the hardest part was getting on the plane

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Reinaldo Martínez, who gave me this prompt:

Have you ever lived out of your home state? If so, write about the challenges of leaving your family, friends, your favorite places and lifestyle behind. If you have not lived away from home, tell us were would you live and how you would manage the mentioned challenges. Of course, you can use fiction, non-fiction and go around this topic as you like.

I challenged K Syrah with the prompt “Oh, I thought you were someone else.”

I was in my third year of college, and I had a choice to make. The fact that I would spend a semester studying in some off-campus program was a given, and really, there were programs in several places that I could’ve gone for, but I’d narrowed my options down to two. Would I do the practical thing and go to New York for an internship at a paper or magazine and get some experience under my belt before I graduated, or would I, as one of my professors suggested, go to Venice to learn Italian and look at art? It was a no-brainer, really. I could gain work experience when I actually got a real job after I graduated, I figured, so hey, four months in Italy? Sign me up! (It turns out that getting a job right after graduation proved to be something of a challenge, and I’m glad I had no idea, or I might’ve opted for the practical choice. I’m sure I would’ve had a great time in New York, but, well, it ain’t Venice.)

I spent the six months before I left (the end of one school year and a summer vacation) getting all the details into place for my move. Going to a foreign country for four months takes a lot of planning. I’m not much into planning. I can plan, but I’d much rather spend my time deliberating and then saying “Ah, fuck it” and jumping into things, and to hell with it: whatever happens, happens. But I had to buy plane tickets and get a passport and apply for a visa. I had to get a good job for the summer so I’d have money when I got there. I had to shop and pack. I had to buy lire so I’d have cash on hand when I got there. It was all a lot, but I managed to get it all done. I spent so much time focused on the details that I didn’t really think at all about the fact that oh yeah, I was moving away to a city that’s a labyrinthine system of islands and bridges in a country where I didn’t speak the language (I figured I’d be fine because I spoke Spanish already and I thought they were close enough that I could muddle through until I started learning stuff in my Italian class, and if not, I had ciao and formaggio straight, so I’d be fine) and I couldn’t just drive places, and I was going to be an ocean away from my family and friends.

Less than a week before I left, I got sick. Miserably sick. I was knocked flat on my back with the flu, and I tried desperately to sleep it off, because what the hell? When I was failing at having a nap, which was often, I had a lot of time for introspection. It went a lot like this: Holy shit, I’m going to Italy, what was I thinking? By the time I got to Detroit Metro for my flight (still drag-ass tired and pathetic, which makes for a great time when flying across an ocean), I was all anxiety. I was flying there with my friend Emily, who would be my roommate when I got to Venice, and as we sat at the gate, I was trying to be cool, but not too far underneath the surface, I was hysterically thinking about just not going. I was sick, I was tired, and I mostly just wanted to be asleep in my own bed. Plus, I’d never been anywhere before, not really. I’d been on roadtrips and there was that one time I flew to Tulsa, but for the most part, I lived in a pretty small world. I was nervous about leaving it. I was nervous about leaving my family and friends, who were (still are) my support system. I didn’t want to leave my dog. And — I feel stupid admitting this, and I’ve never done so before — as I got closer to the day I was supposed to go, I became horrifically emotional. Like over-the-top emotional. It was almost as though I felt like leaving was a death of sorts, because I’d do something and then think “This is the last time I’ll ever do this,” and then I’d cry. See? Ridiculous. But that’s what I was: a mass of anxiety and emotion about to get on an airplane.

There’s this thing about jumping into the unknown: you don’t know what’s going to happen once your feet leave the ground. At 20, I was at my first real jumping-off point. I didn’t want to do it. It suddenly seemed impractical and hare-brained. But when they announced boarding for my flight, I hugged my mom, picked up my backpack, and got on the plane. I found my seat, and instead of turning around and running back to the terminal, I sat down and put on my seatbelt. The plane took off (no turning back then) and that was it. I did it. I moved to Italy for four months.

There were challenges once I got there, of course. I had to walk nearly everywhere, I didn’t bring very comfortable shoes (go figure) and I spent the first two weeks with blisters all over my feet. (ALL OVER. IT WAS HORRIBLE.) I had to learn my way around, which in Venice is an exercise in learning to appreciate the absurd. (Here is how a Venetian gives directions: “Go this way, cross two bridges.” It’s always two bridges, even if, in reality, it’s five bridges or one bridge.) There are cultural differences in the way you order in a restaurant, the way you behave in a store (don’t touch anything! and if you’re buying produce, wear gloves!). I had to learn that it’s okay to elbow people out of my way when walking through a crowd or boarding a vaporetto, just as long as I’d say “Permesso” as I did it. And there were days when I missed home, when I missed my people, when I missed my dog. There were days when I was sick of it all and just wanted to be somewhere else.

But I’m not sure these are challenges specific to being away from the familiar. Sure, some of them were Venice-specific, but the truth is that Venice became home soon enough. I had my regular haunts, my routines. I made friends and had people to talk to and stuff to do. I mailed letters and postcards, wrote emails, made phone calls. Leaving one place for another is really nothing more than a trade, after all.

It was a good trade, and a short one: four months later, I was back in Michigan yet again, and I haven’t left for a significant period of time since. I think about it a lot, but I haven’t gotten around to it, for one reason or another. (I’m getting more motivated, though, because I’m not being dramatic when I say that I honestly don’t know how many more Michigan winters I can stand.) I’m glad I got on that plane. It’s how I learned that Venice is more than the Bridge of Sighs and the sunset view from the Rialto and all those other cliched vacation pictures people take of that city. It’s the scent of decay suddenly eclipsed by the smell of baking bread, and it’s occasional floods, ever-present humidity, weird things floating in canals. Mold and melancholy and winding streets and commuting by boat and the most perfect golden hour light I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It’s hanging your laundry out to dry and subsequently having a pigeon shit on it. Christmas lights hanging ghostly in the fog and the most nonsensical public transportation schedule ever. It’s a lot of things, and I know them as memories, as things that feel like dreams now, and all of it is because I got over myself and got on a plane.


8 thoughts on “the hardest part was getting on the plane

  1. “I can plan, but I’d much rather spend my time deliberating and then saying “Ah, fuck it” and jumping into things, and to hell with it: whatever happens, happens.” It’s like you stole that from my brain…


  2. I really enjoyed your post, it was as if I was there with you through this journey. I’m glad you got on the plane after all 🙂 And I agree with what you said about trading one home for another. I moved to Belfast 3 years ago and when I went on holiday 2 weeks ago, I always referred to it as “home”. A person can have more than homes.


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