Stacia and I arrived in Charleston totally done with sitting in the car for hours. By this stage we’d clocked up more than 1,000 miles together driving through four different states.
Charleston is a beautiful city, despite the unrelenting heat we walked around the city enjoying the flower window boxes and the pretty British Colonial homes. It boasts being the friendliest city in America and we saw that play out one afternoon in a restaurant when a middle aged man and his adult son struck up a conversation which ended by us eating some of their food (weird I know) and him buying us another round of drinks before they left for a meeting. Quite a funny story.
My last stop was a small town called Potter Valley, two and a half hours drive north of San Francisco in California, staying with some dear friends Ben and Hannah and meeting their 18 month old son Levi. Every day we sat outside on their deck under the sun umbrella drinking coffee, eating, throwing the ball or stick for Charlie the dog, watching Levi run and play in the yard and chatting. It was a beautiful slow pace to round the trip up nicely. It was really a deep breath for me before getting on a plane back to Australia and facing the world there. We also had a few adventures which included going to Glass Beach, a place I had seen on Instagram but had no idea it was nearby!
My flight to Australia was through LA but I didn’t check my second plane ticket until I was getting off the plane in LA. When I checked it I realised it was the wrong flight number and didn’t depart until the following morning. Thinking the check-in desk has made an error I headed for the inquiry desk but couldn’t find any signs for it. After asking the nearest person I could find (who happened to be a very nice looking young male pilot) where I could locate the Virgin Australia desk, the lady at the desk informed me that the flight had been cancelled and to follow a list of verbal directions to find the shuttle to the hotel and return the following morning as my plane ticket already said. So I proceeded out of the terminal without my luggage to look for the hotel shuttle pickup spot. By this time it was about 11pm, I hadn’t eaten since 3pm, I was tired and stressed and there was so much traffic, vehicles beeping at each other and I couldn't see the shuttle I needed, that I was on the verge of tears. I didn’t want to stay overnight in LA, I just wanted to get home!
Eventually the hotel shuttle that I was waiting for turned up and I sighed a massive sigh of relief. Arriving at the hotel there was a really long line of passengers in the same situation as mine and by the time I had a room key it was past midnight. Waiting again, this time for the kitchen to make me a cold salad as dinner, I eventually made it up to the top floor. They said I was upgraded and had to use my room key just to get up to the top floor, but I only had 6 hours before I had to be out the door again and back at the airport. I certainly appreciated the massive bed despite not sleeping well, too afraid I’d miss my alarm and consequently my flight if I slept too deeply.
Arriving in Brisbane in the afternoon meant that I was able to walk into the arms of my dad and my little sister who’d had a baby boy 12 weeks ago. A couple of hours later we were driving up the range to my home town and here I am two weeks later.
In the past two weeks I have spent time with my family, cuddling the baby and playing games with the toddler as well as having real conversations with adult family members. I’ve been welcomed back by the Missions Prayer Team which was so lovely. They gave me a hamper of all things that I love which was a beautiful surprise.
I’ve seen a small handful of friends. I’ve been wishing that just for once when I returned home that I wouldn’t have to be the one contacting people asking to see them. I recognise that they already have their lives, their routines and that my return doesn’t impact their daily life, but at a time when I’m grieving the loss of my former life and trying to figure out my way forward in this one, I don’t want to be the one reaching out.
I’ve already returned to work. I survived three night shifts and was actually welcomed back heartily by the few I still knew but also by those I hadn’t yet met. It will certainly be a transition to work in the Australian system again but at least I have great colleagues to do it with.
If you are interested there is a blog called Velvet Ashes which has a post called How to Welcome Her Back. It gives some good tips for how to deal with a friend who has returned from living overseas.
And now I will turn my attention back to my cup of coffee and the Rio 2016 Olympics and how lovely it is that there is a team of refugees who are able to compete and who have been embraced by the world.