Today it is fourteen years since AAH and I moved to Iceland.
I was terrified to move back. ‘Back’ being an anomaly, because from the age of five I hadn’t really lived here. I’d moved back with my mother for three years when I was seven and would happily have stayed, but it wasn’t to be. I moved back again when I was 22, in a fit of intense rebellion, when I’d come face to face with the fact that my life in Canada had been founded on a ruse. At that time I only lasted for ten months; I was an emotional mess and couldn’t cope with the adjustment, so I returned to Canada.
From there, I drifted to the UK, then Spain, then Germany. I guess I was looking for a place to fit in – from early childhood I’d been constantly on the move and had never lived in any one place for long. One of my boyfriends – when we were breaking up – told me that I was like someone perpetually moving from bank to bank to borrow money to pay for the previous loan. I hated him for saying it, but today I know he was right. I was on the fast track to emotional and spiritual bankruptcy.
By the time I made the decision to move to Iceland, I was backed into a corner. I was a single parent with a small child. I no longer had the option of returning to Canada because I had been away longer than my landed immigrant status permitted. I reached out to my mother for help, hoping to return [she was a Canadian citizen, and would have had to sponsor me] so that I could finish a degree in journalism. She refused. I had a highly restrictive work permit in Germany, which allowed me only to work at a specific language school, which was mostly evening and weekend work and which wasn’t possible with a small child. Welfare was the only option.
I felt incredibly trapped and became deeply depressed, partly exacerbated by the fact that I had a baby, was very socially isolated, and had absolutely no support. There was a time when AAH was having trouble sleeping – she would wake up at least twice every night and cry for about an hour each time. This went on for six weeks. I was suffering from intense sleep deprivation and sank further and further into despair. I felt as though I had no one to whom I could turn.
But, just when I thought the darkness would swallow me up, several amazing people came into my life and just … carried me. My friend Munda, who was in her sixties and took me and AAH under her wing. The psychologist I started seeing, who came to my house when I was at the risk of hurting myself, stayed with me for hours and even did my dishes. The amazing Frau Seelig from the Kinderschutzbund, who ‘found me a grandmother’ to take AAH for a long weekend, because one look at me told her that I needed time away from my child in order to sleep [and who helped me in other innumerable ways because she believed in me, for which I am eternally eternally grateful].
In the midst of all this, my grandparents in Iceland died, five weeks apart. One of their apartments was free, and I had an idea that perhaps I could stay there while I got my bearings in Iceland. Some negotiation ensued, during which I worked very systematically with Annekatrin, my psychologist, who was a rock, and eventually I was given the go-ahead. This time I worked hard to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the move, and it worked. I was ready.
When AAH and I arrived in Reykjavík, on 3 March 1994, there was approximately as much snow on the ground as there is now. Back in my grandparent’s apartment – which had been my home when I was a small child – I felt safe and at peace. I spent four months there; they were intense, and scary, and very, very healing. I had no money, no job, no child care, no car and no friends … but for the first time ever I had a powerful conviction that the force was with me. That was enough.
IT WAS A GRACEFUL DAY, BRIGHT AND CALM
The sun was out, and it was pretty cold. In the afternoon the light was more diffused and everything grew very civilized. AAH and I met up after she finished school and went for coffee and cake to commemorate the occasion. Right now it is -6°C [21F] and we had sunrise at 8.27 am, sunset at 6.53 pm.