It had been eleven days since we’d met. Ten since our first date. And six since I’d realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I sat next to him in the venue. His hand rested on my knee. We listened to the band play and cheered when they finished. I looked over at him. He was watching me. He laced his fingers through mine and cupped my face with his hands.
“I want to be looking at this face for a long time,” he said.
His gaze was deep and intense. It was as if he’d read my thoughts. I nodded.
“Does that scare you?” he asked.
My heart started racing. ‘Hell yes’ it said.
“No,” I said softly.
He smiled and kissed me.
“I’m going to get another beer, do you want anything?”
“Sure, I’ll have another. I’m just going to go to the bathroom.”
My stomach was in knots. I wanted to throw up. In front of the mirror I put both hands on the countertop and took deep breaths. My heart was still racing. Deeper slower breaths. In and out. Until I felt like I was in control again.
“You can do this,” I said to my reflection.
I ran my fingers through my hair.
“Why am I so nervous?” I asked out loud. I took a deep breath and went back out. My heart was still racing.
A beer was waiting for me. The band was about to start playing. We stood there listening. His back was against my chest. My chin rested on his shoulder. My heartbeat slowed. This was all that I needed.
After the last band played and the spoken word was done, we packed up the equipment and loaded it into the drummer’s truck.
“I’m going to go to the train,” I said. He put his arms around my waist and pulled me into him.
“I don’t want to be with anyone else,” I whispered, my arms around his neck.
“Me neither,” he replied.
My heart started racing again. I rode back on the train, overwhelmed.
“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck,” I texted one best friend. I tried to call another but there was no answer.
“Are you okay????” my best friend texted back.
I was okay. And I wasn’t. Everything was moving quickly. Was it too quickly or was it just quickly enough? I couldn’t be sure.
A few days later, sitting at the beer garden, discussing whether I should take a job that I was offered, he told me he liked that I was open. I looked at him like he had two heads.
“You’re the only person who’s ever said that.”
“Open? Has he met you?” quipped my best friends.
It was a running joke at that point, but the truth was I didn’t know how to talk about my experience.
How do you tell someone about growing up on a compound. About the time that Sara bowed down in front of the water fountain because it was the first one she’d seen in Nigeria. That the fact that we even had a water fountain at all was both exhilarating and uncomfortable. That sometimes living on a compound was claustrophobic.
How do you talk about the safaris you’ve been on, and how you learned to ski in the Alps without sounding pretentious. How do you talk about your household staff and how you have no idea where they are now and you still wonder whether they got other jobs when you left.
How do you tell someone that the ways you experienced expat life was different you think than your peers. That the public transportation was so overstuffed that men would hang out of the buses and vans. That the boys on the compound would give these men two thumbs up to see if they would mimic them and fall off. And how you always thought it was weird and mean that they did that, and that they didn’t get that a thumbs up is not a universal gesture. That you missed school because of riots. That you’ve fooled people into thinking you speak a language when you don’t. That when your family drives through certain parts of the US they assume you’re not a family.
How do you share the full breadth of a multiethnic, multinational life and still feel normal?