Ten Realizations From A Three-Month Trip

(Photo taken from atop the Kanonenplatz; Freiburg Stadt)

I remembered that night when I was packing the last of my things in, and we had to rush at eight in the evening to beat the traffic.  It was already raining that day, as if the sky mourned with me.  I couldn’t stomach the thought of being alone — in a country with a foreign language, with no friends, and my family was definitely not going to be there.  I revisited that feeling when I arrived home, on the first day of my encounter with jet lag.  It still brought tears to my eyes, and my heart constricted the way it did on August the first. 

But three months after, I was back.  And while I went through some great and not-so great times when I was away, I’d like to think the great outweighed the bad.  I could honestly say so.  And I wish I had the diligence to narrate every single day that happened, but we all know that just can’t be (unless I write a memoir, hehe) so in classic internet listography, I present to you the ten things I learned while I was away.

1 People may have broken me, but the solution to that is not withdrawal.  It’s openness.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this.  March, specifically, was the most emotionally tumultuous month this year.  I promised myself that 2014 would be the year of happiness, and where else could I find that except in the circles I was familiar with? But imagine losing eight of the very people I thought I could depend on, both to betrayal and broken promises.  I have forgiven two, but those are about the only people I could really think of mending fences with.  What person wouldn’t go ballistic over that? And to think the dead was the only heavy real loss people go through.  No one ever talks about the death of the living.

My friends saw a side of me I never realized I had: withdrawal, self-blame, and self-pity.  All I could talk about was the boy who left me when he promised he wouldn’t, about the unexplained reasons why the friends turned their backs against me.  I would find myself crying in the night’s silence, wondering what I did wrong to deserve such treatment from the people I placed my trust on.  Even I was tired of that person I was becoming, but the thing about this kind of sadness is the wallowing is addictive.  It gave me so many excuses just to lie on my bed and to see the world in a darker shade of gray, as if the world punished me in some way.  But again, the world owed me nothing.  It has no debt to humankind except to rotate around the sun, in the same exact place for four billion years, and to exist.  That’s it.  It provides, but it is not my friend.  It is art, but it does not paint a picture for humans to enjoy. 

And when I was told I was going on this trip, I thought it was another way of letting me go, of breaking me off with the life I was familiar with.  I resented my parents, to be honest, I really did.  Call me spoiled, call me irritating but what I went through just mixed with a decision I did not make on my own.  But upon my arrival there, I met some of the greatest people — in Germany, in London, in Switzerland, in France, and in Italy — who taught me different things.  I was caught between the extreme age groups: the seniors (the elders) and the young ones (babies to almost-teenagers).  The young ones taught me to run around, to get off my phone, and to see life through the natural lens — my eyes.  And the elderly ones taught me that while I had seen a lot life had to offer, it’s still not enough.  It will never be enough.  Life was too much to quantify.  There’s just so much to it.  And instead of withdrawing in my room, I began to open myself to whatever these countries had to offer.  Let me tell you, there was beauty beyond Snapchat.  At least when you stare at the sun, it doesn’t delete itself instantly after ten seconds or so.  It slowly sets and rises, as is its purpose.

2 There is peace in solitude. 

I can never be left alone — I can tell you that.  I actually shake and hide away when I am not in the company of a friend.  It was pretty difficult doing things by myself during the first few weeks of my stay, knowing that I was constantly watched over and accompanied by the people in my life. But I never really appreciated the peace behind lying down in my bed alone, reading the next chapters of my novel or cleaning my closet with acoustic Taylor Swift on.  There was a silence that wasn’t so haunting.  It was a silence that pushed me to relax, to let go of any negative thoughts that were sinking me slowly at the back of my mind. It was a silence that begged me to shut my eyes and to shut off the words that hurt me, that woke me when I was not supposed to. 

It was not loneliness, but solitude.  I knew the difference slowly, when I began to go to the gym by myself, when I ran errands, and when I went to my different classes.  It was the biggest test I had to go through, and yet as the months turned to weeks, I appreciated the moments when I was by myself, when I could finally silence the mind that wouldn’t shut up.  It was a slow process, and I still cling onto certain people, but at least I know I’m capable of being by myself now.

