I miss everyone. I miss the people back home and the new friends I’ve made in Europe. My mind is in a constant battle between wishing I was in Illinois with my sister and wishing I was in Madrid with Junior. Minnesota with my mom. Frankfurt with Philipp. Everywhere with everyone, all the time, missing. I want to gather them up and wrap my arms around their necks, mashing our cheeks together, squeezing our waists belly-to-belly, ribs clattering like xylophones.
I’m responsible for remembering all this. I came out here alone and experienced these three months with a camera and my brain as the only way to make it last. The people … they were incredible. Maybe it’s because I’m a solo woman traveler or because I tried to smile a lot at all the strange faces, but everyone was so nice to me. They offered up their beds and bought me dinner and gave me directions. I did nothing to deserve any of it. I’m just a 24-year-old ignorant American girl who quit her job and packed a bag full of clothes, ready to see the world. When I stepped off that plane and bought my first train ride into the city, I had no idea what was about to happen. Who can predict the amount of growth that will occur when you’ve got nothing to lose but everything to gain?
Arash, the hostel worker in Rome, he wrote in my journal as we sat in a crowded, smoky bar: This is the season for wine, roses and drunken friends. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life!
Despite all the hash that he smokes, Arash is a wise man. He sees oodles of backpackers every single day and knows exactly what’s going through all of their minds: “Am I really doing this? How can this be my life?”
It helps that I stayed for three months. One month wouldn’t have been enough and six might’ve felt too long. I’ll never forget the feeling I felt only ninety days ago as I laid on my bed in a London hostel, crying as I clutched my cell phone and called my dad. “Hey Dad,” I warbled, hoping my voice wouldn’t break and cause my fears to spill out into the airwaves. “I don’t know what to do right now.”
The fear lasted about three weeks, which was a bit longer than I’d been warned it might take to get into the “travel mode.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t know what I was doing. How does one go about filling an entire day in a foreign country? How do you make friends? What should I eat? How do I get around? Everything was confusing, terrifying, and overwhelming. I’d never felt so alone. My cell phone lay quiet in my purse with no one to come to my rescue and every face I saw was new, strange and scary.
But then one day something changed. It started to become fun. It started to feel like a fantastic, dizzying adventure in which I was the star of my own personal documentary with my iPod as the soundtrack and my journal as the screenplay. I discovered that everyone at the hostels shared my fears and wanted friends just as much as I did. They fretted over train schedules and read tourist books like bibles and laughed at mediocre jokes just because it felt good to be silly. They too wanted a partner for the day and someone to hang with at the bar, but most of all they just wanted someone to talk to. Someone to tell about the job they hope to get in Italy or the boyfriend they’re missing back home. A person who would listen to their worries and plans, ideas and theories.
I stopped missing home and started missing countries. I planned my trip like a kid in a candy store, with spontaneity and novelty my favorite flavors. It became exciting to hop on a train and switch languages and cultures in a matter of hours. I got bored if I stayed in one place too long and developed a routine for taking care of mundane details like washing clothes and making train reservations.
And then miracles happened. I fell in love. Twice. I made friends around the world and discovered a hidden ability to speak Spanish. I saw land and people who were more beautiful than anything I’d ever imagined. I developed a sense of self-confidence that I’ve never known before and smiled when I looked in the mirror because I liked who I’d become. My mind was blown time and time again. It never got old.
And now that I’m in London and the hours are winding down like a time bomb set to warp me back to my old life, I find myself feeling the exact same way I felt days before I got on that plane three months ago: Am I really doing this? Is this really happening?
I can’t believe that I’m going back home. No more train rides, no more new faces, no more Italian, French, or German. It’s time to wake up from my long, crazy dream, rub my tired eyes, and head back into reality.
My friend TJ from Minneapolis is also in London at the moment and we’re on the same flight home. Hanging out with him has helped to ease me back into feeling like a Minnesotan again. He made fun of the English lilt I’ve developed and told me stories about First Avenue and meeting girls at restaurants on Hennepin and Franklin. I feel okay about going back. All of my perpetual missing will happen no matter where I am and it’s about time that I took a proper shower and hung my clothes up in a closet.
One, two, three, wake up. Click my heels together and open my eyes. Spin around three time and presto, I’m home. The start of a new era. The post-Europe days. I’m a new person now and it’s time for introductions. Nice to meet you. My name is Mary.