Eight years ago I went back home to Greece, after spending two years in New York. I was in my tiny room in NYC checking out every news outlet I could think of when Barack Obama was elected and scrolling down this new thing called Facebook. A few months later in that same room I kept hitting refresh on my laptop to see news from Athens, already burdened and troubled and burnt in the midst of riots following the murder of a 15 year old boy by a cop. And it was during the break of an orchestra rehearsal back then, when I was studying music and considered myself a musician, that we all stood in front of the lounge TVs of NYU to see the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. I went to New York looking for change and indeed change found me for better or worse. I went back home having decided that I was not a musician anymore and the Greek debt crisis came, seemingly out of nowhere, right when I had left a bleeding NYC. It is rather bizarre to think that we so often look back to the change that happens in the world and remember what we were doing, where we were, who we were with, right when it happened.
I find that there’s change that happens in the world around you and there’s change that happens to you and that the two don’t always interact —the latter, I feel, tends to creep up slowly, while you try to take one step at a time or when you try to shove away doubts and insecurities and ultimately fear of an environment you’re not familiar with. It crawls in the back of your head when you try to cling on to newborn hopes after having lived for so long in a barren reality or it blindsides you on a Friday afternoon when ideas and plans for the weekend fall right through you ‘cause you don’t know the city you live in yet.
Even when you move into another country, even when you don’t speak your mother tongue daily anymore, change finds you not in the obvious, the big differences between your home country and your new surrounding nor in important events happening around you. It lurks in the minor details, the most mundane and uninteresting daily things you come up against: when it takes you an unreasonable amount of time to find the right change to pay for your coffee, when you realise you have to choose between a bunch of unknown brands in the grocery store or when you keep looking at the wrong direction before crossing the street.
It found me when I was picking up all the pennies and the 10p’s and the 50p’s or the 5p’s from the ground where they had landed when my wallet was too heavy to hold them because I had been avoiding using them to pay for anything —after all, who wants to hold up a queue because they can’t tell apart a couple of coins? It crept up in my bed instead of my white cat, my lovely gentle giant, one night when I woke up sure he had just climbed on the bed to sleep next to me as he’s always done for the past six years. It tutted when, after two months as a guest in this house, I stepped again, in the middle of the night, on that particular spot on the floor that creaks and makes me cringe and hope I didn’t wake up my friends. And then I cringe some more as I remember my own place that I knew like the back of my hand and as I recall the finest details I loved about my beautiful, my desolate home.
As the plane was taking off two months ago, I felt liberated, when the plane landed in London the thought that I may need to move back home at some point felt suffocating. It was the first time in 17 years that my fear of flights did not kick in. But there is always a downside in a hopeful step forward: you cannot take it without feeling a certain loss, without dichotomising your soul. And that loss you recognise in the people that slowly —or very suddenly— drift away; those little, unimportant daily rituals that you cannot take with you. There is that period between the old and the new that feels like limbo, that involves a certain loss of self and a reinvention of oneself. I haven’t had nearly as many cigarette cravings as I had back in Greece where everyone smokes everywhere, but I have been worried sick about my loved ones back home —and I have made them worry sick about me. I have been jogging outside quite often, but haven’t been able to stabilise my mood swings. I have been reading more, but have found it harder to concentrate on what I am reading. I have been sleeping better, but have been having more stressful, vivid dreams. The new beginning you’re going for does not come right away, it takes time and it often feels like a void that will either consume you or you’ll somehow manage to fill in with both excitement and fear and all those things your new reality has to offer, good or bad. And still I know, not being able to tell a few coins apart is not such a big price to pay for a new beginning.