3 Vicarious living is beautiful if it were in books, but a vicariously lived life is not a life that is worth living the whole way through.

Imagination is my strong suit, and is a place most people would run to in a heartbeat.  But even words cannot fully describe the beauty of a place or the experience of running after a punctual train or a bus (12:47 is 12:47, after all).  Words are beautiful by themselves, but are limited.  It isn’t enough to read about the punctuality of the Germans or the clear-as-glass lakes of Switzerland, you have to see it.  You have to experience it.  You have to experience life that is not found on the screen.  And coming from someone who has her nose in a book constantly, this totally rings true.

4 All the pills in the world do not have a 100% cure guarantee.  At least not in the way time does.

If I could take a Paracetamol or something legal that could have taken the hurt away from me, I could.  If I could do what was advised of me — to move on and to forget — I could have.  Although, everything is always easier said than done. 

“Move on, man.  He’s not worth it.”
“Sure, yeah, moving on.” I reply, as I scan his Facebook profile for the 100th time.

“Why are you still so hung up? He clearly does not care about you.  Stop talking about him.”
“I know, I know,” I bury my head in my hands.  “But remember that time he…”

Advice, like pills/tablets/medicine, are taken in doses.  Everyone can give me an A-Z list of recommendations on how to get over this, how to move on from a mistake, etc but why does it take more than the recommended time I set myself on? It’s because while time moves too fast, it is the greatest healer.  At least for me.  No matter how many times I tell the story of him, it does not bring the dead back.  No matter how many times I try to find the reasons why, my answers will always be echoes.  It’s because I’m talking to dead air. 

But soon enough, I realized that the story I used to love telling made me lose the passion that once colored my words.  It was because time made me see that while I could tell the story of him and I, it was always just going to be coming from me.  Not from him.  And the wounds that used to hurt me have now become scars.  Just because I’ve moved on does not mean I have forgotten. 

5 Pride and Prejudice may have been Jane Austen’s greatest achievement, but it’s not a trophy worth holding onto.

My aunt said that “travel is the enemy of prejudice.” And traveling to Germany? Cue the long list of pre-judgments I made.  Let’s not even get started with their history.  And add that to the growing resentment I had.  But three months of being surrounded by these people have erased what I have thought of them: cruel, rude, and cold people.  Yeah, they can be unfriendly but only because they’re not the most open lot.  But once you really get to know them, they can be the warmest people.  I still can’t appreciate their humor though, but we can get to that later.

6 The strength you have been searching for does not come out by beating yourself up, but by restoring that belief within yourself.

Refer to the first realization: I constantly blamed myself for the things that went wrong. 

“Why did I have to do this?”
“Was my attitude the reason why they went behind my back?”
“Was I too into it? Maybe I was.  I shouldn’t have.  Ugh.”

(Repeat cycle 100x.).

I lost that confidence I had before March happened, and I thought I would forever become the person who loved to sink in self-pity, begging for compliments and flattery left and right.  I was too traumatized by the words, the repeating insults of my incapability to do anything that it suffocated that smidgeon of self-belief I had that could have gotten me out of that quandary sooner. 

But being alone taught me that I can do things, that I can accomplish tasks as needs be.  I can become who I am without anyone treading upon what I thoroughly believe to be true and right.  I may still not know what I truly want, but knowing that I can is strength enough for me to get to that next step.  How? I know so.

7 Words may destroy you, but they can also mend the pieces.

At The Guardian, our memoir class taught us to always tell the truth.  And while I loved to pepper my writing with some slight exaggerations, I knew that writing always had to go back to its roots, to what really happened.  Lo and behold, our first assignment was to write about the saddest event of my life.  Surprisingly, I picked the backstabbing bit over August the first.  I thought I moved on from the pain, but revisiting the events for the sake of my piece stung me again and instructor Mark McCrum (and the rest of my classmates) saw the sadness within my words.  They too were crying because of their own work.  Thank God I had enough strength to hold in the tears, but it goes to show that while the pain has diminished, the scars still exist.  They remind me everyday of the capabilities of the person and at the same time the consequences post-mistake.  But as the weekend came to a close, the last piece we had to make was a profile of an antagonist — and I wrote about the boy who broke me.  Instead of having my classmates break down with me, we ended up laughing about the event.  I injected some thoughts I never thought I could realize until I read them out loud, and over lunch my classmates told me how mature and hilarious I was for a twenty-one year old which I gladly took with stride.  Just like in my intensive writing class, a classmate I have never spoken to pulls me by the arm and says, “you’re a damn good writer.  You better make sure you continue it.”

