Chapter 15: Treading Water

I didn’t know what to expect from Portugal. I’d heard great things, but knew little about the country. I entered Month Ten with a level of excitement and apprehension that was challenging to balance. With friends and family coming to visit, I knew it would be a big month of sight seeing and spending, juggling what work I did have with entertaining. All I could do was take it easy in the weeks before they arrived and try my best to prepare myself emotionally.

The day after we arrived in Lisbon was Rosh Hashanah. Sam and I woke up that morning in our beautiful apartment, which we had to ourselves, and began making a shopping list. Sam invited nine of our friends to celebrate with us and we were cooking a feast for everyone. We headed to the market down the road, and then came back home to bake bread and make meatballs, onion fritters, hummus, sweet potatoes, meat pies and salad. We were an excellent team. Sam left for the synagogue and I put everything in the oven while he was gone, greeting our guests as they arrived. On the way back from the synagogue, Sam texted me to say he was bringing home two more guests. I looked at our dining table, already full beyond capacity and then somehow found a desk and two stools to add to the end. The two new guests Sam had invited were French students who had just moved to Lisbon and didn’t have anywhere else to go. The Rabbi had tried to find a place for them to eat, but no one at the synagogue would extend the invite. Sam, of course, wouldn’t see them turned away, so he’d invited them to join our merry band of nomads. The dinner was wonderful and it was great to watch Sam revel in sharing his traditions with us. It was the perfect way to bring in the month and break in our new home.

Several days later I left with Kayla to Morocco. Sam and I had booked the trip thinking it would be nice to get some alone time before three weeks of hosting, but unfortunately he hadn’t realized he needed to apply for a visa well in advance. I convinced Kayla to come with me instead so it wouldn’t be a complete waste and she and I took off for four days in Casablanca and Marrakech. It was great to have some time away for the two of us to catch up, but we found it challenging to carve out time for work since we were traveling so much in those few short days. Morocco wasn’t as inexpensive as I’d expected, so I found myself stressing quite a bit about the money, while trying to enjoy myself without too much guilt. Marrakech was a beautiful, vibrant city. I especially loved the Medina, the central market. It was exactly what you picture when you think of that part of the world with spice shops and textiles and other sorts of handcrafted goods in stall upon stall on winding streets. It would have been so easy to get lost there. Kayla had been to Marrakech previously with Remote Year, so knew her way around somewhat. Our last night in Marrakech we met up with her friends, a Moroccan couple that had worked for Remote Year. They were wonderful! They took us to dinner and then we got ice cream. They filled us in on the local history and political climate and we talked and laughed until 1am. The night out with them was the highlight of the trip and I really enjoyed their company. It’s always great to meet good people you connect with in an entirely new part of the world.

Exploring the Medina in Marrakech

When we returned to Lisbon I mostly spent my days working and searching for more work. My financial stress and anxiety really started to wear on me and I felt like a failure. I did my best to rise above these feelings and take care of myself. I focused on eating healthy and even began running a bit, but every time Sam and I would go for a run it would trigger my insecurities and I’d lash out at him, taking out my feelings on my partner. I would project my self-loathing onto him, assuming he thought I was a failure or I wasn’t doing enough to take care of myself, because that’s the way I felt. One night, while on a run, I was overwhelmed with feelings of insufficiency. I was searching for a way out of the dark pit I was spiraling down when I was suddenly reminded of Kris and how much he struggled when he was unemployed and battling with health problems and feeling like a failure, because he couldn’t support the lifestyle he thought we deserved. For the first time ever, I was able to truly feel empathy for him and what he went through. What I was dealing with wasn’t nearly as bad, but I felt it acutely and couldn’t imagine experiencing these feelings of inadequacy while dealing with health issues like he had. A year and a half after his death I was finally receiving this gift, this ability to understand how he felt. This was something that I struggled with so much when we were together. And now I was asking Sam to understand how I felt, just like Kris had asked of me. I could only hope he would be more understanding than I’d been.

On the 15th, my aunts Martha and Marcia arrived. Martha got in before Marcia and planned a day trip for the two of us to visit Porto. We had a wonderful day catching up and seeing the sights before heading back to Lisbon to meet Marcia for dinner. The week before their arrival, I’d accepted a new work project, which would require me to work evenings four of the six days they were in town. I don’t seem to have good luck when it comes to scheduling work and time off, but not being in a place to turn down a job, I would just have to balance it the best I could. My work schedule actually gave my aunts a great chance to get to know Sam and my friends from Bourdain. That first night I was two hours late in joining dinner. By the time I arrived, Sam had already shared his whole life story and the three of them were getting on great. The same thing happened more or less on Thursday, when I sent them off to a wine tasting event without me and they got to meet a bunch of my friends over two hours of wine and food. It was a shame that I missed out on this time with them, but we had several great days of catching up and exploring Portugal together. A highlight was our trip to Sintra, where we joined a Remote Year tour of the two most interesting palaces I’ve ever seen, Palácio de Pena and Quinta da Regaleira.  

