Julia Sunde‘s existence is due to chance, fanaticism, manipulation and hopefully a bit of magic. Both of her Norwegian parents ran off with a cult at the age of 19, were blindly betrothed to one another and, years later, wound up in Mobile, Alabama. In more recent years, Julia, the youngest of five children, has made it a priority to visit and get to know her long lost family in Norway. In December 2013, she graduated from the University of South Alabama with a Bachelor of Science in Health Education and a minor in Studio Art. She feels that is when her life truly began. Julia’s necessity to create is innate, but now she feels free to live, and the more she lives, the more she feels and the stronger the need to express herself becomes.
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The diary entry I am submitting is a compilation of thoughts and experiences I cycle through everyday. As the story states, I am living with my grandmother and learning her language, Norwegian. I understand more and more of what she has to say as we teeter through the streets of Hamar and this time in our lives together. I do not understand why it means so much, although I have my theories and am confident that I will figure it out soon enough, if knowing even matters.
As for Jeremy, we join forces as often as we can. I cry every time and tremble when he holds me. I love him. While we are separated, my heart hovers outside of my chest and is a victim to the elements. The result is a piercing pain that can not be numbed. Writing helps. These days, I send him nude pictures and erotic poetry inspired by thoughts of him, each accompanied with an illustration. The photographs I’m sending with my submission were originally taken for and sent to Jeremy. Enjoy.
PLEASE, DO NOT ERASE ME.
I am twenty-five years old, and I live with my grandmother in Hamar, Norway. At the ripened age of ninety-seven, she is radiant and managing her tastefully furnished one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment independently. Despite my efforts at spoiling her, my grandmother hardly asks anything of me; conversly, she is consistently, exceedingly grateful for minuscule favors, such as the changing of lightbulbs. In the evenings, following our ritualistic intervals between reading and watching television, I retire to my corner of the formal living room and snuggle up in my IKEA folding bed and can, for the first time this year, feel that I am content, even partially satisfied with whatever it is I am doing here.
The journey began on September 9th, 2014. My lover, coffee roaster and rockin’ roller Jeremy K. Padot, our cat, brunost enthusiast Princess Haru, and I left our hometown of Mobile, Alabama; a conventional and rather bland version of New Orleans, Louisiana; to start our lives anew in Oslo, Norway. At Gardermoen Airport we were greeted with celebratory Norwegian flag waving, hugs and handshakes courtesy of an old friend, Lars K. Huse, and his then girlfriend now wife, Hilde M. Hundsness. They were picture-perfect, airport-darlings in caps and coats who took us home to their apartment beside Torshov park for a stay of indefinite measure. Jeremy and I had three precious months to secure jobs and submit visa applications to UDI, or else we would be forced to leave the country. The rat race commenced.
Jeremy was an instant sensation. Oslo based roasteries Kaffa and Lippe both took a liking to him. However, Lippe made the first proposal, and Jeremy accepted. In the midst of the excitement, I was offered an Au Pair position in Kolbotn, a suburb just south of Oslo. The job was presented as a package in which I was promised a few of life’s luxuries. Along with minimal pay; my boss, the father of the house; would provide me with a studio apartment, cell phone, gym membership, and fully functioning minivan. In all honesty, I found the circumstances a bit degrading, but I was desperate and accepted the offer and wondered at myself and the curiousness of dreams, plans and expectations.
Fall in Norway is a brief season in which summer rapidly turns into winter. It was a bittersweet time for Jeremy and I; we were reaching the end of our financial rope while waiting anxiously for UDI’s verdict on each of our visas. Excuses for venturing out from the flat were limited to bothering our new comrade, Lars’s closest friend, Kevin Jo Hansen at Supreme Roastworks and Lars himself at Crow Bryggeri. The two treated us with concoctions that lifted our spirits and eased our minds. If Jeremy and I could not be found at either of these establishments, we were home, binging on anime series in an effort to pass time.
Fortunately, by November, our social lives began to show signs of life when friends of friends, Ingri M. Johnsen and Måns A. Anderson invited us to an in-home, social gathering. Norwegians, perhaps I could go as far as Scandinavians, except for the dear Danish, are stereotypically introverted and often socially awkward. However, with the combination of Jeremy falling through his chair at the dinner table and a few bottles of German Riesling, conversation flowed naturally. Before the night was through, attendees were scooting and swirling around the makeshift dance floor on which Måns revealed the genius behind his signature, dressage inspired dance steps, and I performed a few splits with no hands. Jeremy and my efforts combined managed to make a good, or at least interesting, impression; we got asked to more events, more frequently and could suddenly count our friends on two hands verses four fingers. Things were looking up by time True Norwegian Black Metal winter came.
Shortly after I settled into my Au Pair quarters, Jeremy swept in like an angel on the wing. His presence felt new and interactions with me were unusually intimate.. as if we had not spent nearly every day of the previous five years together. I was oblivious to the reasons why that would be; but, on the second day, Jeremy gently stripped me of my ignorance. His visa was rejected. He was being deported. It was final. Fuck it all. The only light in our predicament was that the three of us, Jeremy, Haru and I, were granted permission to live together in my white walled, basement apartment as a family for the two weeks we had left prior to Jeremy’s departure for Portland, jokingly renamed Deportland. My long, tapered fingers gripped to that dreamlike phase with desperation. It was not enough. Jeremy was ripped away from me on December 17th.
