Six Months Strong

1 Feb

Well I did it. I made it more than halfway. Today officially marks 6 months living in Prague, Czech Republic. 

I can remember July 31, 2013 like it was yesterday. It was a sunny & warm summer day. The kind of day you wait forever for in New England. It was the perfect day for the biggest adventure of my life.

 I lugged two giant suitcases & two overstuffed carry-ons to the car. I double-checked my passport, plane tickets, license & money. I sent out a mass text to all my friends, telling them to keep in contact with me on Facebook since my Blackberry would not be making the trip with me. I took one last look at my room, gave Misty, my dog, one more pat & Lexie Pearl, my cat, one last hug. They lingered nearby, sensing a change. 

I gave Adam & Sean, my little brothers, big hugs, knowing that the next time I’d see them they would tower over my 5’5″ frame even more. Then Mama G & I were off to go pick up Grammy & Grampy. I didn’t talk much on the drive. What do you say during times like that? My mom told me to get a good look around Sutton because it would be a long time before I was there again. I knew she was right. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to afford a trip home for the holidays, so I tried to take it all in. I tried to commit it all to memory. The place I had lived for the past 22 years of my life. How much would it change while I was gone?

We picked up Grammy & Grampy then headed to the airport. Traffic was a breeze & soon we were at Logan Airport in Boston. I can remember being in Boston weeks before to go on a booze cruise with my best friend, Courtney. As the boat sailed into the harbor, airplanes were visible overhead. It was a bittersweet feeling. I knew that the next time I would be in Boston would be to leave. I would be one of the nervous passengers buckled in tightly in a tiny speck flying overhead. Well, that day had finally come.

I had spent the night before wide awake. I memorized my travel plan: five hour flight from Boston to Iceland, one hour layover, three hour flight from Iceland to Sweden, five hour layover, one hour flight from Sweden to Prague. It made me exhausted just thinking about it. I promised myself I would sleep on the plane, but I knew that was a lie. I knew I would have way too many thoughts running through my mind. I knew I would be exhausted & feel gross but I just couldn’t do it.

We parked the car in a drop-off parking space at the airport. This was it. How do you say goodbye to three of the most important people in your life? What if something happens to them while you’re gone? What if something changes? Was I selfish for leaving? But then they re-assured me, with tears in their eyes, that this adventure was more than necessary it was inevitable. Some people are comfortable living all their life in one place–not me. I knew a day like this would come & I knew it was something I had to do.

I gave Mama G & Grammy the biggest hugs while Grampy unloaded my suitcases & helped me wheel them inside the airport. We brought them inside & tried to stall. I tried to think of anything to say. At moments like this you want to say something profound & meaningful. You want to stay strong & hold it together. You want to say something that will fill your absence until you meet again. But no words come to mind. No grand farewell speeches take place. Because 5 minute airport drop-off parking exists. 

Mama G beeped the horn, signaling our time was up & the car had to be moved. We were rushed. I looked at my Grampy, my favorite person in the world, my hero, my role model, the man I used to write every single paper about when I was little who still warmed my heart like no one else in the world. How do you say goodbye to someone like that? You don’t. So we didn’t. He told me to have a safe trip & e-mail as soon as possible. I promised I would. Then I walked towards check-in. I turned around & saw him wiping away tears as he got in the backseat of the car. They drove out of view. & I was officially alone in the world.

I checked in, praying my massive suitcases wouldn’t exceed the weight limit. They narrowly missed. I walked towards my gate & killed time in an airplane coffee shop while I waited. And thought. I was so excited. I was so sad. I was so nervous. I was so ready. So ready to adventure out into the unknown again. There’s a certain rush you get from being out of your comfort zone. I was just hoping I could handle it.

