Program: Florence, Italy
I burned a lot of bridges on my journey to this study abroad experience. Three roommates were forced to live with a stranger for four months. The sublet himself was forced to accustom himself to living with these three strangers. My parents were forced to collect the mail that piled into the mailbox- all bills past due- with my name on it. My friends were forced to learn to live a new life- a live they never saw coming; a life without me there.
I wish more than anything that I was a man able enough to make each person in this life happy. But unfortunately, like everybody else reading this, we know this to be impossible. With some, I left on great terms- a hug goodbye and maybe a couple tears shed at the airport. But for others, a bitterness surfaces facing the reality of the terms I left on. No goodbyes, no handshakes or hugs, and regrettably, no tears shed in the process of leaving some of the greatest people I have ever had the dignity and respect to admit that changed me, saved me, and motivated me- without even realizing it.
I write to you now- a new, changed, and in my opinion, better man- a man who doesn’t have all the answers to life, but who is one step closer to obtaining some of them. It sickens me that pettiness interfered with my decisions and emotions.
To everybody reading, I thank you. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be this man who writes to you today. I make mistakes- and damn, I make a lot of them. But although sometimes it may not seem like it, I learn from them. Every single day of my life, I learn from them. Every single day, I learn from you.
People always doubt this talent I possess- a pencil in my hand, and a pad of paper collecting my thoughts as they spill to the page. But what they don’t realize, is the truth; I doubt myself way more than they ever could. I came to Italy to change- but what I’m realizing, is maybe, I don’t need to change all that much.
I’ve broken hearts before- I’ve had my own heart broken into shambles before, too. To those reading, I’m sorry for my selfishness. But at the same time, you all keep me going. I can’t express, or even attempt to justify in words, what you have done for me. Some of you have seen me at my worst- on a balcony in tears. Some of you have seen me do great things- but I pray that that isn’t my peak. So now, today, I carry you- I bring you with me; we travel together to a place we all deserve to be- a place where happiness is the first priority.
This is me writing this, but at the same time, I’m not just Alex anymore. I am a mixture, a formula, a compilation- of all of you. Impacts were made on me; affects you, and at the time, not even me, even realized were being made.
My regret surfaces here- I have failed you. Recognition was not behaved, goodbyes were not given, and happiness was not shared- I left you all with a bitter, sour taste. I left you in a way in which you did not deserve to be left.
Although I am shady; one of the most untrustworthy people you will ever stumble upon in this life, I ask- just this one time, trust my words. You can all do this- happiness, can be obtained. We can all do this- we can all reach the land we all want to be; we can all reach the place we all need to be. We can all be what all people should be- happy.
I need you all to know- although I didn’t advertise it, I am thankful. Every single one of you have impacted me and led me in the direction I take every single day. Some of you may dread the day my airplane arrives back in the town I grew up. Some of you may be counting down the days until that same plane hits the ground. And some of you could care less whether I’m in Florence or Kalamazoo. But I promise, with my heart on my sleeve and pride on my shoulder- things will never be the same.
I write to you from Italy a promise- between these meaningless words, a vow resides. I will always be there; I will be there, for each and every one of you. I’ve been at the bottom; the lowest of points where you can’t think anything else could possibly make things worse. And I’ve been at the top- where the only direction your emotions can take you is down. Now, back at the bottom and at my lowest emotional point since hopping on a plane traveling 4,000 miles away, I need you.
Your support carries me through these waves of uncertainty. I don’t feel loneliness- not with some of you waiting for me back in my hometown. But one thing I do feel -something I feel every single day- I feel alone. Not lonely, just alone. This is why I scribble these words to the surface now; a reminder, more like a promise- I will not be coming back the same man.
I will always be here for you. Life is too short to make excuses. Lies are not worth the time they harbor. Mistrust is a brutal sin. Whether you read these words and hate me- or you read these words and love me- I want to hit both crowds the same way. You deserve happiness. We all do. And it wasn’t until now that I realized you are how I obtained so much of the happiness I have felt in my life.
To my friends and family, Italy is the best thing that could have ever happened in my entire life. But truthfully, this place wasn’t worth burning the bridges I did on the pathway to paradise. I feel regret every single day- but at the same time, I feel love for you, every single day.
Just like you all were here for me for all these years, I promise- I demand the reality- that I will pay back the favor soon. The kid you watched skittishly prepare for this adventure, will not be making it back to Michigan. Instead, a new kid- more of a man than anything- will join you once again. You may not recognize me, but I’m still the same kid at heart. But like I promised you before my departure, I will not be coming back the same kid.
I write these words through a sagging heart that is full of both regret and pride. To the people that changed me, those who shaped me and molded me in the man I am today, I thank you. Without each and every one of you- I would be further away from Italy than I ever care to imagine. Without you, I would what I dread thinking about most- a failure.
With a heavy heart, but much love. From Florence,