Dear Quest, Take Your Final Bow
“The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau was supposed to inspire and guide me to realize a trip around the world, but then, the oddest thing happened. Halfway through the book, I realized, I am at the end of my first big quest – not at the beginning.
Five years ago, in a moment of desperation, I laid down on my bedroom floor and stuck my feet in the air to cry. After a few weeps, inspiration struck – return to Italy Sara. As I prepared to make the move, concerned loved ones wondered why a new grad would leave a promising job in a recession to scurry off to a country in an even worse recession.
The trip to Italy transformed into years of soul searching. During the quest, relationships were lost and found, evil monsters consumed my energy, family and old friends provided escape routes, and logistics became simpler as the lessons became much more complex. All the steps were there, I just hadn’t put them together. When I did piece the puzzle together, I realized I was at the end of this quest.
A taste of that trip back to Italy, written by me in 2010:
A tourist of my past, I have moved the clock back 15 years to visit memories that used to feel like fragments. I can’t even begin to explain how much this experience is changing how I perceive myself and therefore, changing me as a person. I have so many questions, so many doubts; they are being answered by living here and touring my past.
Last weekend I took a train from Torino to Milano, then grabbed the metro to Crescenzago to visit my first home. I pulled out my journal to reference a hand-drawn map and began walking towards my past. These were my streets, my metro stop, my people and my corner store for the first six years of my life. It all felt like a dream for so long, but there it was – it was real.
Old friends Michael and Jessica met me in the piazza by my old apartment to walk the rest of the way into my past together. To my amazement, it was exactly like I remembered it. The large black iron gate provided flashbacks to the time my brother Jon got his head stuck in-between the bars. He was wailing while my mom was desperately trying to remove his head from between the bars. As we crossed the street, an older man entered the apartment complex and let us follow in right after him, act of God numero uno. We walked through the courtyard and the memories rushed back: the kid whose huge bubble of gum popped in his face, the flower growing in-between the cement blocks in the courtyard and rushing down the apartment steps to play with friends.
As we walked around the courtyards, our English echoed off the buildings making a ruckus. I decided not to care; I was going to enjoy this experience as much as I could. As we were leaving, the portinaia (keeper of the apartment) came out and asked “Chi cerchi?” (“Who are you looking for?”). I responded, “Actually, I lived here 15 years ago.” She squinted one eye and asked, “Come ti chiami?” (“What’s your name?”). I responded again, “Sara Loca.”
All of a sudden, her arms flew forward and she began walking towards me with a huge smile, “Ahhh, io ti ho visto nascere,”( “Ohhh, I saw you be born.”) act of God numero due. From there, I lost it. I was crying with force while she stroked my face and asked about my family.
Once we both calmed down, she invited us in for coffee. Michael, Jessica and I all sat down with her and her neighbor Leda to share memories. Vilma is 93 years old and has been the portinia for 50 years. Leda is 97 years old and apparently used to go out with my mom for Women’s Day. Those two were hilarious together, a “Grumpy Old Men” brand of comedy. During the conversation, it came to light that a magazine had been coming to the apartment for 15 years. Vilma dug through a stack of newspapers and handed it to me to bring home.
The apartment my family used to live in was empty at the moment, Vilma looked at me and asked “Do you want to see it?” Soon after, the crew was standing in front of the door to my old apartment… with the wrong key. We went back Vilma’s to search for the right one, but after a few minutes Vilma couldn’t find it. As she frantically dug through the armoire, I looked to the window ledge and spotted a box of keys, “Maybe in there?” Then poof! There it was, act of God numero tre. We toured the old apartment physically empty, but to me, each room was bursting with memories.
Right now I am not touring Italy, I am touring myself and my past. I’ve waited a long time and as questions are answered my load becomes lighter. I am very thankful to be here now, and to have had the courage and support to come.