We landed in Düsseldorf early on a Tuesday morning. Neither of us had been to Germany before and we had left everything behind: Our beloved dog, our jobs, our friends, our magical cottage in the woods with the giant skylights and goofy Swedish landlord. I left my therapist, the first one I ever connected with. Elliot left his family and the only home he’s ever known.
At the time, we gave each other high-fives every time we talked about our move: “We are so cool babe,” we would tell each other, “no one else is as cool as we are.” We felt brave and inspiring. This is my fourth international move and the third time I’ve picked up and moved to a city I’d never been to. I got this, I told myself, full of arrogance. But this is the first time I’ve abandoned an actual life. One I had no idea I had until it was gone (because isn’t that always the case?).
I’m not gonna lie, I’ve always hated San Francisco. I try to pinpoint the exact reason why, whether it was the constant harassment from men or the obnoxious tech community or the disgustingly high cost of living, but whatever the reason, it just never felt like home.
But our last weekend in San Francisco was spent at my friend Sasha’s apartment, a place I sublet after arriving from New Zealand. It was my first time living alone and even though it was a quiet ten months, I settled into myself as “grown-up Marian”. I spent most of my free time sitting on the couch reading books and drinking tea. I met my husband living in that apartment. Spending my last weekend there was a blessing: the floral smell of place coupled with the sound of MUNI outside – an electric squeaky hum – transported me back to the time when I knew nothing about the city, but had high hopes and big dreams.
During the two and half years since moving to San Francisco, everything about my life shifted. I met my therapist, Julia, who quite literally changed everything about the way I see myself and the people I spend my time with. I changed jobs – having been laid off for the first time in my life. I decided tech wasn’t even remotely where I wanted to be. I got a dog, the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. I made American, female friends – another first since college. These friends weren’t other travelers just passing through, but were building lives there too. Women who also wanted to talk about therapy and creativity and go for hikes in the woods.
So sitting here in my lofted apartment in Germany feels like a little death, when that was the complete opposite of what I expected. It’s not until we got here that I realized how much I gave up. What have I done?, I thought, on our first day in Düsseldorf, while the grey clouds suffocated me and the German language felt impossible.
Guess what? Living an actual, real life abroad is hard. It is not, as I thought, just showing up and writing on my computer on my little European balcony, for a few hours each day. It’s one exhausting chore after another. Going to the grocery store is impossible because fabric softener and laundry detergent are not labeled differently so we ended up with more fabric softener than we’ll ever need in our lifetime. I spent an entire day trying to get internet on my phone, walking from one mobile store to another, never truly understanding what the person behind the counter was saying. Am I locked in for 24 months or 24 years?
Eventually, USB internet stick purchased, I found myself in our tiny flat, unable to connect to the internet and on hold with a German who tried hard to tell me that I need to download software to access the internet, but I needed the internet to do it. So by the time Elliot and I want to go out and explore the city we’re exhausted from just trying to be adults.
My therapist gave me a card that, on the front of the envelope reads, “Not to be opened until you are in Germany and need some extra support.”
I lasted 24 hours before tearing it open.
That first week here made me question everything. I thought we had made a horrible mistake. We have no friends here, we don’t speak any German and I’m terrified that I won’t be able to support myself as a writer. It’s cloudy and cold and I am not that 18 year old backpacker anymore. Did I make this ridiculous decision to move to Germany based on the idea of who I want to be rather than who I actually am?
Or did I do it so I can have a life well lived? One where I don’t settle for a city everyone else seems to love, but will never feel like home to me. Because the other part of me – the one who watched fireworks over the Rhein, who found a gorgeous 1000sq ft apartment that doesn’t cost all my money, who can make up funny German words with my husband, who booked bus tickets to The Netherlands just because we can – that part is so completely in awe of my bravery. And I’m beyond proud of myself and my California-boy husband for taking this plunge.
Because if it wasn’t for everything I learned in San Francisco, I wouldn’t know that of course I feel this way. That only a dreadlocked hippie wearing an Aztec parka and bright friendship bracelets wouldn’t be scared. Of course this is going to be mostly hard and frustrating and stupid. But that every day it’s going to get better and as long as I give myself permission to not do a million things at once, I will be fine.
A few months from now I know I’ll be ordering schnitzel like a pro and catching the trains without Google Maps and talking to Vodafone customer service without pressing 1 for Englisch.