It’s a quiet night here. And I’ve been thinking.
And I’m thinking about a way to articulate my feelings.
And I write, and I scrap. And I write, and I scrap. And I’ve been writing for hours.
And it dawns on me: the feeling in the back of my head that one day, not too far off, I will leave my home here and try to grow up in a completely different environment back in Sacramento, or Portland, or wherever I am. Growing up. How weird is that? I grow up here, and I know that I will continue growing back in the states, probably because of different experiences. And I know that when that happens – when I have to grow up away from the home I’ve grown to love here in Austria – I will be incredibly sad. But I guess I’m always growing up – no matter where, or what circumstances surround it, or whatever.
And I know I’ll forget this feeling – sometimes rising, and at times falling – until it hits me in the chest, hard, as I sit in the airport, ready to fly back “home” after a whirlwind 9 months abroad, meeting new people, making whimsical memories, and learning to call a place over five thousand miles away from the place I grew up, “Home.”
“You’re only twenty. You have more time here,” I tell myself. “You will be back.”
“You’re only twenty.” But I’ve made decisions that have split my life into separate futures. Had I not come on this trip, I never would have discovered my desire to work abroad or do graduate work out here.
“You’re only twenty.” But for a moment, I imagine that I don’t get on my flight back to San Francisco, or Oakland, or wherever, at the end of this year. Will this become my life here? Maybe I teach English to schoolkids, or I pick up a little job at a café in Salzburg.
“You’re only twenty.” I live here, for now. I am twenty years old. I’ve been on this earth for twenty years. Why does that seem so foreign to me? It seems like a long time to me, but that’s only because it’s my own life. In the grand scheme of things, and in reality, it’s not much at all. I will be fifty before I know it. Life speeds up as you grow older, right? But for now, I am twenty, and I live here in Austria. But I remember that a part of me still lives back in the states. In the room I shared with my brother for 18 years. In the house down the long rocky driveway that I’ve walked down probably hundreds of times, then biked down, then drove down, then rode my motorcycle down. I remember that stupid wooden board in the porch, and how my sister got hurt on it. What an odd memory. I wonder for a moment if it’s been fixed yet. I remember tossing a baseball with my dad in the backyard. Or going down to the local elementary school to play basketball with him. I remember driving around town in the passenger seat of my mom’s Jaguar as we talked about music, or the news, or whatever. Part of me lives with my parents, my triplet brother and sister, and my friends. Oh, how I miss my family and friends. The way my friends and I would hang out after school and blast music in Perrin’s car. Or we’d head over to another friend’s house and play video games or card games. “Always Sunny in Hell.” Or riding motorcycles around town. The visits to In-n-Out because there’s not much to do in Sacramento, but damn is it a good place to grow up. For me, my friends make Sacramento the place it is. My home.
But what if?
What if I don’t go back? If I just… stay here?
I mean, theoretically, I could. I could put in all of the paperwork and live out here. But I know, realistically, that I shouldn’t.
At least not yet.
I wonder about this a lot. I’ve got one chance to live as many lives as I wish I could – each one separate from the other, each one with pros and cons. I could live out here, but then I wouldn’t be able to see my family or friends often. Or I could go back to the states, but then I wouldn’t get the chance to explore all of the wonderful cultures and languages that I get to out here. I have one chance to live all of the lives I wish I could. Although my life may twist and turn, I am growing up in a straight line. How I hate this single path. Why can’t I grow up in two separate bodies, or three, and get my experience in three different worlds?
Growing up is a strange thing. It can be unbearably painful – the knowledge that you only have one life, one path, and that you will not be able to achieve everything you want to, or at the very least, not at the same time. That being said, growing up can also be rewarding.
“You’re only twenty.” It’s the most stupid, nothing-like age there is. You’re an adult, but you’re not twenty-one. You’re in the middle of two important ages. You can go to war, but you can’t rent a car. You’re working during the summer and you go to school in a different state (or a different country), but you still come back to the place you grew up for breaks. Your heart lives in 3 different places: Sacramento, Portland, and now Austria. You miss home, but you know when the day comes that you go back to Sacramento, or back to Portland, you’ll say “I miss home,” but this time you won’t mean Sacramento or Portland, you’ll mean Austria. But right now, you miss being eighteen years old. The time spent at home, or out with friends. You miss the musicals and the memories you made in high school. You miss fourteen years old. When your worst worry was what that test in your freshman year literature class on Homer’s Odyssey would be on. You miss twelve, when you’d walk from school on half-days to Willie’s, and for once, you really felt independent. How naïve, you think, that that felt like independence. Yet at the time, that was the peak of independence for you. And now here you are, living a life you never could have dreamed of, doing things you couldn’t have imagined, exploring the world away from everyone you’ve grown up with – family, friends – and you’re seeing all that the world has to offer. You miss ten, when the biggest thought that ran through your head was whether or not Dad would make chicken tacos – man, you LOVED those. (And you still do.) You miss messing around with your siblings and the dumb arguments you got into. But you’re glad that “growing up” thus far has brought you closer, even if you do still occasionally fight.