A day in Sintra with Marcia and Martha

Pena Palace was designed by King Ferdinand II and completed in 1854. It looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book with eccentric and whimsical carvings throughout the courtyards and the walkway leading up to the palace itself. It would be the perfect setting for a game of I Spy. Quinta da Regaleira is a large estate with winding pathways leading off to random manmade caves, courtyards, fountains, turrets and staircases. There are two wells, allegedly used for Masonic rituals, which are connected to each other through a series of caves underground. The former owner, Carvalho Monteiro, a man of power and a free mason, had these features built to reflect his ideologies and presumably serve as a place for the rich and powerful of the area to meet and perform Masonic rites. The place was fascinating and unreal. I loved imagining the things that may have occurred on such a property a hundred years ago.

Palacio de Pena

After six short days together, I had to say goodbye to my aunts and welcome my best friend, Hannah. The morning of their last day in town I woke up and had a mini meltdown. I was sad to see them go, felt I hadn’t had enough quality time to really catch up with them, felt overextended and exhausted and stressed, and I knew Sam was feeling neglected in my effort to juggle everything. I couldn’t quite pull myself together to go meet them for a morning of touring, so instead I spent the morning at home in a funk and finally got ahold of myself enough to meet them at their hotel around 2pm and say goodbye. Afterward, I went home and relaxed, prepared the house for Hannah, and then headed to the airport to pick her up. How can I even describe the feeling of hugging my best friend? We went out that night and she met a handful of my friends. Also there was Noa, Sam’s best friend, who I’d first met the night before. I’m pretty sure that night Hannah, Noa, Kayla and I all became best friends. It was a great time and exactly what I needed after such a rough morning.

In the five days Hannah was in town we did a lot. We drove along the coast to Lagos, did a street art tour, went to Sintra to see the palaces, went to an art exhibit and got in one last night out before she left. Her visit did so much to calm my anxiety and put me back in a positive emotional state. My worries about money were reigned in when I talked to her about what it’s like to feed a family of five off a single paycheck. My self-doubt was quieted by the presence of someone who’s known me for 15 years and still loves me and counts me as one of her best friends. And I was reminded of the freedom I enjoy as I travel the world without kids, or a desk job, or a mortgage gluing me to one place. She told me I had changed, but that it was good. That I was happier than I’d been and that I’d grown and she was proud of the person I’d become.  This above anything else was what I needed to hear. I worry sometimes that I’ll change so much that I won’t have anything in common with my friends and family back home. That I’ll no longer be the person they know, but that it won’t be a good thing. That I’ll lose myself in this life of travel and only have fleeting relationships with nomads and travelers I meet here and there in passing. But Hannah’s visit calmed those fears, because we picked up exactly where we always do and had such a great time connecting and exploring for a week together in Portugal. Although we didn’t get the tattoos we’d wanted to commemorate the visit, we’ll always have the memories.

Hannah and me at one of Lisbon’s many viewpoints

Right after Hannah left, Kayla’s mom came to visit, and she brought with her two friends. I joined them for several outings including a cabaret show and a wine tasting. They were delightful and it was so great to meet Kayla’s mom. She and I talked one night about the transformation she saw in her daughter since her decision to join Remote Year. She had been worried that Kayla was making a mistake in signing up for her year of travel. She was concerned that it would interrupt her career and she’d spend the year partying and come home broke. Instead, her daughter grew up in a year, became an adult and found herself and a drive and passion for life and work that she hadn’t had before. I could tell she was proud and happy for her, even though it meant she didn’t get to see her very often. I hope my parents feel similarly when they see me in December. I imagine it can be hard to see your baby choose such an unconventional path, but at the end of the day, don’t most parents just want their children to be happy and ambitious and fulfilled by the life they chose? I’m starting to notice similar transformations in myself and I’m excited for the time after this year when I can fully process how I’ve grown and what I’ve learned. 

As the month came to a close, I found myself wishing for warmer weather in Valencia. Most of the month had been colder than anything I’d experienced since Korea in April. I missed the sunshine and didn’t have the wardrobe to comfortably enjoy the fall temperatures. I know this weather affected my mood to some extent and my overall feelings toward Lisbon. While I was sad to leave our great apartment, I was hoping for sunshine in Spain. I’d fairly well mastered my emotions by the end of the month, weathering the ups and downs as gracefully as I could, but after ten months of travel, seven months of low income, and a month of visitors and cold weather, I was feeling worn down and ready to rest. On our travel day, Sam kept asking me how I was doing, and I couldn’t figure out why he was so concerned. I asked him and then realized it was because of past experience. I don’t always transition well and anxiety and emotion gets the best of me and causes me to lash out and be irritable. These thoughtful check-ins put me in the right headspace from the start of the day and reminded me to just go with the flow and not get worked up. These are the qualities I need in a partner and I’m so thankful to have someone who knows me well enough after ten months to be there for me in that way.

5 thoughts on “Chapter 15: Treading Water

  1. You have a true gift Kelly! Your writing is everything! I love how relatable and honest you are. I am so proud of you and enjoy these updates watching you grow on this RY journey! All the best, Lindsay


  2. Hi Kelly. I always feel like I’m seeing the world too through your eyes. You’re very brave. Thanks for sharing. Susie


  3. Kelly, I always love reading about your travels and your inner thoughts about your life.
    Have a great holiday with your parents in Capetown!


  4. Kelly, thank you for sharing all your remote year experiences with us. I so enjoy reading them. Can’t wait for the next one.


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