On the 29th September, my Uncle John died. It was both unexpected and expected; a few weeks previous, he'd been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer, and suddenly we had to adjust to the idea that he was ill, seriously ill. In a way I still haven't adjusted to that, but things happen regardless of whether or not we've adjusted.
And it's a difficult one. I miss my family in some way or other every day, you see, but I have a family of sorts here, too, and mostly I find that I can happily exist thousands of miles away from where I grew up. It's sometimes strange, but it's a fact of life. I mean, toenails are strange too, but we get used to them. We don't think every morning as we wake up: gee, those nubby bits on the ends of my feet are a bit funny. And I don't think every morning as I wake up: golly, it's weird that my childhood home is eight time zones away.
But this is maybe the first time in over three years of living abroad that I can see the implications of my choice in a different light. Because it's great that the internet means I can communicate with my parents every day via video chat. And it's great that I'm happier than I've ever been anywhere else on earth, and that I'm still not tired and never will be tired of standing in that particular spot in Queen's Lane on a cold, hazy night and seeing the spires of All Souls shimmer in the mist. But you know what I can't do? I can't just pop over to my parents' house for an evening to be with my family.
And the thing is, my family is pretty amazing. We're not a very needy family; my dad and his siblings all live in the same state but see each other only a few times a year. I didn't start hugging my grandparents until I went away to college and suddenly their existence seemed miraculous to me, who was living in student housing in Boston, watching the snow fall and the streetlights shine all night. But I love these people I'm related to.
I know it sounds really obvious - yes, I live a million miles away from where I grew up (you see? I'm not even sure how to refer to it - is it "home"? But then this, also, this place that I'm in right now, is "home"), so yes, obviously I've given up some privileges. And gained some in return. But you don't really think about that when you apply for your visa and decide to live somewhere else. You just kind of think, abstractly, that something - a feeling, a technology - will erase the distance, change the geography. And mostly it works exactly this way, mostly everything is fine. And then something like this happens and you say to yourself, oh, okay. So it is never going to be easy, and I have chosen for it not to ever be easy.
The thing is that it's never as simple as choosing between one love (your parents, your blood relatives, your roots) and another (your partner in life, your adopted homeland, your whole life). You are always and will always be someplace in between, a slave to the map, a subject of the cruel time zone and the unrelenting transatlantic journey.
And my uncle? He raised three beautiful and scarily intelligent children. He was such an integral figure in the community - a teacher, a coach, a mentor. He was 55, which is too young.
I remember sunny California days on the beach, all of us, cousins, aunts, uncles, family - laughing, playing, eating. Swimming. The water is always a focal point in these memories. We were products of our upbringing; the way we behaved, the way we felt, was directly related to the place we had been born. There is a photograph of us - my father's three siblings, each of the cousins, the grandparents - from ten or fifteen years ago. As far as I know it is the only such photograph. And yet I keep thinking that we were always together all along, even if there was physical distance between us, and we always will be, even if for awhile I'm over here and they're over there.