The “other” San Francisco

“The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler. You’re a fucking tourist.” Guillermo del Toro

Monday, August 7, 2017
Lisbon, Portugal

I had a chunk of days break between visiting the far reaches of my beautiful Romania and decided to take a last minute, solo trip to Portugal.
I had been in a bit of a slump and was on the verge of wallowing in self-pity and loneliness.
I felt not quite like myself.
I missed last summer when I was on the go. Meeting new people everyday. No set plans for where to go or what to do the next day. Couchsurfing with beautiful strangers and making the most treasured of memories…
I wanted to prove to myself I still had it in me.
And by golly I did just that.
Portugal had always appealed to me… It seemed always so out of the way in my travels last summer. But I heard tales of it’s coastline… the people.. the culture.. the food.. the wine.. Porto… Lisbon.. Sintra.. the Algarve coast…
I decided to book the cheapest (Yet still considerably expensive considering how Malta was $100 round trip.. and Berlin was $80 round trip) city to fly into from Bucharest and go from there…
Lisbon it was.
I knew next to nothing about Portugal except that everyone who had been there had nothing but wonderful things to say about it.
Why not!?
And why not start in Lisbon…
The San Francisco of Portugal.. it has trams… it has hills… it has their version of the Bay Bridge… its on the West Coast of Europe… plenty of beaches… laid back attitudes…
And it lived up to its name. I was exhilarated coming out of the metro and finding many Palm Trees.. .ohhh how I had missed them living over in Eastern Europe…
And it was warm… but not overly uncomfortable… like Bucharest… When I left Bucharest, it was 39 degrees C and the humidity was sweltering.
Portugal had a lively breeze.. a nice dry heat…
The ground beneath my feet was cobblestone… but unique to other cobblestone walkways of other European countries… They were tiny blocks of stone cut out in a precise shape and size and placed together, more often than not, to create a mosaic-like effect… Rossio Square, my first real introduction to Lisbon had them lined out in a pattern that was reminiscent of waves… If I stared at it too long it had a bit of a trippy effect…  I learned later that each of the little stones were carved by hand and they first started hundreds of years ago.

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The wave effect in Rossio Square hold a deeper meaning too.. Back on November 1st, 1755 the city was ravaged by a series of massive earthquakes, the largest being 8.5. They destroyed the majority of the city. Everything was shattered… crumbled. November 1st was also the Catholic holy All Saints day.  As a result, all of the cathedrals were packed with civilians celebrating this feast. Needless to say, the crumbling of the cathedrals caused a great number of people to perish. In addition, since All Saints day was a holy day, people lit candles and flowers were put up in celebration. The earthquakes caused the buildings to tumble and the candles fell upon the flammable flowers and other religious decor. Fires soon sprung up all over the city. As if that weren’t bad enough, the earthquakes triggered a tsunami that reached 9 meters high by the time it reached the city. The higher parts of the city remained burning for nearly 5 days. It is said that a week after these three events, nearly 90% of the buildings were either crumbled, burned or flooded and nearly 600,000 people had perished.
This was all carefully retold by my tour guide and she ended the awful tale, saying that the wave pattern created by the stones on the ground were to look like a tsunami and to commemorate that fateful day back in 1755.

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I spent the majority of my time in the Alfama district. As soon as I stumbled upon its beautiful narrow streets I knew this was where I needed to be. Other areas of Lisbon are spread out with large streets. The Alfama district actually survived that day in 1755 and still portrays days of the old where everyone knew each other and old ladies would lean out their windows to chat with their friends across the alley (literally if they reached their hands out they would easily be able to hold onto one another). Laundry was often strung out below windows, along with flowers. I spent two days getting lost, wandering in and out of the streets. Going up and down soOoo many staircases. Working my calves on the steep slopes. It was much less touristy and much more quiet than the other areas of Lisbon… It gave you the feel of authenticity… real people went about their daily lives… no commercial shops.. only a small number of cafes… a few local grocery stores.. the smell of sardines flowing through the air (they do love their sardines there, I noticed)… I certainly did not get the feel that I was in a big city while wandering these quiet streets. You can find so many brightly colored buildings and the doors of their houses are quite close to each other, so it is easy to see how narrow the residences are. It hurt my calves to imagine the stairs they have to climb every day to get from the door to the top floor, not to mention walking about their normal day on the steep streets! If you keep an eye out, you can find little black and white portraits painted onto the walls of the local residents…

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It is here that I also found my San Fransisco tram! Tram 28! The most famous tram in all of Lisbon… I never got in the long queue (some people waited up to three hours to ride it).. but people who do get to ride it never regret the long line.. it winds up and down and round the hills and you can easily hop on (after the line of course) and it will take you all around the highlights of the city…

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Another thing I fell in love with was all of the ceramic tiles about the city. Many of the buildings were covered in them on the outside. Some had just a few remaining ones… They are called Azulejos tiles (usually they were a combination of beautiful blue and creamy white) and usually were laid out in some sort of geometric, lacey or flowery pattern. Sometimes they just adorned the facades of buildings, the same repeating tile over and over again. Other times, the tiles were put together to create a mural or a depiction of a historic scene.  Lazily sauntering about the city, as opposed to rushed sightseeing on your way to the next big sight to see, allows you to find all kinds of fun little hidden tiles. You are able to pick one up of your own in any tourist shop…

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My personal favorite was the street art. Discovering the street art is one of my favorite things about wandering through a new city. One particular area that caught my eye and had me going back to time and time again. On one of the steep paths down to the Alfama area from the Barrio do Castelo neighborhood, you pass through a little tunnel of sorts. It has the words “Don’t Be Mean” spelled out with stretched wire. Just beyond it, outside of the tunnel, just to the left is a flat open area. When I first walked back out into the sunshine, I was not expecting such a sight. Instead of more buildings and streetways, there was the wreckage of an abandoned building.  The remains of the Cerca Velha Wall…… and wow… a little outdoor art area looked after by a sweet old man… Take the time to explore and you’ll find some delightful things :))

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Fado music is another Lisbon favorite… I was stumbling around Alfama one night with some couchsurfers just after we witnessed the most beautiful sunset from the highest hill in Lisbon and heard the soulful sounds echoing through the alleyways… Fado… which means “fate” or “destiny” in Portuguese is a type of music that has been heard throughout the streets of Lisbon for centuries. Typically, it involves a lady singing a yearning, soulful, haunting song that comes to life and makes your heart ache to hear. Though they are quite sad songs, causing the people in the cafes nearby to hush to a silence as they are slowly transfixed by the mournful melody Definitely worth a listen… perhaps with a glass of sangria or their vinho verde OR (my personal favorite) Ginjinha (a Portuguese liqueur made of sour cherries (“ginja berries”) with a delightful hint of cinnamon.

