Sunday, November 27, 2011

Our apartment in Szeged

I have been up for so many hours.
Brain body and spirit buzzing too much for much sleep on the plane.
Even my distractions (books, movies, music) couldn't keep me from riding the waves.
I felt like puking, and I felt like crying, and I felt like laughing. I did the second two.
It was glorious.

It feels surreal and too real and eventually, I suspect, it will just feel real.
There is so much to say but I will just leave you with pictures of our apartment for now.

Ready to leave Matt's apartment in Chicago. I can't believe this was just hours ago.

Living room

Breakfast/tea/dinner nook

My room, pre-unpacking.

The toilet part of the bathroom.

The shower/sink/washing machine room.

So cozy, so thankful, so tired.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving and things to come

Part one: Chicago.

Exploring the city, I am a tourist-in-training. I stop to take countless pictures, wander aimlessly, happy to be lost amidst all the architecture.

The library.

Statues that caught my eye.

The city as seen through "the bean."

Color-changing brick and city-scape.

And then, Part two: Thanksgiving with my brothers, Steven and Tommy, and Matt.

the menu:

Apple-tofurkey stuffing with homemade rosemary bread
Garlic mashed potatoes with broccoli coulis
Buffalo Brussel Sprouts (deep fried deliciousness)
Pumpkin Soup
Deep Greens warm salad with cranberries and cumin
Homemade cranberry sauce
Kale chips

And for desert, pumpkin and apple pies and a warm mulled wine.

Pumpkin soup and kale chips in the making.

Homemade cranberry sauce.

Lady Guadalupe watches over our table.

Buffalo Brussel Sprouts and spicy dipping sauce.

Tommy's plate (photo: Tommy Jackson)

And after the extravagance of Thanksgiving, a simpler meal: gluten-free pasta with balsamic-glazed brussell sprouts and basil with a side of braised turnips.

Part three: Hungary.

My plane takes off in a matter of hours.
I have a lot, as always, to be thankful for.
The next time I write I will be 8 hours ahead of myself, in a new apartment, city, and country.

Am I prepared?

I like to think so.

Although, the only Hungarian words I know by heart are apple, berry, and no.
So on the plus side, I can say this: "No apple-berry!"

I bet you can imagine the downside.

But my plane ride is 15 hours long, so baby, I've got time.

Cheers, guys. See you on the other side.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Number of days until I get on that damned plane: 5

Number of lego figures gifted to me so I "won't forget about" my 8-year-old cousin: 1

Number of times I had to remind my 10-year-old cousin this was the final goodbye so she should really turn off that Nicki Minaj video she and some friends had recorded so I could hug her goodbye because I had to leave now: 4

Number of glasses of wine consumed this evening: 2

Number of things left on my to-do list: 1746.3333333

Number of things completed from my to-do list today: 2.3333333

It does not look good, ladies and gentlemen. It does not look good.

Friday, November 11, 2011

So Many Ghosts

My neck hurts from craning in both directions; forward, back, forward, back. My departure is encroaching and the pressure it is mounting. I am looking with eyes stoned from too much computer time with trip preparations, and I am looking in every direction. I am forward-thinking to me in snowy Szeged, teaching English and stumbling through sentences in Hungarian, to my holiday break in Italy. I am imagining new futures, but I can't stop looking back to the past.

The past is a herd of ghosts, haunting me. They slither out of every box I open and drawer I slide unshut. They wrap around me while I sleep, burrowing into my dreams. I have anxiety dreams about teaching English or catching planes, but I also dreamt up an old boyfriend last night. This one is old-old, from when I was 15. Maybe this is because I found his sweetly punk-rock mixed cd he'd made for me while I was sorting through binders of old discs, but it haunted me. I am chilled to my bones with guilt and nostalgia, coulda-beens, shoulda-beens, never-beens. I think about everything I've ever done that I am not proud of, everything I never did that I wished I had.

When is it time to call the code? My lungs are tired from all this air I'm pumping into something that I already lost, that died to the past, that can't live with me in this time period - my present. How long am I going to press my sorry lips to all these cold mouths? How long am I going to act out of guilt?

And how do I let it go?

How do I let it go?

. . .

