WORDS BY RACHEL DEITERDING, ILLUSTRATION BY TERESA LAW
Everyone warns you that it’s painful to leave home, but no one prepares you for how difficult it is to come back.
HOW I LEFT MY HEART ABROAD
THE BIG COUNTRY
STINT IN EUROPE'S PASSENGER SEAT
TRAVELING THROUGH FEELINGS
I spent slightly short of five months away from the grasps or real life in a glorious fantasy land. This was the land of pizza, sausages, napping in the middle of the afternoon and men wearing scarves: Europe. Being on my own and away from home for the first time led to a range of experiences from historical enlightenment to staying out until the trains started running the following morning. You could split my travel adventures into 4 progressive sections - a rise and fall.
The prep, the flash, the moments and the forever. Cohesively they all fit together to create a trip so overpowering that if you blink you could miss it. How paradoxical that in retrospect I can refer to my trip in this way. Yet, It couldn’t be more true, when something so life altering occurs you can’t help but sit, reflect and wonder if it was a dream, if you’re still dreaming and if you’re even alive. That might be a slight exaggeration, but when something makes you question time itself you know that it’s the real shit.
The journey began once I had been grasped by the surreality that I was about to pack everything I owned, everything I knew, into a tiny little bag and take off, all alone, to a strange place, leaving my old life to float in a much translucent way back home, awaiting my return. Yet, there’s not much more I could do but myself into the into the unknown and hope for the best.
II. The Flash
There were many moments that made the trip feel real, but only two moments where everything built to be one great big smack in the face. The first was the moment the world I had previously known slipped right out from under my feet and collided with that of the european oasis that is France. Real life dissipated and then swelled into something entirely new and beautiful, separate from the life I lead before. The experience was more than I could ever ask for but, despite the beauty, my first moments in France were really an over-tired mess consisting of me trying to figure out how french doorbells work, ending in me crying alone in a steel bunk bund nestled in the outskirts of Paris. But I mean hey, when it hits ya it hits ya.
The second moment of abrupt realization followed the security of having a home in France and the euphoria of visiting old friends. Naturally lows follow extreme highs, my low happened to be crying on the top bunk of a dirty hostel in Cologne with four complete strangers, all too uncomfortable to ask if I was ok.
The thing about these moments that made me so emotional I transformed into a teary mess is that those were the moments when I knew things were happening. I could feel the world changing beneath my feet and me lurching along with it as I navigated my way through my adventure. As overwhelmed as I felt in those moments, the hunger for adventure and to explore eventually overtook feelings of sadness or fear. These are the moments of transformation that now allow me to say that this trip was the best few months of my life.
III. The Moments
I experienced more diversity and culture than I ever expected to. We place Europe on this pedestal in North America, yet somehow I expected there to be little change. I learned very quickly the best way to learn about the world, and in turn to learn about yourself, is to launch into something unfamiliar. So that is what this is, the unfamiliarity and the memories I will hold in the deepest corners of my heart for the rest of my life.
I’m prepared to list pages and pages of events, but I know that as interesting as the details of my adventure where, most of those memories will fade. On the flip side there were a selection of moments that I know I will never be able to let go of, that still pull a cord or two to look back on. These memories, the ones that taught me something, the ones that scared me or made me laugh until I thought my sides would split, those are the memories worth remembering and recounting.
1. reunited with your bestfriend in paradise, an ode to weezer
Travel comes with a learning curve, whether it’s learning to deal with, or ignore homesickness, getting on the wrong train or falling into a tourist trap, each deviance teaches you an important lesson. Leaving my family and friends was nothing I could have imagined myself doing before this trip. The real moment I realized that all of this worry and anxiety I had before leaving was for nothing struck me when I was reunited with one of my very best friends after five months of being apart.
Although I had chosen to ignore it, I was terribly afraid of drifting apart from my friends, being forgotten and falling off the edge into some unknown solitary world. All of my worries evaporated in a single car ride and a karaoke session. Not everyone gets to experience the gift of an amazing friendship. I discovered very quickly, from the very first moments of an excited hug, that real friendship, true and unwavering love knows no time or distance. As corny as it sounds, it’s true. The people who are worth your time will wait and follow you wherever your life takes you. As I climbed into a very adorable red European car I can remember smiling and putting on Island in the Sun while soaking in the heat, the wind, the never ending blue of the ocean and letting the smallest sigh of relief escape from my lips. As much as people tell you not to worry about whatever it may be, there nothing more satisfactory than feeling your greatest fear be disproven.
2. “Central Station”
If there is any one quality I could pick to sell myself to other people it would be my ability to stay calm in a time of crisis. I like to the think that no matter the situation I can hold it together pretty well. As calm, cool and collected as I like to think I am, you are never prepared for every obstacle life is going to throw at you.
If you have ever even glanced at a map of Berlin you will know that it is very large. Like very very large. As a result, there are many transit points throughout the city, including many stations dubbed “central station”. Evidently this can easily cause some accidental hiccups, including realizing you have come to the wrong station, impossibly far from the one you were actually supposed to go to. In the moment, my reaction was far from what I would have expected it to be. I could feel my stomach trying to fit it’s way into my throat and my heart was racing 10x faster than after running a sprint, but at the same time it felt like it had ceased beating at all. I felt stranded, alone, and beyond disappointed that I had royally fucked up. After passing an alarmingly long time paralyzed by defeat and fear in the center of a bustling station, I sought out some wifi, bought new tickets and was back in business. Although I was shocked at my reaction, the unexpectedness also helped me to reevaluate the way in which I had been looking at myself. Once I could breathe again, I pulled myself out of the fantasy I had created and re-booted. I forced myself to remember that in new situations you never know how you are going to react and that’s half the fun of it. That I am only human and that this was real life.
