I was bundled up in my frilly pink peacoat and my favorite little black dress plus two scarfs. As the powerful mountain winds blew I turtled my head back inside my scarf and turned against the wind. Looking out towards Hans and laughing against the bitter cold that was pushing us backwards, we reached out for one another. We held on to each other and cussed under our breath how cold it was as we braced ourselves for the next gust of bitter wind. I kissed his lips only to feel the shock of coldness lingering on his lips and I stood there in his arms and thought how lucky I am to have found him.
We’re standing on Germany’s tallest peak, Zugspitze, on our Valentine’s Day day trip. We had decided to take the stress off of planning something romantic for each other and buying a gift and instead decided to come here. When in reality, it was one of the most romantic ways to share our Valentine’s Day together. On top of the world, looking out at the beautiful horizons and freezing our butts off, holding on to each other.
We finally go inside to the restaurant at the top, Gipfelalm, and enjoy a nice warm meal with a beer. I sit staring out through the window at a view like no where else while simultaneously spinning my beer glass in circles on the table and I think back to how it all began and how far I have come in 3 years.
Three years before, I was sitting in a tattoo salon getting my first tattoo. I had decided on a sunflower which I felt symbolized how I wanted my life to be.
I have always been a sun loving soaker-upper who stood strong and steady and fought for what I wanted. During this time I had been living in Montana for the last three years and I needed something to excite me, something to make me feel alive. I was always looking for adventure but I was starting to feel stuck in Montana, like I was slowly suffocating from boredom.
I thought I wanted this country life, living in small town USA.
I’d grown up listening to country music and beachy southern California didn’t have that country twang I needed to satisfy my soul. So after finishing college, I followed my parents to Montana. I spent the next three years working in a quaint little country charm bank. I got to know many of the citizens of Columbia Falls through my job and I loved it. I treated everyone like I had known them for years.
I spent my summers floating on the hundreds of lakes around the Flathead Valley getting my tan on. My family and I actively participated in the country scene – hikin’, campin’, boatin’, BBQin’ and line dancin’. During the quiet dead of the winter seasons, I spent my time going out with friends ice fishin’, drivin’ quads on the ice which astounded me and a bit of snowmobiling. For the most part though, I spent this time indoors catching up on my scrapbooking.
I always believed that life was too short to spend it living only in one tiny corner of the world when there was so much to see, do and experience.
I had treated living in Montana like another adventure. Over time though I began to get fidgety, moody and stifled. I felt like I was becoming trapped in Montana. I had obviously overstayed my welcome. When those glacier winds blew, I knew it was time to ride those winds wherever they would blow me next.
A coworker friend said to me “You’ve changed. You seem unhappy – maybe it’s the winter that’s making you depressed.” I sat and listened to her words carefully. I never liked people who were always Debbie Downers and I prided myself on not being one. I was always the shy girl in the corner until you got me talking. Then I became the pink bubbly chick at the party looking to have a good time. All of a sudden I was in this grey hole and I didn’t know how I got there.
Hadn’t I wanted to live in Montana? Hadn’t I wanted the country life? I actively took part in moving there with joy and adventure in my heart. But the novelty of it all had worn off and I realized I wasn’t cut out for small town life.
Life in a small town didn’t consist of much. Especially to an outsider. It always felt like I was struggling to make friends because everyone already had their childhood cliques and family. Family is the most important part about country living. I love spending time with my family, but its just me, mom and my stepdad. We’re a small family and I needed more. Everyone is so closely knit they barely need friends outside the family. I was the city slicker coming in and trying to get in to the group only to realize it was “family only”.
From guys still trapped in the mind of a 15 year old, to 40 something year olds to the trouble makers and drunks, I tried to find friendship or relationships wherever I could. Only to discover that these friendships weren’t meant to last. I did get lucky and was welcomed into the fold by a few coworker friends who took me under their wing and made me feel like a part of the family. They provided me with a sense of comfort and happiness until eventually I knew I would never be one of them. I was still the outsider trying to make a family my friends.
