Most of my posts on here have been about my experiences with traveling, art, and music and how they have moved me. This one is more personal and I hope you’ll indulge the sometimes sporadic emotional highs and lows. Being back in the United States was incredibly eye opening and a true emotional rollercoaster or rather plane crash of emotions. It’s a happy post, but it’s also post that was important and therapeutic for lack of a better word. It’s a piece that I have extended from my column that I write for at http://www.giornaledibarganews.com
After the inevitable 10-hour plane ride back to New York, I then took a bus and countless subways to my friend’s apartment where I would be basing camp while bouncing around the north like a gypsy. I hadn’t seen my family or friends for over three months and the excitement outweighed my jetlag as I lugged my suitcase up a five-floor walk-up in Harlem. Nothing was going to dampen my joy!
I was in “passegiata” mode- something that took me weeks to get into when I arrived in Italy. I had mirror experiences with my walking speed in both countries. Upon arriving in Italy I went for a walk with a friend and while I was bulldozing ahead he lagged behind and eventually we turned to each other in a manner asking what the other one’s problem was. He said, “This is Italy! We stroll. You walk too fast.”
Upon arriving in New York in December, my friend was in a rush for work and said, “ I know you’re in “Italy walking mode”, but remember, this is New York City, baby! I am going to break you of your new habit!”
Another jarring experience was getting re-used to “manners” back in the United States. It was hard adjusting to being in New York City after Italy because you go back into old habits especially on the subway. You do not, and I repeat: Do not make eye contact with people and talking is just completely unacceptable.
So being back you notice that no one wants to talk, everyone is in a rush, food and coffee aren’t savored, but the love remains. Living abroad has made me appreciate the friendships I have maintained halfway across the world even more. Going from residing in a house with some of my best friends to being in a foreign country puts into perspective time difference, lack of telephone communication, and the amount of extra work necessary to preserve friendships.
The next few months of reunions proved to be a tumultuous emotional experience as I was seeing people who I care very intensely about but knew I would not be able to see again for a very long time. Breaking away and coming back was a huge hindrance in my desire to return to Italy once the holidays were over. And this notion was prolonged when I learned there were a few financial obstacles standing in the way.
And then there was the night I found out I had Mono. It was truly akin a tragic scene from a hospital show. After a finally signing up for classes that very morning, I found myself in the Emergency Room at midnight. After about 10 days of flu-like symptoms that I accredited to my (sadly) normal bouts with strep throat, I found myself weeping into the telephone pleading with my nurse to prescribe me painkillers as it now hurt to even breathe. I had never experienced pain this intense in my life and nothing was shaking it, even the copious amount of painkillers I was taking. So against my will, I got into the car with my parents awaited my fate at the hospital.
After two hours and a lot of un-fun tests, the doctor apprehensively entered the room to tell me that I had Mono. Ok, I can laugh at this now because it’s all over and done with, but at that moment I felt as though my entire life was crashing down around me. I literally lay back on the bed and started sobbing. Dramatic, I KNOW!! Thank god I chose a career where I’ll get paid to act like that. But seriously, that moment was just the cherry on top of the pain of being away from Italy for so long, saying goodbye to my friends again in the north, dealing with the pain of moving out of our house, and a whole other host of emotions I was feeling. And the worst part was the doctor looked at me and said, “You cannot sing while you have this”. Ok, bye. I’m going to just really quickly hurl myself from the tallest tower in the vicinity…oh wait, we are in Florida… I couldn’t sing because when you have mono your spleen enlarges and the breath support would put pressure on it, not to mention dealing with the swollen tonsils.
So as I wept my way back to the car and lamented the tragedy that had become my life, I then had to email the school I had signed up for classes with 12 hours ago and my roommate in Italy who was expecting me in the next week and explain what happened. I would have to stay in Florida for at least another month. And then I would be back in Italy with this. Having mono and living in Italy did not seem like a possibility. The currency is kisses. It’s how you get those free drinks and flowers. It’s part of greeting everyone from best friends to strangers. You share everything and if you don’t, you are not part of society. So not only was this going to be a painful and exhausting disease, but it was now prohibiting me from enjoying the culture I had fallen in love with.
I am someone who has always said and always believes that everything happens for a reason. No matter how painful or unnecessary it seems at the time, it seemed that everything in my life up until this point had happened for a reason. In this moment, I could not understand what the hell was going on with the universe, but I felt abandoned. I was in this strange claustrophobic limbo. I was technically at “home” but it wasn’t the “home” I was used to in Connecticut. I was in the United States, but could not see any of my friends because they were all up north, and I could not get back to Italy.
What was this supposed to mean? What was I supposed to learn from this? A couple of weepy days went by…ok more than a couple and I felt like someone had smothered the fire inside of me. I could not think straight and for the first time in my life, I felt truly sad. Being sad has never kept me from anything and has always been a fleeting emotion that came with the loss of a pet or loved one or with saying goodbye to friends after graduation. But it was something that came and went and I could push it aside. This though, this was crippling. And I know it seems like, “Oh, how hard for you, you have never been sad before, welcome to reality”. But as someone who has never felt that emotion so strongly to then suddenly have it hit completely with no friends around to lean on was suffocating.
