This time it’s me writing, it’s the writer writing.
This is the last task that was assigned to me: write a story about your experience here at Bella Vista. It may seem easy to write about yourself instead of writing other people’s stories, but it’s not. At least for me, it’s not.
I clearly remember the whole road that brought me to this beautiful place, Benitses. I wasn’t supposed to be here. I had applied for an internship in Brussels and they had actually selected me. They just didn’t mention that they needed a quick answer. I had to wait for my University’s ranking to know whether I’d won the Erasmus grant or not. So what happened is that the company decided to retract the offer on the exact day that I was preparing to send my application to the University. I informed my University and the teachers told me that it wasn’t my fault and that my application would be taken into consideration anyway. So I applied. One month later I got the notification that I had won the grant. Nice, but I didn’t have an internship anymore. I was really starting to think that I was cursed.
I had already applied for an Erasmus internship the previous year and it went well. I was ready to go to England, but exactly one month before my departure my dad had a stroke. I didn’t take that flight, of course. I didn’t even go back to University in Bologna. I stayed at home, or better, in hospital. By the way, I broke up with my boyfriend, because he was jealous that I won the grant and he told me that I didn’t deserve it. Guess who received the grant I refused? Yes, he received it. However, going back to this year, despite my feeling of being cursed, I started looking for a new internship…
The second step that brought me here was the internship advertisement. As soon as I found the ad, I was already sending my CV. “Creative writing internship on Corfu Island,” are you kidding me? I was asked to write? On the seaside?
I’ve always loved to write, but I never participated in contests nor thought about publishing any of my writings.
The sea. The sea has always meant a lot to me. It’s the place where I go when I’m hurting. Not because it’s full of parties and fun, but because it’s the place where I find peace. The sea has the power to calm my relentless soul and organize my chaotic thoughts. And even when the sea is rough, I just sit and listen to the angry sound of the waves crashing into the rocks. Even nature is not always plain and balanced.
I had the feeling that the advertisement had been created especially for me, that it was there waiting for me to apply. And I did, without hesitation. The following day I received an email in which I was asked if I had something published or a blog. ”Yes, I have a page on Facebook! Oh, but all my writings are in Italian…”
I started to think that I’ll never get the position. After that, it got even worse. I was asked to reply to some reviews and I actually did it very badly. I was too formal where I was supposed to be creative. Still, Anthea wanted to have an interview and I knew it was my last chance to get the position. I’d already fucked it up and I had very few chances to succeed. Needless to say, I fucked up the interview too. I really don’t know what convinced Anthea to say that blessed “Yes, you can come,” in the end. I thought of it as a gift. And now I know that it was, Anthea had given me a life-changing gift.
I fought hard to get to Benitses. It was November and I still had to pass my last exam in January and to start writing my thesis, which I had to hand in by 15th February. At the end of November, my dad died from a heart attack. I don’t know where I gathered the strength to sit on my sofa, day after day, trying to remember all those Chinese characters, writing my thesis throughout the night. I didn’t give myself time to mourn the loss of my dad, because I wanted to graduate. I needed to close this chapter of my life.
I had lost my father and the person I loved. I desperately needed something for me to believe in, something that I chose by following my heart. My dad had been sick for eleven months and I was sick too from seeing him in that state. I needed to cling to the hope that my life could change, otherwise I felt that I’d be lost forever. I needed to feel alive. I’d been dying inside for almost one year, hoping that he would get better and falling to pieces when I had to accept that the only way was down. Today, I guess the power that drove me on was, firstly, the awareness that the only thing I owed to my dad was being happy, and secondly, the fact that I wanted this internship so much.
I fought hard and I made it. I graduated with honours, submitting a thesis about “the concept of death in ancient Chinese culture”. I fought so hard because something was pushing me towards this place. Maybe it was what Anthea told me during our interview when I told her that the previous company stepped back. ”Everything happens for a reason.”
She was so right.
When the plane to Corfu left the ground, I couldn’t think of much, because I still couldn’t believe that my dream was coming true. I couldn’t believe that I really made it and that I was finally starting a new adventure.
There was also the part of me that was scared of leaving my comfort zone, of leaving home alone. I felt stupid about being afraid, but it was my first time away from home for more than two weeks.
Anyway, as soon as the plane left the ground, I said goodbye to my fears and hello to whatever would come. And what came was an amazing and unforgettable surprise.
The first surprise came on my first working day: my initial task was to write a report about the phrase, “follow your dreams, otherwise your dreams will follow you.” It wasn’t a big deal for me to comment on this sentence, but the shock came when Anthea asked me, “What are your dreams? I want you to write about yourself, we want to get to know you here.” For God’s sake! I had fought for so long to forget my dreams, to adjust to the new goals I set myself during the last three years. Now, somebody was asking me to look inside myself.
I wrote the report, pretending that I was following my dreams. I didn’t actually lie about my dreams, I wrote that my dream in life was to travel and to write. There is some truth in it, but I didn’t tell the whole story. Why? Because I was ashamed to admit that I’ve completely given up on my one and only dream that actually involves both writing and travelling. I think I’ll leave you to guess what the dream is. If you have a clue, you can write it in the comments. Anyway, my dreams don’t matter now (you see, I am doing it again!), what matters is that it was so strange for me to be asked about myself.
