...I got to see one of my favorite people in the world:
(Kayla, in Nuremberg, Oct. 22, 2010)
I met Kayla in February 2009 in front of the Tower Bridge in London. I knew her as both "the pretty girl with the cornsilk hair" and "the girl in the red coat" (she had an awesome red coat that complimented that naturally blonde hair so nicely!). She asked me to take a photo of her and her friend Kellyn in front of the bridge; then she took one of me and Sandy. We walked back to the tour bus side by side and she told me why she had decided to come to Austria; when her mom was her age, she was a tour guide in Austria and met her future husband (Kayla's dad, who was an American tourist at the time) while leading a tour group through the Alps. Kayla's dad went home after his 2 weeks in Austria but the two continued to write letters to each other and were engaged a few months later, upon Kayla's mom's return to the U.S. I loved that story when she told it to me in London and I still do (I even had her to re-tell it to me this past weekend).
My second distinct memory of Kayla takes place a few days after the Tower Bridge incident at London Heathrow airport. Sandy and I walked past Blake Lively and Penn Badgely at the Giraffe Cafe in the airport (and made eye contact with them both!). Sandy excitedly told everyone in our group a few minutes later and Kayla sprang out of her chair in the terminal, asking, "Was Chace Crawford with them???? Was he with them!??"
Once we got to Salzburg, we had to sign up for weekend trips and as our director was passing out the sign-up sheets, I remember leaning over and asking Sandy,
"Hey, let's sign up in whichever group that Kayla girl is in, okay? ".
When our intensive German classes started, I was so happy to see that Kayla and I had class at the same time (though in different rooms). Our classes took breaks at the same times and I remember leaving my class and seeing Kayla eating a snack at a table with some other Americans from our program and I felt like a kindergartner, nervous to ask her if I could sit next to her. She let me join her that day and we talked until our break was over and then, after our class had finished, we walked into the old town together. We spent every afternoon together for the next 3 weeks. We ate lunch together every day after our German classes were over, we explored the altstadt (old town) together, we walked through the snow together. Of all the incredible memories I have in Salzburg, those first 3 weeks are special in a different kind of way, largely because of Kayla.
It goes without saying that she was one of my closest friends in Salzburg and I can't even imagine what my experience there would have been like without her. She had her study abroad papers filled out for Florence and I had initially considered studying in London (Sandy's original plan) and we often talk about how grateful we are (grateful being the understatement of the century) that we chose Salzburg.
I will never forget saying goodbye to Kayla at the Salzburg train station in June of 2009. Although it's a little bit hilarious, it's also heart-breaking to hear Kayla describe how she almost had to be removed from the airplane in Munich due to her hysterical crying. Leaving Austria was traumatic, to say the least, for all of us.
With that said, anyone who knows me knows a) that I am a completely different person because of my time in Salzburg and b) that I talk about it far too much. The great part about Kayla (and all of my other Salzburg friends) is that they feel the exact same way. I don't feel like such a crazy person with them! We all miss it every day and we all get frustrated by the fact that we don't seem to miss it any less, despite how much time has passed.
Whenever I think about Salzburg and I feel that sharp twinge of nostalgic pain, it's always the worst when I think about February (arriving in Salzburg, the beautiful, snow-covered Alps, realizing that I had just begun what would be the most special adventure of my 21 years, etc.). Everyone agrees that those February memories are the most painful, for some reason. Kayla and I were just talking, for instance, about how if we close our eyes and think really hard and try our best to imagine what it was like walking to class in the snow, celebrating Valentine's Day, getting acquainted with everyone, being giddy from the mere fact that we actually got to live in this place -- if we try really hard, we can feel what it was like to be back there for a split second, and then in an instant, that feeling is gone. Whenever I start describing that particular little mind game to Caroline or Kayla or Lindsay, before I can finish my sentence, they say, "Yes, yes! I know what you mean! Exactly!" Like I said, it's so good to spend time with them, because they remind me that: a) I'm not crazy and b) that that time wasn't, in fact, a dream, but it actually really happened.
Someone asked me the other day, "Are you the happiest you've ever been in your whole life?" and I didn't even have to stop and think about the answer. Yes, I am so happy right now and though I have new responsibilities and worries I've never had before, I love my life and I am so content and thankful to be where I am. I know that each year will be better and better and I will be more fulfilled in different ways as I get older and accomplish more and more. But I'd be lying if I said it was the very happiest I've ever been in my whole life.
Kayla told me her mom asked her (probably during the post-Salzburg time period when all of our moms thought about sending us to therapy in response to our collective states of depression), "Do you wish you had never gone to Salzburg so it would be easier for you now?". Somebody asked me that same question once, too, and the funny part is - we both had to stop and think about what the answer would be. Of course, the answer is no, we wouldn't trade that experience for anything. But, yeah, sometimes I think it would be a lot easier if I didn't have always those memories in the back of my mind and that lingering sense of nostalgia that never seems to go away.
If Salzburg hadn't happened, I can say with the utmost certainty that I would not be where I am today (literally, where I am). I wouldn't ever had applied for Fulbright, I wouldn't ever had applied for my internship with the Embassy and I also wouldn't have met these lifelong friends, without whom I'm not quite sure how I lived the first 2 decades of my life. Kayla agrees 100% that she wouldn't be here in Germany had it not been for her "Salzburg time". And...dare I say it.... I recently found out that Lindsay and Caroline are in the process of making certain plans that may or may not be leading them this way within the next 6-8 months.....just, fyi.
With all of this "Where can I find a time machine/I miss Salzburg"-ness in mind, can you imagine my utter excitement when I met Kayla at the Nuremberg train station this past Friday?!
Details (and photos - many, many photos) forthcoming.