9 PM, February 27th 2018, Malpensa Airport
There was a long line checkin’ in. Voices of departing flights came out of the speakers. Hasty travelers ran from here to there dragging heavy luggages covered in plastic, and swearing in multiple languages.
Artificial lights illuminated the grey atmosphere in that cold winter night. Lost inside the wide spaces of the airport, I was getting ready for the departure.
Everything I cared about in that moment was a tasty pizza on my plate, Mohamed’s silly jokes and my own stupid effort to hide every symptom of anxiety.
I still remember my companions, and so their faces and their expressions. They stayed next to me, with few words and much silence, all along the road from our hometown to the airport. We had just a couple hours to board the baggage and have dinner, then it was already time to say goodbye.
I walked through a narrow path of turnstiles and tapes, while my sight lingered on those faces beyond the barrier. My mother, who showed herself so enthusiastic about my travel, tried to hide her emotions with eyes full of tears. My father, instead, who would have missed me later on, had his playful smile, which I had always taken for a demonstration of pride.
Then there was Mohamed, friend of a lifetime, who, with Roberto, was my second family. We were bound by some sort of brotherhood, as we were affected by our own foolishness, symbol of our existence and cure for actual stupidity and lack of values. Representing that family, Mohamed was there, watching me leave.
I didn’t know it yet, but what I was leaving behind me wasn’t only a country, a family, a group of brothers and friends. It was a whole life running away, just like a marathoner, while chasing his rival, sees the road widening under his tired feet.
Just that way, I felt enormous doubts, steep as cliffs, opening and bursting in my head, so hard that I had goosebumps all over my skin.
I knew the destination of my travel, but I didn’t know the direction my life would have taken. The more I thought about it, the less I could answer to myself. So, I tried to take shelter in a comfortable thought, according to which I had nothing to lose and much more to earn. That thought encouraged me. But still I was hesitating and my path was uncertain.
Almost a year has passed from that moment. I could say many things about time running out, about how much we complain about losing days, months, years like pennies in our purse, but it would be such a pitiful way to remember those moments.
So, instead, I will try to give an answer to a tough question. Of all the experiences I had after saying goodbye to my family, what’s left today?
What’s left of the cold wind above Queenstown Hill, of the sandflies and their annoying bites, of the endless line at Ferburger’s, of the thirty beers pack, of the frisbee golf matches, of the awesome road trips and the long hikes? What’s left of the crazy people from Hallenstein Street, of my amazing friends from all over the world? What’s left of my nineteen housemates, of my Brazilian brothers Danilo and Rafael, of the mouthy May, of my fellow Italians, Andrea and Francesco? What’s left of Connor, Raul, Stefan, Pablo, Tomas, Thiago, Vinicius, Joe, Rebecca, Frida, Celine and all the others who filled that house? What’s left of Ben the mighty backpacker, my first friend in Queenstown? What’s left of the maori warriors, of Lake Wakatipu and its clear water, of Aoraki’s frightening top, of Rotorua’s steam? What’s left of that wonderful, adventurous life?
Nothing more than a long series of memories, photographs and videos. Is there a lesson I have learnt? A moral I have taken from my travel? Did the experience really change me? Was it just an illusion? Did I lie to me and my friends? Was it really me that guy having a good time in the wilderness?
Every time I go back with my memories and I find myself thinking about New Zealand, a lump in the throat hits my breath. I feel my soul becoming heavier and heavier, and my body stiffening under the weight of a thousand regrets.
If I think about that sad parade of memories, I find myself even more fragile than I was before leaving. And, consequently, the pain is even stronger.
We live so happily when we know nothing! How many times I cursed myself for being so arrogant, reckless, inconsiderate! How many times I thought that If I hadn’t left I would have saved myself from that suffering!
There would have been no separation, nor nostalgic feelings would have appeared. Everything would have been like before.
Celebrating this first anniversary from my departure, I knew that I would have been won by a painful melancholy. It was inevitable.
I believed that my trip to New Zealand would have been a new start line in my life. And, to be honest, it had been so. Though I would have never expected time running in reverse and me going back to the misery of the past.
But yet, I don’t want to be overpowered by those negative vibes. I’d like to give credit, finally at least, to the only true lesson I have learnt so far. There’s always a good side when we take something from the past.
Cesare Pavese, a famous Italian novelist, wrote: “That you need a village, if only for the pleasure of leaving it”. I love these words. And, of course, I agree with the author.
Even though we are physically connected to our country, we can always take shelter, with our minds, in exotic worlds, where memories and fantasy are mixed together, and the happiness we previously had comes to life once again, easing our pain and feeding our hopes for the future.
When I left Italy for New Zealand, I realized that eventually a true redemption is possible; that, in the labyrinth of our existence, there’s always time to take the right path; that, if I leave again, I will taste a life full of adventure once again.