Jason Toevs

When Your Heart Lives Between Two Worlds

I took one suitcase with me and moved my entire life to the other side of the world. But my heart remained between two worlds.

This is a story about belonging and not belonging. About your heart and soul being split in two, about feeling like you don’t fit anywhere, about being torn about where you truly should be, about whether you’ll ever really know where your “place” is.

When I was a little girl, I always dreamed about the kind of life I would live. Where I would live. What job I would do. The kind of apartment I would have. How I would decorate it. The friends I would see for wine after work, the holidays to Europe I would take twice a year. Seeing my family on weekends. I had enough prudence in me to know that not everything would turn out exactly as I had envisioned, but I figured the rough bullet points would stay consistent to the childhood romanticized version of my one-day adult life. Australia was not a part of my daydreams.

I had never dreamed of moving to Australia. Out of everywhere I believed I would one day move to, Australia didn’t make the list. I had limited knowledge about the country except a couple of Geography lessons about it in Primary School, and all I could recall was that Australia was a vast, dry desert – it’s understandable that I hadn’t imagined moving here. But in 2015, I did. My partner had invited me in a whirlwind of an invitation. It wasn’t a crazy idea for him – he had spent many summers and Christmases in Australia and had moved out here for 2 years after finishing college. But it was a crazy idea for me – it didn’t fit into the ideals of my grown-up dream. Despite this, I said yes in a heartbeat. I didn’t even hesitate. This was my ticket to a new world, with a steadfast partner to experience it with me (very important to my travel-hungry-yet-afraid predisposition).

When I grew up, I always wanted to be like my mum. She was (and is) the most beautiful woman in the world. A fierce sense of humor, a unique laugh, and someone who has experienced life in all its forms. She had backpacked through Europe in her early 20s, and the stories she recounted over the years always sounded so free and exciting, just like she is. Just like all the things I am not. I had grown up the exact opposite of my mum. I was cautious and scared of most experiences. The idea of backpacking anywhere terrified me. But despite this, I always had a built-in “travel bug” that I think I inherited from my dad – he had taken us abroad on numerous occasions growing up, from Florida to Singapore, and I devoured the cultural experiences each time. I loved walking around a new city, exploring the sites, tasting the food, adjusting to the heat, walking through cities in monsoon rain. Every time I would return home, I was always hungry for more, more than just the little village I grew up in; I knew there a bigger life out there for me, but I didn’t know how to see or experience it, how to muster up the courage (and the money and the visas) to move elsewhere. I dreamed of moving to America. Then I dreamed of moving to Singapore. Then I dreamed of moving to Europe. But they were always just that: dreams.

Moving to Australia was real, tangible. From the second I said “yes” to the offer, I could truly visualize it happening. I applied for my backpacker visa immediately; ironic that the visa I had to apply for correlated so closely with my fears about backpacking. There was a sense of comfort knowing that, unless I wanted to, backpacking was not actually something I would be doing. I have a vivid memory of walking into the kitchen at my mum’s house and announcing that I was moving to Australia. I’m pretty sure my mum and brother didn’t believe me, but it became very real for them when I did actually go. I only took one suitcase with me, internally assuring myself it was “just another holiday,” and moved my entire life to the other side of the world. But my heart remained between two worlds.

Touching down in Brisbane, it all became very real. I remember as the plane touched the tarmac, I actually said, “We made it,” like I hadn’t believed this was actually going to happen. We arrived late at night, and driving up to Toowoomba revealed nothing of my new homeland except for shadows in the dark. My first morning in Australia started off like a picture postcard or Kodak moment. There, among the grass, was a mother Wallaby and her baby. I watched them in awe. The first few weeks in Australia were beautiful: swimming pool by sunrise, quadbike riding at sunset, taking day trips to Brisbane to explore and find an apartment to move to. I have journal entries from that time where I say that I am the “happiest I’ve ever been,” and I really think I was. Life felt new, exciting, limitless. Like I had always wanted. When life is playing out like an endless holiday, of course it would feel beautiful. But when realism kicks in, the holiday honeymoon is over.

I didn’t realize that I didn’t fit into Australia for at least the first year. Prior to that, I was having the time of my life. We were living in Brisbane in our dream apartment, exploring the city on our days off, and had made friends with our neighbors. Life felt like a wonderful dream, and although I was obviously missing my family back home, I felt like this was where I was supposed to be. But when our part-time work fell through and we had to find “real” jobs, that’s when my misfit status became apparent. I couldn’t get a job easily, which was a first for me. My partner paid the rent, the bills, for groceries, and for anything else needed or wanted. I felt useless, like my British skills and charm weren’t working in this “dream” world. I had always been so self-sufficient and self-assured. Instead, I felt displaced and disorientated about what was expected of me and what I could offer.

