This is another glimpse into my repatriation experience, written back in November 2016.
When I got back to London I kept walking the wrong way. Or stopping mid step, doubting my instinct. It was most embarrassing on the tube, when I had to wind my way through the labyrinth of ways not usually taken, walking what seemed like miles of additional distance to undo my mistake and get to the right tube line, going the right direction.
I couldn’t get lost in my thoughts and trust to autopilot anymore – it was like those first months in the States, where I had to concentrate every day to make sure I really was following the alphabetised streets in the right order. I’m not sure I ever got to the point there when I was completely sure of my direction when exiting the metro at Metro Center.
It was weirdest when I was back at the university where I used to study and teach. I knew I needed to get to the School office, which I remembered was on the third floor, but I couldn’t remember where the staircase was – quite an important detail to have slipped my mind! And then there was the TA room that I knew I could book for office hours; I knew it was a corner office – but which corner of the building? I remembered all the elements of where I used to teach, I just couldn’t remember the paths between them – how they fit together.
To some extent this translated into life too. We could go through the motions of our old life, but the motivations – the animating spirit – eluded us for a while. We’re not the same people we used to be. We had two years of different habits – habits which can’t be replicated over here – and they’ve changed us slightly. It’s a bit like @thesmult says, we’ve changed shape and it’s been difficult to fit back into our grooves.
But of course, the grooves haven’t stayed the same shape either. The epic reconstruction of London Bridge station is a case in point, and has led to me taking many new routes around London in order to avoid the chaos! Seeing that – finding the unfamiliar and the new in this life that on the surface is the same as we lived two years ago – is what’s helping. Our family and friends have been getting on with things (mainly having babies – apparently it was easier to give up alcohol when we weren’t around…) and we’ve been able to take on new roles in their lives.
On a much smaller level, there are quite a few new cafes/breweries/restaurants in London now, which are helping us to adapt some of our DC routines to fit the London context; and those great cultures of American football and Halloween have reached new heights of popularity since we’ve been away.
And after four months, I’ve finally stopped going the wrong way on the tube.