You were a little shit then. And you know, almost for a fact, that Mom and Dad will either say “You weren’t that bad” or they’ll say “Yeah, you’re right. Now you know how much of a little shit you were.” You’re still a mess now. But in a different way – more of a mess in that you have so many ways you wish life could go but not all of these will be realized, or at least not at the same time. But, you think, it’s a good thing. You don’t quite know what you’re doing or where exactly you’ll end up, but you’ve had experiences to guide you along the way. You’re a completely different person than you were ten years ago, even two years ago, and you have different thoughts, different worries, and a different outlook on life.
And you think about your worries again. Your worries from age fourteen or ten seem meaningless to you now. Now you’re in college – you’ve got midterms and papers and so much work to do!
But you pause and think about the bus ride the other day. Sitting in silence, snuggled up and ready to sleep. The sun is setting. It’s a long bus ride, and you look for worries to invade your thoughts, but nothing really can bother you, except maybe your back, from that damn bus seat. And despite the world seemingly spinning around you faster than you can follow it, that’s your biggest worry right now. Your back hurting. How unimportant is that? And you think deeper. And you know that, even though you’ll leave at some point, even though you’re incredibly stressed from whatever may be going on with midterms and books and papers, at least for now, you’re exactly where you need to be. On a bus back to home – sun setting, back hurting. Worry-free. Home.
Here, you’re happy. You’ve made memories to last a lifetime and well beyond that. You’ll tell your kids your stories. And maybe they’ll tell your stories to their kids. About the travels and the people you met. Maybe they’ll even meet some of the people or see some of the places you’ve grown to love. Maybe your stories will inspire them to do the same thing you did – to experience the world and all of the glorious things it has to offer. I, for one, was inspired by my parents, and I am sure I’ll tell my kids about my parents’ stories.
And that’s the thing. Despite growing up, despite the gut-kicking knowledge that there will be a point you leave here, you’ve got memories to last forever. Memories hold their own. Sure, they’re in your head, but they’re solid. They get passed down. Even though they’re not concrete, they stick with you. And they can last well beyond your lifetime if they’re retold.
You have friends – no, family – thousands of miles apart, who speak different languages and many of whom haven’t met each other, or literally don’t know each other even exists. But they make a weird sort of web of compassion, memories, and love. They impact your life in ways that they definitely don’t know they do. But you know for certain just the impact they have.
And you know for certain that you won’t ever feel completely at home again – no matter where you are, your heart will reside in many different places all across the globe. And it will forever longingly ache to return to its different homes. For now, it’s Sacramento, Portland, and Salzburg. And maybe this list of “home” will expand. Home. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like the term “home” is subjective. “Home is where the heart is” – how subjective is that? Your home may not be where you physically reside or where you grew up. After all, you feel more at home 5,000 miles away than you did in Portland. Yes, you grew up in Sacramento. But you also grew up in Portland and Salzburg. You gained so much experience and knowledge about yourself and the beautiful world that surrounds you. You know your heart rests in the memories and the places and the people you’ve come to love throughout it all. And that’s just part of growing up and experiencing life, you suppose. That people, places just take your heart and seem to adopt it, for lack of better words. To seemingly interject themselves into your linear life, making it that much harder to follow only one path.
“You’re only twenty.” As you quietly sit in your little bedroom in the quaint, peaceful city of Salzburg, you realize that it truly is “home.” You’re only twenty – California born and raised – but you belong here. You’ve made so many memories and gained so much experience from the time you’ve lived here. And you’re still making memories. You have plenty of time here still. And you’ll be back, for one reason or another – and you’re certain of this, which makes a little more bearable the knowledge that you will leave here at some point in the not-too-distant future. You’re still growing up, and wherever you are, you will continue this for the rest of your life.
And even though sometimes it bites, growing up is a good thing.
Mit Liebe aus Salzburg,/With love from Salzburg,