People often ask me how I can so easily be alone.
I am the kind that will go to a coffee shop alone, solely for the act of getting a cup of coffee and people watching. (Who does that?)
I’ve been the one eating popcorn solo in the movie theater. I’ve taken myself to full sit-down restaurants, because dang it, I wanted those breadsticks and no one else wanted to join. I enjoy runs, and most of the time would rather go by myself. I’ve headed off to Europe, San Francisco, Oregon, and other places alone just because I wanted to go and no one else could come.
But, I wasn’t always that way. I was the 21 year old that completely feared being alone.
I hated that voice in my head when I was alone that was so loud when all the other noise faded away. It spoke clearly, “You have no idea who you really are”.
I knew this voice was right. Did I dress this way simply because someone else did, or is this really what I liked to wear? Did I talk this way because it’s who I really was or the latest phrases? What parts of me were actually me and not just the me that so badly wanted that community we all crave, so I was desperate to chameleon into whatever I needed just to belong?
I was in Paris in the summer of 2014.
I memorized the route that I pulled up on the weak airport wifi that would take me to the girl I was staying with: Left at the train stop… Follow the road until you hit the place on the left. Easy enough, right?
I walked for 45 minutes until I knew this could not be right. It was getting dark, beginning to rain, and being a tiny (clearly foreign) woman with a travel size back pack, I stood out like a sore thumb in this tiny town on the edge of Paris. (All of the scenes from the movie Taken were flooding through my mind).
There was no one to call. There was no maps to kindly reroute me back to the right path. It was just me… and that voice.
I sat down on my backpack with the rain pouring down my face and dripping across my eyes as it soaked my hair. I remember when the tears began to stream so heavily and the rain got even harder and I could no longer decipher which was which. I didn’t even try to stop from getting wet in the rain, I just let it come down so hard. My hands were shaking, my mind was running and that voice was trying to speak loudly.
I had just so happened to walk back into this restaurant and the girl lived on top of this very restaurant.
(In case you’re interested, he called the girl and she gave him the code to let me in out of the rain. He also very kindly gave me a free meal that night, because I am sure I looked like I needed it).
For some reason, this moment sitting on my backpack in a tiny alley way under pouring rain in the middle of Paris will always be a special place for me. A place where it all changed. Yes, I was only a little lost and this was no near death experience, but for some reason things changed:
I began to be able to silence the voice and find the real me …
I found I was stronger then I ever believed I could be.
I found that my own jokes were pretty funny and I could definitely laugh at them, even when you’re alone in artsy Parisian towns eating macaroons while watching thunderstorms move in over the city.
I found that I was tough and even though I was directionally challenged, I could make it out.
I saw that I loved to sit in the rain without a care for how wet I was or how many people looked at me strangely.
I found that the world is not as scary as I made it out to be and those masks I work so hard to plaster on weren’t needed.
It was not under the Eiffel tower, or in beautiful landscapes where I figured these things out. It was in the dark, rainy, terrifying alleyway that I found a piece of me. I can visualize this place clearly. I can smell the rain. I can see the cobble stone building across the street with its neon light flickering red. I can hear the whining sound of tires whirling up the rain on the road outside the alley. I can remember the feeling inside me that something had changed and Genieva had really arrived on the scene.
Photo Taken in that same alleyway as I ate my lunch in the rain the next day .
After I was lost, then found, I walked the 20 minutes into the Eiffel Tower Park late that night. I strolled slowly at night, with no fear. I bought the biggest raspberry gelato from the man in the park and laid in the grass beside hundreds of people from all around the world. Most were couples giggling, friends laughing and sipping wine, or families with small children, but I was completely okay with it being just me.
Life can feel messy and not so picture perfect as our Instagram feeds make it look. It can feel like we will never make it out. It can come across as we’ll never figure out everything that we were meant to be. I want you to remember that in those dark, foreign, rainy alleyways, we figure out who we really are and everything we’re made of. It’s where our story is made, where we fall in love with what we were made to be, and where we leave behind a pile of those masks we worked so hard to sculpt to perfectly fit on our faces.
Be willing to say yes to those places. It won’t be the end of your story.