A Lifetime Away: Seeing Italy as Home One Last Time

It’s official: I no longer have a home in Italy.

I mean, it will always be home in my heart, and Trieste will always be a city I can return to and find family and friends and homes to reside in, however briefly.

But my parents’ home, the home that saw me through all three awkward middle school years, through the ups and downs of high school and first recognizing my depression diagnosis, through college and the one year of grad school and those three months in 2017 when I was broke and homeless and my parents opened their doors to me. That home is gone.

I’ve already posted about what the apartment itself means to me (see post to the left, ha), but in essence, it was Home. There were times I hated it, times I loved it, and times it was a safe refuge from the hardships of the world.

And after 15 years, my parents have left that apartment, and none of us can go back to it.

But before they left, I went back to Italy for one final trip.

I spent two weeks in Trieste (and a few days here and there in Slovenia), trekking to all my favorite old haunts and exploring the places that made me who I was.

People have been asking me how the trip was ever since I got back, and the truth is: it was the best visit I’ve had to Trieste in years. Not that there was anything wrong with the others! But this one…this one was just extraordinary.

It was just under two weeks long, and I felt every second of those 13 days. In a good way! In an “I’m experiencing every second of my time here and gleaning as much enjoyment as I can from every said second and soaking it all in, from the busy days walking around and riding on boats and going to castles to the lazy afternoons drinking tea in the living room.”

Yes, that’s a run-on sentences. No, I don’t care. Moving on!

I spent a few afternoons at various beaches — and when I say beach, I mean Barcola and the beach in Piran, Slovenia, aka sidewalks where people lay out on their beach towels, with steps leading into the Adriatic Sea.

I grew up going to Barcola, but it had been…wow, something like 10 years (or more) since I’d taken myself to that beach. It was so pleasant to lie on a non-sandy ground, and the water…it was clear blue, refreshing, made me feel like I was on a cruise in the middle of summer, except I was actually 10 feet away from speeding traffic in the middle of September. Glorious.

I also got to do even more touristy things, like visit my castle (Miramare, the one tattooed on my arm); ride a boat through the harbor; eat gelato in the largest on-water piazza in Europe; go to Piran and wander around the rocky cobblestones in the city so tiny you can’t even drive into it; and eat at an Osmiza, which I can’t for the life of me figure out how to explain but click that link and you’ll find it’s worth it.

The second week I was there, I was joined by my roommate here in New York City; the first week, I spent many days reconnecting with my best friends from childhood, seeing church friends, and relaxing.

It was a glorious last visit to Italy as “home.” From now on, no matter how much I wish it were otherwise, I’ll always be a guest in the country when I return. I won’t have a base, and it feels like my options for ever moving back full-time are off the table now.

I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe I’m overreacting; that’s quite possible, knowing myself. But it’s how I feel regardless, and that’s powerful.

Viewing Trieste this one last time through the eyes of someone who might not get to go back: that was rough. I tried not to think about it, to just soak in everything I was experiencing: the joy of showing my friend around my home, the joy of visiting it myself, even the tiredness and pain that I felt from walking more than I’m used to. I tried to enjoy it even when I had to stand for 45 minutes in the tattoo parlor waiting for my new tattoo; even when I was jet-lagged and hungry and tired and cranky (which I was, because I’m human, and humans get cranky on vacation sometimes).

I wonder how much that refusal to think about saying good-bye is affecting me now, making it harder. Maybe I’ll refuse to think about that, as well. Maybe I’ll just think about nothing but the way the sun set over the water on my last night…the way Miramare looked framed by trees from a bench in the shade…the perfect magic of Piran under a beautiful blue sky…the fun of taking my roommate to all my favorite places.

Maybe I’ll just treasure the trip I had, and not think about all the trips I won’t have going forward. I’ll cherish these memories in the deepest part of my soul forever, and hope and hope to go back someday, tread the same solid ground, breathe in the salty air, and think: yes, this is still home, even after a lifetime away.

Mourning New York, Forcing Myself to Look Ahead

Leaving felt so natural, and I barely cried as I drove away; yes, even as I snapped one final photo of the Empire State Building through my side-view window, I didn't feel the pang.

