I have never thought of myself as someone defined by what she does for money, but that was before I wasn’t really doing anything and didn’t really have any money. It turns out that a huge portion of my self-identity or whatever has depended on…not work, exactly, but having work, specifically the kind that puts a paycheck in your bank account every couple of weeks. I haven’t had one of those since February, but it’s only since I’ve been living at home that it’s been actively bothering me—and also that I’ve been actively trying to change it, and actively failing to do so.
“Living at home” also doesn’t quite cover it—I’m living on the same island that I grew up on but in a different house (with the same mom). I’ve unpacked my things but only temporarily—of course, I’m still not sure what “temporarily” means yet, as I have happily cleared another hurdle in the Immigration Footrace (which is rapidly feeling more and more like a marathon) but still have no idea when I will be going back to New Zealand. I’m here but I’m not, in a home that isn’t. I say this every time I come back here for a holiday but I hardly recognize the place—there are new hotels and a Starbucks now and even new invasive species and the beach looks different and the bathroom fan makes a weird noise that the bathroom in the old house didn’t and you can’t see my elementary school from the street anymore because there is a whole new school in its place, and that new school isn’t even new, it’s five or eight or ten years old now.
I have basically been a housewife for my mom since I got back from Seattle: I’m cooking and cleaning and going to the store and going to Target, making my to-do list every day. I’m making up for lost time with Netflix and reading a lot, and trying to walk on the beach every evening when the sun goes down. I have started volunteering for the Obama campaign and am at home when the plumber comes. And every day since I’ve got here I’ve tried to get work—work that needs to be temporary and allow me to leave with not much notice, and pay decently, and also not be too far away, and also doesn’t require me to be fluent in Spanish. I’ve applied for fifteen jobs in twenty-eight days and haven’t heard back from most of them, and the shame keeps getting deeper and wider as I vacuum the living room again and chop vegetables for salad and do the projects Mom needs done in the house, as I watch my bank account dwindle because I need to have health insurance and because I have to pay fee after fee after fee to emigrate to New Zealand and because I was only able to save so much, because I assumed that I’d be able to find something that would meet all my requirements, when and how I needed them to be met.
And I guess it’s my blindness to my own privilege that allowed me to make that assumption, while still depending on my mom for my room and board–my mom who works twelve hours a day while I wait for the phone to ring and yet tells me that having me here is a pleasure and she’s so happy I decided to come home for a while. Writing all this down I see that I’m trying to justify it: it’s not forever, it’s a special situation, it’s not because I’m lazy or don’t want to work, I may not get to spend this kind of time with my family for a long while. I keep thinking about this time next year: telling the story of how one day I thought I would go to New Zealand for a year and then hey! I really liked it! and so I thought I would try to stay, you know, and then staying meant leaving and going back and it got pretty sticky in there for a while but now, now that I have a little distance from the whole thing, it’s alllllll worth it. I can hardly imagine that time, even though I imagine it pretty near constantly. Will I really do this? Will it really happen?
Clearly I am feeling pretty low at the moment, but really I’m still doing pretty well, in every sense—due, again, to my myriad privileges. Will that change, too, like everything else has? Will things get worse before they get better, and how much, and for how long?