PS> Just so you know.. the information about all of the things I have written about was straight from locals, whether it be the Free Tour guide or couchsurfers I met up with that were born and bred in the city or random strangers who happened to be as curious about life as I am

 

SummerTime

“Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday June 30, 2017
Bucharest, Romania

“Why don’t you take off your shirt?”
I shrugged my shoulders and pulled my legs tighter to my chest.
We were in Naples, Italy. Sitting on the soft sandy shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The sun was shining bright and hot. A soft breeze blew just enough to keep everyone from melting on the spot.
I had just bought a bikini. The first one I had bought in years. It was bright green with little bright pink crocheted flowers.
I had bought it the previous week in Sardinia.
I was hitchhiking around the island, sleeping in the crevices of the rocks. Falling asleep to the sea as it gently sloshed onto the sandy-colored rocks around me.  Waking up to the mot glorious display of colors in the sky all around me as the sun rose over the crystal clear waters. I took my morning swim… wading out over 10 meters… watching as the water distorted my feet beneath the surface…  so clear…
The last day on the island, I decided to challenge my biggest fear.
Bikinis
Exposing my body
Exposing my scar
The giant scar
Running deep across my belly.
Just above the belly button.
The only traces left of the life-or-death struggle I barely remember from my early years.
Ending in a liver transplant.
I was born with a faulty liver and my first few years consisted of doctor’s visits, hospital stays and surgeries. In 1988 my medical team had run out of options and after being on the waiting list for far too long I finally got a new liver.
But this was before they got down the technique of stitching people up to leave behind a barely there scar.
This scar I was left with created a crevice deep across my tummy.
Revealing a deep crease in every shirt I wore
Which lead to many years of crippling self-consciousness, plummeting body image and resulted in a life-long battle with coming to terms with my body and loving myself.
I tried to starve the scar away.
I thought that if I lost a bit of weight maybe it wouldn’t show so much. My skin wouldn’t bulge above and below..
I slowly cut out this and that from my diet.
I stopped hanging out with friends
I stopped laughing
I remember my dad asking me at one point, “Is there anything I can do to see you smile again?”
I had no answer
It was always there.
It never went away.
I was never flat.
I thought I looked like an alien. Deformed.
And growing up… my brother… my classmates… all instilled in me a sense of being unattractive… unlovable…
Every shirt.
Every dress
Highlighted my defect
I still cringe when I catch a glimpse of it in the mirror.
A shadow curls over my thoughts as I catch my side view and leaves me in a damp mood the rest of the day
Yet… of all the people that have seen it… taking off my shirt… changing in locker rooms…
Not one person stopped and stared.
No one questioned what that thing was
That indent in my belly
In high school, in Newfoundland, Canada, we had a hot tub in our backyard.
Occasionally I would invite my friends over to relish in the warmth and filling our noses with the oddly comforting smell of chlorine
I always wore tankinis.
One night… one of my friends noticed my scar.
The force of the bubbles rising to the surface must have been enough for him to catch a glimpse.
“What’s that? What happened?” He asked softly.
He edged closer.
I pulled the swimsuit down. An uneasy feeling came over my previous carefree joy
I looked at him… trying to assess his reaction.
But instead of disgust and revulsion, his face was earnest and genuine curiosity.
I stood up
He bent down and gently lifted up the tankini.
“wooahhhh…” His hands softly ran over my belly… the scar…
I wasn’t sure how to react.
The rest of my friends in the hot tub grew silent as they took in the scene unfolding before them.
“It’s beautiful” He whispered.
He bent down and kissed it… barely grazed it with his lips.
“You are a miracle.” He breathed…
I was overcome with wonder… with confusion…
Why was he not grossed out?…..
That was the only time anyone directly addressed it.
Even when I was deep in the throes of want.
My shirt off
His hands softly grazing my skin
Never once did they recoil when they reached the scar.
It wasn’t until I brought it up did anyone acknowledge it.
It was glaringly obvious to me
but to them…..

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Sardinia! 🙂 Just look at that water!!

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Sardinia.. How can you NOT swim in that water….

So when I was in Sardinia, hitchhiking, sleeping on the sand or sandwiched between rocks… after months of being on my own backpacking through Europe…
I observed the people on the beaches I’d visited.
All kinds of bodies.
Women. Men.
Old and young.
Big and little.
Pregnant and stick thin.
They LIVED while on the beach in their bikinis or otherwise skimpy suits.
They did not seem overcome with self-consciousness.
Hiding whatever flaws they thought they might have
They LIVED.
I slowly gained the courage to try it out for myself.
I remembered all of the body image challenges from the various treatment centers I had spent time at
I decided it was time to try it again.
As luck would have it, there was a man with a rack of swimsuits right there on the beach. Selling them as the sea swept over his feet.
I hastily grabbed the neon green bikini that had caught my eye earlier and hurried over to the rocks to change in (somewhat) privacy.
And then I walked down the beach
Cautiously at first
Almost tiptoeing in the sand
My feet glued to my toes.
I took great big freeing breaths as I walked.
Inhaling the fresh sea breeze and exhaling fear.
I slowly got to the point I was able to look around.
No one recoiled in disgust.
No one stopped and stared.
No one pointed in horror.
They were going about their day. Playing with their children. Laughing with their friends. Lounging in the sun…
I walked to the water’s edge.
I let the sea lap my toes and as I walked deeper and deeper I let it cleanse my soul of inner fears.

Beach

It was pretty obvious that I hadn’t worn a bikini in awhile from the glowing white skin of my belly compared to the nice tan elsewhere…
Now here I was on a small crowded beach. The sea water in front of me was clear… so very clear….
And a beautiful shimmering turquoise
All of the bodies around me
Tight, model-like bodies. the ones with the muffin tops. the old men in speedos…
All a dark shade of caramel, toasted by the hot Italian sun
No one gave a second thought to me.
Of how I looked.
They were enjoying the moment.
the warm kiss of the sun
I wanted that
He nudged me with his elbow, “Come onnnnnnn..!!” He urged, “Take it off! Let’s go swim! I’ll take you to a sea cave!”
His hair was stringy and wet. He had already been in the water.
His green eyes glittered. His thick Italian accent gave his tone a soft, excited urgency.
I sighed and slowly stretched out my legs.
I took a breathe
Centered myself.
Mindfulness.
I am me. I am at the seaside in Naples, Italy. How could I NOT swim in the water?
The sun beat down. My hot skin begged for the sea.
I looked around.
No one was paying attention to us.
They were all in their own worlds. Drinking. Laughing. Cuddling. Talking. Swimming.
I slowly pulled my shirt over my head and tossed it to the side.
His face lit up.
Grinning from ear to ear, he leapt to his feet and reached for my hand.
“Come on! Let’s go!”
I glanced around again. No one was paying any attention.
I remembered something I had heard at the eating disorder treatment centers.
“You may think everyone is staring at you. Judging you… but you are not that special.”
You are not that special
I always thought it was a tad negative of a thought.
But at the same time…. It is kinda true…
I am always fearful that people are constantly staring. Judging. Rejecting. Criticizing. But that is not the truth.
I am NOT that special.
People are all doing their own things…
I am not what they think about.., maybe in passing…
But when I think about it..
How many people do I see on a daily basis that make so much of a blip on my radar…
I am just another stranger to them.
I allowed him to help me to my feet and followed him into the water, weaving between the bodies stretched out on the sand.
I looked behind as we reached the water’s edge.
No one’s gaze was on me.
No one was pointing in horror.
No one was recoiling with disgust.
They were all going about their day.
Living their life.
“Come on! Enjoy the moment. You glow with the most beautiful energy when you smile.”
I closed my eyes and inhaled slowly, closed my eyes and let my breathe go slowly… expelling my crippling self-consciousness.
I slowly smiled. Opened my eyes. And entered the water.

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Mirrors… self-reflecting or self-destructing?
The struggle is suffocating and constant still…
Perhaps by the end of summer I will allow myself to wear a bikini again…
Even though it has been years since I have set foot in a treatment center.
Recovery is lifelong.
The thoughts never go away
I live for the days I am able to drown them out with positivity. sunlight. friends. and inner peace.

Dark Days

Thursday June 22, 2017
Bucharest, Romania

If I ask you to make a list of things that you love…. how long would it take for you to put your name on it…

Nobody ever tells you that emptiness weighs the most.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be happy with myself.
I worry that since I cannot be happy with me then how in the world will anyone else ever be happy with me.

I cannot pass by a mirror without the reflection tainting the rest of my day… clouding my happiness more and more with each glimpse…

Summer is here.
Beach season.
……

Imagine if we obsessed with the things we loved about ourselves…

I have had people tell me:
Make peace with the mirror and watch your reflection change.
But how
How does one make peace with the mirror?