Usually, when you go to work somewhere, you are basically asked to do your job and to do it right. Nothing more. All these years in university, nobody ever asked me to show myself, to let out the person I am. But now this beautiful yet bizarre woman, with a shining smile and a contagious laugh, was looking into my eyes so deeply that I was afraid she could read my heart. This woman taught me a lot. The nights we spent chatting and listening to each other’s stories were funny and moving at the same time. Sometimes we were laughing, mostly because she has the rare talent of making a funny joke out of everything, of turning the point of view upside down and showing you the bright side of an otherwise unpleasant situation. Sometimes, however, we were almost crying, the both of us, when she was telling me about her life and her choices and when I was telling her how I managed through the past few difficult years.
The idea of writing the stories she told me came like a game of ping-pong. One night, she started telling me and some other students a story about another intern here. One story became millions of stories, and without thinking about what I was saying (I was kinda tipsy), I shouted (the music was kinda loud), “You could write a book with all these stories!” The next day, while we were painting the street near Frida, she came to me, took away her sunglasses, then mine, looked me in the eyes (again with this penetrating stare), and said, “What if YOU write the stories?” Of course, I loved the idea! And this work, however small, is the result of the negotiation of content and style between two strong characters: mine and hers.
For me, it was challenging and amazing. I felt like a biography writer with the task of representing Anthea’s thoughts and feelings as they were. That meant I had to forget myself in order to make space for her. I saw her laugh and I saw her cry because of the words I’d written. That alone is a success for me. It was like a relationship: you can disagree about some things, but if you truly listen to the other, you will for sure find a way to make both of you happy.
The second part of this story is about the amazing people I met here and what each of them gave me without knowing that they did. I have the feeling that every person I’ve met here helped me to get closer to myself, to the self I had buried and forgotten. One person reminded me about how much I love animals and nature and she made me discover two new passions: hiking and cycling.
The first day we went cycling and hiking, I thought that I’d die in the middle of the street. My legs were hurting so much, I couldn’t go uphill at all and I was short of breath. I’ve been smoking for more than ten years. I started when I was very young, and in my family it’s completely normal to smoke. Everybody does it. Every time I had to push the bike, I was thinking: ‘I want to be fit, I want to be able to do this the whole way through!’
I suddenly remembered a little child shouting at her father. “Please stop smoking,” she’d said. “I hate it!” I remembered that I used to throw up every time we went on a trip with my dad’s car. My parents thought that I was carsick, but it was the smell of cigarettes mixed with the perfume to cover it that was making me sick. I remembered my father in the hospital bed. He told me that the biggest favour I could ever do him was to quit smoking. I wish I could tell you that since that day I quit, but I didn’t. Not yet.
The same person taught me that no matter how nice and friendly you are, there will always be people who don’t like you and your way of living. The freedom and joy of this amazing girl reminded me of the happy and inquisitive child I used to be, singing out loud without caring about other people’s opinions. I don’t think she knows how inspiring she is to other people. Another person taught me that it’s perfectly fine to be twenty-six and not have a stable relationship. It’s normal to choose to follow your dreams of travelling and being free over a man.
These are just a few of the things I’ve learned from my friends here, but every single day I spent with them, I learned something new about them and about myself. I feel so lucky that I’ve met these people and I cannot believe that it was just by chance that we got to know each other, because I cannot imagine a life without them.
I don’t know if destiny exists, if there’s some logic underlying everything that happens, but I deeply believe that somebody or something wanted me to come here. I needed to be here in order to be born again, in order to stop lying to myself and start believing, trusting, and following myself and my intuition.
In my report about “follow your dreams” I wrote all this bullshit about “at least trying,” but I never really tried to follow the dream I had since I was born. Yes, I was born with that dream. I am the biggest hypocrite ever, trying to give good advice to others, yet never using that advice for myself.
But I’ve found myself and my dreams again in this place. That’s what I am going to take home with me, along with a lot of clothes I bought here. I hope they aren’t going to charge me at the airport because my luggage is too heavy. I hope there’s also something I left here or something I gave to somebody else to take back home. I have found myself again and If I’m ever gonna get lost, I know that I can buy a flight ticket to Finland or to Poland to find my friends and the part of myself I love the most.
Digging up all the dreams you’ve buried inside of you is painful, because you realise how much time you’ve wasted doing the things you don’t like to do, living the life you don’t want to live. I’ve always had problems accepting and loving myself the way I am, both physically and as a person. Probably because I’ve never experienced that kind of complete and unconditional love, not from my parents nor from a partner. But I don’t want to go on hating and hurting myself because of the love and the support that I did not receive from others. I cannot hide behind this excuse anymore. I am old enough to learn to love myself and be my own supporter.
It’s easier said than done, but the price for forgetting yourself in order to make others happy, or because you’re afraid of failure, is too much to pay. And although it’s painful, being honest with myself is like taking off a pair of jeans that are too small, and finally starting to breathe again.
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