I sat in various coffee shops pounding into my computer on most days. I drank entirely too much on most nights. My career was nonexistent; my life had come to a strange pivotal point. So I did what any semi-drunk person might do: Sat down and wrote a bucket list. I love lists. Most people have a bucket list, except for maybe coal miners, they probably just have a bucket and black lung. On my list I had:
1) Learn another language more or less fluently.
2) Live abroad.
3) Learn how to paint
4) Be a better cook (or at least stop setting the oven on fire all the time).
5) Write everyday.
It was a list that I thought would make me a better person and enrich my life. I'd been to Europe on vacation and knew that I could complete my list in Florence, Italy. I found a post-bach program a week later at a school called SACI. I was accepted shortly after and made plans to leave Utah in search of the better me. It was August, the program began in September, I was cutting it close. Then family issues arose, my little brother died, and my life took a giant punge into HOLYSHITMYLIFEFUCKINGSUCKSPLEASEGIVEMEALCOHOL, depression and a whirlwind of regret and confusion. I pushed my entrance date back one year and decided to go in September 2009 instead. I was only one year away from a better life. A year of forced self improvement. I wasn't running away, I thought, I was running towards my future. Abroad.
My friends and family had a hard time understanding the move. I was popular, which never made any sense to me because I'm awkward and shy and I pretty much never smile because I'm usually too worried about what to say or not say to let myself relax. Despite being standoffish, people would take an interest in me in spite of myself. I'd sit in a corner of a cafe, my long black hair in a messy, unkept state, my head-to-toe black skinny jeans, American Apparel T-Shirt that I wore lazily without a bra, and black converse. The look screamed, "I'd rather chew off my arm than talk with you," yet, I'd find myself surrounded by people who wanted to talk with me. It's not that I didn't want to talk, it's just that I didn't know how. That was something I wanted to change in Italy. I wanted to force myself to talk to everyone. I would be more social, because being abroad would force me to be more bold. I naively assumed.
I arrived in Florence on my birthday, September 2nd, 2009. I hauled two suitcases the same size as my own body up 3,498,432 stairs of my shared apartment in the San Lorenzo area of Florence that the school had acquired for me. I looked around the empty apartment, the two twin beds flanked by matching white desks. I thought, this is exactly what I wanted. It was perfect for the first six months. My life was exactly what I wanted. I was learning Italian, sort of, or at least I was awkwardly trying but mostly just grunted and pointed enthusiastically in the direction of things I wanted. I spent all day in art classes, painting, drawing uncircumcized penis' from life. I answered questions from undergrads about "what is going on with that dude's willy?" My professors were beautifully insane. I fought and argued with most of them and adored them all the while. I drew tons of vaginas. Art school is the only place in the world where you pay money to stare and sketch genitalia for hours on end.
I met an Italian man in January of 2010 after I'd been in Italy for four months. He was the strangest person I'd ever dated, the most difficult, dramatic and annoying. Everything with him was complicated and I'm not one for romance because I'm a terrible pessimist (my nickname in high school was pessimisty) but somehow I knew I was going to marry him. Even when I wanted to stab out his eyes numerous times every day. In May, after school finished, I didn't feel ready to return to the USA. I still needed more of something and I had this hot boyfriend that I wanted to stab. So, I stayed in Italy with another friend. We started a design company together and rented an apartment outside of the center with my boyfriend and a sweet Canadian girl who also attended SACI.
Everything changed because living abroad was very different than studying abroad. Working, dealing with being an immigrant and becoming part of my boyfriend's family, without the support group that the school environment provided, sucked so bad. The place that I'd grown to love so much quickly became a place that I loathed. The people who were once "funny and warm" seemed lazy and dumb. The Tuscan sun was dimmed by the dark clouds of struggle. Surprisingly, since I was naive, running a business in Italy was incredibly difficult. Everything is conducted in person, nothing is for sure and everything seems tentative. The internet? Wizard box! We don't use it! However, we managed, we manufactured and printed our first line of T-shirts and totes from what I believe, looking back now, was from the Chinese mafia.
My boyfriend's friends and family hated me. I was "weird" and they all thought I was slutty because in Italy every American is basically just another Jenna Jameson. Things got really out of hand after he proposed to me in December of 2010, almost one year after meeting, and announced the engagement to his parents. I had a little mental breakdown when I discovered just how much everyone disapproved of our wedding. At the same time I'd discovered the incesstuous nature of Italian friend groups, my boyfriend's history with every woman he'd ever known, and his history of cheating. Plus, his mom threw epic tantrums about how much I sucked, in between telling me that my boobs were too small to look attractive in a wedding dress. His dad took it up a notch by telling me that I was worse than village people. Not the band, but people from a tribe or village. I had no idea what that meant but I assumed it was both insulting and racist. I became bitter. I lost inspiration for art and writing and I stopped leaving our apartment because I was tired of Italians and I was tired of sounding two years old when I spoke. I wanted everything to work. I wanted to sound intelligent, to be accepted by his family and friends, I wanted to be Eat, Pray, Love, damnit! I tried to improve but it was too exhausting and it didn't work because EVERYONE WAS STUPID. I needed to vent. I started a blog called Surviving In Italy because otherwise I'd go to jail for probably slapping the shit out of a lot of people.
Despite everyone's fits of rage and Lifetime Movie-eque drama I married my boyfriend in 2012 in Utah and then again in May 2013 in Cassino, where my husband is from. We decided after the wedding to return to the United States to give me a break for a little while. A combination of having my friends here for the wedding and the feedback and support I'd been given on my blog, I started to realize that I really liked the person I was before I moved to Italy. I didn't "try" before Italy, I was myself and content and I felt proud of that. My ex-boyfriend's parents liked me before because I was honest and unintimidated by them. I had a sense of humor, though dry, and was able to work and be me freely without stress. I came to Italy to become a better version of me but I had no idea what that meant. In an attempt to find myself, or a cooler more European version of myself, I'd become lost.
I stopped caring about what everyone thought of me. Our business could grow at a snail pace, there was nothing to prove to anyone. My relationship would work with me being myself or it wouldn't. People could like me or not. I wrote a memoir (or tried to) and began writing a regular column for Florence News And Events. I told my inlaws to lascia mi stare, or, leave me alone. I started to treat my husband's friends as my own which included yelling at them on occasion and being unafraid of debates which was awesome because, my friends, I am wiley. I finally, for the first time in my life, embraced that I'm kind of weird and awkward. Plus, self deprication is totally the key to humor writing. Winning! When I stopped trying to learn Italian, I stopped being afraid and in no time I was prattling on like a cracked out monkey.
My inlaws backed off and now yell at my husband when I complain about him because, apparently, they prefer me when I'm a fiesty pain in their butt opposed to my former self that was so worried about making an impression that I seemed braindead. His friends come to me regularly for help and advice or to just hang out without my husband. They drunkenly tell me, "I love you! We're family!"
It took moving to Italy to realize that I didn't need a better version of me. Though, I have to admit that knowing how to swear in Italian while cooking fresh pasta is kind of awesome. Now that we have our tickets in hand from Rome to Salt Lake City, now that we're packing, I don't want to leave. The clouds have moved aside and I can finally, once again, see the warm tuscan sun radiating down on the shit covered cobblestone. And I feel like I'm leaving home.
M. Elizabeth Evans @survivinginitaly.com & dirtyfilthythings.wordpress.com
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