“I have enough friends.”
Those four little words are some of the saddest ever uttered. But they are words often heard by those of us moving around the world, or moving to another town. Usually they are said by natives of the country who have lifelong friends along the same street, and family around the corner. Words not spoken intending to hurt, but as a fact. They do however dismay the recipient trying to fit into a new environment, whether in Dagenham or Delaware.
I don’t mean friends on Facebook, or connections on LinkedIn, or followers on Twitter. I mean honest-to-God people who know you, or want to get to know you, foibles and all. Someone who can rejoice, or despair, with you over coffee or wine at a moments notice. And that includes true friends connecting virtually. Either drink tastes almost as good on FactTime or Skype.
We nomads, whether global or national, are a resilient tribe and so we try not to take those four words personally. We smile and move on. But in the quiet of a sleepless night trying not to feel homesick for the smell of satay sizzling on a street brazier, or the serenity of falling snow across a fjord, or the fun of friends from previous postings, those words come back to taunt us. Questions swirl. “Was I too pushy?” “Did my loneliness show through – a sign printed on my forehead saying, ‘please speak to me’?”
Sleep finally comes, usually just before the alarm jangles, and we start a new day of getting partners to work, children to school. Positive. Determined. But because of yesterday’s words, a little anxious. Will everyone be like that here? We are lonely. And it doesn’t matter how many times we relocate. After the first few days and weeks filled with busyness – temporary accommodation, schools, doctors, new homes, unpacking, we look around and wonder, now what?
We pour another cup of coffee and as our thumbs idly swipe across our new phone, there on our Facebook page or in our inbox, we spot a lifeline. Someone knows someone in Perth, or London, or Dallas. Suddenly the coffee tastes sweeter. We have a link. A lifeline to someone who understands the loneliness of new beginnings. We connect. We are on our way.
As we near the end of our global roaming we face another decision. Where to unpack those boxes one last time?
Some of us ‘go home’ to wherever home originally was. And we settle back into a life of what we once knew. It takes a while but we get there by treating the relocation not as ‘going home’ but as a new posting. In our hearts we know it won’t be the same as when we left twenty, thirty, forty years ago. We know it won’t be the same as visiting for a few weeks each summer, when people make the time to see us. We have grown, as have our old friends, but in different ways and yet we manage to slot back in, to become reabsorbed in the fabric of our childhood.
Some of us accept we will never readapt, nor want to. The colour and customs of Thailand or Kenya or India have changed us too much to return to the monogamy of one culture. We have become floozies. Wanting spice and variety in our life, though hopefully not our marriage.
For those of us born into a life of constant motion, itinerant from birth, that final decision of where to unpack becomes increasingly difficult. How can we possibly stay put? Fragments of our heart and soul are scattered around the world. Memories and languages merge unwittingly into our conversations, and if we are not surrounded by like-minded people our lives become flat and grey. We have lost our tribe. We are amongst people who do not need anymore friends.
My husband is still working. We are still based in Houston, a city which feeds our desire for a multi-cultural life. Our children are oceans away, and so where we chose to retire has little bearing on their location, except it must be appealing. For twenty years we have searched for a place in which to unpack, permanently.
I looked around my lunch table yesterday at the women gathered there and knew we had found such a place. Some have been on this island a life-time. Some have landed by boat after having literally sailed the seven seas. Others, butterflies alighting for a short while, until work or family takes them onto to their next adventure. Still others, like me, arrived on a whim, and were enchanted. But all have been welcoming, have stories to tell, are open to new friendships..
And what is important for all of us to remember is that new friendships do not negate old friendships. Some will dissolve with time, without an injection of face-to-face contact, and that’s okay. The memories are fond, and no friendship should ever be regretted, they were of a time and place.
My concerns about island fever have dissipated on the Trade Winds. When we make the permanent move to St Croix it will be with a certainty no one will say, “I have enough friends.”