Zurich, Switzerland. 1999-2009. Position: Hausfrau
I lost myself in the average day. In a world presenting no apparent threat, I was dysfunctional. Routine caused me to forget myself; leave body parts strewn throughout the house. Chores, then, eventually became an act of survival with my female form taking shape as the day progressed. Once I found my legs, I managed to walk throughout the house, collecting things. Toys introduced an ear; girl’s pants, a nose; newspapers unveiled a breast. Just in time for my husband, as he walked through the door at the end of the day, I’d find fingernails; locate my eyelashes. I’d come to him, slightly rising to my toes and brush my lips with his – careful not to let them loosen and fall to the floor. I had clumsily made order of things but the puzzle was never right. Pieces were always, always missing.
SUV’s pulled up to the school; kids piled out and hours later they piled in again. What happened in between? What happened in between the drop off and pick up, while my husband walked through a parallel universe, gone to work by the time I had awakened. I’d moved to Switzerland but inhabited yet another foreign territory, that of a Hausfrau and of motherhood and I was unsure of my footing.
I recall the early days, wondering if this would be the day someone asks me where I am from. If so, I’d explain that I’m from Canada and when the kind mother replied saying how beautiful it is there, I’d agree. From one beautiful country to another I’d travelled, or so it seemed… if you don’t count the journey in between.
Perhaps she’d ask about my husband. Wonder if he’s Canadian or Swiss. But I’d be getting carried away, letting my imagination run wild, at that point. The Swiss don’t pry; aren’t prone to small talk, either. But, I’d forge ahead, imagination usurping culture. I’d tell the woman that I met him in South Africa. Surely here, the conversation would fall silent and I’d ache for continuity. Is it so hard, I’d wonder, to say such simple words? If the ever so kind mother would just find it in her heart to say, ‘Oh, isn’t that interesting,’ my feet would fill the shoes around them, trust the ground beneath the soles and I would, just like that, be standing right there in the world again.
What happened in between? In between the story I hold, inside, and me asking you what bank it is that your husband works for. Inhaling deeply, I feel like my eight year – old, as she rushes in the door, at the end of the day — her head filled with a tangle of thoughts. I’d do my best to capture her words, as they flew; hang them on a line, like laundry needing to be dried and sorted —put in its proper place. But, I couldn’t expect that from a stranger – such hard work for my words. I’d choose the easy way out; blame language or culture for an awkward moment, before turning my attention back to our kids.
With cold toes and starting to shiver, I’d say good-bye to my daughter outside the school, and as I catch another mother’s eye, I’d smile. Maybe she’d be the one who surprises; opens a porthole for this incongruent being; pulling me ever so gently through. Yes, she’d be the one to ask: ‘What is it you did in such a place?’ allowing for that space where the language of my past can be interpreted. Encouraged, this breathless child would speak, relying ever so much on her to understand what the hell I was talking about.
I was a photographer for a year on a newspaper, during the country’s first democratic elections.
‘Did you see anything awful?’
Socks flew out of my mouth.
‘It’s a pretty dangerous place, isn’t it?’
Underwear and bras catapulted from my teeth
‘Were you at all frightened?’
Shirts and blouses swirled in their glory above my head, a tornado of laundry threatening to lift me off the ground.
The school bell would ring with each article stopping mid-flight, hanging suspended in the crisp fall air. She’d walk away, a child tugging at her sleeve and all would come tumbling down. I’d gather it up, the costume that covered my life, grateful, for a time, that it kept me safe and warm.