If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies… Imagine how different our ideas of beauty would be…

Ramblings of loneliness

Sunday, May 4, 2017
Bucharest, Romania

It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”— Confucius

Every master was once a disaster.” — David T.S. Wolf

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. – John Wooden

Don’t overthink yourself out of something good! – Akosua Dardaine Edwards

Don’t overthink things. Sometimes you can convince your head not to listen to your heart. Those are the decisions you regret for the rest of your life. –Leah Braemel

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.— J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

 

I’m in a bit of a funk lately.
Too many things are going on and it is a little overwhelming and hard to keep my head up.
I have been in Romania quite awhile off and on.
I still do not have a grasp on the language
People keep telling me that they know of others who learned it in one month.
That just makes me feel worse
Unable
Stupid
And we go to meet people
And they are courteous
polite
“Hello! Buna! How are you?”
And that is about the extend of the conversation most of the time
I say I can understand some of it.
I say I am trying to learn.
I say “No problem, go ahead and talk in Romanian, I can kinda follow along”
But I can’t
I do for awhile
I get the gist of the conversation
But then my mind focuses on one word or phrase
forgetting what it is
and my mind searches for what it means
and I lose track of the conversation
And I stare at the sky.
at the people walking by
Trying to not look bored
Trying not to look as alone as I feel
Left out
Isolated
I don’t want them to speak entirely in English
That would be an inconvenience for them
I am in their home country
They are speaking their mother tongue
I take lessons
I do the apps
Answer the questions right
And then when it comes to conversation in real life
My mind blanks.
What did they just say?
What am I supposed to say back?
And the visa
I finally turned in the visa this past week
And now I wait one month to see if they accept or reject it
If I have to leave or if I get to stay
If I get rejected should I to hire a lawyer and fight to stay?
After waiting in the lines for hours
With impatient, rude people
standing
forever
talking to the people behind the desk 9 times
My translator talked to the officer for what seemed like an eternity
And when we left the counter
I got a one sentence summary of the 20 minute conversation.
i need another document
another document
each time
waiting in traffic
stressing out my boss
Creating tension at work
i am scared I am too much work
Wishing she never hired me
due to all the headaches of this visa
leaving my classroom and coming back mentally vapid
not able to concentrate on what was going on
going home to cry
And am so exhausted I nearly pass out at 9
because I messed up
I didn’t know the new rules
Count backwards 180 days.
it doesn’t start over.
It was my fault
I could feel the heaviness
Disappointment from others
And I revert back to the days of pasT
When I was truly believed I was a burden
Unwanted, but invited out of obligation
It is my fault I am slow at learning
that’s just how I am
All the people I meet here
Must think I am so boring
i hope they don’t think I’m a bitch
Or stuck up
because I barely talk
I have so much I want to say.
I want to show them me
but they just turn to other friends and share stories
and laugh
in Romaninan
And I am left
Alone
Though sometimes they remember I am there
and translate a story
or respond in English to what someone asked in Romanian
and I jolt back to reality
they are talking to me
my heart soars with happy
I feel like I am pulling away
Regressing
Not putting as much effort as I should at work
the gym seems overwhelming
getting out of bed to go to meet people is difficult
No amount of sleep could cure the tiredness I feel
I love people
I hate inconveniencing people
I hate being a burden
And I noticed that I have been backsliding
Focusing on the negatives when I look in the mirror
As they talk and talk
I notice more and more wrong with me
My white thighs glowing in the sun
flattened out and huge as I sit in the chair
The scars on my arms from days long ago
The bags under my eyes that won’t go away
My hair, frizzy beyond belief
My silhouette makes me cringe
My stomach.
The liver transplant scar
a big indent in my belly
creating a soft roundness above and below
fat
no bikinis for me
I tried
I got down to 86 pounds long ago
I still had a soft round belly
I get more and more disgusted every time I look in the mirror
why did I decide to wear this tonight?
no wonder people don’t want to talk to me
I feel boring
all that time of listening to them talk
and sitting there
feeling awkward
not sure if I should intervene,
“Ce faci!”
“Nu înțeleg”
But I don’t
I don’t want to be a bother
I try to follow
then space out
lost in my head
all the thoughts
monsters don’t live under the bed
They scream inside your head
but not all the time
don’t worry too much
things still make me happy
the soft rain before the downpour
as it gently lands on my skin
a slight tickle from mother earth
laying in the grass with the sun shining on me
warming my body
Bubbles
and many other things
it is easy to spiral and forget
but there are many things that keep me here
But I have been longing more and more for going back
To Portland
To Santa Cruz
where I can understand people
Where I don’t feel detached
But would that be giving up?
Running away?
Should I power through and take 2 lessons a week?
Could I fit in here?
Your vibe attracts your tribe.
I feel part of a tribe sometimes
but then they slowly revert back to Romanian
laughing
talking
reminiscing
and I have no idea what they are talking anymore
because at one point I space out
too much in my own head
I need more things here
I need to change
I need motivation
But do I belong here?
Is this the life I want?
Do I want to go back to what’s comfortable?
Or do I want to step out of my comfort zone and zoom forth
I have always felt a little ostracized
all my life
On the fringes of groups
Along for the ride
A little odd
I’m used to being the me that they know
silly, bright and sunshiny
but I also come off as flighty
as dumb
and I am not
not many people know the real me
all the things I went through
The people I lost
the people that hurt me
the people I hurt
My stories that made me who I am
the good and the bad
No one asks anymore
and then there are some people I connect with on another level
and I adore them
and I feel wanted when I am with them
and I laugh
and feel warm inside
happy
But I can’t remember the last time I laughed
genuine laughter
where your eyes well up with happiness and silliness
I miss that
I need nature
I need a friend
I need the beach
I need to stop thinking that everyone is thinking negatively of me
I hate it
because that’s what teenagers do
I’m 31
I should be over that by now
Strong
Independant
Etc
But no
Because right now I feel deflated
discouraged
empty
lost
alone
But i still have the flame of hope
Deep inside
still burning
waiting for more fuel
for me to believe wholly
that I can do this
that things will get better
I just need to get out of my head
because life is beautiful
I’m living in Romania.
I am in charge of 17 of the most beautiful, sweet little 2-3 year olds
I have a good job that pays quite well
Someone who believes in me
and keeps me going
i have plans to travel in the summer
music festivals
summer is coming
i need to get back to that me
that me that said “yes” to everything
That had no problem talking to strangers
I have people that say I am beautiful
And check up on me
I’ve been here before
i know my mind is just messing with me
i’ve been here before
i can get out
get out of my head
and into my heart
And in these next week Is will start the process
of becoming a butterfly
starting by smiling from my heart
because I am strong
and I am worth it
I just need to work on believing it
mantras on the mirror
mantras by the bedside
little reminder that life is beautiful
of who I am
I will find my way

The key to happiness is letting each situation be what it is instead of what you think it should be.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” – Unknown

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be. ― Abraham Lincoln

True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future. – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Legally Illegal… again

“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.”
~Jiddu Krishnamurti

April 29, 2017
Bucharest, Romania

 

So… It turns out that the 90 out of 180 days thing isn’t so simple… I left Romania December 20.. had to wait 90 days to come back and was 100% sure that it had restarted and had another 90 out of 180 days.

Not true
Not at all.

