After weeks of living in what seems like just about every hostel in Bratislava, I finally have a place of my own! I sit now on my own sofa bed surrounded by a mountain of brown cushions and beige wallpaper . There’s a fake Christmas tree in the corner, a towel warmer in the bathroom. I didn’t even know what a towel warmer was until today. I have a set of keys that will jingle in the purse I bring to work. I have a mailing address, a shelving unit, a coffee table. I even have fake flowers that I will probably still manage to kill.
I’m officially out on my own living the life I’ve wanted for so long. The pieces are falling into place.
But as I sit here in my beautiful little apartment in the extraordinary city of Bratislava, I feel the emotion I seldom feel: fear.
I am absolutely terrified.
Also, I just forgot how to spell the word “cushions”.
Slovakia and I were born just a year apart. We found our footing in our new worlds around the same time. We were drunk with possibility, exploding with curiosity. We were new to everything around us. Slovakia had to learn to live and thrive without the support of the Czech Republic; I had to find my place in a country to which I do not owe my nationality. We both had to find the limits. And then later, we had to find out how to break them.
Slovakia and I were once crib mates.
Nineteen years later, we’re practically strangers.
There is the faintest feeling of familiarity here in Bratislava. It smells just as I remember and the hills are just as steep. But everything else is uncomfortably new.
My memories of Slovakia do not include shiny shopping complexes and fast-track trams. The Slovakia I remember had no interest in “hipster American food.”
We knew each other so well once. Now, it’s time to retest our compatibility.
During my first few weeks back in Bratislava, most everything went as expected. I fumbled around in a joyous haze the first week. I fell in love with my new job almost instantly. I cluttered my phone with Slovakian architecture and statues sparing with the morning mist. I hopped from one cafe to the other, still enamored by the glamour of the city and the comfort of being back in the place I was so sure I was meant to be.
That feeling hasn’t changed. Bratislava is not a reststop between point A and B. It is not an intermediary step or temporary fix. Bratislava, my beloved stranger, is my home now.
But I can’t ignore the occasional feeling of terror that sweeps over me, nor would I ever want to. Fear is one of the best measures of magnitude, of importance. I’m scared now because I’m torpedoing through the sky. I’ve just discovered my wings feathering the thickening unknown. If I wasn’t scared now then I’d know I’m not living the life I’m supposed to.
That Eleanor Roosevelt magnet my mum got me for Christmas still resonates.
I’m going to feel scared for a while. When I wake up tomorrow and pull back my curtains, I’ll be excited to go to work, excited to discover new cafes and walk down new alleyways in old town. The adventure will continue, the photo album will thicken, I’ll conjure up old memories and form new ones.
But I’m a foreigner living in a country that was once a familiar and that is so strange and so scary.
Last night, after I explored the enchanting Christmas markets and circled Stare Mesto, I came back to St.Michael’s gate where a thin and bright, almost gaudy green laser shone directly above, connecting the gate to the UFO bridge. At first, I was baffled by the laser but now, I know exactly why it’s there.
The last time I thought about green lights, I was reading the Great Gatsby, a story about a man of extraordinary wealth and bravado defeated by a green light at the end of the dock. For Gatsby, that green light represented the unattainable dream, the unrequited love he had for socialite Daisy. No matter how hard he tried, tragic Gatsby never reached the green light.
Last night, I stood directly in front of the green light. I could almost dust the vivid beam with the very tips of my fingers. I could touch the beginning and end, never really knowing or caring which one was which.
I got the Gatsby ending but now, it’s time for Anna’s new beginning.
And I hope that the beginning, middle, and end of this new life is always uncomfortable, uncertain, and absolutely terrifying.
Because the wonderfully terrifying life I’m living this very second is free of boredom and full of such beautiful possibility. I may not recognize my surroundings but I recognize myself now more than ever. I always knew I had wings but I’ve only just discovered how to use them. And I have a feeling that they’re going to take me high above that green light.
Grab the Green Light,