Finally there was this one-day that the veil felt like it lifted and it happened really abruptly. It was this feeling that there was literally nothing I could do and being upset and anxious over the situation was only going to prolong it. And in that moment, the time began to fly by. I poured every fiber of my being into music. Taking the time to overcome my fear of the piano (don’t ask) and really understand what I needed to do to continue on my journey with this passion. I learned new music, something I had always used coaches and teachers for as a crutch. I sat down and would not leave until I knew it. Then suddenly I was in Miami getting my visa, booking tickets to come back to Italy and planning one last visit up north in New York to see friends.
And then, of course, another issue arose. This time though, it was internal. I had paid for my classes, I had booked my flights, I had received the visa (which was a saga in itself), and I had this new fire burning. And then I realized I had spent every single day with my parents for the past two months. I had never spent that much uninterrupted time with them in my entire life and I very much doubted I would ever do so again. My amazing, supportive, hilarious parents. This was a luxury I had overlooked in my hustle to get out and now I didn’t want to go. This sense of comfort had crept in under the window and slithered into my soul and now I wanted to stay with them and have a “home” and spend my time with them. We all knew that this was not possible. I moved to Italy for a reason and I would not be fulfilling it by living with my parents in Florida. I chose the wrong career to pursue if I wanted stability in my life.
We all silently dreaded and yet celebrated the day I would be leaving to get back to my life. And on my last night in Florida after I said goodnight to my beautiful mom, all wrapped up in her covers and my dad who was diligently working and being the creative genius he is and always has been, I closed the door behind me in my room and cried. But it wasn’t because I was sad. It was because I had this moment of realization that I did not think I would get for a long time. I understood why I got sick and stayed there and everything had fallen into place. I was there to support my parents emotionally as they have done for me my entire life. I always had and still do have them to lean on for anything and everything but they didn’t have anyone. And I helped them through one of the most turbulent emotional stretches of their lives. And I needed to physically be there to do that. Not skyping in from Lucca. When they dropped me off at the airport the next day, through blurred eyes, my mom and I held each other and as we did she whispered to me, “You saved me.” And in that moment, I knew I could let go and continue forward with what I needed to do in my life. She was ok. Dad was ok. The cats were….insane as usual. But everything was where it was supposed to be with their part of the story. I didn’t have to look back because I knew what I would see: the two of them in a much better place emotionally after a big transition and chapter in their lives.
My next week was spent back at my college with friends and teachers -who had now become friends and some of the best I have ever had. And that same uneasy sense of a countdown was looming in every gesture I made. Only four days left, only 3 days left. I leave tomorrow. It was terrifying. I was back in a place that had been my “home” for four years. Where I experienced so many firsts and made friends I will never let go of. I felt unsettled like I had been knocking on doors and couldn’t find the right house for the past six months. “Does this situation fit?” “Is this supposed to be the thing I choose?” “Why does this hurt so much?”. It was unnerving and upsetting.
When the big day came, I was not happy or excited to be going back to Italy. It was almost this fear that being back inside the walls would make me feel claustrophobic because I would be so far away from “home”. I spoke to one of my best friends while I waited for my plane and said, “I don’t know where I am going to be that is going to be right. When I’m in New York with all of you, I miss my family and I miss Italy. When I am in Florida with my family, I miss you guys and I miss Italy. When I am in Italy I miss you guys and my family. There just doesn’t seem to be an answer that completely fulfills me and I will always be missing people”.
Two plane rides and three trains later, I was hearing, smelling, seeing, and feeling things I hadn’t for months. I walked into my apartment and it felt as though no time had passed. I walked through the streets inside the walls that I figured would seem empty and foreign, but my feet knew exactly where they were. I was afraid I would have lost some of my Italian after not being around anyone who spoke it for three months, and yet it was right there at the tip of my tongue aching to be spoken. And then I saw my friends. My wonderful friends who on this rainy March night came into town to make sure I felt at “home”. And I kept debating what “home” meant in my mind.
They say “home” is where the heart is but mine seems to be all over the place. It is with my parents in Florida, it’s in Connecticut with my best friend of 16 years, with my life long friends and mentors from college who live all over the country, it is amongst my friends and colleagues from music summer programs whose bonds are unshakable, my heart is with the amazing people I met on my travels through Europe. My heart did not know where to rest and it felt as though there was a huge strain being put on it. Where would it be happy? Truly happy and fulfilled and with who? Who took precedence in my heart?
But as I sat in this little pizzeria while the rain pounded down outside and I laughed with my friends, the questions seemed to melt away. The jet-lag, the raging emotions that hadn’t subsided yet, the doubts, everything was overpowered by this sense of “home”. I felt right and I felt fulfilled by the culture, the language, the people I was with and decided to be present in that moment and not to miss those I had to say “goodbye” to only a matter of hours before. It is difficult, yes, to constantly live in the present. Impossible even. But the only thing more difficult is spending your time in the past and future and missing everything in front of you. The moments, the people, and the feelings that are happening to you in this moment need to be the most important.
And so, I was “home”. In this moment I finally felt settled and my heart and I felt like we were home…without the quotation marks.