Place Holders

July 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Family, Transylvania | 34 Comments
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My kitchen is organized. The pots are next to the stove, their lids cascading down the shelf in size order like giant beads of shiny mercury. The collection of found keys — silver, gold, skate, possibly to our old Ford Escort — are looped on a chain and tucked neatly in the back of the office-supply drawer. (The office-supply drawer.) And the spices? Alphabetized.

There’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place.

Except for me.


According to my passport, I’m home. This house is full of pictures — the two of us, smiling; then the three of us, then four, then five — so this must be home. We are here. In every room.

But if you look closely, we’re just shadows, lilting, listless, down the hallways like the year’s worth of spider webs that accumulated in our absence. We are dusty and sticky and a little bit fragile.

I’m afraid our hearts are somewhere else.

They are climbing ladders and picking cherries. They are parallel-parking two, three, five times to fit exactly right into that one open, tiny space. They are watching storks roost on the street lights. They are drinking Fanta.

They are not here, where someone wearing a red vest and a smile magically appears to bag your groceries for you. Where lawns are sprinklered and manicured. Where Target and McDonald’s and American Fireworks Factory Outlet Buy 1 Get 11 Free peddle their wares on nearly every corner.

Yes, I’m afraid our hearts are somewhere else.

Maybe they’re tucked in the 13 boxes slowly making their way to us on a jumbo truck somewhere between here and Chicago, estimated delivery July 25, pending customs clearance, absolutely no alcohol, batteries, or nail polish remover allowed.

Maybe they’re wandering the streets of Paris, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, getting their bearings and clutching their city map, just as we did not long ago.

Maybe we left tiny slivers behind with every goodbye and earnest promise to stay in touch.

Will we ever be whole again, if we gave our hearts away?

One day soon I’ll probably find them, tucked into the giant garbage bag of European Legos or pressed between the creased pages of Romanian/English: A Dictionary. I’ll dust them off and dole them out. We’ll smile and throw our hands up in the air, like we finally found that missing earring that had been mashed in the carpet right there all along.

Maybe then, this house will feel like home. Dryer sheets and heavy-duty aluminum foil won’t be odd curiosities anymore. And these laughs will sound like ours.

Then, maybe then, our memories will be enough.

How do you cope with tough transitions? Has home ever not felt like home for you? And are your spices alphabetized?



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  1. Oh wow. I don’t know that I’ve had the experience of home not feeling like home, and I can’t imagine how unsettling it must be. What a tribute to you and your family though, that you were able to truly put your hearts into life in Romania. I think your hearts are probably strong enough to find a nice beat back in the U.S., even having left some pieces behind. Glad you’re back to blogging. I just checked in this morning, hoping for a Fluffy Bunnies fix.

  2. I had that feeling over and over again for every summer I spent in US and in every fall that I would come back home.
    There I was missing my home, here I still miss family, friends and places that are there.
    Some part of me will always stay there.
    But I hope you will have a happier transition and you will feel more and more at home!

  3. Oh Stacia…the culture shock upon returning “home” is way worse than whatever you experience going to a new place. It’s been almost 20 years since I returned from Berlin and sobbed at my mother’s kitchen table because I didn’t belong there/here anymore…but I never really belonged in Berlin, either. I think for any of us who were fortunate enough to give/lend our hearts to another culture and experience, that piece stays gone. You fill the hole and your days with the odds and ends that come and go, the trips to Target and lunch with friends (hint) and before you know it, it’s 18 years gone by…but…that little piece of you still belongs somewhere else. I still yearn to live abroad, to go and explore and where the mundane chores of daily life (parking! grocery shopping!) are filled with the unknown, some trepidation and the sparkle of something new. But I also yearn for home…my bed, my dog, my pictures, my life. Home is where we belong. And home is anywhere we are loved. So your home is here…and Georgia…and Cluj…and….

  4. Welcome “home”. I’ve had these transitions before. Apartment to town home, town home to House, House to new counttry with Ttown home,newtownhome to house, then house to another house in home country. Of all the place? I think the most “home” is actually my Mom’s and my MIL’s house. I still call them home. My boys only know home as being where Mom and DAd are so maybe that’s why Home for us is the island where our parents are?
    My friend told me last week she is feeling lost because her Mom and Dad sold their house. They are waiting on their new house to be built and she’s feeling lost.

  5. That’s so hard, and I’ve been there too. I am sorry you’re going through this hard transition. But the part that may be the nicest is that you all went through it together, and therefore you won’t be lonely in your “homesickness!” Wishing you guys strength to feel at home again!