I am still waiting for the paperwork from home to come through to get the volunteer visa. My dad paid (and I am slowly paying him back) $131 to have it shipped within a week but it never came to the school. It was addressed to me and then underneath had the housing complex where the school was.  The post office sent us updates… it flew from JFK… it arrived at the Bucharest airport… it was cleared through security.. it was ready to deliver.. and then nothing.
The school headmaster called and called and argued that it is there and that we have proof and gave them the tracking number but they claimed there was nothing there. By the end of the next week it arrived back at my parents house.
So we tried again.. and since I had a 2 week break during the last two weeks of April we agreed to not pay the absurd amount of money and have it delivered when we got back from break, May 3. We all were gonna be enjoying our vacation anyway.

No problem…. or so we thought.

I went back to Budapest for 3 days to visit my old hostel and my volunteer friends…. more on that later…

I arrived back to Bucharest April 26. I always get a little nervous at the any border, just because,… and last time I was at the Romanian border they claimed I had to leave the country for 5 days cuz my 90 days wasn’t up until then.
Of course, I started crying. I was SURE I was allowed back. I had plans to go to work. To see my friends. I didn’t have the money to go anywhere else.. after not getting paid since the beginning of January and on the move… paying for gas, meals, hostels, drinks, airplane tickets.. my money dwindled quickly.. along with that one time I got fined on the tram in Budapest (I had the ticket with me, I just hadn’t validated it and they made me pay an absurd amount of Forints all the money I had left,.. and I still had a week there.. but thankfully friends pitched in to help me get through)… I had pretty much negative money. Luckily, I had done my research before and emailed the Romanian Border police first and had it in an email… in writing.. from their boss… that I was allowed in on that day…. after about an hour of waiting and trying to calm myself down, they let me wait in the international terminal for 6 hours until I finally could go home at midnight.

Anyway, here I was, April 26, weak, sick, tired (I had just had a bought of 24 hour food poisoning and hadn’t been able to sleep or keep anything down since 2 nights before) and ready to go home to my bed.
I stepped up to the booth and handed over my passport. I never know what to do at this point. They take the passport, click on their computer or scan or whatever it is they do… but it was taking too long.. fear gripped my heart… I scanned my brain to think of why it was taking so long… was it cuz I stayed late in December? over the 90 days? I paid the fine.. I was let back in last time..
Finally, he looked at me and asked how long I planned to stay… (at least a month to figure things out, I said…cuz I thought that of the 90 days I had left that started on the 20 of March I knew I had at least a month left and it was a safe number to stay)
His eyes squinted a bit and his face tensed and asked what I was doing and who I was staying with (I am visiting friends, traveling and working on getting a visa)
He sighed.. no response.. got up from his chair and walked out through the back of the booth, I assumed to talk to a higher up.
I was used to this by now. Being left at the customs booth… its not a fun feeling.. everyone knows there’s some problem with you.. they stare.. “What did she do?”   smirks.. some looks of pity..
After about 5 agonizing minutes that seemed like an eternity he told me to come follow him to the back of the booth.
“You have to leave in 3 days” he said.
WHAT???
“No, no, that’s not true. I started here in September.. I stayed 90 days then left for 90 days and came back March 20 and have 90 more days! Check again!” I said, I could feel the tears filling up and slowly trickling down my face. My voice quivering. This couldn’t be happening again!
He took me into the booth and showed me on his computer and it said it,…. that I had been here 88 days and had 3 days left.
“How can that be? I just got back!? I have 90 days of 180 starting March 20!”
“No, not anymore. Go to immigration. Go to the immigration office.”
I tried to comprehend what was going on. I slowly walked to the arrivals room where my friend was waiting for me.  Partway down the longest hallway in the world I leaned against the wall and and tried to regain my composure. Wiped my face clean of tears. Settle my ragged breathing. And I walked on.
He couldn’t believe it either. We looked up everything we could and everything we read said 180 out of 90 days.
We went to the immigration office. I was weak. I was tired. My stomach was once again in knots and swirling around. 3 days! No. I have to go back to my school. I have to all those music festivals this summer. I have to go to the hippie beach at Vama Veche. I have to see the Merry Cemetery in Maramureş. Hike the mountains.. see the mud volcanoes… kayak the Danube delta…  I’m just learning Romanian.
Of course there was crazy traffic due to the taxis going on strike against Uber. So we took the metro. Once we finally got there we learned it didn’t open for another 2 hours. I couldn’t wait downtown for that long. I knew I needed to. But my body was breaking down. I was falling asleep. I had no energy. I was zapped. My head was spinning.
So went home and slept. and slept some more. and woke up the next morning to make the long journey back.
Where we explained the situation. Handed over my passport. And waited. and waited. In a tiny room. People kept going through the doors, but no one stopped to pay attention to us. As the time went on, my fear grew and grew.
Finally a man in full Romanian Police uniform came out with my passport and a white sheet of paper with all kinds of calculations and confirmed my worst fear.
Yes I now had 2 days left.
He tried to explain that rules changed a bit ago and there are a lot of calculations involved. About counting BACKWARDS 180 days to count the 90 days… My mind went blank. I spaced out. I froze.  I was in shock.
So he turned to my friend and explained it to him in Romanian.
After we left that awful place, I called my boss and we decided to try to get what we had of the paperwork and bring it in. A long, slow blur of a day of collecting the paperwork, waiting for an email of an updated document we needed, driving to a different immigration office only to find they closed 3 hours before. And the next day they were closed.

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I tried hard to hold the tears back. What do I do now? Do I leave the country tonight and come back when the documents arrive from the US and hope I am allowed back into the country? Where would I go? It was already 3:45… I doubt there would be any affordable flights out of the county this late. Maybe I could get a ride to Bulgaria and chill there for a week… they have a beautiful seaside I hear.. and I’ve heard rave reviews about Sofia.. and what if they don’t let me back in?

My boss talked to the one lady left behind the desk who was in charge of a different area of immigration. She assured us that all I needed to do was stay in the country, come back when the paperwork was ready, pay a fine for staying over the limit and turn the papers in.

So we deiced to do that.

But I can’t help but be anxious… I already stayed late once… would they let me again? Since I did stay over and was illegally here (its a 3 day weekend and the last day for me is Saturday and I can’t pay the fine before and I can’t go in Sunday or Monday) would they still let me turn in my paperwork? Would they make me leave the country immediately that day? Would I have to leave until the paperwork was done? Usually you are supposed to turn in the paperwork 30 days before your last day.. but I had no Idea of the new rules! I thought I had 90 days!

So my friends took me to the beach for the day to help me get this off my mind.. for some sun.. some sand.. some salt water (much too cold to swim but I definitely put my feet in. And because maybe that would be my only chance to see my beautiful Vama Veche and the Black Sea.

 

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Constanța, Romania is quite an interesting town… lots of abandoned looking buildings and some interesting street art.. It was the first time I saw the seaside since summer (though I was at the ocean in Cali…) so I was super excited..

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Constanța. Even though it was the last weekend in April… a 3 day weekend… the weekend most people come to party at the seaside.. the “beginning of summer”,, it was pretty chilly and empty… though it was only Friday when we went…

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An abandoned Casino right there on the sea in Constanța.. there are guards there and ropes strung up to keep people out… though all my friends have snuck in there at one point.. and I plan to as well… all in good time… its absolutely majestic in there… and the chandeliers and everything are still in place from its heyday.. built by King Carol back in 1900… and if those walls could talk… all the fancy parties with Europe’s elite…

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Constanța… I had to climb over the rocks to get closer to the sea :)))

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Vama Veche, Romania. 🙂 A little hippie-ish village down near the border of Bulgaria. Of course the day we got there there was a thick shroud of mist engulfing the whole area.. leaving it looking a tad bit creepy… intriguing…  empty…

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The waters here are absolutely stunning! A beautiful icy blue nearest the shore and then fades into deeper shades of blue… though I couldn’t see too far out because of the crazy weather..