To get out of my funk, a very close friend and I decided to start the New Year off with birthday tattoos. I sat there listening to the hum of the needle and feeling the tattoo artist wipe and draw his way through my back sounder. My sunflower represented a new beginning for me. The words “Liebe mich” were written above my sunflower in cursive scrawl as a reminder that I needed to love myself before someone could love me. I had thrown myself at guys hoping someone would see me, would love me. I don’t want to say it like I was a easy, I just simply wanted some attention.
It would take me moving half way around the world before I would learn the unhealthy damaging affect this had on my mind, body and soul.
I had promised myself with that tattoo, I would start living for me. The German connected me to my past love of all things German. When my friend mentioned that I was unhappy and actually a bit unpleasant to be around, I realized the time for change was upon me. I didn’t want to be that person I had become anymore.
Things at my job steadily worsened. The head teller at my bank frustrated all of the employees in our office as she avoided working unless she had to. She took advantage of her position as an entitlement to slack off, especially when she thought no one was looking. Another coworker was struggling with the advancement of technology and taking on the responsibility of being her guide, it wore me down. She is an amazing woman and felt like I had another grandmother. I soon felt like I was supposed to do more with my life than pick up the slack of others.
It made me irritable at work and I found that soon there was no longer any joy in going to work.
When events at work hit the fan and a transaction with a customer was taken way out of proportion, I was suddenly thrust into the office of my boss and reprimanded with one month surveillance due to my behavior. That only made things worse because I felt that I was being mistreated and unfairly punished for simply doing my job. All I had done was refuse to take money out of an account without valid ID and since we were no longer able to ask for the last four digits of a SSN, I wasn’t willing to put my job on the line and risk giving out money. That was honestly the last straw for me. I knew then in my soul it was time to move on.
That day I quit my job, packed up my box of knickknacks and headed home without regret or tears in my eyes. I left and never looked back. My family was very supportive in my decision to leave a company who refused to give me a chance at something more than just a teller.
For the next three weeks, I sat on the couch applying for jobs all over the Flathead Valley but whatever I did, I knew it was just going to be a temporary thing until I could figure out what it was I wanted to do that would get me OUT of Montana. I got hired at a collection agency in the accounting/processing department. Mediocre work that only kept us busy from 8-10am and then 2-4pm. During my down time that I worked there prior to my departure, I planned, researched and studied how I would get myself back to Germany.
I knew there was only one place for me in this world I had to live at that moment and it was Germany. No, it wasn’t a sporadic decision, but a decision long time in the making.
I had recently had a friend move to Japan to start teaching English and it had been on my bucket list since I had met her when we studied abroad in Heidelberg in 2007. I figured, if she could do it, so could I! I had already lived in Germany for a year once before and found myself the happiest I had ever been! I knew that this time it would be permanently. Something in my soul told me I had to go, that I wouldn’t regret it. I knew I would have the love and support of my family, who encouraged me constantly to go back to Germany and live my dream. They reminded me when I almost forgot what my dreams were.
My biggest fear was staying and getting stuck living in a rut and forgetting the dreams I had always wanted to live.
During this time while I worked at the collection agency, we had a family tragedy strike us. My aunt, who has always been mentally unstable, answered her front door. The survey man waited patiently outside, with the door wide open while my aunt went to the kitchen to grab something. She never returned and the man left without a care in the world. My aunt was found laying on the floor 8 hours later by her neighbor. She had died of a massive heart attack at the young age of 50.
My mother and I flew down to Florida for the funeral. It was an emotional family gathering because the only time we ever seemed to see each other lately, was only for funerals. My uncle walked with me up to the casket, holding my hand tightly and we stared down at my aunt. He suddenly embraced me in a sobbing hug and said, “You have to get married soon! We need a happy family gathering.” I balled me eyes out in his arms at the loss of another family member just months after the death of my grandma.
The day before my mother and I flew back to Montana, we went out to dinner as a family at some Florida style crab shack. It was a rather warm day for April in Florida so we had gone to the beach for a bit prior to eating. We were sandy and salty and needed something positive in our lives. I mentioned that I had finally made a decision to move to Germany to teach English. I had registered with TEFL Institute with a course in London to get my certificate to teach English as a second language. I had not yet bought my flight or started preparing for my journey. I just knew I had to do this. My uncle was so impressed and knew I had a love for all things German.