The words I thought would betray me became the very bandages that healed me.  Some stories may have outlasted their expiration date, but some still last on to be the very things that bring us back together again.

8 A place does not have to be the most popular to be the most beautiful.

When I go on trips with the family, we always make sure to go to Tripadvisor’s top 100 cities (or a list similar to that).  Aside from us having this internal code of WE SHOULD NOT MISS SEEING THIS PLACE EVER, it also gives us some kind of security that “hey, at least this’ll be worth it.  I mean, the whole world says it’s pretty awesome.  Let’s have a go at it.” So, hey, New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Prague, etc!

But being with someone who was more or less an expert in Germany showed me the places that were not as tourist-y, such as the Black Forest panoramic tour that was really a couple of bus rides that showcased the different areas of the Schwarzwald in all its tree abundance.  Or riding the cable car up to Feldberg to see the Swiss Alps covered in snow.  Or that time when we went into the St. Beatus Cave for an hour! I could name more.  It was the same in London when my aunt and her husband drove me through the countryside of England, and showed me the castles, lakes, forests, and the golf courses.  Who could forget the villas and the expensive towns? And believe me, they were even more beautiful than the top 100.  Even the quaint cities, wow.

Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder, but it takes a great deal to search beyond what is the world’s definition of beauty.

9 It is in fear that makes you question.  It is in fear that eventually gives you the chance to open your mind.

London is a city that I love, but traveling alone for the first time there depleted some of that admiration. After all, my parents were almost rattling their heads off with their concern of safety and sketchy people and places.  Their concern almost got me to want to cancel my flight.  My fear worsened on the day itself when I was shaking in the bus station on the way to the Basel-Mulhouse airport.  On top of that, the airport didn’t even have any wi-fi.

Just get me through without any problems, I prayed to God as the landing announcement came.  The city was glowing — bright lights, big city — but my fright topped my excitement.  I rushed through the crowd, went through immigration, hurriedly got my luggage off the baggage claim, and panted all the way to the Gatwick Express Station where the kind train conductor said, “Platform Six, love!” Even if I had to stand up the whole time I was on the train, I shakily sent a Viber message to everyone concerned that “I survived.” And believe you me, that was just the beginning of trying to.

London security was at its peak, when threats came in about bombing a major train station there.  It happened once, it could most definitely happen again.  Guards swarmed the areas with big guns and that to me was fear staring at me in the face.  When I decided to go out after my class, I told myself, ‘Be back before the sun sets.’ It was still early September so the sun was to set at about 8:45 or 9 in the evening.  My goal was to check out the nearest Waterstones’ and the one I remember distinctly was the one in Trafalgar Square.  So instead of sitting in my room, I set out at 7:30 in the evening and wandered off into its center.  It was like I was back in 2011 again, when I was here with my parents.  But when I moved a little bit to take a photo of the traffic, I saw the Big Ben staring back at me.  And before I knew it, I ran down the roads until I reached Westminster.  I quickly photographed the clock in its dusky glow, and proceeded to run off again.  I found the Trafalgar branch and lost myself in there for a while, realizing later that it was 9 in the evening.  It was pitch-black.  Whoops. 

But my fear dissipated as I explored more of the city more, even when I was living in Bracknell in my aunt’s house.  I would take the bus to the city, explore the parks with my Google maps and my portable charger, and go back home.  I got to explore Windsor too, and I did that all by myself! The biggest test, though, was taking the Tube and the trains to get to my The Guardian Masterclass.  I was avoiding the trains the whole time, but once I got the hang of it during the bootcamp weekend, I did it! It got a little crowded on Sunday going home (which was surprising?), but I s u r v i v e d. 