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Vama Veche… Black Sea… beautiful 🙂

IMG_9761Vama Veche. I had to dip my toes in the water even though it was 10 degrees C and the wind was whipping. (When we first drove over the weather said 17 and so I put shorts on… not the brightest move.. but thanks to living in Canada, it takes a lot to get me cold so I was fine)

Relevant Quotes

I’m having a rough time lately.
Quotes help me get by… but music moreso.
And since i can’t exactly play you guys music, I want to share a few quotes that are quite relevant and meaningful to my life at the moment.
I hope you enjoy… are inspired.. are intrigued.. are thoughtful…

“Photos are the only way to hold on to what you knew. 
Because the moments they show never change
When the people in them do.”
e.h. 

That right there is a thinker. I adore that quote.  When I was at home, I looked back through photos of middle school… of high school… of college…
I messaged the photos with my old friends to them over Facebook.
Most everyone responded.
Most everyone had something positive to say about the ‘good ol days’
But that was about it
Our conversations faded
As did our connections
But yet we still follow each other on Facebook.
A few of them mentioned that they envied my life.  Traveling.  Adventuring.  Going to far off places.  No strings attached.  Doing things they only dreamed about.
We all live in different places now. Some in the same cities and towns where I met them.
But then again, I’ve lived in so many cities and met so many people..
And its not that their life is stagnant. They are constantly hanging with friends. Sometimes hiking.. sometimes partying.. sometimes having kids.. sometimes picnics.. beaches.. woods.. bars..
So why am I so scared to settle? to stay in one place?
Its the drive for “newness”… for excitement.. for overcoming the fear of the unknown.. for discovering and getting to know all kinds of beautiful souls..
But those pictures flood me with an onslaught of nostalgia.. of longing.. for what they have… for stability.. for advancing in a career..

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring
All of which have the potential to turn a life around. “

“People will stare. Make it worth their while” 
~Harry Winston

“Love is a condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
~Robert A. Heinlein

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
~Henry Winkler

“Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being redirected to something good.”
~Steve Maraboli

“I find the best way to love someone is not to change them, but instead, help them reveal the greatest version of themselves.”
~Steve Maraboli

“My favorite people are the ones who make me smile when I think of them.”

“You are going to be okay, but maybe not in the way you planned to be.”

“Better to be the one who smiled than the one who didn’t smile back.”

“It took me way too long to realize that you shouldn’t be friends with people who never ask how you’re doing.”

“I was born with an enormous need for affection and a terrible need to give it.”
~Audrey Hepburn 

“Concerning myself less with getting from 
a to b
And more with what 
i c 
along the way.”
b. cherub

Never ignore someone who loves you and cares about you. ‘Cause one day you may realize you lost the moon while counting stars.
~John O’Callaghan

“I don’t think people understand how stressful it is to explain what’s going on in your head when you don’t even understand it yourself.”
~Sara Quin

“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
~Henry Ford

“Waiting around for someone else to make you happy is the best way to be sad.”

“People know your name, not your story. They’ve heard what you’ve done, but not what you’ve been through. So take their opinions of you with a grain of salt. In the end, it’s not what others think, it’s what you think about yourself that counts. Sometimes you have to do exactly what’s best for you and your life, not what’s best for everyone else.” – Unknown

“My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.”
~John Green
….and in that light… so many feelings and worries and anxieties I cannot put into words… so many hopes I fear to put into light… looking for the answers of the questions I haven’t formed yet.

… but good things are in store… I can feel it…
After all, everyday might not be good, but there is good in everyday….

Zoo Cafe = Best Cafe in Budapest :))

In other news….
THERE IS A ZOO CAFE HERE IN BUDAPEST!!!
You can eat with cats and lizards and hedgehogs!!
When my friend and I went, they sat us right next to the toucan and gave us some big ol lizard guy…. we had to hold it.. couldn’t set it on the table… which made it difficult to sip the cappuccino… but later on the waiter dude came by and set a gecko on our table…. and the cat came and eyed it hungrily..
But WOW!!!
Other tables had guinea pigs and hedgehogs… when we walked in one dude was wearing a snake.. .there were little logs on the walls and up near the ceiling for the free roaming cats to play around in!!! And they are sooo soft and fluffy and ohhhhhhhh :))))
IF YOU GO TO BUDAPEST, GO TO THE ZOO CAFE!! !
It is guaranteed to be the best coffee experience you’ll ever have!!

Doppelgängers

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The streets of Budapest are beautiful.  I walk the streets everyday, plugged into my headphones, the sounds of Simon and Garfunkel or Band of Horses flowing through my ears….

Every building here has its own character… its own style.. I could wander for hours..

And then I look back down at the street level.. and I keep seeing people from the past.
Old lovers. Old friends. Recent and long ago…
And I am hit full on with flashbacks of those times long ago.
Smells… feelings… sensations… full on..
And I wonder
What am I doing here?
In Budapest?
One year ago I was working at a day care playing with kids and babies at ski resort spending days off snowboarding and nights off roading to hot springs or babysitting.
Two years ago I was working at a Chinese restaurant in Alabama with someone I thought I would spend my life with only to have him confess his love for another and the feeling of betrayal and broken trust.
Four years ago I was working at a Preschool in Hendersonville, NC.. spending weekends going out with my Asheville friends and hula hooping and glittering dogs at bars and inter tubing down rivers..
Six years ago I was still stuck in a haze bad relationship of the worst kind where even sunny days rarely brought smiles for fear of doing something wrong.
And now… I am volunteering at a hostel here in beautiful Budapest… biding my time to go back to Romania… To my job… My babies.. My friends..
But the flashbacks are so intense… I sometimes have to stop right there in the street to catch my breath.