He promised to help me make my dreams come true.
A few days after we returned to Montana, my uncle flew up with my aunt’s casket to lay her in the ground next to my grandma in Great Falls. My TEFL course was set to start on July 30 so I had to act quickly. I had began packing my sentimental memories in a box and putting aside everything else that I knew I needed to sell. I knew then that I was not going to return home permanently for a long time. I began to prepare for a massive garage sell. My uncle had come during the time I was preparing to leave and he kept his word. I provided him with my research, the costs and my determination and he rewarded me with a one way ticket to England for my course.
My journey was well underway!
I spent the next three months doing nothing but preparing for my departure, researching more and saving my money. For the last month I was without a car because my love, my Burgundy red Toyota Corolla “Betsy” sold in a matter of 3 days. Much MUCH sooner than I had expected. This was to be the money I would live off of abroad.
I knew in my soul that nothing else mattered and that this would be the right decision for me. I didn’t spend my day thinking about “What if”. I already knew the answers and I walked forward without an ounce of fear inside me. The only question was if I would make enough money to support myself and my travel addition, which when you’re young, acceptations can be made. I lived my life confidently just like Henry David Thoreau taught me to! I knew that nothing was never permanent and if it didn’t work out, I could return home. And if it did work out, then I would be living my dreams.
Finally, the days drew nearer and nearer to my departure date. I wanted to spend my last days strictly with my family and my closest friend, Pam. I said goodbye to my other good friends but beyond that, no one else mattered to me. I knew I wouldn’t see them again for a long time. We decided to drive early to Seattle and have a day trip before I flew out. It was a perfect way to end my last day living in the states, at the top of the Space Needle and meandering through the Pike Place Market.
As always, I never believe I am going somewhere. I’m a skeptic, like I can’t believe its really happening. I never get nervous or sad or cry at the boarding gate when I say goodbye to friends and family. Maybe I’m just immune now since I have been boarding planes since birth. I know I will see them again, I just don’t know when.
I don’t believe that I am about to take that first step on my journey to happiness and it wont hit me until I land at that familiar airport in London I know so well.
It won’t hit me that I am in London until I am walking along the Thames staring at Big Ben & Parliament. It won’t hit me until I move to Germany and find a job that I realize, “Oh god, I’m living in Germany”. And every day since finding my job in Germany, walking down the streets of Regensburg and staring up at that large cathedral do I remember “I live in Germany”, “This is my home now”.
So much has changed since I moved here. I have changed beyond recognition. I had a mixture of some cute country style outfits and then my frumpy clothes. I am not the same shabby, frumpy girl who stepped off that plane. I was the sore eye getting off the tube at Tower Bridge to get to my class. I was wearing the baggy clothes I had bought in Montana that I had thought were fashionable. I soon realized I was anything but. I was the ugly duckling who had lost all sense of style in my casual laid back “comfortable” clothes. You could spot “that American” from a 100 feet away and you wouldn’t be mistaken if you said “That girl looks like a tragedy”.
Upon moving to Germany and landing a job, I was surrounded by this new fashion only known to Europeans. I slowly traded my jeans in for leggings, my sandals for boots, and my t-shirts for dresses. At one point in my life I was dressing like a young lady should and somehow along the way I lost that drive. I let myself go. And that’s when I realized, I was no longer attractive to the opposite sex.
I probably looked like a person who wasn’t taking care of herself. If she wasn’t taking care of herself, why should anyone else?
As I walked all over town, as is completely acceptable in Europe, since I no longer owned a car, I lost a lot of weight. I hardly recognized myself after only 6 months living in Germany. I felt like a new woman. I felt more energized, confident and beautiful. I was soon having my mom send me old clothes I had held on to in the hopes that one day I might be able to wear them again. I felt amazing knowing I could finally get back into those clothes!
I finally found this new found sense of style that had been hiding from me.
