La Famiglia, le familiare…

It’s interesting what embarking on big journeys can do to a person. Already in the almost-month that I’ve been here, I feel like I’ve grown up, grown down, changed in some major ways. It’s one thing to take a vacation overseas… it’s another thing entirely to move there, even for less than a year, to make a person realize what they value. It’s been intriguing to say the least, watching the other students here and how they are dealing with being in another country, far away from home, family, and familiarity. Many of them have found their niche in the bars– they think the coolest thing about Italy is that you can have alcohol in the streets. Many of them you see around school, going on every guided tour, every planned event. And many are always stuck to the same people. I think I sort of am part of this latter group… I’ve definitely not been out without at least one of my roommates except to go to class or to the cafe to study. Simply put, in spite of my independent nature, I have a need for closeness and familiarity.
I just had a long conversation with my roommate Kelley about major changes in perspective since being here. I know when I am at home, in small-town Burlington, I get so antsy, so ambitious, that I often take too much on and forget to enjoy life, and incidentally also don’t perform as well because I over-book myself, which is usually my own personal effort at avoiding day-to-day normalcy. Nor do I have boyfriends– well, sure, I date enough, but relationships have been such a major no-no to me. Upon reflection, I can definitely see why: I have my family. I don’t have a need for some guy to provide me with closeness. I live with my sister and Grant, who are as much best friends as they are siblings (well, to me, Grant is a sibling). Twenty minutes away, I have my parents and my puppies and my childhood bedroom. Down the street I have my school and the theatre building, full of people that I consider family. All in all, there is so much love and support in my life that I almost take it for granted– I have never been so far away from it to realize how incredibly important it is to me. Yes, I know that I hold my family in the highest of regards– every night since I was a little girl, they are the last thing I think of before I go to sleep and I silently wish them well and pray for them in my own way. And every morning, afternoon, and night, at home anyway, I am able to call whenever I want, chat for as long as I want (until they tell me to shut up), and at the end of every day, I see my sister and Grant and our kitties, and sometimes my parents and puppies, too. I know that my family is my backbone, I’ve always known it. It’s interesting… I’ve always considered myself extremely independent, but now, being here far away, I realize how dependent I am on the familiarity of home, the “convenience” of family.
My whole life, I’ve been a very restless girl– always looking for a window to get away from where I am, to escape the confines of a fairly small-town life, to find a uniqueness in day-to-day life that just seems nonexistent in Burlington and Greensboro. The funny thing is, being here for almost a month, as Perugia becomes familiar, it’s the same, and I realize that no matter where I am, I always seem to want to be somewhere else. I love Perugia– I really am in love with it. It’s Greensboro in Italy, and I love Greensboro. It’s about the same size, just more condensed, with just the right amount of familiarity and anonymity. Anyway, I do love it here in Italy. I really do. But it has made me also realize that what I really value is being close to my family while I have them. Then again, though, if they were here, yes it would be wonderful– but what I really love is what I call home. Being able to call a place mine, knowing it because I have lived there for 20-something years. Anyway, this is sort of disorganized babble, and I’m not really sure how to put my thoughts into words for once.
Renilda, an Umbra Institute staff member, is an Albanian woman who came to Italy about ten years ago and now her whole family is in Perugia. She’s been the one taking me to the doctor and translating for me, because although I probably could have done it myself, I’m still lacking some important Italian vocabulary to describe how I’ve been feeling. Anyway, when we were at the hospital the first time, a nurse walked by and kissed Renilda on both cheeks, and Renilda told me it was her aunt (in Italian, “zia”… I think this is cute, “zio” for uncle, “zia” for aunt, and a word we don’t have a parallel for in English, the both of them are “zii”). I’m not sure what the aunt’s name was, but they were so loving to each other and sat on either side of me as I sat and sipped some tea. Renilda rubbed my back with one hand as she and her aunt sat and discussed my condition in Italian and kept saying “Poverina, poverina” which means “Poor thing”… it was just such a maternal gesture on both of their parts that I felt a pang of homesickness. They were so loving, and had such a familiarity between them– I realized that that is what is so important to me. I think one thing I love about theatre is how an inevitable bond is formed every time you take an acting class, do a show, etc– it’s like a new addition to your family every time. Anyway, just before we left, the aunt kissed me on both cheeks and said “Ciao, bellissima,” and it was just so touching… and, both times Renilda has walked me to the hospital, we have walked arm in arm, and she has told me about her family and her husband, and how she loves that they all live in close proximity in Perugia. She explained what an Italian thing it is to be near your family, and I thought, surely I must be Italian because without my family nearby, I feel like a large part of me is missing.
Funnily enough, as I type this, my toes have gone numb again (it’s persistently cold in my apartment) and I miss them. Haha! They’ll come back soon.
Anyway, although I am getting used to being so far away, I will never be able to get used to being far away from my family. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, because what is life without closeness, what is closeness without family, and what is family without love? I’ve never wanted to settle down and get married and have babies (and don’t worry dad, I’m not planning on it any time soon)– but I’m slowly comprehending the beauty of creating a family of my own one day. It’s just an interesting realization to come to– maybe for once, I’m a little behind everyone else on this, but I know that one day, I want that, too.
I’ll admit it, I’ve become a sap, a sentimental, since being here… the last thing I expected to happen! But, here it is, and here I am… who would have thought, certainly not me– that I would come to a foreign country, excited about the uniqueness of the concept… almost here for the purpose of growing into an even more independent and “different” person than everyone else– and find myself to be more normal than I have ever wanted to be or thought myself to be. And I’m strangely okay with it. In fact, I feel more normal here, in a strange place, being normal, than I do in a normal place, being different. I’m much more okay with blending into the walls here than I’ve ever been at home. Now, when I come home, I’m not sure if I’ll revert, but for now… that’s where I am.
A lot of this might not make a ton of sense unless you know me really well, so for those of you that don’t, you can skip this one. But, for those of you that do, I know you understand…
Right now, out my window, is the most beautiful blue sky with poofy, glowing, cotton-ball clouds. Today the visibility is for miles… in fact, I can see mountain tops that are usually not visible due to valley fog. The rooftops are dry, the streets aren’t damp, and it’s cold– and you’d never know that yesterday, it snowed for hours.
Love you guys. Kisses on both cheeks, AND hugs… because that’s one thing we don’t do a ton of here in Italy. I sure miss hugs.
And my toes are back!

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