3. bikes and an airport picnic
There is nothing more Berlin than an abandoned airport and there’s nothing more relaxing than a picnic with a close friend. After a long day of biking around Berlin, my friend Amy and I laid out a spread of meats, cheeses and breads to enjoy a wonderfully European picnic. Once we got started the sun had begun to set and it burned like fire against the tarmac of the runway. The sky started to bleed purple from the center and was dotted with kites or children and adults alike. As the world continued to swirl around us we were swallowed by a bubble that lifted us up and settled us comfortably in the clouds, away from anything in the world that surrounded us. As we ran our fingers through the long grass and ripped our way through a fresh baguette, we talked about the surreality of the situation. How had two girls who had known each other since we were 9 or so ended up eating a sausage on the runway of a German airport. Adulthood planted itself on my shoulders, that’s how we had gotten here, we had grown up. Suddenly we had become these two independent women who were defined by so much more than the constraints that we had confined ourselves to at home. Here we had no definition. Here we were whoever we wanted to be. Here we were the girls opening beer bottles with our bike lock keys and it felt so overwhelmingly German.
4. CTF in the english garden and one of the most important conversations I will ever have
Meeting friends while travelling is different than any other types of friendships. There is nothing quite like the bond you can form with someone you know you only have a few days with. As a result, I may have made some of the strongest friendships I may ever have in the matter of days. There is something so overwhelming about putting a timer on friendship, yet at the same time it’s so liberating. All of a sudden you can share anything, any memory, and secret and you know it will be kept within the confines of you and your newfound mate.
Although I met many amazing people I hope I will cross paths again, I shared one especially memorable dinner with a fellow traveller from the US. After a day together, our dinner conversation moved from our favourite pass times, to some of the darkest most personal moments we’ve had ever had in our lives. These are moments I would struggle to even tell my closest friends. But that night, they came out fluidly, almost as if they had been rehearsed to a man I had known for about 24 hours. The best part of the entire experience was his answer. The caring words that he shared forever imprinted on me forever and filled my heart all the way up to the top. There are amazing people out in the world, just waiting for you to find them and as heartbreaking as it is to leave them, there is something so exciting and intoxicating that comes with finding these spectacular connections that remind you what being human is all about.
5. falling even more in love with forever friends and the train platform goodbye
The most enthralling moments of my trip were those that I was able to spend in Germany with a dear friend and others in their hometown. I have so much thanks for all of the events in my life that led up to me being able to share all those moments with such an amazing group of people that I’m confident will be in my life for years to come.
My last few moments in Germany were spent on a train platform and in the moments of the goodbye - the real final seconds of having a tangible Lars in front of me I realized how important the people on the other side of the world had become to me and how lost I would be if they hadn’t come into my life. In those moments my heart grew two sizes and then shrunk back by the punch of despair that rolled in with the screeching of train brakes. From the train window, I looked back out to the empty train platform that stretched on beside me and gave a little smile, knowing that if Lars had still been standing there my emotions may have been too much. As I watched the platform fade farther and farther away, all of the unforgettable surges of emotion pulled at my heart from every direction then came to halt all at once. At the same time that I felt absolutely everything, I felt nothing. How could I look back out on an ending adventure and feel nothing but empty. I swear I dropped all my feeling on the train platform before mounting the stairs, so even just the smallest part of me could remain in this place I had come to feel like was my home. I found myself thinking, as I watched the French countryside roll by me in waves, how could I let myself leave all of this behind?
VI. The Forever
As fast as a good thing comes, it ends. I expected to be met with relief when coming home, but relief is not at all what I was met with as my plane descended to deliver me back to my ridiculously western life. The following is what I wrote from my window seat as the familiar outlines of the city became clear to me: “We flew out of the clouds and my city appeared below, the lake, the tower, a sea of familiarity. I was hoping to feel relief or a welcoming warmth, but instead I felt like nothing but a stranger. The feeling was similar to what I had when landing in any other country, except this time the pit in my stomach wasn’t filled with excitement, but something closer to dread, something that made me want to look back over the 6500km I had just travelled. Even with the CN tower poking out from my spot in the clouds I feel a twinge of sadness for familiarity. This was not the type of familiarity I had been longing for. Everyone warns you that it’s painful to leave home, but no one prepares you for how difficult it is to come back.”
Even reading that back months after coming home my heart still gets all pinched, a lump forms in the base of my throat and I can feel myself back in that plane seat. I’m not sure I will ever stop longing for those beautiful moments that went by all too quickly. At this point, I don’t even feel like they were real. How are those stories my stories, how was that my life? Now I am so regular, so average, so me, but so not me at the same time. I am a version of myself. I am no longer the me that was terrified to travel but at the same time I am no longer the me that was searching for every ounce of adventure I could get. I am this new hybrid version of myself that is somewhere in the middle and I’m not too sure how I feel about that.
What I do know for sure is that travel is the most amazing and influential thing I will ever choose to do. The heartache I am left with, that will forever linger in my adventure hungry chest, will continue to remind me why we live, why we learn, why we travel, why we feel and why we choose to explore. Each moment we live, each step and each decision we take is a lurch into the future and all these things build us into the people we are today. We are each in control of redesigning our own lives, it’s up to each of us to grab the reins and chase our greatest dreams, even if we can only manage to hang on for a second.
Now, after the fact, I will never stop reflecting, but for now I’m baffled by how this insane adventure has challenged my understanding of time. How I feel like those five months were a lifetime, but also only a mere second that passed all too fast. I’ve done all these things, but now, back home, I feel like it’s possible that none of it could have happened. All I’m left with is memories and facebook messages from people I wish I could still embrace.
the end, for now.
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