I get transferred back to that one time we were laying in bed listening to music and singing along with the smell of French Onion soup wafting form the kitchen and laughing as we switched turns playing songs that made us happy.
I am transferred back to when all four of us were all stuck in the car at Joshua Tree National Park because it was storming outside and we passed the whiskey around and played Never Have I Ever and how soon the laughter turned to tears because the questions stirred up emotions I had never faced before and we went to the tent while the rain poured and the lightning flashed all around us and you looked in my eyes and told me I was beautiful and would always be there for me. But as time passed and I came back to visit you shattered my heart. My world. How you couldn’t look me in the eyes. Couldn’t have a conversation. And everything was a lie.
I am transferred back to the beach that one night when the moon was full and the waves were crashing down and you were sitting on the rocks watching me play in the waves like a child and the breeze blew the hair in my face and the sneaker waves drenched me from the waist down but you still welcomed me with open arms and the smell of your shampoo filled my nose and I smiled quietly to myself.
I am transferred back to when we were in the pub in Portland after watching a movie at the dollar theater and we laughed most of the way through the movie… I don’t even remember which one.. but we were in the back row sipping bear and sharing a huge plate of nachos.. and we continued on to the pub where there was a machine that you could put money in and it would spit out your spirit animal. Mine was an orca. Yours was a feral cat. The pub smelled of fresh hops and the floor was sticky and we laughed because we had just played a tape of whale calls back at your apartment full of thrift store stuff thrown together to look just perfect.
I am transferred back to when we were little and you and I were stuck in the raft in the bay. Our parents were drunk up at the cabin and happily waving to us. Our oars floated away and we looked down and to our horror the whole bottom of the bay was covered in crabs and we half laughed half cried about how we were going to get back to shore. And I slowly dipped halfway in the water and cried as I kicked as hard as I could to get us to shore because I was a year older and supposed to be responsible and I was terrified the crabs would reach up and snap my toes.
I am transferred back to when I worked at the restaurant with you in Alabama and there was a tornado siren going on. Our manager had bought us a bottle of tequila in exchange for a night off. I was at the table trying to stop my anxiety attack from coming on as I was taking this tables order and the dad grabbed my wrist and said “Listen lady, you can have your anxiety attack later. I want my Sweet and Sour chicken NOW.” and the phones were ringing and the sirens were going and out the window the trees were sideways and I ran to the kitchen and you saw me and we took the bottle of tequila and locked ourselves in the girls bathroom to take a few swigs and a few breaths before we could go back to work and face it all.
I am transferred back to when you and I stayed after school in 9th grade to work backstage at a play and we both had a crush on the older guy working with us and that time we painted the coffee table with our feet and the rush of butterflies as he grabbed my waist before I slipped off.. my feet covered in slick pink paint.. and then we went off in the corner to giggle and play Rummy until our hearts slowed their pitter patter. And we would leave him letters in the newspaper box by our house because we learned he was the newspaper boy.
I am transferred back to when we were at that STS9 show and we were tripping and we lost each other… but it was New Years.. and I was dancing and I barely noticed you were gone.. flowing with the music.. moving with the lights.. and BOOM the confetti came from the sky and everyone was cheering with happy because it was finally the new year… and across the room I saw you and we ran to each other and held each other tight because we felt so close. so together. friends forever. and now you are married and living in your same small town with your husband and two kids.
I am transferred back to the time you picked me up from work late one night and we had to drive all the way to your place but the smell of the chicken wings we were bringing home for dinner was so overwhelming we stopped the car on the side of the road and climbed through the bushes in the moonlight and savagely ate all of them and laughed at how silly we looked with hot sauce all over our moths and hands.
I am transferred back to when I met you at your cabin in the woods in the mountains of North Carolina and your friends were over and we decided that instead of sleeping in the house we would sleep in the woods a bit away from the house… a little clearing… we set up my hammock over the soft grass and off to the side the river had pooled up and we climbed up the side of the cliff and jumped in with the fireflies dancing all around and we built the fire and threw in some corn and ate corn and whiskey and we talked for hours of the moon and the spirits in the woods and the magic of the night.
I am transferred back to when we climbed for nearly 5 hours up the mountains and finally reached the little cabin overlooking the alps. No electricity so you built the fire and we had fondue and wine and watched the sunset over the mountains and we laid out on the grassy knoll by the cabin and passed the whiskey bottle back and forth and watched the stars and you taught me Swiss German and told stories of all your adventures and my heart danced with joy at all the ideas you gave me for future endeavors and the air was so clear and pure.
I am transferred back to our motorcycle rides in the moonlight. Pretending we were riding through Arkham. The warm Alabama air felt amazing as I held you close so I wouldn’t fall and we took those turns like pros. I let go and held my arms out… feeling so free.. wishing I could feel that way forever..
I am transferred back to that time when we were young and a bunch of us were over at our friends house. It was “perfect”… 3 girls, 3 boys. The mom let us drink. I was too scared. Too goody goody, so I had root beer. You gave up a night of booze to drink root beer with me so I wouldn’t feel left out.
I am transferred back to the night we were laying in bed and you got a phone call at 3 am. You excused yourself from the bed and walked outside to take it, explaining you had a bad dream about someone and you needed to talk to her. I waited patiently and listened to music. A half hour later I wandered outside to look for you and as soon as you saw me you quickly said goodbye and gave me a weak smile. We went back inside and as we were laying together you kept getting texts. You had that smile on your face. And I knew everything I thought we had was broken. Over. Gone. And I laid with you as you cried over her. Over your past with her. You chose her over me. You told me even if she came to town and we were together you would still sleep with her. You told me you always had loved her. I wondered if you ever actually loved me or if you always wished I was her. And I moved far away.
I am transferred to that time I was turning over rocks at the Oregon coast to look for crabs and my headphones were blasting the Cure in my ears and I felt a tap on my shoulder and there you were, smiling and asking what I was doing… which lead to the fact that all the campsites were full and I let you set up your tent next to mine… and then the next night I found the perfect campsite.. but there were signs that bears were all over the area… but I was determined to stay there… so I called you, even though you were on a mission to bike down the Oregon coast and begged you to come camp at this beautiful campsite with me. And we melted chocolate on bananas for dinner and passed the whiskey and warmed by the fire and I had the idea to leave some food in the hole in the tree for the bear to come. You never said anything against the idea. I made you sleep in my tent. In your own sleeping bag… just in case the bear did come.. and in the middle of the night we were woken up with heavy, gangly steps and snorts and snarls and the knocking over of pots and pans and the bulky shadow of the bear outside our tent. I started hyperventilating with both excitement and fear. You gently edged closer and put your hand over my lips and softly whispered in my ear, ” don’t worry.. about a thing.. cuz every little thing is gonna be alright…” and the bear lumbered around and nearly sat on our tent… then shuffled back off into the night and we laid there silent and still for nearly ten minutes until we burst into relieved maniacal laughter and cautiously crawled out of the tent to see the damage…
I am transferred one of those first times we were all together for summer camp. Someone brought out a guitar and all the girls gathered around one of the guys and I was playing cards at another table. He paused for a second during his strumming. I suggested he play “Aeroplane Over the Sea” and he did. And I got so filled with emotions from his soft voice. The lyrics. The guitar. I had to walk outside. You followed me and we sat out on the benches and we both cried and talked for the rest of the night.
I am transferred back to the day I first met you and we hiked all throughout the desert and were so tired. You ate a burger. I was having a bad body image day and had an orange. You didn’t say anything. You accepted it. There was a meteor shower that night. We laid on the benches in the middle of the desert in Oregon. You brought out some Crunch and Munch… knowing it was one of my favorites in the world. We both dug in and told stories and laughed at pointed out different shooting stars. And then there was that one. The biggest, longest, slowest shooting star I had ever seen. And you saw it too. And we decided it was a sign that we would be friends forever. And we still talk. Now and then. But you are living your life with your man and your friends over in Oregon.I am transferred back to when you first messaged me. I was pretty much done with meeting people in Bucharest. I was ready to be done with the hostel and move on. But you were patient. You assured me. I met you. You tried to take me a cafe on a rooftop. They were all closed. You looked anxious. Nervous. We went to a different place. I got some random thing on the menu and you got the most delicious apple strudel pie thing and I ended up eating most of it. It started off slow… our talking… but there was something about you I couldn’t quite put my finger on that I needed. That intrigued me. You pursued. I got scared. I wasn’t supposed to fall in love. I didn’t want it. But slowly… ever so slowly I let it happen.. and before I knew it… everything fell into place just as it was meant to be…. and just when things were at their best I had to leave the country due to the visa and I thought I would lose you forever. I cried. You took me to your friends early on. I was surprised. I was happy. You let me stay at your place. I felt at home. I fed your cat. We gorged on Haribo and drank coffee to stay up all night. You were patient when I was hesitant. We bought christmas lights to sparkle up the apartment. You didn’t mind when I put up artwork around your place. You were gentle. You were just what I needed. You gave me hope. You broke down my wall. We went to Bran. You woke up before I did to help me get to work on time. You took me to your Christmas party. You promised you would wait for me… for the longest 3 months of my life.
I am transferred back to that night on prom when I got all dressed up. I spent a lot of money on the dress. I put on the make up. My mom gave me her pearls. and I waited. And I assured my parents you would show. But time went on. My parents eyes felt sorrow and fear. It was a half hour into the prom night and I asked my dad to drop me off anyway. You never showed. I danced with my dad for the father daughter dance and he looked so sad. I could barely look him in the eyes, but I tried to cheer him up saying that it was okay… I wanted to come anyway because there was free jelly beans. And there was. And I ate nearly the whole bowl, I went to the bowl handful after handful then retreat back to the corner, looking for you. One guy did come up to me to invite me to dance. I could see the pity and disgust in his eyes. My dad bought flowers and they were waiting for me on my bed when I got home. He said every girl deserves flowers on her prom night. I talked to you the next day. You laughed. “Did you really think I was serious?”
I am transferred back to that day at the treatment center when I met a new girl. I gave her a hug and all I could feel was bone. A hollow skeleton. And I saw her face. It looked like a skull. Sunken and hollow. It shook me up and I talked to my therapist and she tried to convince me that I, too, looked that way and I got so upset. Because what I saw in the mirror was a blob, disfigured monster.
I am transferred back to when I gave you the book I created for you. I had all your friends write memories and happy things for you. I collected them all and added pictures your friends sent. I laminated the pages. I created a book. I created a Facebook group. I gave it to you your last Christmas. As soon as you unwrapped it you threw it across the room in anger and said that I was just a stupid Ethiopian looking unlovable THING. You died a month later. I still see you here or there.