Life without Jeremy introduced itself in the form of Haru’s tilted head questioning me in the doorway. In that moment, I could not have felt more deeply alone. Of course Haru did not understand when I verbally admitted to both her and myself that Jeremy was gone. Instead, she proceeded to search for him under the bed and the couch, behind the shower curtain and everywhere else a cat would think to hide. I begged for her to stop before collapsing onto the carpet and dissolving into a puddle of my own tears. It smelt and tasted like drowning and continued for days. Darkness swallowed not only me, but the whole damned country, just as it does every winter. I stayed at Lars and Hilde’s place as much as possible, where they fed me chocolate to keep the monsters at bay.
My complacent, Au Pair foundation crumbled on the evening of February the 15th, when I stepped into a rancid mess of my boss’s suffocating ego, insecurities with aging, disrespect for the female gender and inability to empathize with his fellow man; all of which were stewed in alcohol. He spat obscenities, stroked my face and smacked me with a few I love you’s.
There are several ways of handling these types of situations; I did what I thought best, and I am unimaginably thankful for the friends I can still count on two hands. If emotional energy is water, my friends were the pipes and funnels that held mine in circulation. They prevented me from becoming a helpless, dried-out raisin. I resigned from my post and fled with Haru from our underground cell to our safe haven and into the open arms of Lars and Hilde, the two kindest people I have ever known.
The arrangement had potential; but, somewhere along the way, a vital part of my being receded into dormancy. I could no longer release. I felt wild and instinctive, like an animal that had been cornered and was fighting for its existence. It is true, the sexual harassment episode had more of a negative effect on my mental state than I cared to admit, but that was not my solitary issue. I was without a job and, due to visa regulations, had no prospects of getting one in the near future. Instead of moving on and moving forward, I was stuck, waiting and wasting in perceived isolation, yearning for normalcy, a purpose, something to base my days around! More than an income, I needed to become a part of society again. Obvious to me, that would not be happening in Oslo; so, when I was not frolicking with sweet Hilde or having coffee and wine therapy with other friends, my focus was on the next venture, which would begin on the 4th of June.
“Going to Reykjavik” by the Mountain Goats was buzzing in my ears as I strolled around Gardermoen Airport, biding time before boarding my one-way flight to Reykjavik, from which I would depart for my final destination, Portland. I barely slept the night before and did not sleep at all while traveling, but I was not broken or tired. I was ecstatic! I had escaped from Janteloven’s heavy cloud to one of the weirdest cities in the United States. We spotted each other in an instant. Jeremy wove his way through the crowd, towards me with his face glowing and eyes full of longing. Tears were spontaneously leaking from my own. All the days and distance between us were finally gone, along with the suction like emptiness in my chest. I had not the slightest thought about the infamous PDX carpet. My baby was all I could see.
Within two months, all of my multifaceted needs were met, and I felt rejuvenated. In the rational world of stability and security, it made no sense for me to leave Portland; my numerous pros and cons charts proved it. But this decision could not be based on rationality or practicality, no matter how I pretended. It was about my heart, which was being ripped into two separate wholes. Either way I turned, there would be doom, impending doom. I changed my mind every other hour and wished for my heart to stop screaming, so I could hear myself think. I was frantically trying to make sense of matters that made no sense. Eventually, something in me demanded I finish the process I started back in September. I cried and cried from the pain of it all. When I did pull myself together, there were no feelings of excitement, as there were before, only feelings of intent with a tinge of fear and the vibration of my soul resonating, “Whatever happens, Jeremy, I love you. Please do not erase me.”
It was January 6th, 2013, when I made a concrete decision about moving to Norway. I was standing in a hospital room, rigid and mesmerized, as I witnessed my grandmother’s last moments with her younger sister, her best friend and sole confidant. It was the most meaningful birthday gift anyone had ever given me. Names were forgotten; the frighteningly frail woman lying in the bed was now lovingly referred to as “Little Sister”. I observed as my grandmother released large, slow rolling tears and held her dying sister’s hand firmly yet tenderly. They were staring into each other’s pale eyes when the elder sister leaned in closely and cooed, “You have had a good life, Little Sister. Do not be afraid.” The ashen and cracked lips of the younger sister formed a fragile smile. There is so much beauty in pain. I stood there quivering with it, unable to open my mouth without releasing the raging sea of emotion within me. In that moment, I realized the one thing life guarantees us all is death, regardless of what happens in between. Later will be too late. Now, I need to be with my grandmother, the woman my soul loves instinctively and clings to relentlessly. I will learn her language, listen to her stories and hold her hand as she enters into the unknown.
Regardless of what might happen in the depths of the deep, dark, Norwegian winter; these past months living in my grandmother’s parlor have been healing. Life here is pure and simple, but it will come to an end. Such is life, and life is sad as well as happy and every other emotion. Life is everything, absolutely everything. And, in an effort to be better, I have created a mantra for myself. “Let the pains of living, of endings and beginnings inspire you and make you beautiful.”
By – Julia M. Sunde