Back in the saddle

It shouldn't, but it always seems to take me by surprise just how exhausting these pilgrimages to Glasgow are. I think because, no the surface, it looks like a grand holiday, I never seem to adequately prepare myself for the toll it takes both emotionally and physically. It is, frankly, not a relaxing endeavor; in fact, it's anything but. Which is not to say that it isn't enjoyable, as it is, but it's also extremely difficult. The travel alone is, of course, taxing for someone with fibromyalgia. The discomfort of sitting in planes for hours, sleeping in strange beds with wonky pillows is very disruptive. But I don't seem to feel that as much until I get home, perhaps some delayed survivalist tactic my body performs subconsciously, so that I can function while I'm there. What I feel most is the overwhelming grip of emotion and nostalgia that tightens around me before we even leave the states and squeezes relentlessly until long after our return.

Every time I return to Scotland it is a strange set of contradictions for me. I am, in one way, returning home, to a place I left when I was ten, a place I didn't choose to leave but was whisked away from as my father's career took him to the states. There is an unbelievable amount of emotion, mostly in the form of an intense melancholy that kicks in as soon as our plane descends through the clouds and the green fields of Scotland appear below the wings, fields dotted with sheep and cattle. I've never been able to put my finger on why, exactly, but I feel overwhelmed by a dull aching, an inexplicable sadness that bubbles up and sort of simmers below the surface the whole time I'm there.

Unquestionably, that feeling has intensified for me since my mother's death nearly five years ago. How can a child possibly go home, to a place where nearly every memory, every person, every street, is tied so deeply to the past in general and her mother in particular? How can I walk those same streets, pass our old flat, our old playground, visit my grandmother and my uncle (on my mother's side) without that constant reminder of loss? And beyond that, even is another sense of loss -- of this other life that I might have lived, of a connection to my childhood.

There is the strange dichotomy of feeling as though I am coming home yet, at the same time, to a place I no longer fit in or belong. It feels a bit like being a pretender, a party crasher into the past. Whatever it is, it is always -- that is to say, that the entire time I'm in Glasgow, I am feeling things with full, relentless force. It is difficult and it is exhausting. It is wonderful to sit in my Gran's flat -- the same one I came to on lunch hours from our primary school just a half block away, almost completely unchanged over the years -- and talk about memories, but it also means constant awareness of the loss of my mother, a fresh wave of grief that is tough to escape from, unlike when distracted by the tasks of my everyday life back home.

On this trip, I also attended the wedding of my oldest friend, Deborah, and again the conflict of emotions presented itself. On the one hand, it was good and nostalgic to see her get married and hard to believe that this was the person I'd met first when we were four, when we lived in flats whose back greens sat just across the alley from one another. But it also highlighted the fact that, although we're still in touch, we aren't in touch very often and we don't know each other that well anymore. Another thing from the past that is both strong and present yet somehow distant and tenuous at the same time.

And on this trip we met a few Europeans who didn't make any attempt to hide their contempt for the US. Again, a conflict: while I certainly understand the negative view the world has on our nation, and agree with many of their concerns, I wasn't clear why criticizing the country I live in was appropriate opening small talk. It seems European contempt for our country's international actions supercedes a sense of hospitality (at least) and manners (at best), as well as the realization that we individual Americans are not the actions of our government. (I may blog more later about how deeply over-simplified the European understanding of US politics seems to be, but it might just upset me again to revisit it right now.) It both angered and saddened me at a time when I was already feeling extremely vulnerable, a bit out of place.

But that wasn't the balance of my experience in Glasgow. These trips are both good and important in the grand scheme of things. I'm sure I'll get around to posting more photos and more specifics about the trip, a few tales of our time in the motherland. However, for now, I am just feeling sore and tired and a bit overwhelmed by the experience. And glad to be back in my home, in my own life, which distractions and routine and one thing I don't feel in Scotland: ease.