Well, hello there. Hi. My name is Tianna. I am twenty-four years old, but will hit my quarter life crisis in 8 days. And today, I made my dad a sandwich for lunch.
“Does Dad like his sandwich cut down the middle or diagonally?” I yell, my voice bouncing off of the bright green walls in the living room. My parents’ house is a maze; a wonder with its smells, warm sensation, and small corners, bringing me back to my childhood, a time and a space that cannot be explained. I still have never felt this way in my life.
“Down the middle!” My brother screams from the back of the house.
I add Spears pickles, that sweet Bone Sucking Mustard Sauce that my dad loves, lettuce (because I want him to be healthy), the peppered turkey that was my grandfather’s, my dad’s father’s favorite, a little bit of mayo, careful not to spread it too close to the mustard. I pat down both slices of wheat bread. Take out my mother’s favorite set of knives, you know, the Cutco brand that can slice through a penny, what a marketing ploy, and cut the sandwich right down the middle.
Right in half. Kind of like my life.
It’s been nine months since I moved back to America.
In the last two and a half years, I’ve lived alone in the Dominican Republic and Spain. A year stint in both places, to be exact, followed by a summer of self discovery in Guatemala, studying Spanish by day for a certification exam, jumping off of boats into lakes on the weekend and riding on the back of rundown pickup trucks, hair blowing all over my face.
In this time, I’ve traveled to 23 different countries alone, met a goal I made when I was 18 years old to become fluent in Spanish, met a handful of true friends from all over the world, rode a camel in Abu Dhabi, went to a Drake concert alone in Dubai, rapping all of the lyrics along with the woman next to me, a 25 year old Muslim woman wearing a hijab, Couchsurfed all over Europe, meeting up and actually sleeping on stranger’s couches, explored Spain, the UK, and Portugal with my little brother, won a salsa dancing competition in Colombia with a boy from Italy, helped run my dad’s construction company from abroad, went to Cuba for a week alone, met a boy, wrote a story about him and got published, got the worst food poisoning of my life in Hong Kong, bedridden but a woman named Ednus from the hotel’s reception checked on me every hours, learned how to dance salsa, bachata, and merengue, explored Venice, Italy with my mother, something that’s been on her bucket list since she was 17, taught English classes on the side for extra income, met my closest friends in the Dominican Republic, Spain, and Thailand, never asked my parents for anything, gained myself, independence, and an uncanny way of maneuvering the world and life itself, of overcoming, and having experiences that molded me into the person I am today.
But one must come home.
I grab the side door and yell, “Dad! I made you a sandwich!” and retreat back into my parents house. My dad pokes his head out of the garage, smiling, the lenses on his glasses now dark, almost like sunglasses, but later light, transition lenses as they say, which have been one of the most intriguing things of my life since I was a child.
To be honest, I miss traveling; I itch and yearn for it, spending my nights in North Carolina digging through Google Flights for a deal, expanding maps and tracing my finger along the world map in my living room, in desperate need of seeing a friend I love on the other side of the world, a way of balancing the mundanity of a 9 to 5 work life.
My fingers punch numbers on a calculator, my monthly budget now including light and water bills or facturas that are written in English instead of Español.
I am still trying to make my way across the ocean.
I miss dirty hostel rooms, the “hello, my name is… and I’m from…” and the embracing of strangers, muffled snores at 3:14am emerging from hostel bed 3 of a creaky, cheap, plastic bunk bed beside you, no one you truly know but someone who will end up exploring the city with you in the morning, bearing their darkest secrets, sharing native and new tongues, a charming Facebook friendship that will make for riveting dinner conversation, and a “Happy Birthday Tianna, I miss you,” from someone who was a stranger to you just 5 months ago, now 5,000 miles away, with a different background, God, and culture.
Traveling gave me confidence and friendships with people from foreign lands that love me the way I love my little brother.
