I want to go home

I am in America against my will, alone, unhappy and scorned.

By Cary Tennis
March 7, 2006 4:57PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I am facing an unusual situation. I am here in this country almost against my will, I don't have many friends, and on top of that I am recovering from a long illness. I had a decent job and a modest living in my home country, but I placed too much emphasis on my sibling's advice and well-being. I did not think about myself, but was focused on them. I left my job and came here to complete my studies and find a job. But the United States is very frightening to me. It is lonely. I am not happy. I don't feel like living here, but going back right now is not an option since I have invested time and money in my education, and I need to complete it before going back.


My sibling does not talk to me. I am forced to share the house with my sibling for economic reasons. I find myself not talking to anyone unless I am at school and there I catch hold of strangers and talk to them because I am lonely. At home I am supposed to make myself invisible, stay in my room and study, not make a noise, and not talk or ask about anything. This is driving me crazy. How can I keep my sanity for another four months till I go back home? I feel hopelessly depressed.

My relationship with my sibling is spoiled. We don't get along, because my sibling feels I am not trying to succeed or get ahead. I am not a very hardworking or materialistic person. I am satisfied with very little. Also I made pretty bad judgments in my life -- not drugs -- but I was not financially savvy, and did not get married at the right age to the right person. In our community this is considered a disgrace. Because of my choices, my sibling feels that their life has been affected and blames me. I admit my mistakes, but I cannot go back and change them, nor can I become a person I am not. I took care of my parents and my sibling, and I am so hurt by this behavior. How do I retain my trust in the human race when my own family can treat me like this? What I crave is for some companionship and understanding.

Unhappy Foreigner


Dear Unhappy Foreigner,

I have introduced capitalization and punctuation into your letter because, whether it was deliberate or a function of your e-mail program, it arrived with all the clauses linked with ellipses, and everything lowercase, which gave a certain chant-like tone to your lament, almost as if we were listening to you breathing your distress, washing it over the page, like a sad ocean in the night. It leads me to think either you are very desperate or some kind of poet.

But you do after all have a legitimate complaint; you are essentially alone in a foreign land, filled with shame and anger.


How difficult to be here in this country, weak from recent illness, unsure what you are trying to accomplish. It is that feeling that comes from your letter, and that to which I want to respond, and to which I think readers will also respond.

Here we are, two strangers mumbling at each other in this great loud America. I cannot really guess what country you are from. People often feel I ought to see so much more than I do, that so much more ought to be plainly visible, both to me and to readers. They feel that they will be recognized by their writing, as though they had placed their face on the Internet.


Do you know what my face looks like? It looks like that man in the hat, actually. No one ever recognizes me on the street, though. How much rarer it would be to be recognized by one's words! And yet I know the feeling -- being almost like a child, beset with problems that you wish to make visible but for which you lack the language, so you cry and bang your fists. I know this condition well; I suppose it is in part why I have dedicated so much of my life to looking for a language to communicate my own distress.

You do sound like you are in distress, a kind of wordless distress I easily recognize. I also think you are not like other people. Perhaps you are one of those rarities, the creative soul. If so, America can be a good place for you; while we are awful in many ways, what is good about us is that we rather like the odd ones here; we do not care that much about tradition and respect and doing the right thing. You can do anything you want here. If you have already met the basic obligations imposed on you by family and country, then perhaps in some way you are done with family and country, and you can stay here and do what you want.

Maybe I am just another crazy American talking. I know I am so deeply American I can hardly understand the power of family and country to bind one, nor the power of shame, the power of expectation, the power of society. Because here, we have almost no society. We are anarchists at heart!


Soon when you are healthy, if you want, you can walk out of your little room and get a job somewhere and do whatever it is you want to do. Put on a scarf. Become a punk. Eat strange food at midnight out on the street.

You see what I mean about America: What makes us so awful is also what makes us so much fun. We don't really give a damn! We are, in that sense, diabolically free. And when that freedom allows our cruder nature to come forward, because now we are so powerful as a nation, it is a tragedy for the world. When the world sees us coming, the world cringes. And who wouldn't? But when we just stay in our country and do our thing, it works out OK. Like it worked out for Elvis.

So perhaps you should stay in the U.S. and make a new life for yourself.


Maybe that is crazy. Maybe you would hate it here always.

But I think of us as a country of misfits, and you strike me as a misfit too, someone misunderstood and ill-used by your country and your family.

It is no shame to be a misfit here. Elvis Presley was a misfit. We all want to be like Elvis. You could be like Elvis too. You could get a haircut like Elvis and play the guitar and perhaps make some paintings too. You could show us exactly who you are and we would be very interested to know.

Perhaps you laugh with scorn: Who wants to know who I am? Who cares about some freak like me?


Try us.

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