If I hadn’t questioned what was beyond my hotel, if I hadn’t questioned what was beyond that corner, I wouldn’t have seen what I saw.  And even if my fear of my phone battery running out wholly existed, it never would have made me explore different parts of the city I never had access to on my first visit.

I walked, I took the train, I took the bus.  I commuted.  I commuted in London.  Oh my god.

10 There is such a thing as a good bye.

What made me realize this was during the last session of French class.  Honestly, I really wanted it to end because not only was there no existing structure of teaching, it was taught to us in German.  I was learning French in German.  Don’t even get me started on the umlauts.  But as I said goodbye to my professor and my classmates, I realized that I have been saying goodbye to every person I met during my stay in Europe.  I said goodbye to friends, to strangers, and to cities I know I will only visit once.

David Levithan said that there is no such thing as a great goodbye (or a happy goodbye).  It simply does not exist.  And I thought that to be true (as I am in complete agreement of most of his beliefs) for a long time.  But as I hugged or beso’d these people, made my peace with the walls and streets I could never touch again, I never felt this aching sense of longing or attachment.  It was as if I was made never to hold on for so long, a feeling I was slowly getting used to as the days passed. 

The only constant in my life there was my aunt in Freiburg, and that to me was the only not good bye I had to make.  But the others? It wasn’t that I wanted to say it, but I had to.  I was just glad that it didn’t hurt too much, as I was always in transit.  I was a nomad for three months, and consistency was not something I should get used to.  But having felt the feeling of a detached farewell was something I needed to feel.  It was not because I needed to be distant, but because I needed to feel that such a thing existed.

Car Ride

As I closed my eyes, I remember me in the passenger’s seat of your car, and you were mockingly telling me to get out because I didn’t know my way home. We were both bathed in sweat after our jog, and as we passed the traffic lights on the avenue, I found myself in the dark again.

I don’t know how you always come back, but you do. I don’t love you, I don’t like you, but I miss you. Or at least, I miss who you once were. It’s difficult to let go, I guess, of your shadow, which is pretty much the only thing I’ve held onto — reluctantly a remnant from when it was you and I. Not together, but it could have been. It’s poison to think we were, because there was no finality, no clause. It was just floating in space, like my head most of the time after you left.

I don’t look for the reasons why you left, but more of the reasons why I held on. It doesn’t make sense for me to hold on any longer, but I still find myself doing so whenever I am reminded of you. Even without your laugh or the smile reflected in your eyes, I can still see you in every insignificant thing, from the cobbled pavement to the color of the shoes I saw from a store window.

As I took off my seatbelt (and snapped a photo with you), I hugged you goodbye, not knowing in a few weeks, I wouldn’t feel you in that way again.

three months later

(“Roses,” taken at one of the gardens in Budapest (Hungary) by the author, edited and processed using VSCOCam)

Here is the part no one told me about.

You only come back during the worst of pains, when the hardest of tears rush down my face and I remember the words that comforted me during those hours.  It was a warmth that was welcoming, as if to say, “tell me what the world has done to you.” You never promised to rid the world of its cruelty, in fact you acknowledged it.  You loathed the people that live in it, but you told me to stay strong, to never change.  “Don’t think negatively, that’s my job,” you told me, and even through the words of a cell phone, I could hear your cheeky tone come through.

I guess the reason why I remembered you again is because I associated you with these terrible pains.  The person whom I thought could never in a million years walk away without even a single word of reason as to why it happened (how did it change in a day? It’s a question i used to worry about, but not anymore) became the one that did so anyway.  And the thing is, I don’t know how it was my fault at all.  I used to blame myself, and until now, I still have the remains of the bumbling idiot who still has you on the brain.  I used to be a hundred percent idiot, but I’m slowly gaining parts of my self back, and soon I’ll be leaving again.