Back home, my family was missing me immensely, and they let me know it. It felt like my heart was floating somewhere directly over the ocean between home and… “home” in Australia, torn in different directions. I felt ashamed to mention Australia as home. This gives the brain an interesting dynamic to work with in everyday life: “time to go [home]…back to the apartment” I would say, or “we need some new [insert item] for [home]…the apartment”. It automatically makes you feel upended, unsure of your movements or whereabouts. Eventually I found work, but I didn’t find my community. I quickly became aware I didn’t fit in with the people here. I had nothing in common with anyone, no hobbies or interests, no common movies that we liked to watch, not even the same things we liked to cook or eat. My sense of humor didn’t translate, my accent was deemed “not British” because I didn’t come from the North of England. It’s a weird sensation when your body and your brain are in one country, desperately trying to mould to that culture, but your heart and soul feel like they’re still tied to your motherland.

Sports & Schnitzel conversations at work would only ultimately lead to Curry & (British) Comedy nights back home…sorry, apartment. The small circle of friends I did make didn’t fit the Australian mould themselves. And trying to ground myself in the abundance of nature was just as conflicting – the plants, animals, and weather were all too confronting and different to make me feel like I could at least find a piece of me in the wilderness. I missed the oak and silver birch trees, running through bracken and heather, accidentally disturbing the deer, watching the sun set over the New Forest. At times, I felt like I was drifting through life like a ghost. Just like a ghost, I was able to move through the worldwide “walls” of the globe, imprint myself in the living rooms of family members through weekly Skype calls, before returning to my own living room in time for dinner. But years go by, and like all human do, I adapt, and learn to love what is wonderful about my life: my job, my partner, my cat, the plants I plant in the back garden, the vegetables I attempt to grow every Spring, the (pre-Covid) annual holidays back to the UK.

It’s funny when I look back at my childhood ideals about who I would be as an adult and compare them with the life I currently lead. Have the rough bullet points I insisted would stay consistent remained?

Where I would live and what job I would do have equal parts exceeded and fallen inferior to my dream career.

The kind of apartment I would have and how I would decorate it are slowly becoming my ideal; I am slowly replacing kindly gifted pieces of furniture and crockery from when we first moved here with what I would have chosen for myself.

The friends I would see for wine after work and the holidays to Europe have not met my ten-year-old expectations.

Seeing my family at weekends is for obvious reasons not an achievable weekend plan.

If this laundry list of my expectations was a mega-musician’s highly anticipated sophomore album, critics would argue that nothing they wanted had been met. And yet…

In some respects, my childhood dream of myself as an adult has been beyond my wildest dreams. In terms of ego-driven aspects, I live in a beautiful four-bedroom house in Sydney, my job is important and well-paid, and I have been given opportunities I never would have believed were possible. From a soul synergy perspective, I myself have transformed into a beautiful, blossoming woman who is incredibly more self-assured than the young woman who left the UK six years ago. And most importantly, I am surrounded by love: my partner is my companion and my best friend, and my family is always a click-of-a-button away, albeit through a screen. Sometimes, the childhood aspirations we have are not meant to be fulfilled as we envisioned. Not every dream is supposed to come to fruition.

Yes, landing through a rain cloud into Heathrow is comforting, yet walking the streets of my childhood town is distorting: I am both the same human who grew up shopping in the local supermarket, drinking with my school friends in the pub, yet I am also someone more worldly and transformed. I am a version of myself that doesn’t exist in that world, even if my heart is at home there. And each trip home, I still choose each time to go back “home” – to the intense summer heat and the harsh birdsong and the place where I don’t really fit, but yet, at least for now, I belong. Maybe your heart and soul are not supposed to feel too at home anywhere; maybe part of the human experience is to question your place wherever you make your nest.

Like a round peg in a square hole, I feel called to Australia. Of course, there is always a version of me that can exist in the UK, and when the time comes for that version of me to set foot on British soil and mould to the life my soul already knows, it will be a beautiful metamorphosis.

But until then, I am called to Australia and the journey that this country offers my soul. And because of this, my heart will continue to live between two worlds.