This is the next installment of a series chronicling my life to date. Read what you missed so far here and here.
2001, age 18: Just before graduating high school, my mom and I accompanied 15 of my classmates/friends, some of their mothers, my AP English teacher and assistant principal to Italy—from Rome and Pompeii in the south all the way up through Pisa, Tuscany, Florence, and Venice to depart from Milan. Andrea, Ann, Callie and I made a habit of raiding our hotel room’s mini-bar each night and waking up at 5am to pay the bill at the front desk before our superiors awoke. One night, we all went to a disco (my first experience in a sort of club environment—seriously, again, late bloomer): The easy access to alcohol (apparently I didn’t learn well enough the first time around) and a pair of six-inch platform heels caused me to catapult forward down a ramp, somersaulting a few times before coming to a stop in a heap on the floor (this seems to be a common trend, no?). Well, vodka’s a good mask for the pain, and it wasn’t until we all left a few hours later when we left and realized one of my feet was completely coated in blood and my silver satin shoes (it was a disco, stop rolling your eyes) were ruined. Jared carried me out of the club over his shoulder, and I spent the rest of the trip wearing American Eagle sandals to let my toe recover, despite it being chilly and not open-toe shoe weather.
The same year, I also left home for the first time, to travel a whole 45 minutes up “the Mountain” and attend Sewanee: the University of the South (yes, it’s official name, as pretentious as it may sound, and yes, it was every bit as pretentious as it sounds). I requested a roommate from “somewhere far away.” I was thinking like Mississippi; I got Scarsdale, New York. We were friends at first, and she introduced me to Hermes, Burberry, Dior, Kate Spade, Three Dot, Juicy Couture, etc.—all concepts completely foreign to the little girl who grew up in a rural-suburban town in the South. If only I knew then I would someday have a job at a fashion magazine in her hood (AKA Manhattan) where knowing those sort of details was actually important, maybe I would have paid more attention. As the majority of my roommate scenarios seem to go, she was certifiably crazy (she later had a breakdown of mammoth proportions), would go out dressed in the same outfit as her BFF hallmate, garnered a reputation as the campus tramp by the end of the first semester, and would leave vegetarian chili-encrusted plates—my plates—and orange peels in my dresser.
2002, age 19: Since the thought of spending my first summer of independence back in Tullahoma did not quite appeal, I got a job as the tennis director at a ranch in the middle of the Arizona desert. I spent the summer horseback riding, furtively drinking up at the barn past lights out while simultaneously trying to learn to lasso steer (note to anyone trying to do the same: booze does not make for increased hand-eye coordination), fending off rattlesnakes and coyotes, molding young minds and cementing lasting friendships. This was also the summer I learned to ditch the make-up and go au naturale (a trait that would stick with me, despite the fact that I am still mistaken for 19 on a regular basis), which was likely heightened by the fact that I was chosen to take the hardcore kids on a month-long camping trip through northern Arizona and southern Utah, which did not allow for shower time whatsoever. I would return the following summer for an even crazier time.
2003, age 20: After another few months of being mistaken for a bleached-blonde Mexican (working in the desert + inheriting your father’s dark coloring (and Hispanic last name) = such an identity crisis) – this time in a position of seniority – I decided to pack my bags and go (rail)road trippin’ around Europe solo. I purchased a one-way ticket to London, a five-country rail pass, a North Face women’s pack, a lot of other nonsensical backpacking gear I was sure I would need, and boarded the eastbound plane. I had my first night’s hostel in London booked, but other than that, no game plan of which to speak. I spent that lonely night sobbing in my attic room in Hyde Park wondering what I was thinking when I concocted this hare-brained scheme. The next day on the EuroStar to Paris, I spotted my male counterpart: a blond guy not much my senior sporting Chaco’s and a tourist’s backpack, just like me. I knew he was from America (let’s be honest, we’re pretty easy to pick out of a crowd). I approached him, and a couple hours later, we’d checked into a hostel near the Eiffel Tower together (platoncally). He was from Texas and a good ole Southern boy. We spent our days trekking around the city and nights drinking wine in fancy French cafes, as if we weren’t students on a shoestring budget. While cruising Champs-Élysées one day, a couple from Hong Kong stopped us and gave us 3,000 euro in cash to go into the Louis Vuitton flagship and return with two purses and two wallets. A dream! Spending someone else’s money! Two hours and some bitchy salespeople later, we return and can’t find them. We eventually spot them sipping lattes at a nearby cafe, and proudly hand over the goods, just waiting for our tips. They smile grandly, thank us and walk away. If only we hadn’t been such polite Southerners, we could have made off with a couple grand, or at least a new bag. Adam the Texan left me for Munich, which was not on my train plan, so I was destined to stay behind. Two days later, on my way to Austria, I had to switch trains in Munich and decided to stay and see if I could find Adam (I had the name of his hotel and that was it; this was before universal cell phones, mind you). I found the hotel, but never managed to track him down. Instead, I ended up in a hostel downtown with three insane British guys as roommates, who took me clubbing until 6am every night there and told me all about this place in Switzerland where everyone sits on a grassy knoll and smokes weed all day (at that point, I don’t think I’d ever tried pot; had I known better at the time, I would have responded, “sounds a lot like San Francisco”). When I finally needed to detox, I got back on the train and went to Salzburg and Vienna, before helping smuggle African refugees over the Austrian border on my way to Lake Como, Italy (I promise to blog this story one day, as well as the poop-stained futon).
After that, it was a few days in each Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia, culminating in a week in Switzerland and a final night lost, crying and alone (just as I had begun my journey) in Paris’ Moulin Rouge district. The next day, I’d hop the train back to London—I had yet to discover the beauty of Ryanair and easyJet—and catch my flight up to Edinburgh, where I’d spend many lovely months drinking beer, partying and eating at the vegan Baked Potato Shoppe around the corner. At this point, I had my first boyfriend (not counting my short-lived Arizona flings each summer), a young, wide-eyed Irish guy, and although we remain good friends today, he showed me exactly what I did not want out of a relationship and sparked dreams of one day finding a guy who actually would worship the ground upon which I walked and not sleep with my best friend/roommate. (Guess what, I found him! He goes by SVV!) It’s funny, but through all the moves I made in recent years, I’ve never stayed as close to as many people as I did those I met in Edinburgh. There are still a good five to ten of them whom I see once a year or so, despite us all being scattered around the States and in Europe, and I often wish I could have another year of being a Scot. I always thought I would wind up back in Edinburgh for good, but for now the the fairy tale-like Scottish capital will remain on a pedestal until one day I can buy a summer home there (did I mention I’m a big dreamer?).