**Ladies and gentlemen, followers of this blog… It’s been almost seven months since I returned home from my study abroad trip to Italy. I wrote the following post in two parts and have been waiting to post it until my Verona post was complete. The beginning was written during my layover at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and the rest was written in the comfort of my home after my jet lag wore off. I apologize for switching from second person point of view to first person, and back to second person again (the jet lag probably hadn’t worn off actually). This isn’t like my usual posts, it is more of a reflection of the whole experience and a recount of the most exhausting 26 hours of my life. This is Coming Home.**
You wake up at five o’clock in the morning thanking God every five minutes that you and the other students arranged for a shuttle to take you to Rome. You won’t have to carry your luggage on the train, which is a major relief. The shuttle takes you to Rome. You have to go to customs and security and you realize that airport procedures are different in each country. Thank goodness you figured out how to get food before the flight.
You’re exhausted and cannot wait to go back to sleep and when you finally board the plane the pilot informs you that the flight has been delayed. The woman in front of you starts screaming and sobbing, announcing that she has severe flight anxiety, which does nothing to ease your own. Another passenger complains to the flight attendant that her overhead light isn’t above her lap and instead is directly above the head of the person directly in front of her. You roll your eyes… she’s a flight attendant not an electrician, deal with it. The couple behind you inquires about the mysterious duct tape and plastic covering the vent above them. The flight attendant scurries to read the incident log from the previous flight. It turns out there was condensation from something that had spilled in the overhead compartment and there was nothing to be concerned about… still other passengers couldn’t stop themselves from inputting their thoughts. “I would hate to be in your seat dude.” Finally, when one of the TVs doesn’t work and everyone flips out you realize it’s going to be a very long flight.
And a very long flight it was. You think to yourself, if only I could see the Duomo of Orvieto one more time. I wonder what it looks like right now. Are the spotlights shining on it? Is it lit up with the golden colors of a sunset? And you wonder about the sunset… what did it look like tonight? Was it like the one you saw on your last night in Orvieto? Did the clouds make for the perfect touches of a painting from God? Dear God… please make this flight go faster. The pilot then makes up one hour in the air.
You go through customs and security again. They “randomly” screen you since you are traveling alone. You have nothing to hide… after all you already went through security in Rome. Just as long as they don’t take away the pasta you brought back everything will be okay. You sit in the airport in Chicago and listen to the man seated next to you. With his cell phone on speaker, he carefully listens to every voicemail that he’s missed in the last month. You think… “Gosh man, why don’t you get an email account or something? Get with the times” after he plays voice message after voice message. Then you realize the guy probably does have an email and it’s likely to be five times as many messages as his voice mail does. Is this what we have to go back to? You can go away and hide from your responsibilities, but when you come back it’s just work, work, work. I get misty thinking about it, but keep reminding myself that I made sure to get all my ducks in a row before I left. I am going home to a great work situation and am lucky to have my position back.
Still you look around and wonder who all these people are… What’s their story? Are they going on an adventure? Or are they going home? Maybe that guy is chasing his dream… or maybe that person is going home to face reality. Suddenly you’re sad again. You chased your dream and now you are going back to the way life was before, except now you are not the same person. What will it be like adjusting? You remember the family that you had just met in the Rome airport. You made small talk and mentioned you wrote a blog. The mother requests if they could have your blog link and you gladly oblige. You realize that this is the new reality. You can share your experiences with others and it will help you grow. Maybe you will rediscover how much you like to talk to people and how much you like to help and teach others. When you were in Italy away from your family and friends and everything that was familiar… you learned how to be alone and be okay with it. You learned to become your own caretaker and your own teacher. You learned who you are.
You get a little misty again… I didn’t think I would miss the hills and the slippery cobblestone streets. And so soon! It’s nice to hear American music being played though… and in English. You order tacos and a beer at a chain restaurant. The same one you ate at with your best friend the day before you left. The beer is twice if not three times the size of the one’s they serve in Europe. The tacos are definitely a taste of home and a nice change from all the pizza and pasta you’ve been eating. But ohhh… pizza and pasta… thin crust and al dente! You remember all the food you ate and all the restaurants you tried. You thank yourself for taking photos of almost every plate. But if only you had taken photos of all the gelato you ate too… those would be some colorful photos!
The ice cream you were served on the plane makes you sick. You ate it not realizing how different it is from what you’ve been eating for the past five weeks. It didn’t even taste good, to be honest… and it killed your stomach. You start to wonder about all the adjustments you will have to make. How do you feed yourself for the next few days? How do you reintroduce chemicals and genetically modified foods back into your system? You eat your tacos and drink your beer in hopes that everything is going to be okay.
