Nothing sends fear into the heart of an expat like a phone call. Its not necessarily middle of the night, like the stereotype. It can be any time of day. But there is always something slightly wrong about it. Its before work, or mid-afternoon and the voice on the other end of the phone is beloved, but out of place. They shouldn't be phoning you, not now, not at this time.
And then comes the news. And the sadness, guilt and regret breaks out of the dam that has been built up for a long time.
I have lived in many places. 3 continents. 4 countries. I left the US at the tender age of 17 to see the world. At the time, it seemed like a great adventure. It was. I have seen things, met people and learned more than any book could teach me or film could show me.
I can't pin point the moment where it stopped being an adventure and started being life. Probably when my son was born. Shortly after, an uncle took me aside at a family reunion. He told me I needed and "stop fooling around" asked me when I was going to put down roots. I realised that I had...there and here.
In the absence of my family on this small island, I have friends and my husband's family that are as dear. When I see the hills or start chatting to random strangers in Glasgow, a bit of me feels at home. My village, my house, walking, public transport, vanilla flavoured Mueller Rice, National Health Insurance, hot cross buns and Jaffa cakes...just some of the things that I can not imagine living with out.
And then comes those phone calls from across the Atlantic and I am ripped apart. So far away from the people I love and helpless. All I can do is send a message in a bottle (or email, or phone call) and hope its received with some of the meaning it was intended to hold.
I have often said that I don't know if I would make the same choices again, knowing what I know now. Knowing the things that you give up when you pack up and leave. Things that you don't get back.
And then I hear a wee boy say "Bird" with his crazy Scottish/American/South African accent. I see his delight at walking past the train station every day. I smell his delicious scent coming out of the bath. I hold his small hand in mine when we cross the street and I take comfort in the fact that for everything I have lost. For every moment, I am not there pacing the floor with a brother or holding the hand of a sister. I have gained the companionship of a small boy. Who would not be here, but for a husband who lives on this island and the alchemy of time and place that created my beautiful boy.
The comfort is small, but it is a powerful one. It forces me to stay present in my life and not wander too far into the "What ifs". And I can be nothing but grateful.