Two years ago, I left Edinburgh to come home after four years of mostly living abroad.
I loved Edinburgh. In many ways, I didn’t want to leave. But I did, and not just because it was easier for both legal and financial reasons.
If I had truly wanted to stay, I could probably have made it work, like many before me have done. I could have applied for a visa, found a job, and made enough money to keep going. But I chose to go home.
My closest friends were, for the most part, leaving Edinburgh. Most have since relocated to the London area, where living costs would have been much more expensive. But that’s not why I went home.
Spending a long time away strains relationships. You don’t notice at first, but at a certain point the frayed edges become too obvious to miss. People remember the person you were when last they knew you best. And in the interim, you’ve changed, and they haven’t caught on and don’t understand. And they have also, and neither of you can quite place your finger on what’s off, and that takes time and attention. And it’s better to make that effort sooner rather than later, while you both still remember why it’s important.
Nonetheless, leaving felt like tearing a part of my soul away. For months after I went home, I could lie in bed with my eyes shut and perfectly picture street corners, pubs, the view from Blackford Hill. The sensation was so strong, that it literally (literally, literally) felt like being in two places at once. I couldn’t quite reconcile not being in Edinburgh anymore, and I didn’t know if I would make it back home. I felt tired, worn thin, anxious, grief-ridden.
It took about eighteen months before I had a job and enough money to go back to visit. One of my brothers asked me afterwards how I had managed it, and I said I needed to go. “Need,” he said, “is a strong word.” I know, but I meant it. It gave me closure. It restored peace.
Most importantly, it reminded me that going home was a choice: one I could change, if I truly wanted.
I used to feel a tremendous grief when saying goodbye to friends. I used to think “maybe we’ll never see each other again.” But as long as you’re both alive, you can see each other if you make the effort. It may cost thousands of dollars, it may never mean living in the same city again, but as long as you stay in touch, you can still see each other. Goodbye is only forever if you choose to make it that way.
Today, I fly home from Vienna. And while it doesn’t have the same claim to my heart that Edinburgh did, I have come to love this city. I could picture coming back to stay, some day.
But not today.
That’s a choice I’m making. I can always take it back.
But not today.