This article was originally posted on Very Merry Library.
As I write this, I can smell fresh coffee brewing, I can hear the songbirds outside my window and I can see the ocean, the immense, immutably sparkly blue water. All of that is given to me because I made a choice to return. My skin is back to olive, and my heart is still filled with longing, but now also with peace. I can feel my body changing and my mind too. Yet belonging is so distant.
When I first left Brazil, I was 17 and hopeful. I didn’t know a word of English and had no idea people put milk in their tea, but I quickly fell in love with London. I fell in love with London the way Didion fell in love with New York, the way Hemingway fell in love with Paris. Enamoured by all of it, the long bus ride to my classes and back, the cold air on my cheeks, and the smell of the city. I fell in love with London because it changed my life forever.
Eventually, I learnt how to pronounce the T in water, how to make a proper brew, and to say "sorry" and "excuse me" the appropriate amount of times a day. By the time I got to university and started making friends, it didn’t take me long to realise that the things we valued about life in England were not the same.
People would often question my decision to leave Brazil, “why on Earth would you leave paradise to come live in this place?”. I knew that they only knew about the festivals, the beaches, the food, the always-blue skies. So I felt it was my responsibility to share with them the horror.
“If you’re going to write about your human experience, write the truth. It’s worth it to write what’s real.” - Ashley C. Ford
When Joan Didion shared with us her childhood memories in “Let Me Tell You What I Mean”, recalling the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, she describes it as something that, “shaped her own imagination in the way that all children are shaped by the actual and emotional geography of the place in which they grow up, by the stories they are told and the stories they invent”. Brazil has shaped my imagination, my identity and my reality in more ways than one.
Growing up, I had always felt inadequate. Moving to the United Kingdom freed me from many of the beliefs that chained and harmed me throughout my life. I would observe people existing unapologetically - dressing creatively, loving whom they wish to love, forever fighting the patriarchal norms to be ‘dull, expected and designed’.
I was for once seen as an individual and not just a body to be gazed at or criticised. I was no longer just an object of desire, I was a person. I was enough of a person to be acknowledged, not to be abused. I was almost just like men. I could spend my days walking alone by the streets of London and not be catcalled even once. I could walk home or go for a run at night and not fear for my life.
And above all the privileges I have had the blessing of experiencing in this country, I was for once respected. I was no longer my father’s daughter or my ex’s girlfriend or worse, a target. And all of that was given to me because I had made a choice to leave. To leave something that, however painful, meant all I knew to be true.
At times, this made me incredibly angry. That the violence I had suffered managed to steal from me my sense of identity and belonging to my own birthplace. English culture liberated me from the many self-limiting beliefs and Brazilian societal pressures concerning my body. Tits were suddenly not the greatest measure of attractiveness, and neither was beauty of my worth. As I began to perceive life in this country more like my own and less of a very long trip, I started recognising myself as ever less Brazilian, but never more English.
I could never forget, and they would never let me forget, I did not belong. Over time, I learnt to find power in that. Allow me to indulge in a little whimsical bullshit - the thing with moving around a lot is that you’re constantly undoing the Self, unlearning the needs of the Ego, and filling your life with what is now new and meaningful and beautiful - many times over.
In England, I was finally safe enough to dream. I could dream of raising a daughter who would feel a little less afraid. I could fall in love. And so I did, over and over again. I left a piece of my heart in an Irish pub in Prague, and another fraction of it in the hands of a singer in Lisbon.
I left fragments of who I am and how I love in parts of the world I might never return to. In turn, I feel no longer whole anywhere but overflowing everywhere. ‘Cause nothing ever changes the fact that we are of the world. And the indisputable truth about citizenship is just this - homeland is forever loved, forever mine, my unbreakable scarlet string.