I’ve spent my whole life temping. Of course, at first I didn’t know that’s what it was.
I was born in Belgium to European parents, one of whom was Belgian. We had family nearby – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. It seems as good a place as any for a baby. But it was short lived. Within my first year on Earth I went on my first plane ride to the other side of the world – Botswana.
I didn’t know it, but this was to be my longest temp stint.
We spent ten years there – a beautiful childhood, happy afternoons, playing in the pool, riding our bikes, dancing in the rain. When we left they told us the next place would be permanent.
Namibia. We made friends right away, fit right in. It’s the kind of place you want to stay for your whole life, unless you’re a teenager. The other teenagers were so jealous when we were going to England. ‘Think of all the bands you’ll see there’ they said. But I didn’t want to see the bands. I wanted what they had.
In England they could tell that we were temps. That we were different. It took us longer to find our friends. No one wants to waste their time on someone who’s just passing through. We didn’t want them either – we wanted to be back in Africa. But England was just a short temporary position.
Next was Serbia.
We hated everything by then. The temp life was too much for us. We made friends easily – we were becoming expert at that, but it didn’t make us any happier. We spent the days in bed, we each had a double bed but we shared them every night – we felt so alone. Otherwise we went to the park, drinking when we should have been at school. This was cool, right? The other kids would be so jealous – our friends, from Namibia, those we kept in touch with from England. We were just starting to fall into a pattern when
We went back to Namibia. Just for a holiday.
When you’re a temp, you can’t go back. You need to keep going forwards, it’s an unwritten rule. Everything keeps going on and you don’t have the power to change that. But we didn’t know that then. The holiday was supposed to be a good thing but it plunged us back
To Serbia. More alone.
Then England, again. A different England. Oxford Grammar and Bridget Jones and pomp and circumstance. Interjected with bits of Serbia. It seemed better then – it seemed more permanent. They both did. Everyone was settled and at home.
Next was university. I stuck it out. I didn’t have my sister, my parents. All around me people were doing it right – making friends, fitting in. I knew so many people. But I was so lonely.
France, for a year. A year long holiday. Connecting with my culture, a summer with my Belgian family. Thank god I didn’t grow up there.
Back to uni. This time it made sense. If I had known to look I could have seen a pattern – that it takes longer than a year or two to make yourself at home, dig your roots in.
London. The shortest, the worst. So cold, so dark. So lonely. At least I wasn’t the only lonely person there – millions of people, crowded onto trains. So close you can smell each other. But all so lonely – don’t look them in the eye, don’t talk to anyone. At least we had that in common.
Sydney. So sunny. Like a holiday all the time. But then it all came back to me. When you spend all your life temping you never build the skills to make lasting relationships. Eventually you don’t know how to act around people you aren’t leaving. You misbehave, act outlandish – who cares, they won’t be around for long, because I won’t. It’s hard to get people to stay when you act that way. Friendly and life of the party on the outside, lonely, selfish, on the inside.
And now I’m temping in work, too. I’ve never done a job that I liked so I have become afraid of commitment. Being somewhere you don’t like starts to feel like a prison. So I jump from place to place. I tell them I’m ‘in between things’ as though that’s something I’m experiencing for the first time.
Itchy feet. Not long until I leave again. But to where. Do I carry on? Or pretend that if I started now I could learn to be permanent. To be ‘present’ as they like to say. I don’t think I’ve ever been present. Always looking back, or ahead.
‘I really miss…
Oh! Where to next?’