new stands up to time or makes you feel better. Sometimes, some of that old stuff fits a lot better.
These recent visits have timed perfectly with my need to make it all come together. The need to go through those old trash bags, which thankfully I only ever put in storage with the intention of donation but never got around to doing. I have a chance to rummage through and pick out those favorite pair of sweatpants. To happily discover that there’s a lot of old stuff that matches pretty well with the new things that I like.
This is all just a very silly and very girly way of saying that there’s a way to build bridges between the two split lives, between my life in America and my European life. I’m not really sure how it will all come together or how exactly the picking and choosing process is going to go. But just knowing that I have a chance to combine the two is enough for me right now. It makes me feel like I’m becoming one whole person again.