I’m no longer angry, and for sure, I’m no longer salty in the eyes from the tears of not knowing.  I never mourned for you.  I mourned for the loss of what you’ve been, coming from the person who thought you were enough.  You have given me the reason why you couldn’t stay, and I understood.  But if you didn’t care for me, why did it take you so long to leave? What in God’s name made you linger instead, feeding me with empty promises of staying when you were going to take flight anyway? People leave, it’s a universal truth, but at least some of them were decent enough to leave a notice.  I thought you would be one of those people, but apparently, it’s okay for you to vacate.

But it’s okay now.  These are questions I don’t mind unanswered anymore, because you have the freedom to, however painful it may be.  And I only wish you the best, that you could find someone that could give you all the reasons to stay, that she will give you the courage to become who you once were.

Sentimentality, after all, is my job.  And in doing so, I can never love what you’ve been longer than I can take anymore, not because I don’t care for you, but because I could never care for the death of it.

You only come back during the worst of pains, when the hardest of tears rush down my face.  And yet, not a day goes by when I don’t think of you, because despite the pain you have caused me, I can never deny the person you were to me several months ago, hoping that it will surface again and last a while longer for that person who can bring it out again.

And if you were wondering, I’m okay too.

should have said ii: a list

(Alternative title: the stages of grief, part deux)

1. How come the things that used to matter don’t matter anymore, especially with you? It frustrates me that at some point in this lifetime, we’ll see each other again, and you’ll look at me with an innocent smile plastered on your face and say, “hi.” As if nothing ever happened.  Or are you going to ghost by me, as if we both once lived and now dead to one another, without even a moment’s notice that we had our moments?

2. It’s funny because things are becoming ordinary again, and your possession over the mundane has almost erased itself completely.  But you know it’s harder to let go of once was than what never was, maybe because you still have that belief that things will work out in the end.

3. I wish these words would run dry but they haven’t.  I don’t think it’s because of you per se, but it’s more like I had so many things unsaid that will themselves to speak, as if my head isn’t enough to store all of it, all of you.  There are evenings where I remember our mornings and mornings where I remember our evenings.  It’s funny how you remember so much, and when you do want to forget, the things you most want to lose always are found.  Opposites attract because the difference always matters over sameness.

4. There are times where everything else still lingers, as if I am in this state where I deny that everything I held onto was now lost.  I wish I could tell you how much you meant to me, but at the same time, it disgusts me how your significance was the only imprint I held onto for months, as if you were the only one who held me.  You weren’t.  It’s just that you were the most outstanding, and you didn’t even try.  I hate that you didn’t try.

5. The terrible thing about loving a person is the idea aftermath of it.  You believe that this could happen again because he had that in him to do so, which is even harder to lose in the end.  I’d have to admit, you’re fighting a great battle in my head as we speak, but everyday I come back to push you away further and further, until you raise your white flag — and it’s back to living as you, I again.

6. Numbers cannot contain the commonality, especially since with you, everything was so fluid.  We’d end somewhere and begin in the middle, as if it were an endless conversation with pauses in between.  Rewinding them now doesn’t hold as much as heartbeats as it did months back, when everything mattered, when we both mattered.

giving you up

At some point I knew I had to give you up.  I’m scared to, but it’s something I’m sorry to deem as inevitable.  Is it because of the fright I feel when you have nothing in reply, or the constant cycle of pain and hope that my day shouldn’t be complete because I haven’t seen you at all? I don’t know what to feel but fear and loneliness, and I know that this will go around and around until I tell myself to stop.

I wish you knew how it felt to be at the losing end.  I wish you knew how it felt to deal with knowing that you will never know, or the fact that you always feel that you could never say the right words to make this all better? You should know how it feels, but then again, you wouldn’t do anything in your power to change all that.  It sucks to know that you can never feel the way I do, and I promised myself that I shouldn’t invest in feelings as deep as this, but I can’t help it.  You have all the things I want in someone, and letting you go is something I can never forgive myself for doing in the long run.  What we had, albeit short, was something I could never forget, even if you had done so constantly.

