“You’ll know it’s meant to be your home if you see a ring of blue flowers outside of it,” said the voice on the phone. A stranger who saw my future.
We were moving to Australia in a matter of weeks and, given this prophecy, I envisioned a painted sign of blue flowers hanging in front of a small, simple house. It would be a place with bright natural light and a nice porch, within walking distance to a beach. I could already picture it.
And three days ago, I found it – the ring of blue flowers – just 10,000 miles away from where I expected it to be.
I landed in Boston on April 30th, 254 days after boarding a plane to spend the better part of a year traveling alone. Over this period, I explored two continents and made memories in fourteen countries, ranging from savoring a cheese plate in one of Hemingway’s Paris mainstays to getting food poisoning in a Southeast Asian nation ravaged by genocide. My time away was fascinating and very intense – to say the least.
I had been dreading coming home to the United States. This wasn’t because I wanted to avoid any particular person or lingering situation, but because I knew that, after all I had just done, “home” might not exist anymore. And having to know for sure was terrifying. It was easier to just pretend that the construct would still exist to me forever, even if I wasn’t sure of the truth.
We planned to fly to Australia after Ireland, but last month the situation changed, causing Mike and me to reconsider our plan. It became clear that moving back to the USA was the best choice and I’d have to answer the question of “will home still feel like home?” sooner than I had intended.
By the time I landed in Boston, however, I looked forward to being back and had promised myself to embrace whatever came my way and not judge myself too harshly as I transitioned back into the familiar. There were bound to be challenges and unexpected decision points. After all, everything had changed – I was returning home with a heart full of love and an empty wallet. I left my Irishman behind after three months together at his home, which, in itself, would be a major adjustment. He would come to meet me a month later when his one year career break finally kicked in. Until then, I’d be alone again – something I wasn’t particularly happy about after getting accustomed to being a “we” (pathetic as that sounds) and exhausting myself while traveling alone for the 6 months previous to that.
I was welcomed home with a bouquet of flowers and, later, with wine and my favorite cheeses thanks to my very generous friends and family. All was well and good. But the next morning, I awoke I feeling oddly emotional.
I did some errands in my old Cambridge neighborhood and found myself in complete solo female traveler mode. In this mindset, the one which dominated my travels, my choices are based on instinct. One reason for this is that no one else is looking out for me – I have to be aware of my surroundings and understand how I fit into them. If I feel the hairs on my neck stand up, I pay attention to that reaction.
I didn’t fully understand the extent of how in touch with my instincts I had become (and how draining that was) until I saw my own city as if it was another person’s. The traffic, the energy, the grit of it all – it felt a bit like Saigon, Vietnam to me, rather than a place I had spent six years. A man cat-called me and, without a thought, I quickened my pace, lowered my gaze, crossed the street, and held my bag a little closer. And noticing these automated reactions, I wondered – have I been deceiving myself into thinking this is a safe city all these years? My instincts and my brain were giving me conflicting messages, like I had never been to this place before.
I saw other aspects of my home with fresh eyes as well. In the line to pay at a market, a girl with an accent started talking to me. I inquired where she was from and found out she’s German. Without skipping a beat, I started explaining that I had recently visited Berlin and, once she asked more, I found myself going into my whole long-winded story. I had to look around and remind myself, “You’re not in a hostel. You don’t need to make new friends.” We parted with a smile and I walked out of the store wondering how hard it had been for her to move to a new country – something I had never thought much about until the last year.
Outside the shop, a man yelled into his cell phone in Spanish. An Indian man held the door for me as I walked into a cafe. A bunch of drunk people corralled outside of Dunkin Donuts with thick, slurred Boston accents. In just a few minutes of walking Massachusetts Avenue, I noticed people of all ethnicities and Boston felt like an incredibly diverse city, especially compared to Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland.