As you sit in the airport reflecting, you realize that you need to reset all your clocks and watches. Do you set them for Chicago’s time or for Tucson’s time? Tucson’s time it is. Tucson… You do miss home… more than anything actually. But you got so comfortable in your new life and so proud of yourself for making it on your own. You even got A’s in both your classes without anyone suggesting that you should study instead of going out. You taught yourself how to go grocery shopping and actually enjoyed it. You became creative with your cooking. You even made a habit of maintaining a clean kitchen and bathroom. But then you think about 4th Avenue and Congress. You think about the University of Arizona. You miss your family and you miss your pets and you want to beg your next plane to show up and let you board early!
You remember all the cities you visited and make a mental note that you should travel more within the United States. The only one holding you back is yourself. And since you just realized what a pain in the ass international flying can be, you think… why would you do that so soon when there is so much in your own country that you haven’t seen? Orvieto, Rome, Tivoli, Assisi, Florence, Venice, Verona, Feniglia Beach, Hadrian’s Villa, Tarot Garden, Siena… you always knew that you had to go back to reality sooner or later. You just feel so torn. Like there are two halves of you and each belongs in a different world. The challenge now is to blend your worlds together and learn how to live in both. It just feels like it would be easier if everyone at home got to experience your adventures too… because that would help them understand why and how you’ve changed.
You think about your mom, dad, and sister. And you feel guilty for not acting more excited to be coming home. You reassure yourself that they have to understand what you’re going through. And it could be worse… you could have been so homesick that you went home weeks ago, wasting your money, and failing your summer classes. But you definitely did not expect this. Who are you? Who is the person going home and how will you adjust?
By the time you get on your second flight and a woman sits next to you with her screeching baby, you’ve about reached your limit on exhaustion and frustration. The only thing you can do is fall asleep. You have a window seat… ideal for sleeping on planes. And by this time you’ve been awake for almost 24 hours. Sleep. It’s the only thing you want and just imagine your disappointment when you are abruptly awakened by the flight attendant asking if you want a beverage. I don’t know about you but I think if I saw someone sleeping I would take that as a “No.” As you come to… confused, and foggy… he suggests you move seats so the passenger next to you can put her baby down and drink her beverage without spilling. You’re so out of sorts because you were finally asleep and this man is suggesting you move and rudely mentioning, “I don’t know why you didn’t already think of that.” At this moment you officially HATE American Airlines.
How about the fact that I’m not the one who brought my baby on the plane? And honestly once it stopped screaming in my ear I didn’t mind it at all. I paid thousands of dollars to get my flights in order for the trip and on my last flight trying to get back home I get moved from my wonderful, as comfortable as it gets, window seat, to an isle seat next to Mr. I’m Going To Read My Book For The Whole Damn Flight And Not Turn My Light Off. It wasn’t until after I moved seats that the sleepy haze I was in wore off and I realized I had every right to say, “No” to moving and keep my original seat. I sat there brooding. I was so angry with the flight attendant for not only intruding when we were perfectly fine before the move but also for being so rude about it. The four hours from Chicago to Tucson were far more agonizing than the ten from Rome to Chicago. This was my first sign that I was back in the states. I wasn’t even home and people are already being inconsiderate to each other. As I sat there almost in tears realizing that the woman didn’t even use my perfect window seat to set her baby down I made the decision to never fly American Airlines again. You could call that dramatic but at the time it made total sense. There was this feeling of just not being in control and since I couldn’t do anything in that situation I just had this mental revenge of never flying with them again to hold on to.
So let’s get back to how the whole coming home experience feels. You started the day in Orvieto, your temporary home for the summer. You took a bus to Rome and got dropped off at the airport. The entire situation was disorienting but you made it through customs, got a stamp in your passport, waited a few hours and finally boarded your first plane. The plane got delayed and almost all the passengers seemed like they were crazy. They played three movies… one was good, one was weird, and one was boring. You survive the ten-hour flight and go through customs in the United States. It took two hours. You go through security and recheck your bag and decide to get food. Two tacos, an ID check, and a beer later and you still have two hours to kill. You board your next flight, and it leaves on time. A baby screams in your ear for a half hour. You sleep for a half hour. A flight attendant is rude, makes you feel like you have to move, you actually move, you can’t go back to sleep, you sit in agony for three hours. You actually cry during the flight. By the time you land in Tucson, breathe in the dry air and get your bag from the baggage claim, there they are… your parents whom you haven’t seen in over a month. They stand there with wide eyes and huge grins. You go to them and cry (again). They take you home; you give them gifts from Italy, share stories, and then sleep for twelve solid hours.