And everyone else in my life.

Everyone. Everything.

The good. The bad. I do not necessarily regret any of it. I thank those people that made my life hard. I have had my share of struggles. Of near deaths. Of being so depressed my options and future seemed slim to none. Of being so happy that my heart was flying… only to discover that I was being deceived.

Yes, I remember it all. I remember how you made me feel that day. Whether it good or bad. The feelings of uncertainty or love or hope or brokenness or fear or rejected…

But then I remember. I am here. Life has brought me here. I am here for a reason. I am waiting to get back to Romania. To my life there. To my babies. My co-workers. To my friends. To my love.  To new hope. To getting back to trusting people. To accepting love and people into my life again. To throwing myself into the Romanian lifestyle.  To a year of exploring Europe during the weeks off. To pursuing life and love and what comes next.
And I can’t help but smile and turn the music to my favorite channel…. the rockin’ 80’s and sing “I CAN SEEE CLEARLLLY NOW THE RAIN IS GONE!” and get out of bed and take back to the streets.

Untitled.

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—-> Note: This is a free write… sorry if it is jumbled.. not in order… a bit “messsy”… i just needed to let it out…. <——

Dear ED

I rarely use the word hate. I do not like that word. But in your case. I hate you from the depths of my soul. With everything inside of me. With vehemence beyond all things.
You stole my teenage years. You stole my college years. You kept me inside counting calories and crying in my bed while others my age tested their limits and did things teenagers do. You kept me running on that treadmill, watching the minutes turn to hours, as others passed time playing hackey sack and going on adventures and playing spin the bottle. I feared weed because it made you hungry and that was the last thing I wanted to be…. so I lost touch with those friends that went that direction. I feared alcohol for its calories… so I lost touch with those friends who delighted in the feeling of being intoxicated for the first time(or second or third or whatnot.) I feared going out with friends because it was inevitable that they would go out for food and I would have to make an excuse as to why I couldn’t eat.  I had already eaten… even though all I had that day was 10 grapes and half an orange. I wasn’t hungry…. even though my stomach was whirling about in anger and emptiness. And I would have to sit there sipping my water, gazing in wonder and awe at how my friends could eat so much and stay so fit while if I so much as ate a piece of bread I wold gain two pounds. I wanted so bad to fool around with my friends. To make memories. To be happy. To laugh over simple things. But I lived in a shroud of sadness, terror, suffocating depression… I never went to any keggers. I never went on any spring break adventures to get plastered with friends and laugh about it for years to come. I was vacant. I was an empty balloon. I have no happy memories of late high school. My prom date never showed up because he only asked me as a joke. I have no happy memories of parties or falling in love or late nights talking to friends or clubbing in college. I so desperately wanted to be part of it all… to have someone fall in love with me… but how in the world would that be ever possible? I was grotesque, fat, annoying, unlovable… or at least that’s what you, my ED, told me. I wanted so badly to have heads turn in my direction when I walked into the room.. “The only reason they would turn is because they saw the ugliest person they’ve ever seen walk into the room”, you, my ED said. I wanted so desperately to go out with my friends and laugh with them and not have a care… “Why would they WANT you along? You know the only reason they would ever invite you is because they felt OBLIGATED… you’re such a burden, a bore”, you, my ED said.

I used to be ok. I was always a good child. Perfect, as they said. “My rock”, my mom called me. My older brother was a bit of a sociopath. His friends adored him. They had nothing but good to say about him. But with the family. I was terrified of him. Many memories of running away from him horror with tears streaming down my face. Locking myself in the bathroom. Huddling in a ball, watching the wooden door strain as he pounded on it. Saying the most horrible things one could say.  I had perfect grades. I did no wrong. I strived to be the kid that my parents would be proud of.

I had the liver transplant at age 3. It saved my life. But left me with a giant scar across my belly. It is still there today. It is still a big indent. It poufs out below and above.  I hated it. I did sit up after sit up. Crunch after crunch. For hours. Days. I lived for the scale. For the reflection in the mirror. What I saw in that mirror was a grotesque monster. Forever growing monster. But looking back at the pictures from that time, I was skin and bones. It hurt to sit down. I could feel my heart beat, pumping my chest up and down as it strived to keep my body alive. My hair came out in chunks. My brother joked that I looked like I was an Auschwitz victim. That I belonged in Ethiopia. Which made me feel even more disgusting. I had people ask me, “Why don’t you just eat?” all those normal questions people ask someone who has an eating disorder. The answer is never simple. It is not about the food. I remember going to a church once with my grandma and someone in their was convinced I had the devil inside of me and tried to get my grandma to consent to let me be exorcized to let the devil out. It’s not about the food.  For me it was a combination of things. Always… these voices in my head… the things my brother shouted at me in spite… the sneers from the kids at school… the giant scar on my belly… insecurity.. fear of growing up… fear of being “normal”… fear of never finding anyone to like me…
So I hid away… restricted my food intake more and more.. became obsessed… It sounds so selfish and vain…

I got so crazy at times that I got this idea in my head that if I cut myself, maybe that would be better than the hurricane of terrible things that my mind was shouting at me. It was relief from the ever present, “You will never be loved..”  “You are such a disgusting creature…” “You don’t have a woman’s body, you have an alien’s body,.. just look at that scar…” “You will never look like all those people at the beach in their bikinis… NEVER”  “Why would any boy ever find you attractive…” “Face it… you’ll never be anyones ‘one’…”  And every time I passed up a meal.. a dessert… a snack.. Especially when the smell was so delicious and overpowering and my stomach did somersaults in anticipation… and I walked away..I felt powerful. So powerful. So light. So free. But… yet.. so empty…

I went to three different Eating Disorder Treatment centers for months at a time, only to be kicked out after the health insurance ran out.  I was hospitalized a few times. I wasn’t ready. I felt safe in those treatment centers. Even though some of them made me gain half a pound a day. If you didn’t make weight, you had to be wheeled around in a wheel chair the next day to conserve your energy. Or they made you drink Ensure Plus if you didn’t eat everything on your plate…. and if you refused that, they stuck the tube down your throat to force those calories in. They stood by the door to the bathrooms and flushed them for you so that you couldn’t vomit up the food they made you eat. They weighed you in the mornings and made you wear a hospital gown so that you couldn’t stuff any pockets with rocks to add the weight you hoped you didn’t gain. I remember some pretty crazy things going on in those places… But I also remember some gentle friends… and some people that were in there just to prove they could still lose weight even in a treatment center and went to get tips on how to take their ED to another level when they went out into the real world again. We were allowed to do gentle yoga. We had a movie night sometimes where we would order in.. usually a binge food… I remember there being pizza some nights, McFlurries some nights, Snickers bars some nights… You were allowed to eat as much as you wanted… it was there… but we could never focus on the movie because we knew the food was right there and we knew everyone was watching everyone else to see how much everyone else ate so that they could eat the least amount… if that makes any sense at all… The nutritionist was my worst enemy… always upping my food intake. To this day I still fear bagels. Bagels and peanut butter were what you ate if they felt you weren’t gaining enough. They took you to a restaurant and made you order a normal meal. Those were the worst days. In public. Forced to eat a whole meal, when all the years before I would eat a salad or lie about all the things I ate earlier in the day. But everyone was in it together. We all were terrified of gaining, but more terrified of going back out into the real world.