  6. Such beautiful story-telling, as always! Wow, I can’t imagine what it would be like to not feel “home” at home, but I’m sure you’ll all settle in and find your groove real soon! Thanks for sharing! xo

  7. Welcome back. I havent ever lived abroad, but I can say that when traveling – I always seem to be searching for that one place where I “Belong” always assuming that once home, it will be found, when usually – it is the opposite. Coming home always seems to be the hardest! Hoping you feel at home soon 🙂

  8. Transitions are so tough. Moving is painful and shocking. Even when you move home. I’ve heard a hint of this refrain, loss of the surety of home, from everyone I know who has been brave enough to live abroad for a year or more.

    And no, my spices aren’t alphabetized, but I like it better when they are.

  9. Coming home after a year in Argentina ripped my heart out. I don’t miss it like I used to, but I wish I did sometimes.

  10. Aww stacia, I’m so sorry for your heartache. I’m sure you will always have the memories in your hearts. But,I know changes are hard, and also good for the souls. We are all so glad you guys are home safely, and cannot wait to hear about your adventures when we see you!! Hugs

  11. When I was 21 I returned home to Texas after spending nearly 2 years in the Philippines. I had learned the language, I could read the literature, I had learned to love, love, love the people and culture there. But simply put, that chapter of my life was finished. There weren’t a lot of Pinoys wandering the streets of the small suburb of Dallas that lived in, not fried banana in sight, no corn or potato ice cream, no trikes to hail to take to the local sari-sari. So I moved forward.

    While the chapter had closed, I’ve felt no shame in reminiscing about my time there and sharing the many, many lessons learned from living abroad. I think that’s what you do. Move forward, update those pictures with memories from your adventure in Romania, and ensure your kids don’t forget about their adventure on the other side of world.

  12. This post makes me so sad. I know it will all come back to you soon- but I fear these feelings myself. I look at you and see my future. Harsh reality- reminds me to live in the moment and try to enjoy every second of what lies ahead.

  13. Alphabetizing spices is pure wisdom. Dealing with the things of life is chicken soup for the transitioning soul. Our altared spaces help us move from one thing to another and the spices render the parking fiasco(s) more precious with each flavor and color as we sort.

    I have sorted spices.

    Mine are in the baby food jars out of which my children ate mushed up food. The clock stopped for me during those years when my husband was in grad school. I was lonely and alone. It was hard (kind of like breaking a leg in a foreign country) and I made friends of a lifetime.

    My mother died. My brother died. And I kept at it alone. While he went to school.

    So I put spices in jars and tried to find where I was home.

    Where my family was home. What did family mean?

    I set those jars from their babyhood on a shelf. The colors and flavors ignited something inside me. My two children and I sat at dinner of soup night after night in a town that felt like a foreign land and we talked about color and texture and played “guess which jar I’m looking at”. We described spices. We flavored our meals with our eyes and with guesses.

    I found my way, I guess by sorting something very mundane.

    Life is made of big, dramatic moments and tons of tiny moments for absorption.

    Those baby food jars and the spices inside helped me soak up everything that was happening to me.

    I’m so glad you have the alphabet and a kitchen. Home will find you. That’s how it works. Let life simmer and the flavors blend.

    Big Love to you, my friend.

  14. Welcome home. I am sorry to read about the aches and pains of re-entry. My hope for you and your family is that your memories sustain you, and now that you have become world travelers, you will stumble onto another opportunity to do it again.

  15. I forgot that coming home is as much a transition as leaving home.
    Take it slow, soak up the new/oldness, carry your memories close.


  16. Our passports will take us home again soon… and I don’t know what that means. Our lives are changing in big, big ways with no real plans laid out before us and there’s lots to stress about.

    For nearly 6 years, we’ve picked flowers from beside the pond and scraped our knees running down these German streets. We’ve explored castles and stood on top of the Alps. We’ve licked spoons at eis cafes and been lost for hours on the autobahn… Yet, going home to Alabama, to the South, to the good ol’ US of A? To superstores and streets without traffic circles? Terrifies me.

    Your words are perfectly timed. My heart needed to know it’s not alone…
    I’ve shared this in all the places I know to share it.

  17. I think the transition will occur gradually without your realization. One day you will be doing something and it will dawn on you that you are home. As someone going through transition, I have to believe that you are home when you are with the people you love. You are just familiarizing yourself with your surroundings. You will have your memories and know that you are a larger person for the experiences of the past year.

  18. i still get “homesick” for germany, and that was seventeen years ago. not often, but sometimes. it will come over me at odd times, and i’ll sigh and keep going.

