Every time I leave, I'm scared.
When I was nine and starting school for the first time after being taught at home by my mother, I cried every morning as my parents dropped me off for class. I was overwhelmed by everything— the classroom, the howling groups of peers churning across the playground, the realization that I had to navigate this all on my own. I've always been more of a watch-and-learn-er, prone to standing aside and observing before attempting to engage, and confronting all that newness at once was terrifying.
Now, more than two decades later, exploration and pioneering are my hallmark. I've spent the last five years diving headfirst over and over and over again, living out of a suitcase and traveling through cities and continents, making friends across countries and time zones. I’m greeted with shouts of “Ciao, Jessica!” when I step into the piazza of a small town on the Amalfi coast, I housesit for a refined retiree in the mountains of Tuscany, I've slow danced with a fun and charming Englishman at midnight under a lamppost in St. James’ Park. I'm living the great adventure of my life, and it looks glamorous, and yes even feels glamorous sometimes.
But this life does not come naturally. That scared little girl has never really left, and I am in a near-constant state of discomfort and loneliness.
It's true that my favorite manicure is in LA, I wait to get my hair cut in New York, my tailor is in London, and I rarely eat gelato outside of Italy. I know how that sounds. It is also true that my best friends are in LA but I don’t think I can live there, everything I own but cannot carry is in a storage unit in New York, I was crushingly lonely in London last summer, and the streets of Florence are haunted by the ghost of the man I loved who chose someone else while I was away.
Something or someone I want is always somewhere else, something always hurts about wherever I am.
Today I’m leaving again for London and Europe, and I know what’s ahead: Air mattresses. Getting lost in train stations. Sweating and wrenching luggage up and down staircases, in and out of crowded buses, through commuter trains. Feeling stupid while reading a menu.
I know that for a while I'll always be the new girl at the party— that I'll have a lot of the same copy-and-paste conversations about where I’m from and what they do and the city and the weather. I know it’ll be a long time before I can sit across the table from someone who knows me and talk about something important.
But I keep plunging myself forward into the dark because I hear something out in that darkness calling to me. And I go because ten years ago my heart was broken and my life fell apart and every good, safe thing I had ever known came crashing down around my ears. I go because after a while spent trying to resume my life I realized I couldn’t live on an ash heap anymore, that no one was coming to rescue me, these ruins were not coming back to life. So I packed my things and set out to see what else the world had for me, see if I could build something new on my own.
Now I'm a journeywoman, carrying my world on my back, exiled and going from village to village, house to house, knocking on doors asking, “Is there room for me here? Can I build my home, bring my few precious things to you? Will my seeds grow in this soil?”
I’m so tired. My suitcase is heavy, there’s no end in sight, and I don’t know how much longer I can stand to be alone. But that thing keeps calling me, its voice a challenge and invitation, and I couldn’t live with myself if I stopped, if I missed it because I was tired or scared. So I keep going. I keep moving toward it, summon all my strength and keep pressing forward into the open unknown.
I just want to go home. And I can’t rest until I find it.