When I returned home from England—during my last year of college—the only thing I could think about was when I would leave again. I didn’t want to be back in Allentown, PA, learning about the world—I wanted to see the world. I wanted to be on the Underground in London, or walking through a cemetery in Paris, even getting kicked off of a train outside of Venice would have been better than being back at a school that suddenly felt so foreign to me. This desire to leave was so strong that when I met another student who had the same urge to travel, I immediately started to draft a plan: we wouldn’t look for real jobs after graduation, instead we would work to save money—I would waitress, she would work in a store—until the end of the year, then in January we would be off. For the next six months, every time we were together, we would discuss our plan, refining the details, working through the logistics, until it seemed we had figured everything out. We would arrive in England to visit with friends, then we would head to Scotland and Ireland, from there we would be off to see the rest of Europe, especially Greece and Italy where we wanted to spend the majority of our time. We figured we would have enough money to be gone for at least four months—four who-cares-about-what-comes-next months—and when the money was gone, we could come back—back to the realities of life and whatever would come next.
The next six months flew by, and come January after graduation, we were suddenly on a plane headed for London. As with most plans, however, arriving in England was the first and last part of our plan that went according to how we had imagined it. A few days into our journey, we decided to skip seeing the majority of Europe—both of us had traveled there before—and instead decided to spend most of our time in Greece, Italy, and Turkey. Before we knew it, we were on a plane bound for Istanbul—guidebooks in hand, suddenly a little intimidated to be flying to a country we knew nothing about.
Istanbul is a city comprised of incredible details—mosques with intricately carved minarets adorn each corner, a thousand year old wall surrounds a large portion of the city, a picturesque waterway divides the two continents—there are more wonders than I can describe in this limited space. But, it wasn’t the exotic sites, the mouth-watering food, or the rich history of the city that made me want to stay there for longer than the ten days we had allocated it—it was a young college student that I met while drinking coffee in a small rug store. Yes, I met a boy in Turkey, a boy who would unknowingly change my entire future. He was like no one I had ever met before—he was mature beyond his twenty-one years, he was serious while still being sensitive, and he was both smart and well-spoken. I was completely captivated by him, and when he asked me to stay longer than our ten days, I readily—and happily—changed my plans once again. Over the course of the next four months, it became harder and harder to leave, until I finally accepted that my journey around the Mediterranean would be limited to visiting Turkey, and I would willingly stay there for as long as I could. Before I knew it, the ten days turned into five months—it was the end of May—and all of my money was gone. It was finally time to go home. Leaving was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do, and even though I had promised to be back after summer, it was hard to shake the feeling that my new life was coming to an end. That same feeling stayed with me as I traveled home, it was the same feeling I had as I hugged my mother as she welcomed me home, and the same feeling I had when I went to sleep each night. I felt as if my life had already begun on the other side of the world, and for some unfathomable reason, I had put it on hold in order to come back to a place that no longer felt like home. For all of these reasons, I decided to return to Istanbul as soon as I could—which turned out to be about four weeks later—which is how long it took for me to sell my car, enroll in a teaching program, and find a flight back.
In so many ways, this story has continued on for the last fourteen years—for the boy I met is now my husband and the father to our two children. I wish I could say that the advice for my daughter is to follow your heart, but that is honestly a very frightening thought for me. This story is a fundamental part of who I am—and therefore who she is—and yet it scares me to think that she will someday do as I did—leave me to move to a country half-way around the world. Instead, the advice must once again be for me. My advice to myself is to remember how my mother looked at me on the morning that I told her that my life was no longer with her, but instead was in a city on the other side of the world. Although I know she was sad, she never showed it. She told me she loved me—that she trusted me to do what was best—and that she would support me no matter what I chose to do in life. I hope to be as strong and supportive as my own mother on the day that my daughter comes to me to tell me she is leaving, wherever she decides to go.
To read how my journey started, read “My Journey.”