The End of the Beginning

By mid-December in Bologna the air is grey and wet and cold. The humid wind digs into my bones and I cannot escape the chill of the coming winter. The rain turned cold and falls frequently and yesterday it snowed for the first time, making grey sludge under the boots of pedestrians, their features hidden under thick scarves. By five it’s dark and I have nowhere to go. I write this hiding in the back room of a café, not wanting to go anywhere but home.

This is the end of the beginning. Tomorrow I will fly home to the US, but since I decided to study here for another semester, I’ll be back in Italy by the end of January. The past four months were like a dream and now I am lying half-asleep in bed trying to piece together what happened. I remember what I did, but the events do not seem to match any standard measure of time; I was just on the train to Naples with my family in August and I must’ve dozed off because now it’s December and I’m packing my bags. Maybe I’m still dreaming.

Lately I feel jaded and weary. I feel myself at the end of my rope. I have less than no money and almost as little patience for trying to explain myself in Italian. I’m sick of eating pasta and drinking tiny cups of coffee. My feet are tired and my socks have holes. My belt broke but I don’t want to buy another, so it’s a shoelace now. I only have to make it from Bologna to London to Chicago to home without my pants falling down.

I still feel lost. I have done so much that I find it hard to believe this is really my life. I’m not sure if this is home or if home home is home, yet I continue to roam alone to the unknown feeling grown. It’s not a poem. I need to go back where I belong and see my people. I am seven hours ahead yet four months behind in the lives of my friends and the recent death of my grandpa has me feeling guiltier about not being home with my mom and siblings.

Tomorrow I will trade the humid Italian cold for the sharp Wisconsin wind but inside it will be warm and almost Christmas. On New Year’s I’ll be running through my streets again with my friends like I never left. I’ll be at the Plaza next Thursday, glad to be in a familiar place.

As excited and ready as I am to be back in the US, I do not feel ready to leave Italy. I have only just gotten comfortable with the language and friends and don’t want to leave with no plans for a return. I have not finished learning from Italian ways and I’m proud of the life that I’ve managed to build on this side of the world. I’m tired and satisfied yet ravenous for more.

When I think of all that I’ve learned in my travels and experiences, there is too much to put comfortably into words. I see now that Madison and Wisconsin and the United States are just small parts of a big world and feel rather infinitesimal as an individual. I have heard how everyone laughs in the same language and developed a taste for art and wine and dark-eyed beauty from the South. The scent of too many cigarette-laden conversations still burns in my nostrils.

I have also become more of myself. I feel more sociable, independent and not hesitant to ask questions- a better journalist, maybe. Learning Italian helps me better appreciate my native tongue and after studying, meeting with professors, making friends, paying rent, reading, writing, buying groceries, talking to strangers, looking for work and doing everything else in Italian, the thought of doing everything in English seems overly easy.

But all I’ve done is the past and what I have yet to learn is a future matter. Now its December ‘18 -the month that would come too quick- and I am still in the café and outside it’s dark and the wind is still blowing and maybe I wanted to come all this way just to want to go home. I feel priviledged and accomplished and happy to know that I am far from the end. I am only just beginning.