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Fourteen years

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.

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.