I like to lay in the dark and try to remember how to walk from my old apartment to my favorite spots in Florence. It sounds really dramatic, but I promise it isn't. I've dreamt of returning to Florence ever since the day I was overcharged for the weight of my luggage on my return flight home. I remember how the stairwell in my apartment building was cool - almost like a cave - and how the hall could be so dark, no matter the hour. I felt guilty when passing the desk attendant almost always. Even when I wasn't sneaking a guest (or a few) into my apartment. I could never maintain eye contact with her; she could never smile at me.
I'd rush to the door and drop out onto the street - always golden, always inviting. Go left and I could follow the back streets, through small piazzas, to my top two favorite nooks in Florence. One atop the city and one far outside of it, along the "wall of all things beautiful." The former, I kept to myself; the latter, I shared with friends. Go right and I fell quickly into the bustle of the city. Three or four - or gosh, maybe even five? - doors down from mine was my favorite door. It led to the most fascinating window front display of hanging cellos, violas, and violins. The artist, a man who was handsome in the way that only fully grown adult men can be, would smile at me from his work station. I, without fail, would be embarrassed and continue down the street. At night, that same man would turn off the lights in his studio, crack his door open, and play the most haunting songs on the cello. My roommate and I would lean out of the window and listen intently. Those moments always felt magical.
I can easily remember how to get to my favorite pizza, bowl of tuscan bread soup, wine, gelato; cocktail and jazz bar, espresso bar, and the cheapest aperitivo spot; the Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, Santa Maria Novella, and Central Market. Those paths are so vivid in my mind. I'm pretty sure I can even remember the path to the street vendor who once proposed to me on a day when I very much needed a laugh. What I can't remember, though, is how the city felt to me.
The night before I came home, I laid in my bed in the dark - see, it's a thing I do - talking to my roommate, Kenzie. We were sharing our favorite memories and moments, and she said something that challenged me and stayed with me ever since. "I just don't want it to feel like a dream, like it never happened." I left on a too-early flight the next morning, determined to remember Italy and the changes that occurred in me while I was abroad. Despite my efforts, returning to my old places and my friends quickly made Italy feel like an oddly wonderful and indescribable dream. It was too different from my normal life to seem real. I fell back into my routines and my time in Italy became a source of hilarious and wonderful stories to share over coffee and in awkward moments at parties.
So now, five years later, I can remember objective details of the city and I can draw distinct points of growth directly related to my Italian experiences, but I can't remember how Florence made me feel. It's the challenge of being more cognitive than emotional. In about a month, I'll be back in Florence. I'm different than I was five years ago - praise the Lord - and I wonder what I'll think of my beloved city now. I wonder how I'll feel.