A (Travel) Dream Deferred, Part 2

The following is Part 2 of "A (Travel) Dream Deferred"

In a previous article I wrote about how I fell in love with Europe and international travel and vowed to find a way to get back there, despite RA threatening to get in my way. Traveling, especially internationally, is extremely difficult when your joints are constantly swollen and painful--especially if those joints are your throbbing feet and ankles (which mine are). Traveling requires a lot of walking, and this is particularly true for most European destinations. Despite facing physical and emotional (anxiety!) challenges, I found a way to fulfill the promise I made to myself about returning to a place that I loved.

Triggering of a flare

A few years after walking in the Dublin, Ireland marathon, and after fighting against major RA flare-ups and a permanently painful and damaged right wrist, I found a way to study abroad in Cork for a semester. I arrived in Dublin on New Year’s Day, and saw that the dark streets were lightly covered with snow. Snow in Ireland?!  Maybe it was an omen. Or a blessing. I didn’t know. All I knew was that I was forced to stay in a cramped hostel with a bunch of other college kids whom I didn’t know because I was the only person from my college doing this program.

Loneliness, anxiety, fear, sadness, and insecurity hit me as I tried to fit in with these strangers in a strange land. What am I doing here? Is this a mistake? The awkwardness and uncomfortable feelings I felt were almost unbearable. I remember making a tearful phone call home from a phone booth near Temple Bar one night. My mom tried to calm my worries, “Wait until you get to Cork and give it a chance…you’ll be OK!”

Mom was right, as she usually is. I was OK. Actually, I wound up being more than OK. I was happy! Really, really happy. For some reason, I got extremely lucky and managed to make friends with actual Irish students (instead of hanging around in a big American group like my roommates did), and with students from other countries, too. This is what I wanted to experience living in another country!

My best friend in Cork was a petite, cheery ginger-haired girl from Yorkshire, England named Rachel. She was doing the same course in Irish politics that I was doing, which is how we met, and we wound up spending nearly all of our time together: joking about each other’s ridiculous slang and accents, drinking copious amounts of tea (and, um, other beverages), watching “Coronation Street” together (she made me), getting delicious chips from Lennox’s, and walking side by side down the narrow and always wet and winding Barrack Street near her flat.

By the time I left Cork at the end of the semester, Rachel felt like a real friend and sister to me, and I was devastated to leave. I felt crushed leaving all of the close friends I had made in that short period of time: the Irish lads from Bandon who were obsessed with David Bowie, wild Thérèse and her fake fur "mafia" coat, and the hilarious Finnish girls with whom I watched the “Eurovision” contest on TV for the first time. I remember feeling that I had finally found a place where I belonged, and it just killed me having to leave it behind.

Depression and RA

Upon returning home to Minnesota, I was a bit of a wreck, basically. A deep depression set in and I was not handling reverse culture shock very well. I missed my friends badly. I missed Cork. I missed Ireland. I missed Lennox’s chips. I missed “our pub” in Cork, Mok’s, which has now been converted into something else, sadly.

I especially missed our nights out at the secret music venue, “CAT Club,” which was an underground dance night held at the old and rundown Cork Arts Theatre. A guy spun vinyl records on one side of what used to be the stage. The sound of soul music, funk, Northern Soul, ’60s and ’70s pop music, and David Bowie (much to our delight!) would fill the theatre as young people clamored over the torn theatre seats to dance on the stage. It was magic. All of it.

Since my time living in Cork, I have returned to Europe several times to visit those dear friends I met while studying abroad. After college graduation, all of us wound up scattered around the globe. I was in Minneapolis, Rachel was back in England, two of the Irish lads had moved to Berlin, Germany, Thérèse was in Kinsale, Ireland, and the Finns were back in Finland.

I wondered, Would we ever all be in the same place again? Probably not. But I tried my hardest over the years to fill the hole in my heart left gaping and wounded due to separation from those loved people and places. I traveled more, I spent a lot of time in Berlin and developed close friendships with new German friends while there, I went to Leeds to visit Rachel. When Thérèse moved to Cardiff, Wales, to do a Master’s degree, I visited her there, too.

I wanted to keep exploring and seeing new places and having new adventures while reconnecting with the people who had once made me the happiest. Unfortunately, my increasingly bad health and finances made it difficult to keep this up, and now several years have passed since I’ve been back to some of those beloved places or have seen my much-missed friends.

Canceling plans due to RA

Fast forward to today: Winter is here and my goals of a summer holiday in Europe have evaporated. I’m sure my friends in Europe are finding it hard to keep believing my e-mails that say, “This time I’m coming over! I really am! What are your plans? Let’s coordinate?” I’m almost afraid to contact them until I have a plane ticket actually booked in my name. I hate canceling plans so much. And I especially hate canceling this trip, which I’ve now done multiple times.

So what is the travel plan now? All I can say at this moment is that I’m trying to work as much and as hard as I can to afford that plane ticket while longing to find myself once again in my “happy place.” The last time I was in Europe and saw a few of my friends was in the summer of 2012, and that is way too long ago. My intuition says that my broken body and soul need to get back there as soon as I can. I hope I will.

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