Dear Quest, Take Your Final Bow.

“The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau was supposed to inspire and guide me to realize my dream of a trip around the world. But the oddest thing happened, halfway through the book, I realized I am at the end of my first big quest — not at the beginning.

Five years ago, lying on the floor with my feet up in a moment of desperation, inspiration hit — return to Italy. Concerned loved ones wondered why a new grad would leave a promising job in a recession. The return transformed into years of soul searching. A portion of my quest was consumed by an evil monster until old friends provided an escape route. Relationships were lost and found. Family and friends opened their arms to help, I jumped in. Logistics became easier towards the end, although the lessons became much more complex. All the steps were there, I just hadn’t put them together. And when I did, it was all very lovely.

A taste of my journey:

Written December 8, 2010. A tourist of my past, I have moved the clock back 15 years and gone back to visit memories that used to feel like fragments. I can’t even begin to explain how much this experience is changing how I perceive myself and therefore changing me as a person. I had so many questions, so many doubts; they are being answered by living here and touring my past.

Last weekend I went back to where I used to live in Milan. I took the train from Turin and grabbed the Milan metro to Crescenzago. From there I pulled out my journal to reference my hand-drawn Google Map and began walking towards my past. The tears began after I took an “unexpected detour.” It’s amazing to think that this street was a part of my daily life, my brother’s, my mother’s and my father’s.

Michael and Jessica met me at the piazza by my old apartment, and then we walked the rest of the way together. To my amazement I remembered it. The gate gave me flashbacks to Jon screaming with his head stuck in between the bars and my mom trying desperately to get him unstuck. As we crossed the street an older man entered and let us come in right after him, act of God #1. Then as we walked through the courtyards memories began rushing back, the older kid who blew a huge bubble and it popped in his face, seeing a flower growing in the courtyard, and rushing down the stairs towards the courtyard to play.

As we walked around the courtyards our English was echoing off the buildings and making a decent amount of noise. I decided not to care; I was going to enjoy this experience as much as I could. As we were leaving, the portinaia or keeper of the apartment came out and asked “Chi cerchi?” “Who are you looking for?” I responded, “Actually I used to live here 15 years ago.” She squinted one eye and asked, “Come ti chiami?” “What’s your name?” I responded again, “Sara Loca.”

All of a sudden her arms came forward and she began walking towards me with a huge smile saying “Ahhh, io ti ho visto nascere.” “Ohhh, I saw you born.” Act of God #2. From there I lost it. I began crying and while she stroked my face and hair asking me about my family, almost about to cry too.

Once we both calmed down she invited us in for coffee. Michael, Jessica and I all sat down with her and a neighbor, Leda, to catch up and share memories. Vilma, the portinaia, is 93 years old and has been working for 50 years! Leda is 97 years old and apparently used to go out with my mom for women’s day. Those two were hilarious together, Grumpy Old Men funny. During the conversation it came to light that a magazine has been coming to the apartment for the past 15 years and after digging through a stack of newspapers she handed it to me to bring back to my mom. Too funny!

The apartment my family used to live in is now empty, I couldn’t believe it. Vilma looked at me and asked “Do you want to see it?” Soon after, we were standing in front of the door to my old apartment… with the wrong key. We went back to her apartment to search, but Vilma couldn’t find it. As she was frantically digging through the armoire, I looked to the window ledge and saw a box of keys, “Maybe in there?” Then poof, there they were. Act of God #3. I saw my old apartment physically empty, but for me, completely full of memories. I left the old apartment with awe and a feeling of peace.

Right now, I am not touring Italy; I am touring myself and my past. I’ve waited for a long time, and as questions are answered my load gets lighter. I am very thankful to be here now, and to have had the courage and support to come.

Originally published at on January 4, 2015.

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