Remember when we were little and birthdays actually mattered to us? We counted down. We knew exactly how old we would be. We made lists of things we wanted. We celebrated with family and then again with friends. As we’ve gotten older, birthdays have lost some of their pomp and circumstance. There are other things that matter now.
I was standing in the line to get my boarding pass in the Barcelona Airport when I got the text. It was from my friend, Emily. She asked me if I was sitting down. I was ready – I knew she was not far from an engagement to her boyfriend. There were pictures and videos in the next few minutes. It wasn’t a busy day in the airport so my happy tears went virtually unnoticed. A few weeks later I got her card asking me to be a bridesmaid. I knew she had been planning on it – we had talked before I left for Spain. None of this was necessarily unexpected but it made it no less exciting, touching and thrilling for me.
What was a little unexpected is what came next. In February, I had to decide whether to stay at my school or move. I had been leaning toward staying, just so I could arrange a trip home for Emily’s wedding. However, the administration of my school said some things that made the decision a lot more difficult. I’m not going to go into it – it doesn’t really matter and frankly isn’t professional to mention. Let’s just say that the culture gap suddenly became extremely apparent.
I hemmed. I hawed. I stressed. I called Emily and let her know what was going on. I decided to leave my school next year. It made my excitement for Emily’s wedding turn to anxiety. What if my new school wouldn’t let me take the time off to get home? That’s when Emily did the most mature and difficult thing – she plainly asked whether I was going to be able to be a bridesmaid. Not if I wanted to. She made it clear that she wouldn’t be mad. I told her that I didn’t have an answer – and in that, she needed to choose someone else. This interaction and the outpouring of support that came immediately afterwards on both sides was the truest indication of a really wonderfully mature friendship.
This is the hardest part about living abroad. I miss my friends and family more than I can even say. It’s like a gut punch every time a major life change happens. When my friend has a baby, I’m so happy but also heartbroken that I’m not nearer. When there’s a shower, bachelorette or engagement party, I feel the cold sweat of dread. When my beautiful companion Oscar, my 15 year old cat, had to be put down, it was absolutely devastating. The thing is – none of this is unexpected. My pregnant friends are obviously on their way to having a baby. Oscar was 15. He wasn’t going to live forever. My friend Emily was in a serious relationship on its way to engagement and marriage.
It’s almost more difficult when I know they are coming. It makes me feel guiltier – I get in this headspace – what if I just waited one more year? I could have stayed in Buffalo with my friends and family for one more year. I could have celebrated one more year of birthdays with my nephews. I could have seen my grandma turn 90. Could have gone to Emily’s wedding. Could have held two new beautiful babies brought into life by my good friends. Could have comforted Oscar (and my sister) during that horrible, traumatic vet visit instead of having to do it via Skype.
Here’s the thing about growing up – there’s only so long you can live for someone else. There’s always going to be these milestones. If my friend isn’t getting married, she’s going to be pregnant or it’s going to be her baby’s birthday. Just as my life goes on, so does everyone else’s. It doesn’t make it any easier to be missing these things. Lately, I’ve been more homesick than usual. I’ve been craving to talk to my friends and to FaceTime with my beautiful nephews.
The fact of the matter is this – I’ve chosen a new home. This is what I’ve always wanted. The amazing thing about my friends is that they realize that being here is as important to me as their major life decisions. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by so many exceptionally supportive people. I’m so thankful for social media and the internet for making it possible for me to reach out to my friends and family on a daily basis. I never miss a picture of my glorious, sweet nephews. I can hear my coos of my friend’s newborn. I can see the video of my friend’s engagement. I’m not there. But the lengths that someone makes you part of the experience despite your absence is one of the most incredible things. I could happy cry all over again at the Barcelona Airport just thinking of how lucky I am to have such strong friendships.