I'm just trying to lead my own fucking life if I can manage to find it in all this confusion. - Erica Jong
Just about ten years ago, I started packing my bags for a year long trip to Switzerland. After months and months, years and years of not knowing myself, failing at just about everything, and crying myself to sleep as a matter of ritual, my aunt encouraged me to figure out a way to spend an extended period of time with her in her flat in Basel. After mulling it over with her and my parents, I decided to look for a position as an au pair with a Swiss family which, if the arrangement worked out to my benefit, would allow me to escape on the weekends and spend time with my young, hip and impossibly liberal aunt. I found a job with a family about 10km outside of the city and set to rearranging my life to accommodate this new, and temporary, vocation.
Whatever depression I was fighting before leaving the States didn't subside for nearly six weeks after arriving on Swiss soil. It took a number of weeks for me to become comfortable speaking enough German to convince the children to dress themselves and eat breakfast every morning, let alone to communicate with their teachers, friends and friends' parents. I felt humbled in a really profoundly uncomfortable way by the language barrier, imagining all the times I had previously made fun of someone ("innocently") in America who was battling English as a second language. Confident that my accent was complete crap and that I sounded like a hillbilly foreigner, confused by the friendly yet distant social norms in my town and adjacent city, and overwhelmed with the cleanest air I had ever breathed, I was sure that Switzerland was going to best me. And for six weeks, it did. But then, things got easier.
I started to miss home a little less, enjoying my freedom and the accessibility of the world's cleanest country. I loved how tidy and organized everything was, I loved the pastries (though, admittedly not as good at the stuff you could get just across the border in France), I loved the trams, I loved the stationery shops and sitting by the Rhine on warm Sundays dangling my toes in the water. It was so romantic; I had a love affair with Basel. I read voraciously, wrote [really awful] poetry, fell in love with a boy over phone calls and e-mails, took millions of pictures (that I insisted on developing at a specific shop in France because the boy who worked there was SO handsome), and I would swing open the balcony doors at my aunt's flat on Holbeinstrasse on Friday nights and sit drinking wine while watching the sunset over the nearby zoo. Sometimes I wonder if all of this perfection existed exclusively for me, at that time, because I was alone. No really, I was alone. My aunt was often on business trips and my most steadfast companion, aside from my three year-old charge Henry, was a ginger boy kitty named Walker. He scratched my back, I scratched his. I was determined for a long time that I could easily be satisfied retiring a spinster in a place like that, with a ginger kitty to love me quietly, and freshly baked pastries at my disposal. My life wasn't too far from possible at that point.
When I moved home from Switzerland, my priorities were fucked. There is absolutely no other way I can articulate what was happening in my life and going on in my mind other than complete and utter fuckedupedness. I gave myself to the boy I fell in love with on the telephone while subsequently finding out that he was a horrible person and unmedicated bipolar (the two are unrelated, but when they converge...oh Jesus). I proceeded to fuck up with two other men before I told myself, subconsciously, ENOUGH at which time I began a long and tenuous relationship with a woman almost-10-years my senior. We were off and on again for four years, and during the off times I was a righteous mess. I went to school, but barely. I worked, but barely. I lived, but barely. The only thing I can blame any of this madness is on is confusion. Who I was, what I wanted, where to go, who to love, what to do. I could answer none of these questions and sometimes, like today, I wonder if I need to find whatever Switzerland was in a ethereal, other-worldly sense and spend some time there subconsciously to get my ducks back into a row.
At 30 years-old, I seem to be satisfied doing what I need to do instead of what I want to do, I still seem to be chasing the friendships and dreams that give me nothing (in advance or otherwise) that would indicate they're worthwhile or potential treasures, and I've got nary an ounce of stock in anything. That sounds far more miserable than it should. I want a purpose, I want security, and I want to not feel so confused. I want to love my job and I want it to love me OR in lieu of that I want to be able to sustain myself doing something I love. I want a bigger space in which to live! I want to know who my friends are, I want people to come to me and inquire about my well-being without provocation, and I want to feel like separating myself from social networking would not be the certain demise of my ability to relate to other human beings. I want to stop feeling like I'm being taken for granted and I want to stop feeling so confused about who actually loves me*. People seem to have me all wrong; I'm a mush! I am needy, vulnerable and all of my steadfastness about certain issues does not mitigate the fact that I am, often, overly sensitive. And whenever I feel like this, the only thing I want to do is be back in that glaringly bright and sunny world I established for myself 10 years ago in Switzerland.
Everything was fresh. Everything was green. Everyone was quiet. Everything was tidy. Everything was clean. Everything was simple. Everything was clear. And everything belonged to me.
* Rest assured that when I question who loves me, there are a number of people of whom I am certain. That will never change and though this post seems to lack gratitude in a serious way, I cannot begin to convey to you the depths to which I appreciate these people in my life.