An Australian author living in Norway

Two lives and homeless

I lead a double life. One life, the one I was born to, exists in the heat and dust; the other, the one I chose, stands knee-deep in snow. Once every two years, I forsake one for the other, give up my knee-high, wool-lined boots for sandals, and expose my pale, vitamin-D deficient skin to a sun that is as ferocious as it is glorious.

The flight, thanks to new routes, is now down to a minuscule twenty-two hours, but those twenty-two hours are spent in the sort of limbo that separates one life from the other as surely as sleep is separated from waking; whenever I am in one place, the other is like a dream I can’t imagine was ever real.

The five weeks I just spent “home” in Australia gave us every kind of weather, beginning with mild, sunny days with just enough wind to remind me how still Oslo is, followed by scorching forty-five degree heat that caused the worst bushfires South Australia has seen in over a decade, then rain, causing floods, and right back around to mild and breezy again on our final day. It felt like Australia was trying to sell us on its tropospheric diversity: “My seasons may not be as defined as Norway’s, but look how mercurial I am!”

When you can only go home every two years, you teach yourself to forget to miss things. People. Smells. Sounds. Tastes. Then, when you’re back in that place, now as foreign as it is familiar, the memories of that old life come rushing back, squeezing and tugging at your heart so hard you can’t remember why you don’t live there anymore. Why did I leave? What’s so good about Norway? Right now, despite the stunning snowy vista out my window, I can’t remember. It hurts to be here. Yet the summer mornings I awoke to only three days ago are again dreamlike; I’ve woken up disorientated, feeling a deep sense of loss.

The snacks we managed to cram into overstuffed suitcases beg me to eat them, yet save them, remember . . . but remembering is a recipe for heartache. Or maybe the heartache is a giant cholesterol clot born from a month of overindulgence of which coming home—to this home, the other home—might yet cure me.

My daughter’s reunion with her kindergarten friends was almost enough to remind me there is sense in coming back here; her kjæreste has been heartbroken for weeks, claiming he misses her so much he has headaches, marking off the days until her return on a calendar. Life here is good for her, and she is happy to be home. But she has never had another home, only a regular place to visit, as foreign to her in many ways as it would be to any traveller. Her father is less happy, having enjoyed a long break from the pressures of running a company, but that is not much more than a typical holiday-hangover.

For me, every time is like moving again for the first time. Every goodbye hurts as much as it ever did. Every “See you in two years!” feels like a sentence of sorts. Even though I don’t want to move back to Australia—really, I don’t—every time I go there I doubt that decision. But, it is January. It is a new year, with not so much of winter left to bear. And in the summer, when my Facebook feed is filled with shivering, miserable Australian complaints of how wretched the cold is, I will love my decision. The memories of fresh egg noodles, warbling magpies, eucalyptus-scented mornings, and sunsets over stunning sandy beaches will have faded just enough to be beautiful instead of painful.

My two lives make me homeless. And yet I have two homes, and both are beautiful and harsh and filled with everything I miss when I am not there. I am both rich, and torn.


  1. Sarah

    Wow. I’m in tears. I could have written that – not as eloquently of course – but every emotion described is painfully familiar. Do you mind if I share this on FB?

    • Zoë

      Of course I don’t mind! Share away! It’s always comforting to know that I’m not alone in this—and you and I are particularly close, given we’re yearning for the same city!

  2. Liz

    Ah Zoe, I too am in tears. I wish we’d managed to meet, but you seemed to be having such a wonderful time catching up with family and friends and generally just being, that I didn’t want to intrude. I’m seeing Jan at the weekend and will give her an extra big hug.

    • Zoë

      It’s such a shame we didn’t manage to catch up this time, but there will always be next time. And Facebook. 🙂 (I have to admit, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in making an English teacher cry with my writing.)

  3. Terrie

    Been there! I was in Canada for 15 years. Now I am back and it feels like Canada was a dream! Beautifully written. I think when you live overseas you gain a new appreciation for Australia. Sorry we didn’t chat more – it went so fast! Enjoy your woollies x

  4. Sari

    Lovely piece, Zoe. You really nailed what it feels like to travel between homes. Oh, and I’m so relieved to read that instant amnesia of the place you have just left behind is normal…

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