I am near-tears in grocery stores, holding Charlie tight to my chest and breathing in his baby scent. This may be is drastic, but I feel like my life is about to end, and everything that happens is happening for the last time. Sentimental in a supermarket, that's me this week.

As I drive on the 126, I breathe in the chipotle processing plant, that sweet smoke rising. I look out at the rows of lemon trees, at the ocean, and I think how far I will be from all of this, from my citrusy home.

This time, leaving feels much harder. Does this say something about my life? That I have more to lose? Or maybe, I shouldn't have scheduled my departure date to close to my menstrual cycle.

When I tell people I have a week and a half left before I leave, they ask how I feel. "Mushy," I say with a small laugh and watery smile, but maybe that adjective isn't quite right. I have a feeling my fire is burning down because I'm about to leave camp - I'm all coals and ashes, disintegrating, a slow burn before the atmosphere swallows me up again.

. . .

If I had to pick one word to describe how I am feeling: grief.

And then the ghosts arrive.

It's such a smooth B&E that I can't call the police. There is no hard evidence of their presence here, just my prickly skin and eyes, the stubble of last night's nightmares, a sinking feeling of guilt.

I don't know how to kick them out. I don't know what to do with them.

Wait, that's not true.

I know what to do, I just don't want to do it.

They come up when I am sifting through old letters; they are old hurt, failed relationships, actions of mine I wish I could erase. I packed them up, boxes sealed tight and labeled, and they sat, waiting for me. As soon as my knife made the incision in cardboard, I felt the bleed.

They had been gathering strength from their hurt, from unresolved tension, from being ignored and abandoned, and now they are here in my life with a vengeance.

I tried with slippery sweaty palms to collect them, to shoo them into a rubbermaid I thought would contain them.

So here I am, kneeling in front of the box, fingers on the edges, trembling.

On the edge, trembling.

"Okay," I say, and just like that, my fingers lift. "Okay," I say, "you are free."

So when will I be free?
. . .

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stickers and Squirrels

Today I purchased 4,984 stickers.

Do you think that perhaps I am over-packing?


The last time I traveled (and coincidentally the first time I traveled), I wasn't very well equipped. I didn't really know how to backpack, how to travel. I learned on the spot, through trial and error. I am embarrassed to say that I thought buying a piece of luggage (and this was a huge, boxy piece of luggage) was a good idea when it became clear to me, three months into my trip, that my 32-liter backpack wasn't cutting it. My Swiss hostel-mate at the time told me it was a horrible idea, but I didn't listen. What do you know, it was a horrible idea. Thanks Suzana, for trying to warn me.

After trying to lug it on and off of buses, hoist it into the trunks of taxis, and bang it up flights of hostel stairs, I ditched it. I decided to buy another backpack. It was taller than my first, and my sleeping bag fit strapped on the top, teetering threateningly. The problem was, my first backpack was shoulder-cut for a woman's body, and I had to wear it on my back. This meant that the taller backpack hugged my front, the top of the bag covering my face, the sleeping bag bonking me ever so often. I had to tilt my head to the left or the right in order to see where I was going. The drunken backpacker, that's what I was, bobbing and weaving in order to avoid injury or accident.

Ginna, Kate, Jess taking off for our hitching adventure through Ecuador and Peru. This pack on my back eventually moved to my front.

This time, though... this time I am prepared.

Maybe over-prepared?

For instance, I bought packing cubes. And 4,984 stickers. I feel like hardcore backpackers, off-the-beaten-path travelers are not allowed to buy packing cubes, or anything from Rick Steves. I have done both. What has become of me?

Is it possible that the fact that I am leaving for Hungary to teach English for six months (and with the intention to stay gone for a long time thereafter) has set in? I have my suspicions that I am part squirrel, gathering nuts, preparing for a bitter winter in a land unknown to me. It seems a natural reaction, to try and control anything you can when you're entering a situation that feels out of your hands. I, like most humans, prefer for my hands to be sticky, so that nothing can slip through their claws and clutches. So my hands are busy scribbling lists and entering my credit card information for countless orders of things I (think I) need.

Maybe I am still a drunken backpacker after all, sedating myself with sharpies, bulk toiletries, and stickers.