On the morning of August 6th, I left Rome’s 90+ degree heat and at 9:30pm that same day, I exited the Pittsburgh International Airport and gave a big sigh of relief.
No stifling humidity. No mosquitoes. No shouting. No chaos.
Nothing but calmness, and cool breezes.
Thanks to UN rules and Pennsylvania being my home of record, my flight only took me to Pittsburgh, and I checked into a hotel in enough time to catch the end of the Republican debate, and to fall asleep to Jon Stewart’s final appearance on the Daily Show, before an all-too-early 4am wake-up call.
But that’s okay. I was too excited to sleep.
Although my flight departed at 6am, fortunately it was direct, and I managed to get some sleep on the plane. I woke up just in time as the pilot announced our descent, and then the city of San Francisco suddenly appeared in view through my window. I actually cried from happiness.
I stayed with two dear friends who live in the Mission District, one of which took the day off to help me enjoy my first day, which I already had planned. Walking around felt like a dream. Large coffees. Maple-glazed doughnuts with bacon. Colorful murals. Burritos! Runners! Sports Basement! Fog! Remind me again why I left?
The next ten days were full of friends, food, and laughter. I visited my former employer and did a presentation on my current organization. I met my friend’s daughter, who wasn’t born when I left. I spent a lot of time in my old neighborhood, and got to run in Golden Gate Park. I wore jackets and scarves, and felt the mist of fog on my face in the evenings.
I had no grievances with San Francisco when I left in April 2014. I loved every minute of it. And that’s what made it so hard to leave this time. I don’t regret my decision to move to Rome whatsoever; it was the right thing to do. But when my current contract ends, it will be a year and a half that I’ve been in Rome. Is that enough?
I continued to ask myself that question as I boarded the plane and headed back to Pennsylvania to spend the next two weeks with my family. While my connection and sense of belonging are stronger with San Francisco than with small-town Western PA, I really treasured the time I had with my family and seeing a few high school friends was a pleasant surprise. My niece scored her first goal as a university freshman. And to hear my cat’s purring and meowing for the first time in eight months? Well, that was wonderful, too.
I even had an easier time renewing my visa. Because I was now familiar with all of the steps involved, I made sure to have my contract in place, my paperwork and medical clearance complete, and my contract therefore confirmed before I even finished my last day of work before starting my break. As a result, the official letter from the UN arrived at the Philadelphia consulate at the beginning of August, and I made a quick trip to Pittsburgh to an honorary consulate in mid-August to have them accept my application. My visa arrived on August 22nd, one week before I was scheduled to return to Rome.
I was happy to be going back, but it was nothing like how I felt a year ago. Those feelings of elation and triumph were gone, only to be replaced with homesickness and confusion. Is it time to go home? While confused, I wasn’t convinced that this was the right decision. Rent and home prices in San Francisco are completely out of reach these days, making a return financially impossible. And when I compare that to my current lifestyle, it seems foolish. So for now, I’m accepting my homesickness while making an effort to return to Italian life and enjoy it to the fullest.
Temperatures reached 95 degrees when I returned to Rome at the end of August. I took a nap and did some laundry in preparation for my return to work the next day. That evening, I walked around my Garbatella neighborhood. Stores and restaurants were mostly still closed due to the August holiday, but my local pizza place was open. As I drank a Moretti beer, then grabbed my pizza margherita, I headed out onto the street and thought, “what’s so bad about this?”