The one thing I wish you could remember is the fact that I am still here, hoping and begging that you would at last pop out one of these days, that I would feel the same feeling I felt whenever I see you.  This is a point where I just want to keep you close to me because I hate losing the one thing that matters to me now, even if you will never feel the same way about me.

brave

I try to imagine a world where we are together: you with the kind eyes, the soul full of hope, and the laughter of a thousand singing angels– and I, the one who returned a hundredfold, withholding the words I had so wanted to say over and over again.  But I can never do so without merely building up on only what has been because presently, there is a gaping hole with nothing but the sole truth that I had given up on you so long ago and the fear because of your quiet rejection, I return to you constantly.

I could’ve been able to tell the world that I had once felt for you, that I had once led myself to believe that I finally made the right choice with you.  I made myself believe that someday, I would finally learn that I could find someone no better than you ever were.  You do not mess with perfection, I say.  And you’re not even perfect.  But almost is always good enough.

But when you shook your head with those sorry little eyes and you instead gave me flowers to ease the pain, I couldn’t even look at you straight in the eye without knowing that it’s out there.  I did my part and it was rejected.  The buck stopped there.  No longer did I feel the adrenaline I used to feel to tell you the words or to tell your successors after that.  I wanted to tell the world that “hey, we’ve become a cliche,” to have that boost rise in my chest as the only person I wanted to see stand on the highest mountain and shout, “We’re one of them now!” To have somebody share in that glory of spoken word and unfiltered emotion.

Never, never again will I feel that way about anyone.  I had been reduced to writing words you will never know was written for you, and you will go on living your life, not knowing that someone else wrote all these for you.  Was I stupid to even try at all? To invest all my emotions into a moment I could never get back? Spend it wisely, they say.  I never knew money could account to feelings at all but apparently, they can.  I feel so pathetic just thinking about those when I’ve felt that now unfamiliar feeling of euphoria, when I could’ve let everything go just to see you smile.

It’s not even about trying to find the One or finding your name written across the stars.  It’s just that I didn’t even need destiny to spell it out for me.  I chose you.  At this point, I try so hard not to return again, to not waste all these words thrown into empty air because you know nothing.  You know nothing about the words I write, or the pain I feel when I try to talk to you.  I try to let them out, I do, believe me.  But the voice never gets out and instead becomes a crackling sound you hear after the feed of the microphone: irritating, scratchy noise that you would rather shut out of your ears.  You have made me feel absurd to the point that I try to look for you in the crowd again, as if resurrecting those memories would bring everything back to the way the were.  But it wouldn’t, would it? I will only force myself to get used to it again, to think to myself that I had been right all along.

I know that I can never stand on a pedestal in front of seven billion people proclaiming this, and the heat of a thousand suns can never color my cheeks with the freshness of that feeling.  Not anymore, never again.  But I’m hoping.  I’m still hoping.

You walk away as the memory turns cold once again.  Stale as it is.  This isn’t real, you tell me with your effervescent smile as your color fades to black.

But this is for you.

red memory

red

 

I imagine holding up a sheet of paper in front of me, and the only one in the crowd is you.  The glare of the light blinded me for a while as I tried to remind you of how much you mean to me.

Forgive me because I have a weak heart, and forgive me if all the songs in the world remind me of you right now.  I didn’t know how such an insignificant shuffled song would make so much sense for you and I, just like a fiction novel.  It’ll only ever be as real as everything in my head.

You only look back at me with those playful, merry eyes as a naivete settles upon you.  It’s a naivete not of innocence, but of unawareness.  But who can blame you?

The memories of you and I flood my head, the first ones slow but the others rushed past me as if wanting to get out.  They feel cold to the touch as I tried to linger.  They are slowly losing significance to me, losing the meaning I had so much invested to hold onto you, to try to prove to someone, anyone, that we had something, whatever that may be.

Forgive me if I returned to you again, forgive me if the words were trying to make their way to you.  Forgive me for incessantly knocking on the solid gates of your mind, my knuckles bruised and blue from all the callings-out, the constant questions if you still remembered what I remembered.  But they only echo back with a tinge of desperation–just a tinge– because you can’t hear them.  Not even a little bit.

What hurts the most is how much the glances I give you hold so many things unsaid, so many things I could’ve said, things I would’ve wanted to say.  But the things I want so badly to tell you can no longer be heard because I never opened my mouth in the first place.

And just as you met my tired eyes, I had already looked away.