My flights were fine, I got off in Iceland & immediately found my gate. Soon it was time to head to Stockholm, Sweden. I was overwhelmed upon landing. Never have I felt so average. Everyone around me was blonde. I am not joking. I actually played a game sitting at an airport cafe of counting every brunette I saw. Once I got over the shock of the herds of blonde/tall/beautiful people, I realized Sweden had its own currency & didn’t accept USD or CZK, the two currencies I had. I also realized Sweden doesn’t have free wifi. I hit my first wall on the trip. I was starving thanks to not being fed on my planes & was frustrated I couldn’t message my mom telling her I got this far. I felt so alone. Some random exhausted American sitting alone at a table, weighed down by two bulging carry-ons, hungry & nervous surrounded by seas of families & couples & friends chattering away in Swedish. This is traveling. 

Then my first miracle happened. I heard English. My ears perked up immediately, & I thought I was hallucinating. I instantly turned in all directions determined to find the source of my mother tongue. I found it in two boys around my age sitting a few tables away. I immediately approached them. 

“Um, sorry, but are you guys speaking English?”

“Yeah, we are.”

“OH MY GOD! THANK GOD!”

Instant friends. I told them about my hunger & internet connection problems. They bought me a snack at the cafe & let me use the internet on their computer. Destiny. Another theme I have learned from traveling–at times you feel so incredibly lonely & alone, like no cares about you in the world…but then there are those times when something crazy happens & you feel so at home. The kindness of strangers is real, dear readers. My new friends helped me pass the layover time, talking to me about everything from fashion to politics for 3 whole hours. Then they were on their way to Switzerland & I was alone again.

I found my final gate & sat down hoping the last 2 hours of waiting would fly by. I tried to rest my eyes for a little while. Suddenly, I heard a voice ask:

“I’m sorry, but are you Jessi?”

Once again I thought the jet lag was forcing me to hallucinate. But no, it was a fellow member of my TEFL group, Courtney! We were somehow on the same final flight to Prague! A big believer in fate, I felt this was a sign. I felt like everything was telling me that I was doing the right thing & more than that it would be okay. 

Image

Fast-forward to six months later & it has been okay. I realized I love my life here. It is not a luxurious life of endless partying, spending & wild nights (although there have been QUITE a few) but I am not miserable either. I am so content & for me content = happiness. I have my routine. I have learned to find pleasure in simple things like quite tram rides home, watching rambunctious dogs fetch in the neighborhood square, & my wonderful students draw me awesome pictures. 

This is my life now.

The past six months have been full of meeting new friends, then visiting & being visited by old friends. Exploring my new city & re-visiting my favorite places in my old city. Feeling homesick that I couldn’t spend my favorite holiday at home with family, but instead spending Christmas & feeling so at home with a new temporary family. Not to mention turning 23 in my ultimate happy place! There have been the obstacles of bills & visa problems & work drama but then there is that constant triumph of walking to Old Town Square or gazing out across the Vltava River to the castle & thinking I live here. 

Every day, every week, every month is so unexpected. I look at how much I’ve been through since arriving here August 1, 2013. How much I’ve changed. & Then I think about the 5ish or so months lying ahead. They both excite & terrify me. What lies just ahead? I really cannot sum up my time here. But it has been one HECK of an experience!

Six months is a long time. Half a year. And I’m still alive.

Here’s to the next few months 🙂

-JG 

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4 Responses to “Six Months Strong”

  1. jeremystormsky February 1, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    “I didn’t talk much on the drive. What do you say during times like that?” Yeah I remember driving before my big euro trip last summer were I was gone for just three months and thinkng that same thing, and much of what else you were talking about at the beginning. But man sounds like one hell of an experience you’ve been having. Truly happy and excited for ya and hope the next 5 months are as great, adventureous and as full of discovery as your first half!

    • jgravesss February 1, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

      Thank you very much 🙂 I’m sure it will be!

  2. Maureen Graves February 4, 2014 at 1:25 am #

    Wow…..In life it is all about the journey and the people and wonderful life lessons along the way, Love the article. Stay safe, strong, healthy and most of all notice the little miracles and God’s beauty along the way. HAVE FUN Love Mom

  3. Ron Stacy February 4, 2014 at 2:20 am #

    This is why your my little angel. Your strong, beautiful, and a good person. Believe me it was just as hard for me as it was for you. You try to keep the things most precious to you as close as possible I like you too.

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