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.

When You Love But Have to Leave

My immense and abiding love for Trieste should be no secret to anyone.

And if you didn't know before: I adore Trieste, Italy, with a fierce passion, almost tantamount to that I hold for New York City. Yeah. It's that real. 

I love her (because of course Trieste is a she) in all her forms, in every mood and shade, through sunset and sunrise and rain and sun. I love her yesterday, today and tomorrow. I love her with every fiber of my being.

It feels like I've always loved Trieste, but I know empirically that isn't so; we were supposed to move to a city called Ravenna, and I resented Trieste for replacing Ravenna. And yet. Almost from the second I stepped foot on th ground in this city, I fell for her. 

Trieste is the most beautiful city I know. She shines for me. She soothes me. When my mind is in turmoil and my heart won't stop pounding, I walk down to the Molo, stride to the edge of the pier, and breathe in. I look out across the water, then turn around and take in the sights of my city, and everything settles inside of me.

She's been through a lot. She was in constant battle with Venice, ruled by the Austro-Hungarian empire, taken over by Yugoslavia after World War II, then spent years under Allied occupation before Italy finally, finally, returned to her in 1954.

I was here in 2004, when the city gathered in the main plaza to celebrate the 50th anniversary of "Italy's return to Trieste." 

This city hums with life and humor. It's the architecture, the street design, the water, yes, but it's also the people who live here.

Triestini are vibrant, hilarious, spontaneous, adventurous. They love life, and I love them. 

I've spent three months here and yes, there have been rough patches, but man, oh, man, do I ever, ever, ever, adore this city! 

And I have to say goodbye to it.

I've been coming to terms with it slowly for the past month or sol.

It's good, I said, because I need to go back to having my own space; living under my parents' roof for such a long time, after at least six years of independence, has been difficult for all three of us. 

Or maybe, I thought, it's good because I need to see a doctor. I need a therapist. I need a routine, stability, a job.

I've made up reasons for why I'm happy to leave! Books! Getting a car! Seeing friends! Okay, these aren't all "made up," but they're not so much reasons why I'm happy to leave as reasons why it's okay that I have to leave.

Because if I weren't being upbeat and positive and thinking about all the reasons it's good, I'd be devastated. Unable to move or think or act or do because I only have four days left. Just four! That's so few.

I love this city with everything in me.

But I have to go. Right now, my future isn't here. Maybe someday it will be; maybe it'll always be a part of my future but not the whole; maybe in a year I'll be back permanently. I honestly don't know anything other than that for right now, I need to be in South Carolina. I feel called there, not just because there's a doctor but because I feel the need to be in my country while it's in such turmoil. 

This isn't a political post, though, so I won't get into that. I'll just say: there are reasons I have to leave. There are reasons I'm even, perhaps, excited to leave.

That doesn't make my love any less fierce, any less real.

I will miss walking into a bar (coffee shop), ordering a "Capo in B" and drinking my espresso macchiato out of a glass. I will miss pizza nights. I will miss inhaling the salty scent of the sea. I will miss the way the air feels different here, the way life runs just a little more leisurely, the way Italian rolls off my tongue. I will miss the high school and university kids from English Club; I'll miss the boys I babysit; I'll miss their parents and mine; I'll miss my middle school best friends. I will miss the sunset streaming through my windows and my spacious bedroom and the idiosyncrasies of life here, like how the heat can only be on for 14 hours a day and if you turn on the microwave while the dishwasher is running, the power goes out. 

I'm gonna miss it so, so much. My heart is breaking.

But I have to go. 

I'll love you forever, Trieste. Hold me in your heart while I'm gone.

And Hungary Makes 23...And Never Enough

Listen, I've got to be the most competitive person out there...got to be, because if I'm not, I'll fight whoever is until I win. Aha! I win! 

See?

Anyway, I get competitive about the smallest things, because I end up finding my self-worth in the smallest things. And I know that my true worth is found in Jesus and his love for me...I know that. I just don't always understand or believe it, ya know? 

So I look for worth in other things. I look for worth in how much I stand apart and stand out from others; in middle school, I feared I didn't have a personality, feared I was just a living, walking, talking carcass, so I found my worth in doing things and being things that made me stand out.

One fact about me that isn't true for a lot of people is that I'm an MK. A TCK. A kid who grew up in a foreign land. That sets me apart, makes me special, you know? Not everyone can say that. 

And one special thing about the land I grew up in is that it's incredibly easy to travel from there to other lands...so I've traveled a lot.

The view from our apartment in Hungary, Country 23.

The view from our apartment in Hungary, Country 23.

In fact, as of this past weekend, I've visited 23 countries on three continents. 

If I look at it objectively, that number is big. Impressive, even.