FullSizeRender.jpg

In fact, I did tear up a little; but I'm pretty sure I was just forcing it. I knew I was supposed to be crying...mourning...grieving...and even though I couldn't feel those emotions naturally, I tried to make myself. To assuage the later pain. 

Didn't work.

The later pain, when it came, wrecked me. It stole my breath and left me curled in a ball under my covers, unable to appreciate the fact that I'm in Italy, because all I could think about was how I'm not in New York

I look at pictures on Instagram and my heart shudders. I read about the broken subway in the paper, and I'm overcome with nostalgia. Every time I close my eyes, my eyelids are imprinted with the sight of my Brooklyn apartment, which I can't believe I left.

IMG_4268.JPG

It was a beautiful apartment. Spacious, light-filled, with a balcony (!!!) and two wonderful roommates. It had a big living room where I used to sit to read the paper, write some articles, watch TV, a kitchen with two. separate. sinks, and my roommate, Rachel, quickly became one of my best friends.

The night before I left, Rachel and I went out to dinner together. We toasted to my future, stuffed our faces with pizza, and laughed about Jane the Virgin.

And all the while, it wasn't real. The fact that I was leaving this city I loved with passion, the people I'd grown to depend upon, the sidewalks and routes that had become home to me...it wasn't real.

It took a few weeks for it to really sink in, and when it did? It struck with a viciousness I hadn't expected.

I've described it as a physical ache. I miss New York so much that sometimes I feel nauseous. I miss it so much I'm surprised I don't get a spontaneous nose bleed.

New York was...the city that captured my heart. People used to ask me why I loved New York. It's dirty, they would say, or too fast-paced, too mean a city. It'll chew you up and spit you back out, wrinkled and broken. I would shrug and tell them the simple truth: that it was home.

When I stepped out of the rented car on my first adult visit to New York, back in 2013, I just felt this overwhelming sense of belonging. Like I understood the city, and it understood me, and we just made sense together.

After that moment, I made it my life's mission to get back. And for a beautiful two years, that's where I lived.

Do you think you'll live in New York forever? my friends would ask. They didn't; they had plans to eventually move to California, or the suburbs. Yes, as long as it makes sense, I responded.

How was I to know it would stop making sense so soon?

I sometimes fear I'm a rat abandoning ship too early. I look at all the times over the years I've moved or quit a volunteer job that was draining me or switched to a better-for-my-health job, and I think maybe I'm a quitter. But at least I wasn't going to quit New York.

Except I did.

I think I don't just miss the city, I miss the person I could dream of being while I was there. I miss the fast-talking, no-crap-taking, power-walking, laughing girl I was when I first got there, the girl I dreamed I would be again in a few weeks, a month, perhaps a year.

Because those people who told me New York would chew me up? 

They weren't wrong.

It is a hard city. It's frantic, and it's massive, and getting from one place to another is a job in itself, and there's little room for screwing up. 

It's a hard city, and it wrung me out and hung me on a line to dry, and I couldn't get back up. 

So I left. And I miss it every day, with nearly every breath. It's constantly on my mind, how much I miss it, how much I want to be back.

But.

But I can't be back. Not right now. The truth is, I can't function the way I did for the last year I lived in New York. I was working 40+ hours a week, plus 6-12 hours of commuting, plus either in a deep depressive episode or else trying to add 15 hours of freelance work, plus having a social life, plus reading, plus sleeping, plus this, plus that...I just couldn't do it. I couldn't afford it, financially or emotionally.

I want to keep looking into the past. I want to keep my eyes trained on New York and plunge ahead speedily with the single goal of getting myself back there. But that's no way to live.

So, as hard as it is, I'm forcing myself to turn my head and look forward. I've decided that I'm going to live in Columbia, South Carolina, for at least the next year. I'm going to commit to a job, an apartment, a cat, a church, a community. I'm going to pour myself into that life and those people and not treat any of it like it's second-best, because right now, it's best. It's the best place for me, and it's the best I can do, and it's my best option, and so it's not second-best. It's first-best.

I'm going to rejoice and "bloom where I'm planted." I'm going to keep my eyes ahead on the horizon, and if it never changes from Columbia, or if I move and travel and have myriad adventures, or if I'm shortly back in New York, I'm not going to look back at what I've given up. I can't afford to keep beating myself up over the past.

Yes, I miss New York. Viscerally. 

But I'm not going to let that stop me any longer.