Things haven’t started out quite as I’d planned.
When I first started thinking about taking this trip, I remembered the days I’d spent walking along cypress-lined roads in Assisi; the caprese salad I often made myself in my brilliant apartment that looked over all of Florence; the happy walk to classes along the Arno. I was happy, content, and delighted to be in such a world.
I did not think about the incredible displacement, loneliness, and fear I felt when I first arrived. Guess which emotions came first.
Ha! Fooled you. It was actually the first batch. But they only lasted a few hours until I was all alone in the hostel dorm, looking out the caged window at tall buildings that shielded my window from light. I felt like this trip was a mistake. What made me think that I could travel alone?
I’m such a homebody. My parents graciously let me live with them this past year after I graduated from college. My parents are a large reason I am on this trip—I was able to save the money to do it thanks to their generosity. But I also lived with them because they’re great people and I love our home. I love banging through the sometimes-there screen door and seeing my dad. I love walking up the path to see Emma, our beagle, scratching at the window like I’ve been gone for a thousand years. I love seeing my mom at work through her office window. I love the sound of our laughter combined. I love home.
Here, there is no home. I was reading a shitty travel writing book a couple of weeks back and the author claimed that his view of home was where “one spent the night.” I do not function under the same reasoning. Sure, home is where the heart is. But home is also where I go to cry, to bake, to cook with my dad, to play on the floor with Emma, to lean against my mom on the couch as we watch TV. More aptly, home is my heart.
Here, there is a desk for checking in. There is a decent kitchen with hot plates. There are rooms stuffed with beds and overflowing backpacks. There is a bathroom with a row of sterile white sinks. This is where I spend my nights, but it’s not home.
And so, I found myself typing through my tears to my boyfriend, my mom and dad, anyone who would entertain my tears. Why was I feeling this way? Why wasn’t I joyful and excited to be here?
I am alone here. Being alone is not a very common state for me, and never for more than a few hours. Loneliness is rarely something I feel.
Plus, as familiar as this city is to me, it is still foreign. While I understand the language, it is not my own. I am alone here.
After a fitful night of sleep, I woke up and did my best to start the day well. I ate with the German girls I’d met the night before. They hadn’t been to the epic Piazzale Michelangelo, and we walked up there together, the sunshine on our faces. I took them to the train station so they could be on their way to Nice. And then, alone, I went to the English bookstore. I found it with no problem, and went inside. A few of the first books I saw were titled Loneliness and Loneliness as a Way of Life. Perfect.
But then I met some girls that go to my former school in Florence, and I wound up giving them my email. We talked about getting dinner and maybe doing some yoga.
I read in Piazza Republica. I walked to the Italian bookstore. I people watched.
Finally, the familiar feeling of being happy amidst chaos and unfamiliarity came back. Just a little, but the tense knot in my chest had loosened a little. I finally was able to feel why I’d come back and what I’ve been looking forward to the past two years since I left.
This trip isn’t about being comfortable. It’s the exact opposite. This is a challenge for me. I am not good at being entirely alone. I am not good at navigating train stations and timetables. I am not good at eating alone in hostels.