I was very young when I left America and became an expat. I was 23 or 24, and I had been living the single life in New Mexico in a small apartment and working at a Natural Foods Coop. I left on a whim and I stayed away many years, and my vision of returning was surely distorted by the youthful eyes I left with so many years ago.
I returned to the US regularly during my years as an expat, first with my husband, and then also with my children. I would revel in the things I missed being away... my favorite cereal, movies in English, central air conditioning, the dryer. And the more important things... the wide open sky and magnificent natural world, the animals and birds and majesty. I also sorely missed the diversity I had left in America, the many different faces and skin tones, the melting pot that was America. And of course my family, most of all.
I have been back in America for nearly three years. The first year was spent in a state similar to a tornado. There was just so much to do and so much to figure out, so many practical pieces of life to attend to. I had been away so long that I did not quite know how to swipe my own debit card or use the self checkout stands at the grocery store. My second year was spent with a certain amount of settling in, and a modicum of worry. I began to realize that America was not so kind to people like myself and my husband, self employed people who still have the bizarre need for health care. The insurance policies I had found when we first arrived the year before had already steeply increased our monthly premiums, and when we tried to shop around for something better, my husband's so-called "pre-existing condition", a misnomer for being alive, had gone on the record, making it virtually impossible for us to find another policy. I had also been introduced to the great divide in America during the presidential election, a taste of what was to come. I had no qualms about political discussion and debate. I had been living in a country of wildly debated politics for the past fifteen years. But I can frankly say now that I was still clueless.
My third year, a year that will conclude this summer, has been a year of doubt. Did I do the right thing? Was returning to America the right decision? For my children's sake, I think so. They are fluently bilingual. They enjoy some of the perks of American adolescence as opposed to Italian. They can get part time jobs, they have a much more flexible, modern school experience. They are expert skiers and live in an almost obnoxiously beautiful environment, without a drop of pollution or noise, bursting with wildlife and sunsets and snowy peaks. I do not know where they will go as they approach adulthood. I have the feeling that the closer they get to being men, the closer they get to the reasons why I feel like I am a foreigner in America. I hope for their sakes that their youth, open minds and life experiences will propel them both forward in a world of optimism and hope. They are luckier than they can yet imagine, and their dual citizenship will open a myriad of doors for them.
I, on the other hand, am disillusioned. Dumbfounded. Dumbstruck. Speechless. For me, the debate which ensued over health care reform was the harbinger for a tidal wave of sludge that I had somehow been innocently unaware of while I lived so far away. I cannot quite convey how impossible it was for me to explain to my husband what that debate was about. It was exquisitely hard for him to comprehend that a nation like the United States could exist without providing health care to all of its people, and he was totally incapable of understanding how anyone could actually be opposed to the idea of doing so. This because the rest of the nations in the industrialized world provide health care their people. From Australia to Japan to Italy to Israel to Canada. This incredible backlash against this most basic notion of civility was frankly impossible for him to understand. As it was for me.
What has followed has been an undesired, unsavory opening of the door into the great divide in America. The lack of civility in our political debate is astounding, and I can only deduce this is rooted in fear and ignorance. As I read newspapers, surf the Internet and watch television, I realize that the election of Obama as our president has not thus far resulted in any kind of hope for the future, but has only invigorated the radicalism that frankly scares me. The same minds which are able to blatantly declare that upon the passing of the health reform bill into law by the "commie socialist pigs", who are "denying God" and "sowing the seeds of Armageddon" (all quotes I have read in print), which by default must also apply to every other industrialized nation in the world, are also the same minds that believe they are inherently, morally right. America has it right, the rest of the world is mistaken and misguided. These people have God on their side, and have usurped religion to back up their own bombastic ignorance. In the words of their flag bearer, Sarah Palin, "Nah, we'll keep clinging to our Constitution and our guns and religion -- and you can keep the change."
I had no idea where I was going, what I was doing, when I returned to America. While some who read this may retort with the sad, overused "why don't you just leave, then?", I wonder why it is always those like me who are asked that question? Is incessant flag waving and Bible banging all that is needed for some to believe themselves righteous? Is it as easy as that?
Disillusioned and dumbfounded in America. That's me.