If you would have told me one year ago where I would be right now, I wouldn’t have believed you.
I was on a train in Belgium, on my way to Kortrijk. The trains, yellow lights in old and empty stations, blue signs with stark white letters and flashes of Belgian landscapes were giving me flashbacks to when I still lived in Belgium. I was contemplating my life while undertaking an adventure, doing the thing that felt right in the face of sad circumstances.
As much as I told myself “home is with my loved ones”, I did not have a home then.
Spending my life in trains was a daily occurrence last year. It wasn’t much different to take a handful of trains and buses to Belgium than it was to get to work and back. This adventure would take a little bit longer, through a foreign yet familiar country, yet it was much of the same. At the time, I was always carrying part of my belongings from one place to the other. Living my life out of bags. Coming home to unpack and pack again the next day. It was only temporary, I thought, because some day soon, preferably in the next year, I would have a real place to come home to.
As I switched trains in the total dark in Noorderkempen, I wrote the words “kinda hope I never come back”.
Remember when I wrote this in December:
I feel as if I have a mission in the Netherlands that I have to fulfill. I’m not ready to leave again. This is a weird feeling because I have never felt that before and I never wanted to come back in the first place. But I am at peace staying here now. Hamilton, the musical and the man, has been key in shaping my 2016. If he survived all those things that came his way, we can do it too. I have no idea what the future will bring, still taking it a step at a time… but here’s to hoping the new year will be kinder to us all.”
Just like I told others “I will never move back to Rotterdam” and proceeded to do just that, not once but twice, I also spoke the words “I liked Belgium, but I probably won’t move there again.” It turns out I was more than ready to leave the Netherlands again. But I didn’t know that, nine months ago. I definitely did not know that twelve months ago.
I thought I knew where I was going. I was doing a master’s degree. Yes, it took a lot of pain and effort, but I was doing it. The prospects for the future are pretty obvious when you try academics. You move from the bachelor’s degree to the master’s, you pick your specialisation, tack on a PhD, and there you are: a researcher. That’s what I thought I wanted.
I was in a relationship that had just turned the ripe age of two whole years. We were talking about moving in together, we set up appointments with mortgage advisors and went to open houses. (I still get emails about those houses I visited a year ago, some of them only getting sold now.) I never imagined myself as someone who would be in the position to buy a house but at that time, it seemed very possible.
I thought we were doing the grown up thing. A stable, long-lasting relationship. Next: a house. Next: finally the life I wanted for so long.
But what was that life supposed to look like? I thought it was living together with someone I thought I knew and who I could grow old with. With a cat, some plants, a regular schedule of physical exercise, and all my things.
All my things in one place, rather than living my life out of a bag. That was the one thing I wanted more than anything.
I didn’t think it would take so many changes for that to happen, and I never could have foreseen myself in my current situation.
I would have thought I was going to stay in the Netherlands. I didn’t like it, necessarily, but I didn’t hate the idea as much as I did previously. And one of the things that hurt me a lot: I also thought we were doing quite well at the relationship thing. I was working on myself and I was being proactive at changing my life. I was a rubbish supervisee but the lessons I learned from my supervisor were less in academics and more in mental health. He taught me about starting with the end in mind, so I did. I started to build the life that I wanted.
Little did I know that two months later this whole future scenario that I had in my mind would be the complete opposite. I did not foresee that I would quit academics, that I would pick a job in retail over my future as a researcher, and that my seemingly stable and long-lasting relationship would not be quite so long-lasting. It turns out we weren’t quite the team I thought we were. In reality, most of what I thought turned out to be the exact opposite. I thought that would be a setback, but it actually catapulted me right where I needed to go.
In the time since October 8th, 2016, I still picked retail over academia without regret and against all expectations I moved to places I thought I would “never go back to”. Twice!
While I always said Gent was my favourite Belgian city and that there are too many Dutch people living in Antwerp, it did not take me long to decide to pack up again not even three months after moving to Rotterdam. I hadn’t even fully gotten installed yet.
Moving to Antwerp was one of the best decisions I ever made and even if living by myself has its own hiccups I didn’t know about, it was exactly what I needed. Having my own place with all my things in places where they can permanently reside feels so good. I do not just sleep in a bed to wake up to pack my bags again. I do not feel bad about my possessions residing in a space because that space is fully my own. I can fully be myself and develop into the person that I want to be. It took hard work and perseverance, but I can say with honesty that I am finally happy.
And now, on October 8th 2017, I find myself again on a Belgian train. I am very happy that my daily train life is over, but today I do not mind the travel. Belgian trains aren’t foreign now, they’re actually just trains.
I am continuously amazed that life works in these mysterious ways. In the last ten years, I have moved a lot, and I have never lived in the same place for much longer than two years. There is this whole scenario that I never could have imagined, and it’s playing out right now, at this very moment. This world is mysterious and big, and yet so small.
I could never have foreseen that I would enjoy my life at my own pace, and by my own rules. That I would set my boundaries and have space for relationships in my life, but still not shy away from putting myself first. That I would come back to Belgium ten years later, and it still feels like an adventure.
I could never have believed that I would of course be sad to leave, and at the same time be happy to be on a train that was getting me home.