flying without that thing that has “north” and “south” and a needle on it.

Readers probably already know that I’m back in the US after three months in the UK. Readers probably also know the return was unexpected and due to both unfortunate family events (my parents’ sudden separation) and my own stupidity (fantasizing I could live in another country for as long as I liked).

When I flew out of Heathrow, I had no plans for the future. There hadn’t been time to send out resumes or scour Craigslist ads for apartments before I left, much less decide where I should begin that search.

Without my parents’ house in Salem, the one we rented only months ago to a very nice family from California, the only place I could invite myself to rent-free upon arrival was my brother’s one bedroom apartment in Buffalo. My mom was already there.

Estranged from both her husband and her new home in Toronto, my mom looks at a map of the US and sees red push pins like those the police use to mark crime scenes. This is where she grew up, where her parents and sisters and a good friend live. This is where her son lives. This is where her daughter wants to live. This is where her house, rented to strangers for another eight months, lives. This is where she lived, until two months ago. They’re all relevant points, they’re all the sites of mysteries that need solving. But which to visit first, and what to do after she’s held her magnifying glass to all of them?

These were not questions my brother could easily answer, especially while gaining ten pounds a week on her grief-inspired cooking.

I didn’t have much to offer my mom or my brother except my company. I was re-entering the country with two hundred bucks in the bank, a whopping four months of childcare experience added to an already spotty resume, one duffel bag stuffed with autumn-in-Devon clothes, an Edith Wharton anthology from Marcus, and a shot glass for my brother, bought in Spain, marked “France” on the bottom.

And we had an invitation from my grandma to stay as long as we liked at her much larger home across the country. It was a case of “Meet Me in St. Seattle,” sans trolley.

As supportive and understanding as our family in Seattle was, we felt as out of place in the Northwest as we did last summer. We did want to spend Christmas with my brother, so we came back here. A month after arriving in the US, my plan is even flimsier than it was when I left Heathrow, and my bank account is just as small. Yet I’m not emailing resumes or reading job ads.

I’m not doing any of the practical things I should be doing because the whole situation is so ridiculous I’m almost enjoying it too much to change it. Look at it this way:

I assume nannying is the only work I can easily find, and enjoy for any length of time. Families who need nannies live in or around big cities. It takes money to get into a big city. I have none.

Meanwhile, my mom could leave Buffalo at any point for any reason. Or she could stay here for years. My brother has a lease until the spring, but has no obligations in Buffalo beyond that. My boyfriend lives and works in another country and doesn’t know quite how to join me here.

I could follow my mom around the country. I could search for a place to live that my whole family likes. I could pick my own destination, and hope Marcus finds work there. I could stay unsettled until I know what state offers him more opportunity.

How to provide emotional support for my family, without tying my future too tightly to theirs? How to trust my decisions, after realizing that my own flakiness is the largest single cause of my current situation? How to expend energy on any plan that doesn’t involve going back to Europe? How to impress my boyfriend with both my reliability and flexibility? How to work, while adding another thirty thousand words to that damn fifty-thousand-word manuscript I started in Devon? How to find a city I enjoy without losing my soul like I almost did in NYC? Where to go? What to do?

As far as I can tell, these are all legitimate questions, and although I’ve had at least six weeks to answer them, I still can’t. I know just two things. One, my circumstances are majestically WRONG. Two, I… don’t… care.

I’m not sure whether my situation is the result of bad choices, or bad chances. I think it’s a little of both, but I don’t think the words “good” or “bad” apply to either choice or chance, especially in retrospect (unless we’re talking about invading another country). I think it’s a question of intent. Mine was to have fun. I did. And the best part is, now that the fun is over, it isn’t.

I’m having a great time hanging out with my mom and my brother. I’m having a great time preparing for Christmas on a budget of three and a half dollars. I’m having a great time discovering what a long-distance relationship with Marcus is like, what the space between us teaches me about my feelings for him, what it will mean, in the future, when we have gotten through such uncertain times together.

I’m having a great time.

I’ll get a job, I’ll settle down. But it’ll happen whether I ruin the next three weeks ranting and moaning, or I spend it singing carols. This year, my favorite is Harry Connick’s “When My Heart Finds Christmas.” I hope that you find yours, and sing it, loud and lustily, while baking sugar cookies. For whatever reason, it works for me.

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