14 Years in the Desert

Almost three years to the date after I left the soil of America for Germany, I arrived home. During those three years, I never once made it home for a visit. And, it felt *damn* good to arrive in the heat of summer. To feel the sun burn my skin, and the sweat trickle down my back. It felt good to walk to Pops, order a giant scoop of pistachio, and let the ice cream melt and slide down the sides of my fingers as I held a cake cone in its grasp.

Walking the streets of Old Town Alexandria felt really good. Tourists on vacation were in good spirits. People were smiling and starting up conversations, asking me for directions, looking to me as a local. It was the best feeling and welcome home I could’ve asked for. Really.

Old Town was like the home leave point for me and my kids. While our actual home leave was being deferred until months later, Old Town is where we have spent a majority of our time during those in-between moments. It’s where I had my first date with my husband, where we got married, and rented our first townhouse. It’s where we fell in love. Where we entered this nomadic life that would lead us on a 14-year odyssey to finding ourselves.

It’s also where I lived in a hotel for five months, on bed rest, waiting to deliver my daughter. It’s where I used to stroll my son passed the flower shop, The Enchanted Florist, dreaming of the day I would have one of their arrangements in my own home. It’s also where we lived during many language trainings, including the ten months of German right before we left. Old Town was our last point of contact with America.

The loveliness continued day after day, week after week. At the end of the month, we left our home once again, to leave a trail of tears behind us and forge a new path ahead. We packed up our suitcases, hailed a taxi, and rode down the George Washington Parkway to where we hoped would be the foundation of the next era for our family.

Life never comes easy for us nomads. We spent the next 45 days in a state of wonder. No matter how hard we tried to plan, to simplify the process, use our years and years of experience to do better, it’s always the same. We wait. We wait. We wait. And, then we rush to get everything done in time for school to start. We sleep on the floor, without heat, even when the cold rushes through the Northeast from the hurricanes, without water to shower, and without a pot to cook in. We wait for life to begin.

Then, suddenly, one day we look around and realize all the boxes have arrived, been unpacked, the Ikea furniture has been assembled, and we even have art on the walls. We have food in the cabinets, in the refrigerator, and notice dishes piled in the sink. We rush to the bus stop, to after school activities, and to church on Sunday morning. We find ourselves waiting for life to slow down.

The honeymoon phases ends and reality sets in. Life might be better, might be easier than the physically grueling one lived in Germany, but life still isn’t what it’s meant to be. Life is still void somehow. Like strong wind in the desert, moving sand at a fast pace.

The once-known home becomes barren to its past, seeking acceptance in a new land. Me, standing resistant to the movement, feels the wind beat against my back. It pushes me, hurting me, forcing me to take a step forward. I can either submit, proving my worth to exist anywhere. Or, I can stand in the same place, until my body is so weak, it falls to the ground and becomes buried under the sand.

To be continued…Part 2




4 thoughts on “14 Years in the Desert

  1. CC says:

    Out of curiosity, what was physically grueling about Germany? The walking? The weather? (My sister lives there and loves it so I’m curious!).


    1. Carla Gray says:

      Thanks for your question! My experience may be very different from your sister’s. I don’t know where she lives, but I was in Hamburg, which is Northern Germany, and only about an hour from the border of Denmark. So, yes, part of it has to do with weather. It rains a lot, for hours and even days at a time. The lack of sun was very hard for me to adjust to. Plus, I did not drive at any point during the three years I lived there. My license expired and instead of spending $$$$ to fly home because my state wouldn’t renew it through the mail, I accepted the challenge to live car-free. So, on top of walking, biking and public transporting myself for every errand, I did have to do all of that in rainy, cold weather. If I waited for the weather to pass, my family might have died from starvation! Imagine toting groceries for a family of four several times a week, sometimes several times a day, and then up three flights of stairs. Some days I was simply exhausted from running errands. I don’t regret making the decision to do it, but I can say that arriving back in America, where I don’t even have to bag my own groceries anymore, the physical lifestyle I lived is even more eye-opening that when I lived through it. And, it doesn’t mean I didn’t love my time in Hamburg, because I did. It’s a beautiful city, where I met some wonderful people. I just hate that I had to lose so much hair from the stress my petite frame endured! 😉


  2. CC says:

    That makes sense 🙂 She currently lives in a small town in the east, but she previously lived in Hamburg. We grew up in Europe and at a similar latitude, so she’s used to the light/cold/rain/transport situation, but she is close to 6 foot and doesn’t have any kids, so fewer groceries 🙂

    I read somewhere that your internal thermostat (for light/temperature) gets set in the first few years of your life, before you’re even aware of it. So if you started your life closer to the equator it’s impossible to adjust to the sun setting at 4pm, and those of us who were born in the north can’t deal with temperatures above 80 degrees. I don’t know if it’s true but it’s worked out like that for me so far 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carla Gray says:

      I can’t even imagine what it would be like to go through life at 6ft tall. I never even made it to five feet! She must have felt right at home though in Hamburg, they are all so tall there. I felt like I was some of our friends’ child when I stood next to them. I’m really interested in the internal temperature statement you made. I may need to look into it. I did grow up in a warmer climate, so it makes sense to me. I do however, enjoy wearing sweaters. Just not a big, puffy, down feather coat, scarf, gloves, and hat all the time! It’s fun for a few weeks and then I’m over it. Pretty much for the holidays. I will miss the Christmas markets this year, we really enjoyed sipping Gluhwein and munching on crepes and pork sandwiches. Cheers!


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