Paranoia is common in expats, starting with the sideways glances, the wide-eyed locals who stare at you, the schoolgirls in the foul air of the metro snickering at your shoes. You do not fit and they can spot you a mile away. You pay double, or triple price. At home you were savvy. Here you are a sucker. The militia and police seem to bristle as you pass them, guns swaying across their chests.
You are often humiliated. They use confusion as an excuse to fool you, when the whole time they know exactly what they are doing. You will never get that money. You will never get that favor. You will never get that phone call.
Between the knowing and the not knowing I feel a sort of vertigo. Every sound in the night is an alarm. Ever creak is E waking up crying, padding across the floor of the dark hallway, tapping on my bedroom door. All too often this is the case. The sound of the other shoe dropping is something I anticipate now, something to expect.
Dodging bullets until you go down, I think to myself in the middle of the night as I read a book to her, as she squeezes her eyes closed searching for sleep.
Looking back I am terrified. Perspective, and room to breath allows me to see what we went through. We spent years living from moment to moment, working our way up a ladder one rung at a time, focussed on the next payment, the next meal, the next visa. It is only when the soldier returns from the war when they realize what they did to stay alive. This is the aftershock no one is prepared for. To go home or to create a new one makes us think we have put the past behind us. "Now, life can go on." We whisper to ourselves.
Looking down makes me restless, a cascade of memories and anniversaries at every turn. I see the death of a marriage ill-fated and stillborn. I look back in anger at how I spent six years trying to resuscitate it.
I turn in the night.
Faces, streets, sky all play out like a roll of paper being twirled far in front of me. A play that cannot be real. I do not hear anything. This is the slow march of depression and I know it.
The face in the mirror across from me is foreign.
A life in exile, some days even separated from my own hands, voice. Every expat faces a loss of self sometimes. But I am not Orpheus or Narcissus. On a bad day I am Sisyphus. By grace and luck, by that tiny golden kernel in my brain I rise. Better to attempt at being the child of the Phoenix.
Eggs will help, and strong coffee. The bacon is crisp, now dolls on the kitchen table with names I must remember. The indulgence must end. There are clothes and dishes to wash, play dates to schedule, phone calls, meetings, stamps, documents.
It is time to get out of the house somehow, E's hand tight in mine. Time to look forward, not back. Sentiment breeds contempt, I remind myself. It sours the milk.
People get poisoned. Some survive. Some look back in anger.