  19. LOVE this!!!!!!!!

  20. You just lived an extraordinary adventure – with many challenges and a treasure trove of new sights, sounds, lessons…

    Of course “home” is going to feel very different. You have a huge readjustment to make, and it’s quite possible that home will never be the same again. That doesn’t mean you won’t love your life “at home,” but your awareness is changed – permanently – and likely, for the better.

    I’ve been through this several times – at different ages, and the first time was likely the most shocking. (I expected culture shock when I moved to France at age 15, but not when I came home. It was just as severe, and “strange” because home wasn’t home any longer in the same way.)

    I experienced it again at 19 (same thing, but I was in France for close to a year that time), and to lesser degrees each time I moved and returned.

    What becomes odd is the sense that you don’t “belong” to a place in the way you did once. That is what you make it – being home nowhere, or the potential of being nearly home anywhere.

    (Good luck with the adjustment. Give yourself some time!)

  21. First, let me say, Welcome Home! Even if home feels a little alien at this point. I remember sometimes going to Malaysia and coming home from there, I’m often a little torn, a little lost precariously straddling two cultures the first two weeks I’m in either place because my heart could never really belong to just one place. When I’m there, I yearn for here. When I’m here, I pine for there. At least in the initial weeks, until the dust settles and we’re back in our routine, and then things start to fade into a distant and delicious memory.

    But at least you will always have that…

  22. I remind my wife, each time we come back from visiting friends and family in Ro, to bring a piece of Ro here with you! That smile with a neighbor, baking something for friends and visit some older people who dont get out as much. Your Romanian spirit is very much in your hearts as much as your hearts are still there. Spread the Ro Love here in the US!

    PS. SOOOOO happy to get a bunny update, and can sympathize with your reassimilation.<3<3<3 mah bunny updates!!!!

    • Your comment makes me wish I had mastered making sarmale and zacusca! (Alas, I only mastered eating them.) But I did learn to make a pretty good Romanian apple cake, and I am absolutely going to share that with our friends and neighbors. Thanks for the idea.

      • oh, now i am dreaming of mama’s sarmale! Is this the apple cake where the apple is shredded with a cheese grater? Don’t forget the cozonac!

        My wife found this site: and uses it ALL the time( it can be roughly translated from the search page)…( she is also on facebook)

      • ***prajitura cu mere ( apple pie )

  23. What a beautiful post. Yes, I think I go through that…every time I visit then leave my parents out of state, and when we go to Japan (we just got back last week). It’s like I temporarily bottle those emotions I have when I see my friends and family, and all of them come with their own packages of memories that only they share with me, like place markers in my life. Then I leave to go “home.” It’s jarring. The intensity of the reunions makes me think we’ll really start staying in touch this time, but the reality is that once we part ways again, everyone goes back to her busy life, and it’s until the next time we meet again.( I don’t think I’m explaining this well.) However, I do find it a little easier once going back and forth becomes a part of my life, then I feel less that I am leaving whenever I do leave.

    It seems that what you are going through is a good thing — it s testament to how special your experience in Romania was to you. The transition will likely complete itself in time, though you will probably also begin trying to find ways to incorporate bits of the country and culture into your life here in America.

  24. Go back and read some of your first blog entries from there. They sound like this one in reverse. You will always carry a part of that place and time with you. Glad you are closer.

  25. long time reader, first time commenter 🙂 I’ve shared this feeling many times! Usually it’s good to be ‘home’ but this time it’s taken a fair bit longer to adjust. Nearly a year on now and while it’s good to be home again, I still feel like that little bit of me is still missing somewhere along the way

    • Thanks for reading (and writing), Caroline. It’s both comforting and unsettling to know that this feeling is normal … and that it will linger. I’m glad to have friends in my virtual world who understand what it’s like.

  26. Just returned after a year and a half in the Dinican Republic. Your post is my heart completely. Thank you.

  27. Stacia, Welcome home! I know you are feeling unsettled and for the past year it seems much of the time was spent in transition, but know that what you and your family have experienced in Romania is a part of you. I’ve always believed that travel and what we learn from it always adds something to our perspective.

  28. […] one child while unpacking, discarding, rearranging, and regrouping. We had 14 whole days to get our American life back in order. […]

  29. Oh man…this broke my heart!!! I handle transition…horribly…so I can only imagine how hard this big of a transition would be. I’m so glad you’re home safe and sound though!

  30. […] strangely, we found ourselves on unfamiliar ground: wide swaths of glorious, sole-burning asphalt offering up more parking spots than could ever be […]

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