I was learning that no one could love me until I loved myself first.
My tattoo was there to remind me every day that I should learn to love myself before I could give my heart to someone. In the first 6 months of living in Germany, I had vowed not to be obsessed with finding someone to love me. I had to find myself first.
I focused on studying my English grammar so that I could become a better teacher. I worked hard to be the best employee I could be at my job. I took the time to learn about my city and become comfortable living here. I took the time to make friends and make Regensburg my new home.
There was no time to think of finding someone to love me. I knew, eventually it would find me. That’s what they say right? Once you stop looking for love, it will find you.
Sure enough, love would walk through my roommates door and smack me right in the face. I was overcome. I didn’t know it at first, but this cute, nerdy looking guy casually came into my life. I got to know Hans first as a friend and there was no desire because I wasn’t looking. I wasn’t expecting to find anyone. As we got to know each other, that ol’ ticker started to beat again and I soon realized I was becoming nervous around him and excited to see him when he would randomly come by and see my roommate.
My birthday was just around the corner. I was radiating happiness. People began to comment on my Facebook pictures how happy I was starting to look. I hadn’t realized until then just how sad and depressed I had become living in Montana. What a difference a move could make. It had such an effect on my life, I no longer resembled that same girl.
I was happy again. I was ME. I had found that pink, bubbly girl again I knew was still inside me.
I had some friends come visit me for my birthday weekend I hadn’t seen since studying abroad in 2007. We decided to take a day trip to Munich to celebrate. I had only once been to Munich for 12 hours, just for Oktoberfest. Needless to say, I didn’t see much more than the inside of a beer tent. I had invited all of the friends I had made in the 6 short months in Regensburg. Unfortunately, only two of my friends would come besides my friends who were visiting. One was a very good coworker friend and the other…yup…HIM. Hans had said he would come, even when my roommate was sick at home. I warned him he was going to be the only guy tagging along. He said he didn’t mind.
My friends and I analyzed him throughout the whole day. They knew the 411 and that I was suddenly interested in this quiet, reserved German. We all agreed that there must be something there for him too since he didn’t back out after my roommate couldn’t come and since he was the only guy. We got home that night and sat on my floor in my apartment playing a new game I had just learned when I went to Barcelona for Christmas called “King’s Cup”. AKA – interrogate your crush by sloshing him with alcohol and surrounded by a bunch of girls who had my back.
Within a few months, we were officially dating. I hadn’t dated anyone in three years. I had had my heart broken by a little boy in Montana and after him there were just a string of bad guys, boring guys, poor guys and smelly guys. I seemed to have only attracted some of the worst ones in the whole state of Montana. And now, there is this sweet, gentlemanly guy sitting next to me on a park bench and we were enjoying our coffee on our first date struggling to communicate in Denglisch with each other. It was as if language hardly even mattered, but simply being in each other’s presence was enough.
He made my heart flutter. He made me feel beautiful and desired. I had learned never to trust a guy who calls you “Hottie” or “Sexy” and instead refers to you by “Beautiful”. He made me feel that I was worth the chase.
We will soon be celebrating our two year anniversary dating and I couldn’t have been happier with my decision that we said yes to each other. I was hesitant to jump into a relationship, knowing that I was still healing.
But when he came into my life, it was like he sewed up all the lingering broken pieces of my heart that I had yet to put back together.
He put faith back into my life that good guys do exist in this ever changing world. I had found a partner in crime, an adventure companion on the road, a best friend and someone to love me.
I finally feel like I am the woman I have always wanted to be, who I knew one day would come. I am finally where I am supposed to be with the man I had been looking for right beside me. I am the best version of me and everyday he makes me want to be better than the woman I was yesterday. I look forward to our future together and my future living in Germany.
I have never believed in fate, but this whole journey has taught me to.
It was my destiny to be here and to meet this man. Fate might have lead me here, but I definitely worked hard every step of the way to get to where I am today. And I had to be fearless in order to conquer what was to be mine!
I am finally strong and steady like a sunflower facing the warmth of the sun with my arms wide open frolicking through the endless field of sunflowers.