So I think this is Holland. There may be other Hollands—life evolves—but there is a kind of “after” sense to right now. I think the feeling of arrival has to do with a diminishing in my degree of grief. Because, really, there are layers and layers of grief I have had to face in order to grapple with life now.

There are the people I loved who died or that I was separated from. There is the life I might have had if it had not been so overshadowed by trauma and the circumstances that connect it to trauma. There is probably also the grief for the things I never had, for a “real” dad, for a “real” mother, for a “real” sister: for family relationships that did not leave me terrified.

I know this is a different life than I would have had. I don’t know what my life might have been, but I can look back and see enormously important choices I made badly or not at all because I could not manage my grief for the people I lost. I know that’s that reason I don’t have a partner now, it’s the reason I don’t have children. I also know that part of the reason I am here is that I have struggled all my life with a sense of betrayal and also fear at not having been protected by mainstream society and I know when I meet people who code white, middle-class and North American, I automatically feel frightened. It’s not fair, but I can’t help it, and it has made it hard for me to connect to others in my own country all of my life. It is, in fact, easier to be here on the other side of the world than to be “home.” Because “home” is not home. It is this place of uncomfortable exile I am still figuring out how to grapple with.

I also know—and this is a mid-life kind of thing—that for some things it is now too late to make different choices. Not completely, but the cost-benefit sheet starts to make some radical changes in direction untenable or at least unwise. And I also am who I am now, in a way that might be more fixed than I ever imagined it. I might lose my fear of mainstream society, but I might always feel happier and more at ease struggling in broken languages. I don’t know.

But I am here, and it is Holland. It is a place of healing I never imagined I would get to and I never hoped to get to. Really, it is quite far from where I hoped to be. It is Holland, and I had planned a holiday to the Bahamas. Holland is nothing like the Bahamas. It is cold and overcast and very unsexy. There is an ocean, but it’s too cold to swim in. It might not even be safe. There is certainly not a beautiful beach to doze on.

There are tulips though. And museums with beautiful paintings.

I am in Country X. I struggle with flashbacks and having parts still. It takes me forever to process things sometimes, emotional things, and a lot of times upsets take me totally by surprise. Sometimes, they seem to pile one on top of the other until I feel like I’ll break inside and then I start to go into a tunnel in my head and nothing feels real. It isn’t sexy. It is not triumphant.

But there is this little girl I love. There are colleagues I feel I can really help. At night, I am starting to feel safe in my own bed in my own house when it’s time for sleep. It’s a really delicious feeling, just to be able to sleep. Today, I heard the whine of the saw cutting stones next door and I realized it is not the same sound as the saw cutting corpses into pieces that I heard as a child. It’s not at all the same sound. That was nice too.

It’s my life. It’s not anyone else’s. The good stuff in it is maybe not anyone else’s idea of what good stuff is. But it’s where I am. It’s okay.

 

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