When I look at it subjectively, it's not big enough, not impressive enough. It's too small. It's the one thing about me that makes me stand out from the crowd, and it's not enough. To be really spectacular, I would have to have visited 30 countries by now! I would have to have been to more countries than my parents and grandparents, I would have to have been to all the continents and done all the things and be recognized in the freaking Guinness Book of World Records for most countries visited at a young age.

That's never going to happen. 

My chances at being a prodigy get smaller with every year that passes. At this point, I don't just mean a traveling prodigy...I also mean a writing prodigy. A humor prodigy. A friend prodigy. An anything prodigy. 

I want to be the best, because I believe that if I can achieve the peak of something, I will finally have earned back my years of consuming oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. 

So my mom and I went to Hungary last week. It's about a 3.5 hour car ride from Trieste, and we stayed in a small, cheap little resort town during the off-season. We ate at the restaurant across the street from us and were disappointed by how much sugar was in the pastries at the No Sugar Caffe and Bar. We swam in thermal and mineral waters and a large Hungarian man massaged my back. It was lovely. It was a personal record, 23 countries in 24 years. 

It wasn't enough. 

It will never be enough.

The truth is, nothing will ever be enough to fill the void in my heart that's desperate for purpose and value. Nothing human, nothing physical or material, nothing temporal.

I know in the depths of my heart that the only way to feel like I'm truly fulfilled is to turn to God and find my worth there. The only one who have fulfill me is the one who created me.

I just don't know how to get to that place.

So I travel. I write. I try to make people laugh and get likes on Instagram and subscribers on YouTube. I do everything I can.

But it'll never be enough.

I want to be the best. Will being loved and created by The Best ever satisfy me?

It has to.

There Are Things About Italy a Photo Won't Capture

There are things that are impossible to replicate in a photo, things you could photograph but never fully capture.

There are stories in the squeak of the wood in my parents' home, stories about how this house is more than 100 years old and even before we moved in, 13 years ago, there were little boys and girls who ran giggling down the 17-meter-long hallway festooned with doors to bedrooms. There were other angsty teenagers and sorrowful 20-somethings who made this place their home.

There are memories in the turn of the street as I walk past the school I attended for three years, that corner retail space that's always been empty and I daily used to see how my hair looked, whether my jacket made me seem fat. There are memories in the smell of urine on that other corner and the creak of the buses as they pull to a stop and wearily settle down to let passengers off.

There is heartbreak in the spare white room where we had church, decorated with homemade art and spare instruments and the ghost of a fleeting long-lost crush. There is the knowledge that this may be a country of grand cathedrals with soaring spirals, but it's also a country of rented ex-garages where we worship just as well.

There is the grocery store, which I could but shouldn't photograph (because it would be weird), where they sell white bread with the crusts already cut off because tramezzini is a thing we make on the reg; there are the brands of chocolate bars and cookies I can only dream of in America; there is the ringing out of Italian words and the smell I can't explain, neither bad nor good, that I've never once sniffed out in an American grocery store.

There is history in every walk, and yes I could take a picture but it wouldn't truly capture the moment, so fraught with today's concerns and yesterday's recollections and all the days before that.

I can't, through the lens of my iPhone, capture the length of the Viale, the sprawl of the Adriatic on the Molo, the sparkle of Piazza dell'Unita' when the sun shines or the darkness falls. 

I keep trying to take pictures only to find that a bus pulled up and blocked the view, or the fog turned it bluish, or you can see the food but not the backstory, or, or, or...always something lacking, some message that can't accurately be conveyed.

Even my camera, that trusty ole trucker I've had since the summer of '12, can't show everything. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, but there are things that two thousand, twelve thousand, a million words could not convey.

  • The sound of someone speaking Italian. I could write a million articles...except I can't, because the feeling I get in this moment is transcendent, incandescent, impossible to transcribe.
  • The click-click-click of the gas stove alighting to make the coffee. The warmth in my spirit at the sudden transportation to winter afternoons when the cold air filtered through the floorboards and nothing could warm us but coffee or tea and so click-click-click, on came the stove.
  • The feeling of connectedness that comes with hearing every vehicle on the road out front, the sound of a motorcycle revving reigniting the frustration from years back when the motorcycle repair shop was right in front and vroom vroom vroom haunted my dreams.
  • The knowledge that this peninsula, and especially Trieste, has ruined me for landlocked areas, because when I'm not within an easy walk of viewing water I am claustrophobic, antsy, annoyed.

I have 19 years' worth of memories; a lifetime of being here or missing here; an existence inexplicably interwoven with this space, this feeling, this people. 

There are some things words can't convey. There are some things you just have to experience. Things you have to see and smell and taste and love for yourself. Things you have to come to Italy to understand.

That's all this blog post is, really, a long-winded way of saying, sorry my pictures are crap, please just come visit me in Italy and fall in love like I did. ;)