Oh, Dallas. 

I still don’t fully know if what I feel for him is love or hate, disdain or appreciation. We grew up together; he was part of my life for years, seeing angsty bangs and crying over Panic! at the Disco. Dallas was a constant, even if we didn’t really get along. He ran red, I ran blue. I felt trapped in a box of distorted identities, a fear of the unknown with a distaste for the familiar. 

My parents were never particularly fond of him either, more prone to missing their friend Portland. To me, having only met him a few short weeks in my life, Portland was the epitome of liberation and openness. Dallas, by contrast, was conservative and opinionated. Telling me that girls should try to look good, while also reminding me that “short shorts” were advertising my body in a way I should avoid. Try as I might, these lessons stuck with me regardless of the very different ones I was learning at home from my parents, reminding me of toxic relationships with myself and other women, of not being comfortable around boys for fear they would like me and fear they wouldn’t.

But Dallas isn’t the devil, isn’t really anything except what his history made him. At the end of the day, I had a happy life with him. I still harbor nostalgia for our childhood together, of barbeques with the neighbors, riding bikes with my family, and the Turkey Trot. I understand him like I haven’t been able to understand anyone else. While we may not be pieces of the same puzzle, I wouldn’t be who I am today without him.

Dallas city profile created by Emma Stiefel

Eventually, it came time for me to have new experiences, and so I left Dallas behind, setting out to discover the people who made up my last three years.

San Francisco was familiar. While we had never met before, I never felt that she was a stranger. She was loud, proud, and a little bit gay.

Damaged, but incredibly strong nonetheless, she refused to let anyone push her around. A bleeding heart, she was constantly protesting SOMETHING, and attempting to change the world in little ways everyday.

Befriending San Francisco was easy, she reminded me of Dallas to the extent that I sometimes forgot I was meeting someone new. She held the same bold temperament and unapologetic pride in who she was.

With San Francisco, I went dancing for the first time, stayed out watching the stars, and discovered a part of myself I didn’t know existed. She pushed me to stop being the shy, introverted girl who never took risks. She was a mentor, a guide to a new, more independent version of myself.

She was a wonderful friend, who I have many fond memories with, but it didn’t hurt when I said goodbye.

San Francisco city profile created by Emma Stiefel

And then came Seoul, with whom I fell in love. He was gorgeous, exciting, and adventurous. Not to mention how safe I felt every second I was with him. Seoul saw me through some of the toughest times of my life but was never the cause of them. With Seoul, I felt powerful, and I discovered that maybe I’m not as afraid of being strong as I thought I was. Seoul never saved me from struggle, helping me realize I didn’t need to be saved. Instead, he stayed with me while I conquered my own demons.

Seoul, of course, isn’t perfect, and I’m not deluded enough in my love for him to pretend he was. High expectations in everything from looks, work, and even partying, there was always a “right” way to do things and a million wrong ones. I’ll admit, this pressure was lost on me most of the time, but the glimpses of it I did see helped me understand why not everyone loved Seoul the way I did.

I was sad to leave him, but I knew we would meet again, and he would welcome me back with open arms.

Seoul city profile created by Emma Stiefel

Hyderabad was completely different and unique to everyone I knew. He challenged me, made me more frustrated than I’d ever been in my life, but gave me my first real taste of shock.

Nearly always ready for bed by 1 a.m, he and I had very different perceptions of what was considered “good nightlife.” Of course, this also meant he was an early riser, running errands and exercising before I had even opened my eyes. Late to everything, I fought with him more than I knew I could fight with someone.

But, the longer I knew him, the more I appreciated Hyderabad and our differences. He was a spectacular cook-  I don’t think anyone will be able to beat him. He was friendly and kind, with a willingness to help others and excitement to get to know new people. His door was open for nearly anyone, and “family” wasn’t confined to blood relations. For all the chaos, there were elements of quiet, natural beauty that took my breath away. He was spectacular and confusing, and I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone like him.

I left regretting all the things I never tried and feeling like I didn’t do enough to fully get to know him.

Hyderabad city profile created by Emma Stiefel

Berlin was simultaneously unique and similar to those I had met before. A goth girl whose parents had split, leaving scars that were easily uncovered. I never really understood her, but I respected the conflicting signs of order and chaos that seemed to rule her personality. 

I thought Seoul knew how to party, but Berlin had him beat ten-fold. Few nights ended before 8 am, and for the first time since the beginning of my journey, I got tired of late-night dances, but that may have had more to do with Berlin’s obsession with techno music than anything else.

Berlin cooked me the best burgers I’ve had outside my family’s backyard and made me appreciate grunge aesthetics more than I thought I could. Bright-eyed and pastel after coming from a summer with Seoul, I think Berlin and I had completely opposite wardrobes. In fact, she once told me that a black shirt with white stripes might be “too bright.” Who knew?

Berlin also pushed me to be vulnerable. With her I realized maybe I’m not quite as put together as I thought; I started putting pieces together I hadn’t even realized were out of place. Self-growth was a big part of our friendship, and I learned a lot about myself that I had ignored for most of my life, regardless of how insightful I thought I was.

I cried when I boarded my plane, for the first time since meeting any of these characters who’ve defined my life.

Berlin city profile created by Emma Stiefel

When I met Buenos Aires, within the first few weeks I was crushing hard. His bright personality and constant warmth made it hard not to. He’s beautiful and friendly and altogether just a joy to be around. After Berlin’s chilly demeanor, it was a welcome change. Buenos Aires meant freedom from responsibilities, which was great until I ignored all my work to spend more time with him.

He’s a bit unpredictable and very political, but good-natured and confident, and proud of his history. And he’s so much fun! Dance performances and music run through his DNA and inspired me to perform for the first time since high school. I’ll admit though, sometimes his chaos gets to me a little, with confusing communication and constant loud noises. However, these little nuisances don’t make me like him any less. 

Buenos Aires city profile created by Emma Stiefel

In an alternate universe, this was going to end with my disbelief “goodbye” was just 5 short weeks away. 

Of course, Buenos Aires and I parted far sooner than we were expecting. Our goodbye was rushed and painful, and all of a sudden I went from excited to enjoy our time together to looking the rest of my life in the face. My meetings from here on out are unknown, and I am faced to look ahead at an unclear future. I mourn what could have been with Buenos Aires, but I enjoyed our time together, however brief.