And just like that, January was over. It meant we could reenter the Schengen by way of France, spend a night, and the next day return to my mom’s house in Germany. The radiator crapped out on the Opel and we had to replace it in a small town called Combe Down (a suburb of Bath), but the weather was good for January, good for the UK, and we walked most days though I didn’t have rubber boots, and often came home caked with mud, sometimes losing a shoe. I’d made it through a whole month without a drink, my first dry January, and learned to satisfy my cravings through long hot baths and nights spent reading. The girls watched the entire BBC Pride and Prejudice series twice, and I read Catch-22. On our last day at the cottage in Combe Down I said goodbye to England, goodbye to our 90 day forced-leave of the Schengen, where we’d spent equal parts in England, Ireland and Scotland. As it was with all the nice people we’d met who wished us well, I wanted the same for us, to come back one day.
We spent the month of February in Germany, my mom’s old house. Dawn and I took a train to Berlin for Valentine’s Day. We walked from our hotel to the Holocaust memorial and discussed how we’d structure the rest of the year without my having any solid leads on work yet, or the seeming desire to start looking. And we agreed it didn’t make sense for me to jump back into anything, now out of work a year: instead, I could take the summer to watch over the kids while Dawn’s work kicked in, then start back in in the fall.
In March, Dawn’s mom came to Germany and the two of them went on a two-week tour of Italy by train. I flew to Amsterdam for two nights, befriended a Dutch bartender over a series of Canned Heat bootlegs he played in his Belgian-themed bar, bought two Smurfs for the girls in the Stuttgart airport on the return home.
Easter came early, our French friends visited from Metz, and we had only a month left on a nine-month stay. It snowed our last day in Germany (late April) and I went up the tower with the town artist Mathias, who has a key, rents space there, sometimes holds exhibits. Mathias pointed out the hawks that nest in a crook outside the tower, how they’re bad for tourists, get blood and feathers everywhere from the birds they feast on. We looked out over the village from the top viewpoint and I could remember all the places we’d been; I knew it was time to go.
In June we got the animals delivered home and moved back into our house, which we rented to our friends on a one-year lease. It was strange, how everything looked the way it did before we left. And it was exactly a year later, it wasn’t hard to remember moving out, that last night: we’d had our friends over for a party, with the agreement that they’d spend the night and we’d just leave, move in with my mother-in-law Beth for a month, a few miles away. We invited everyone from the neighborhood for a barbecue, and people stayed impossibly late, past midnight! Dawn forgot her car keys and I had to go back to the house the next day to retrieve them. How odd it felt reentering our house that wasn’t our space anymore, noting a light or two that had been left on overnight, the temptation to turn them off…
By August it was definitely time to start looking for work, but my friend Brad was doing a long stretch on the Pacific Coast Trail, so I joined him.
By September the kids were going back to school, Lily starting the 6th grade, and Dawn ran into her friend Deanna, who’s got kids our age too, works at Microsoft, said they needed someone right away, “a writer and a project manager,” she described it, but Dawn said they should talk to me instead.
On my first day at the office it was early October, I met a German guy named Ralf and a French woman named Camille, and Ralf shook my hand, said welcome to the team, if you want to be successful here you really have to kick our ass. And I smiled and nodded and just said to him, okay.