I miss messy, greasy hair full of dirt or what I like to call adventure. An Osprey backpack that weighs one pound less than twenty pounds, European Ryanair flight attendants visibly pissed off because my backpack will not fit into the overhead compartment. The woman on the intercom of Spain’s metro saying “Mind the gap” in a British accent. Ten euro train tickets for trains zipping through little towns of lovers holding hands, children walking cobblestone streets heading to the store for bread, partners raising small children and falling deeper in love and life, day after day.
Vibrant fisherman villages on Italy’s coast with a new friend from Canada as a way of celebrating her birthday, sitting on the rocks overlooking the ocean and five colorful villages that I once saw in a photo on Tumblr. “I want to go there one day,” I say to myself 5 years earlier, not knowing where “there” is nor having a passport yet. Electronic music pumping through dark bars of cigarette smoke in Southeast Asia, an accidental dance party elbow to the side in Chang bar in Thailand, street food that cost $0.50 that I surprisingly do not get sick from. Friendships made on accident, an entire hostel room coming together, renting ATVs a tearing up an island decorated with blue and white buildings. Reuniting with American friends that I didn’t meet in America and meeting their families, their dogs, the pieces of them that were only stories, suddenly coming to life. Feeling alone in Spain while living with a family from Argentina, but hearing a knock on my door from their 4 year old that wants me to watch her color. “Tianna?” she whispers. “Estás aqui? Necesito un blue.”
Almost raw meat in Morocco, my new French friend urging me to just taste it, because it is a “delicacy of Morocco,” another friend translates from French to English. Or one time I was cursed out in 4 languages in the Medina maze like streets of Marrakesh, Morocco, my French friend pulling my arm to get us out of there, her not able to communicate with me because she does not speak English and I do not speak French. Her laughing at my facial expression, typing into Google Translate what happened, me reading the English translation in awe.
The Brazilian-Italian boy with an afro at my hostel in Stockholm at 4:13am blasting rock music on the hostel’s speakers, offering music recommendations from a UK band called Wolf Alice, while I pour over invoices and billing for work, eyes heavy, but needing to get the job done. I miss my brother’s laugh in London, eating expensive cheeseburgers at a diner and sipping o the best-spiked milkshake we’ve ever had.
Or the “hello, my name is Tianna” extended hand and smile combination to my friend’s mom in another country, the feeling of warmth from the two soft kisses she lands on my cheek. The hand of a friend I love embracing my scalp, pulling me in, Latin greeting style, his body wash now stitched into my clothing, a body wash I’ll later buy and use 4,000 miles away in America, just to feel closer.
I miss my friend Nicaury, her hand on my tanned wrist as we cross a busy street in the Dominican Republic, its 1990’s cars stretched and buzzing chaotically across the land. She knows I am capable of crossing the street by myself, but with her hand on my wrist, I realize for the first time that there are countless ways to tell somebody you love him or her without saying it. Or Jessica cooking for me in Barcelona even though she’s never cooked a day in her life. Or DJ and I salsa dancing until 6am on Saturday nights in the Dominican, sometimes opting to stay in and talk about life, saving the $8.00 we would’ve spent going out.
I miss the laugh of my friend Tosin under the Eiffel Tower, my ham, egg, and cheese crepe splattering across my cheeks, me laughing with her on a carousel, going round and round, taking in life. And all of it, I did, and continue to do.
But one must come home.
On a daily basis, I wonder why I gave this up.
But there are things money can’t buy.
Like my mother’s smile as I open the door of her massage studio, Lavender and eucalyptus filtrating the air, her reaching to hold me.
Or, a look flashing across my brother’s face, the forever-hungry-never-having-the-funds college sophomore, when I bring him food to his dorm room on a dark, rainy night.
My friend’s laugh as he practices his French at the living room table in my one bedroom apartment, hands outstretched later to give me a magnet he bought me a couple days ago in South Korea.
The appreciation across the face of the girl I mentor (my little sister now) as she drinks 6 glasses of Cheerwine at dinner one night, her gushing over the middle school drama and me, elated to see her again.
Or my father’s face looking down at his sandwich today.