That night, I met friends at one of my old favorite bars, Green Street in Cambridge, and in ordering a cocktail, I was asked for my ID. As a traveler, I made a habit of leaving all of my important belongings locked up where I was sleeping and stuffed $20 in my pocket. After hearing enough horror stories, it doesn’t seem worth it to risk bringing valuables. On this occasion, I didn’t have my wallet or ID. And walking the few blocks to go get it shouldn’t have been a big deal, but for whatever reason, it was.
“How could I forget my ID in Boston?” I thought. “You get carded all the time in this city. I know that and yet I am acting like a total foreigner.” At this point, my jet-lag had kicked in and it wasn’t helping my emotional state. I looked the wrong way to cross the street and almost got nailed by a passing biker. Tears welled up in my eyes as I mentally berated myself for forgetting these basic aspects of life in the States. The worst part about it was how trivial these adjustments were, I was consciously aware of how silly I was acting but, nevertheless, I couldn’t stop caring.
It was then that I remembered my promise to myself – to take it easy and take it slow. And, in tuning into my gut, I could tell that perhaps I wasn’t ready to immerse myself in city life quite yet. I felt anxious and emotional and confused, unsure if I want to get used to life there again. I decided to escape to my happy place – my mother’s house in Vermont. It is in the middle of nowhere – up a five mile dirt road with the closest neighbor a half mile away. This is the place I have gone for the last 11 years to escape, to think, to clear my head, to focus in on something big, to recover, to forget, whatever is necessary – it is a spiritual, safe place. Just what I needed.
Once I arrived, I was able to breathe a little deeper and sleep a lot better. I was able to look at things with clarity and care, which is what I had hoped to do with all aspects of my life going forward. I was able to take stock of what I was feeling and why, and I was surprised to identify a whole slew of preconceived notions which I had been holding onto, even after all the mind-opening I had done while on the road. Still though, I wasn’t sure how to spend our four months here before leaving again for Australia (this will be attempt #3 to get there).
My list of considerations kept getting longer the more time I spent in my home country. I wasn’t sure where to live, where to work, how much to work, how to get from place to place, how Mike would feel about all the uncertainty I’d be bringing him into, how to honor everything I had just done. Sometimes having many options is a bad thing, causing a sort of decision-paralysis. I couldn’t even decide where to live, let alone begin to address the other parts of the list. Boston would have much more opportunity and give me the ability to make a lot more money, but Vermont would be in line with what I want – offering a peaceful, quiet, and simple daily life. Trying to choose was completely overwhelming.
My concept of “home” had changed, it seemed. And I laid awake trying to find peace of mind enough to sleep, without success. As I reminisced about the simplicity of Ireland, I remembered something.
It had been almost two months since my boyfriend’s psychic cousin called me, immediately after a brief introduction, to tell me what she had seen for my future. I pulled out my notebook and read the ten pages of notes I had taken during a visit to Claire’s house. I had heard everything she said through the filter of being in Australia. Now, with fresh eyes, I read the words objectively and reconsidered where this ring of blue flowers might be – perhaps it’s not in Australia after all.
Claire described this mysterious place in more detail. “I hear lots of laughter. It isn’t a normal situation – in fact it will be quite unconventional, but it will be the right fit for your home once you find it. You’ll be able to go back to it again after the initial time you spend there, even if you don’t live there forever.”
“Maybe this would settle the question of where I should live,” I thought. And finally I was able to sleep, hopeful that I might find some answers with a bit of cosmic help.
The next day, my family walked down to the beautiful pond on our property. We have two ponds – a long beaver pond and a smaller circular manmade swimming pond. As we approached the dock on the swimming pond, I noticed pockets of tiny blue flowers spread across the bank. “What are these flowers next the pond?” I asked my mother.
“They’re called bluets.” she replied. “I just love the color.”
I grabbed a kayak and slowly made my way around the perimeter of the pond as the rest of my family chatted on the dock. I followed the bluets, eventually finding myself back where I started. I didn’t expect it here – on this continent, at the closest, most obvious thing to call home, but there it was – a circle of blue flowers. And there was no way to argue with it.
This is it – home. For now at least.