when all is said and done / 2016.

We all do a balancing act between our personal and public lives. On a global scale, this year has been tough for so many different reasons. It’s hard to say whether this year is cursed or not, or if all years are like this and we’re just being ~dramatique~. Either way, it’s been hard, globally speaking. And it looks like it’s only going to get worse from here, as Donald Trump clatters into the White House in January. So, fun!

New Year’s is easily the most stressful holiday – it’s an arbitrary line between one year and the next, when in reality, one year ends and the next begins every day. The internet’s looking back on 2016 (I saw someone make it into a horror movie, which was extra but also funny) and I couldn’t help but look back on my own year.

Which, on a personal level, was one of those years where a lot of stuff happens. I did a lot of traveling, made new friends, and met my girlfriend. For the first 4.5 months of the year, I was in Italy, drinking wine, taking trains to faroff cities, and stuttering through Italian 101. Even though I look back on it fondly, my second semester abroad had a dubious beginning, because I was unwilling to let go of how great 2015 had been.

In the beginning of 2015, I had to go to my school’s home campus for the first time, and spent January and February in kind of a depressed fugue, hating it all. But I broke up with my boyfriend, the snow melted, and I started going to the gym. Everything looked up fairly quickly. Even though I had a summer job at an insurance company, which I hated every minute of, the fall semester ended up being fantastic. I got to live with two of my closest friends in the world. And I made the decision to study abroad again based on the fact that they were both going to also be in Europe – one in Dublin, one in Barcelona.

I’m not saying that I closed my eyes and pointed to a map, but essentially, that’s what I did. I ended up in Perugia, enduring cold temperatures and a surprisingly rainy winter, wondering why the hell I had chosen to come there at all. I had been having so much fun at my home campus with my friends. I liked my classes and professors. I was getting involved. So being in Perugia, where I didn’t have any friends and had no clue what was going on, felt like a total displacement. I cried to my mom on the phone every night for the first week, saying that I should have been in Barcelona, with my best friend from school, or at the home campus. It felt like that was where my life was.

I was lonely. Lonelier than I’d been in a long time. I started to make friends, but the friendships were new and fragile, not as rich as the ones I had back home with girls I’d met during my first semester abroad. The weather wasn’t what I had expected it to be (Italy is a Mediterranean country, right?!) and traveling didn’t turn out to be as easy as I had hoped. I didn’t speak any Italian. At all. I felt utterly unprepared.

As the weeks wore on and I continued to be in Italy, it became increasingly clear that being unhappy wasn’t going to change my situation at all. My friends and family were thousands of miles away. I was alone – grocery shopping, walking home from class, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner utterly alone. No one was coming to my rescue. No one was going to hold my hand through this.

So I held my own hand. I started to meditate in the hopes that I could use this newfound loneliness – and freedom, if I squinted – to become more chill. It didn’t work that well, because my mind kept wandering which frustrated me endlessly. But the fact that I was trying made me feel good. I bought a notebook and took it everywhere I went; I wrote a poem about a sunset that made me cry, which was…a weird moment. But that cry was necessary, I think. I started experimenting – a little – with cooking. I went to a weird cafe where I sat on a lumpy velvet couch, drank hot tea, and watched what they were playing on the small TV – which was weird videos of men in fur hats doing decidedly strange things. At one point, one of the men rode another man into space.

It felt good to help myself. I didn’t have to worry about anyone else, just myself, so I did what would make me feel better. And slowly, it did help.

Until I went to Dublin. I was there for less than 48 hours with the two friends I had lived with in fall 2015. I had missed them so much, and seeing them was great until it wasn’t – until I was sobbing at a train station in Italy because I was going back to Perugia, and the loneliness. Seeing my friends had helped only in the short-term, but I was on my own again, with just my backpack and my shoes. I ended up writing this poem as a response to the uniquely awful experience of crying alone on a train platform in the middle of nowhere, Italy. Oh – and it was Valentine’s Day.

I met myself on a train platform.
I asked where she was going;
She said she doesn’t know
Funny, I laughed —
     Neither do I.

After a moment she decided
She knew after all.
“I’m going to find myself,”
She said,
And it sounded as good a destination as any
So I marched Converse to ticket booth
And asked for a ticket to me.

A few days after that, I went to a birthday aperitivo for one of my friends. After some sangria and a strawberry colada, I found myself dancing through the cobblestone streets to a gelateria with Kayla (who is now my girlfriend) and two other friends. Inside the gelateria, I picked up a paper heart left over from Valentine’s Day and asked if any of them wanted to be my Valentine.

Kayla said she did, and a few days later we were on our way to Florence to begin our complicated relationship. (Note: we didn’t go to Florence with this express purpose, but shit happens.) The Florence trip – February 20-21 – marks the end of my Homesickness. (Homesickness with a capital H as a permanent state of being, versus homesickness, which involves a passing sigh or two and possibly a tear shed every few weeks.)

It’s not super hard to figure out why my Homesickness went away. I was beginning something new and exciting with Kayla, and I didn’t have a lot of time to worry about the fact that I was in the “wrong place” when I was worrying that I would get drunk at the wine tasting and tell her I was like, super into her, or something embarrassing.

The moral of this is not that romance will cure all ills, because it won’t. But what did happen after Florence is I started going places more. I would meet Kayla and get gelato. I’d ask our group of friends if anyone wanted to get dinner. I went on weekend trips with my new friends. I spent hours laughing in Kayla’s kitchen, making spaghetti with meat sauce and eating raspberries.

So bad shit ends. It always does, it’s in its nature, thank God. And whether you have to meditate your way out of it, or start kissing a pretty girl in an Italian sunset, or write a whole bunch of poetry until results, you’ll find a way through.

I left Italy at the end of the semester, and Kayla flew back to Colorado while I returned to Pennsylvania. She visited me, then I visited her – twice. This summer I also went to Mexico and California. I took a lot of solo plane trips, which I’ve grown to hate a little less than I did in January. I wore out my old shoes and had to buy a new pair, which was its own little tragedy. I felt independent, zigzagging the continent alone a bunch of times.

And then after all that traveling, I came back to my home campus after 9 months away. Remember – this is the place I’d spent so much time missing in Italy. But my living situation was new, and most of my closest friends were gone. I was ambivalent about my classes. I found myself spending a lot of time alone… Again. My girlfriend was doing the same thing over a thousand miles away, in Boulder. I missed the past and all that jazz.

But I’d learned my lesson. I decided to start going to counseling, which was free so why not? It was a relief to finally address my anxiety and OCD with someone who wasn’t a blank journal page. I spent long hours in the library reading. I started watching Buffy and going to the gym again. I threw myself into classwork. I went places with my new roommates. Thanksgiving break came faster than I thought, and I got to see my girlfriend after 100+ days of separation. Then finals happened and the semester was over. I’d survived.

So, 2016 was weird for me. It was a good year, ultimately, even though I had to chase my own happiness all alone several times. And if I had to sum it all up in a nice bow and say how I changed, what I learned, etc – which I don’t have to do, but I’m too sentimental not to – I’d say that it’s this: Your life is wherever you are – it isn’t something you can accidentally catch a plane away from. And the past is best to be left alone. Don’t think too much about it and don’t compare your life now to your life then. You aren’t who you were then anyway. You’re new and cool and you can definitely find a path to your chill, no matter how many Italian hills you have to climb to get there.

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