Recovering from an eating disorder… getting out of treatment from an eating disorder is the hardest thing I have ever had to do…  And I failed many times. I relapsed many times.
Food was everywhere. It was something that one had to deal with on a daily basis. One had to eat to survive. But how much to eat? How little could you get away with eating? In treatment you learned that if you ate too little it messed up your metabolism and it would mess with your body. If you ate too much, obviously you gained. You had to eat just enough. With alcohol and drugs, you could abstain.  With an eating disorder you still had to eat. Every day. In order to live. In fact, soon after I got out, I got into a relationship with a guy that treated me the same way my brother treated me… because in my own messed up mind, I knew my brother loved me… and thats one way he showed love… so I accepted the fact that to love someone was to use and abuse them… and continued on with mini eating disordered habits and a dependency on alcohol and a dabble in drugs… for 5 more years I lived a sheltered, naive, mini-life….

To this day my heart is still dealing with the effects of 8 years stuck in this mindset. I have heart arrhythmia. Sometimes I am laying in bed and my heart starts going crazy and I fear going to sleep that I will not wake up The years of not eating and nourishing my body weakened my heart and it will never be normal. My bones have suffered. I have low bone density and osteopenia due to the lack of calcium and other nutrients when my body needed it. Years of purging what little food I did eat wreaked havoc on my teeth as well.  And still… to this day… I fear food. I keep track of everything I eat.  Every exercise I do. I always take the long route. I always make work harder than it has to be just because it would burn that much more calories. I still want to cry inside when I go to a restaurant and have to order a real meal and eat it with others… most times I suck it up and do it.. Other times I give in.. just a little… order a simple soup.. or salad.. or appetizer and toss aside peoples suggestions saying, “Oh, I promise I am not that hungry..” and then go home and fill the rest of the emptiness of my belly with water or grapes or grapefruits..

And now. It is getting worse. And it is terrifying how strong the thoughts are these days. I have been sticking to a diet of coffee and a banana or grapefruit or low fat yogurt for breakfast and then one of those powdered chicken noodle soups for dinner (less than 100 calories) and sometimes rice cakes with a little triangle of that smearable cheese… And I look in the mirror. And I put on my clothes. And I feel no different. I feel bigger. I look at pictures and I look so much bigger than everyone else. I want to feel my hip bones jutting out when I lay down. I want to see my collar bones as I look in the mirror. I want to be able to wrap my hands around my upper thighs and have my fingers touch. Is that messed up thinking? Yes….

How does one like oneself?

It is very unfortunate that the death of my older brother was what shook my world to the point that I finally saw through my eating disorder. I never got to say I loved him. He finally started being nice to me the last year of his 4 year battle with cancer. I think he knew he was dying and was trying to make up for all the things he did.  It messed with my head. I wanted to live a life for both him and me. And from then on, my attitude changed. My life changed. Now people look at me… get to know me… as a happy, optimistic, charming, etc. etc. girl. And yes, I am. I truly am. But that doesn’t mean that I still don’t struggle with ED thoughts. Terrible words he said to me when I looked up to him most still echo through my head.

And now, I am happy to say that I LOVE life. I do not depend on alcohol. I relinquished myself from drugs. I love food (most of the time) and am in a very healthy relationship. I relish in the little things of life. I ADORE adventure. I greet people with the thought that everyone is good and great. I know that everyday is not good, but there is good in everyday. And I am happy to be alive.. and there have been times I have sucked it up and worn a bikini and proudly shown off my scar… because that is part of who I am…. and I am alive because of it…….. And I am not afraid to talk about it to anyone who needs help… has questions.. anything…
Because most of all… I do not wish that kind of life on anyone… going through life with an eating disorder is not living….

Hakuna Matata

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Back to Budapest

Friday, February 3, 2017
Budapest, Hungary

“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” – Frank Herbert

I have a feeling that there will be many posts about Budapest in the upcoming month and a half.
I have posted myself here until the 180 days are up and I can finally go back to Romania! I could have tried to get a job in the USA (that would be difficult since I would only be there for a short while). I also could have saved money and stayed with my parents (but that would have been boring).
Instead, I am helping out at a hostel here in Budapest. Living the life. Meeting new people. Attending all of the ruin bars in town to find the best ones. Getting lost in the city to find its hidden treasures. And inviting friends to come on down so I can personally show them the best day ever.
I remember on my way to Romania, I spent a short time in this enchanting city and knew I needed to come back… why not see all there is to see and more and stay here for a month and a half!:)
In fact, my first night here, I had a whirlwind night of meeting my fellow helpers and going to the coolest ruin bar in town, Szimpla. There were all kinds of neat things to find on the walls and on the floor and the ceiling. The hallways and stairs were narrow and stone so it had a labyrinth-like feel to it.. there was a toilet on the ground floor right by the dance floor (hopefully no one has actually used it).. there was a fish tank upstairs.. the outside courtyard was overrun with great green leafy trees and a big red sports car… there was writing all over the walls.. ohhh it was my dream bar!!! I never got bored just looking around at the hodgepodge of wonderful things to entertain myself with!  Unique… different.. bizarre.. beautiful… enchanting… so very fresh than a normal bar :))  and they had some pretty hiphoppening music to get down to as well! ;)) I have a feeling I will be back in the near future.
I also did a quick walk through of the city again.  Below are the pictures… I will have a bit of an update on the city and the experiences after I have been here longer… but so far it is a tad overwhelming.. I speak no Hungarian, but I recently learned my favorite phrase in Hungarian, “Why not?” I’d say it is pretty useful for an adventurous traveler to know…  Less people know English here than in Bucharest… But ohh the buildings are so beautiful.. and the bridges… and the random statues all over.. I am so glad I chose this place to chill at.. I think the time will pass quickly
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What a wonderful view… It is so much prettier in real life.. or in a  better camera… But that is the view of the Fisherman’s Bastion from the Chain Bridge..

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I love this little statue.. I saw this guy when I first came here and absolutely adored it,.. Just beyond,.. in the background is the famous Chain Bridge…

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Another fun little statue of a girl playing catch with her puppy :)) Just down the walkway from the Chain Bridge to the White Bridge…

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I love this little portly police guy :))

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The Love Lock Tree :))

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St Stephen’s Basilica… I’ll go inside one day… but I love the coffee shop on the right hand side… mostly because it is called “California Coffee Company” and I adore California..

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The Green Bridge near sunset.. Just behind me is the huge Central Market Hall where you can find a huge assortment of fresh and local cheeses and meats and breads and fish and Hungarian specialties.. It was so overwhelming that the first time all I came out with was a pomegranate.. but I learned that most of the people know enough English for someone to purchase something since it is quite the tourist attraction too..

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The Love Lock Tree :))

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The start of the Chain Bridge.. with the lovely fierce lions protecting on either side.

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Can you tell that I love this bridge>! :))

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And again, the Green Bridge… Ohhhh how I wish I had a better camera to show you guys how beautiful it really is!!

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And here is my favorite Market… soOoOoo much fresh meats and cheeses and breads and fish and vegetables and fruits…. Don’t be afraid to talk up the workers, most of them know at least some English since this place is pretty famous and a lot of tourists pop by for Hungarian specialties. :))