An Unexpected Exit

At the Airport in Moscow


This week it is the anniversary of my return to America.  We had lived in Russia almost nine years.  On Monday, October 24, 2001, a little over a month after 9/11, we were told by the Russian Government it was time to leave.  We had until the 28th to get out of town, 4 days.

I spent the next three days frantically sorting through nine years of accumulated stuff. What to take with us, what to leave behind, what to ship later if it was possible.  Yes, no, maybe.  I boiled it down to six suitcases.

We borrowed money for plane tickets and spent the night of the 28th in Amsterdam.  Our favorite city.  We ate at Casa di David, and my six year old son fell asleep with his head on the table.  We barely noticed.  A couple sitting next to us asked us if our son always slept in restaurants.  We laughed.

The next day we arrived in Chicago.

“Welcome home!”

That’s what the customs official always says and it sounded good.

My parents met us at a bus stop in Wisconsin and took us to their two bedroom apartment.  We were refugees in our own country.  No place to go, no job, no money, no belongings.

Life begins again.

As a TCK, I was used to re-inventing myself and starting over.  I knew it wasn’t the end of the world.

I spent the first six months in shock on auto pilot just getting through the day.  I put my son in first grade since he was six.  He had been going to a Russian school and his language was a bit mixed up.  They told him he wasn’t ready for first grade.  My mother says flunking kindergarten was the best thing that ever happened to him.

I gained about 20 pounds.  But I picked myself up and eventually made some serious decisions and got on with my life.  After wasting away in a small town in Minnesota for 9 months licking our wounds, we broadened our horizons and looked for work on the coast.  My husband found a job in Washington DC and moved immediately.  I waited for my son to finish out the school year and then joined him.  We arrived in Northern Virginia on the hottest day of the year.  Ugh.  About six weeks later I had a job of my own.

Every once in a while I think about a book I used to have or a dress I really liked but for the most part the stuff we left behind was quickly forgotten.  I chose well when I packed my six suitcases.  It was enough.

A few years later, I divorced and became a single parent.  I had come to the fork in the road.  It was time and it was okay.  A couple years later I bought my own home.  I have come a long way since that gloomy October day 11 years ago.

You can read more about my story in my book Expat Alien.