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The Accidental Immigrant

My life felt like cheap, poorly designed boots, back then. Not that it was a bad life; it was just an ill fit. I had a much higher opinion of myself than to think I would have created such a mundane life as mine was; surely this was all some cosmic accident. I should mention that I believed in accidents, back in the day…

I longed to travel from the time I read my first book about far off places; the first of which was a sci-fi book set on Mars. At the age of seven Mars seemed like an exciting holiday destination other than the lack of oxygen thing. Within my imaginary adventures I was already setting the bar for my future travels: heavy on the excitement, light on creature comforts. Reading about far away lands allowed me to create myself in a different life—a life that excited and engaged me. I studied both French and German when I was eight years old; by the age of ten I regularly dreamed of traveling abroad.

I married young, and started my family; a life choice that pretty much put traveling in an indefinite holding pattern. My husband John assured me that we would one-day travel and I knew that I would; I felt it in my bones. Meanwhile, I built homes and had babies; I baked bread and wrote songs; I started businesses and planted gardens.

And I continued dreaming of travel although I engaged in few activities to support my dream, other than reading.

When I was 26, I stepped into a plane—a tiny Cessna 152. I excitedly signed up for flying lessons that same day. Within my first month of flying, however, I had two realizations. First: I actually didn’t want to pilot my own plane; I simply wanted to experience a sense of travel and adventure—however brief and illusory. It was the second realization, however, that ended my career as a pilot before it began: My lack of any sense of direction would likely hurl me into a missing persons’ file if I attempted the solo flight required for a pilot’s license. Since going missing was more of an adventure than even I cared to experience, achieving a pilot’s license disappeared from my bucket list. Flying solo was not an option.

A married, homeowner, mother of four, living in rural Virginia, singer in a family band, owner of several small businesses over the years, I appeared more or less average in print, in spite of my burning desire for something else. Something more. Something different. But through it all, I had John: My husband, soul mate and for better or worse (and trust me there were plenty of both) the cornerstone of my life. We had a passionate, elaborately interwoven relationship that began when I was eighteen years old. Ours was not always an easy relationship, but it was always… perpetual… constant… predictably unpredictable…

In the summer of 1993, I was 41 years old. Our children were ages 20 (Morgan), 16 (Jonathan), 8 (Jessica) and 4 (Erin). Our family had outgrown our home the day Erin—our treasured surprise baby—was born; four years later it was bursting at the seams. Buying a new home, however, was out of the question as we robbed from Peter to pay Paul just to cover our basic bills that year. The recession of the late 80’s early 90’s had taken its toll; we had yet to bounce back although we knew we would, as we excitedly planned our next business venture. We were struggling on many levels when, out of the blue, John became ill and suddenly died. Within his long final breath my entire life turned inside out before plummeting into an abyss that took me two years to find my way out of.

With a life that revolved around my husband, I searched franticly for an identity beyond wife. I couldn’t imagine being anything besides the other half of We: We built our house. We had a family. We sang and played music together… I had no clue how to be an Ihow to fly solo with absolutely no sense of direction—but I had no choice but to do so.

I spent two years wandering around within the abyss; I longed for what I had once considered my ill-fitting life. It was near the end of this time that I truly connected with my—as of yet unexpressed—inner traveler. And she was one pushy, impulsive, little bitch! She was also a survivor who led me out of the abyss and into a life that ultimately fit me like a pair of custom-made Italian leather boots.

By 1995 Morgan was living on her own and Jonathan was enrolled in a school in Arizona. I was down to two children living at home, with no idea where we were going.

Initially I thought I’d take my two youngest daughters, Erin and Jessica, and visit Estonia for 6 months before returning to the USA and finding my niche within American society. I was enchanted with the idea of spending time in this newly independent state. Having become a part of the Soviet Union in the 1940’s, Estonia gained her independence in 1991. I liked the idea of visiting a brand new country before it became commercialized. Both Estonia and I were struggling to find ourselves; we were both creating a new identity, while in a healing process.

I packed up my daughters and headed east in 1995. We flew to Reykjavík, Iceland before traveling to Stockholm, Sweden. From Stockholm we took a Ferry to Helsinki, Finland and then a second ferry down to Tallinn, Estonia. After an exhausting 3-hour train ride from Tallinn to Tartu, Estonia we settled into a cozy two-bedroom rental flat.

Estonia was in the process of creating herself in front of our eyes—changing appreciably, every day. In spite of having no hot water for months on end, no clothes washer and no car, our life was exciting and fulfilling; heavy on excitement and light on creature comforts. It was a perfect fit.

When our flight back to the USA came around, 6 months later, we ritualistically destroyed our tickets after deciding we would buy a place of our own and remain in Europe “for a while longer.”

I am now entering my 18th year of living abroad—currently in Scotland. My youngest daughters are grown and living on their own: Jessica graduates from Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this spring, and Erin lives with her husband and baby girl in Nottingham, England. Morgan is a musician and mother living with her husband and daughter in Virginia and Jonathan, also in Virginia, owns his own business and lives with his wife on the side of a mountain.

I never consciously intended to immigrate; I wanted to travel and explore the world before returning “home”… But my choices led me down another path and I’ve come to realize that my “home” resides within me. I have lived a rich, although often solitary, life. I feel blessed that the Universe has supported me so well, allowing me, thus far, to avoid trips to Mars…

This blog is about raising my daughters in foreign lands, the people who have touched my life (including one special person who joined me on my journey), and my ever-changing worldviews. But it’s also about my inner-travels—those accidental revelations and realizations that accompany becoming an accidental immigrant.

A few of the more important realizations being: There are no accidents. No life is ever an ill fit. We are all travelers—whether or not we’ve ever stepped on a plane, ridden on a train or left our hometown—because life is the ultimate journey!

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