Who I Am When No One Is Watching (Part One)

April Bannister
January 24, 2020

I see the mural every day on my way home from class, all capitals and bright colors and huge block letters: U ARE ALIVE. The second message isn't written, but I feel it reverberate through my skull each time I pass.

You are alive. Act like it.

And every day I feel a bit more guilty, worried that no matter what I've written lately or which trips I've taken or how many friends I've hugged, I am not doing enough  completing enough work, experiencing enough enjoyment, offering enough support to those I love. Am I doing enough with my limited time abroad? Am I living enough?

Since coming to Dublin, I've been struggling with the concept of identity and how to define my life when everything around me has changed. It's not the first time I've packed a suitcase and moved somewhere where no one knows me, as I left Minnesota for the University of Iowa without even an acquaintance at a school of 30,000 students. Just as I experienced in my freshman year, I've had trouble recollecting the parts of myself that I carried with me overseas, and it makes me wonder how much of my identity is simply a product of my surrounding environment. If I don't miss something from back in the States, does it mean I never liked it at all? Is it a betrayal to admit I've already started calling my apartment in Dublin "home"?

I am in a new country, attending classes in a new education program, spending free time with a new circle of friends. I realize that for four months, I am a clean slate — I can become anyone I want.

I take two weeks off from working out and wake up every day feeling like my skin no longer fits, like my body has forgotten its own name. I don't have any of my climbing gear with me and for years I've refused to run in any other setting than outside, at night, and alone, all situations I'm too nervous to challenge in Dublin. When I finally brave the anxiety of running where others can see me and give in to the pull of my apartment's gym, my mind lights up. My body sings.

I get drenched en route to a two-and-a-half hour class and learn I don't like the rain as much as I thought I did. On sunny days, I skip through the streets without a jacket.

My friends and I travel from Belfast to Giant's Causeway. I feel unsure of myself on the tour bus, having been on fewer guided tours in my life than I could count on both hands, but I lose my breath when I see the ice-blue waves against slick black rocks. I take hundreds of videos, wanting to preserve forever the swells of water and the thrill in my chest.

I can tell my writing has already changed, but it is still mine and it is still me. One night, I return to my room and find I've completely covered my desk in books and papers and scrawled notes I keep swearing I'll type up, and it strikes me that I am happier than I've been in years.

Who are you when no one is watching? When no one knows your middle name or what you looked like in middle school or how often you cry?

You are a clean slate. You are alive.

Act like it.

April Bannister

<p>I am a second-year student from Saint Paul, Minnesota, studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. I enjoy writing across all genres, especially within the focus of mental health, and I hope that my words can inspire education and awareness on the subject. Outside of school, I can often be found rock climbing, running, and spending time with my dog.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
University of Iowa
Saint Paul, MN
Creative Writing
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