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

April Bannister
March 26, 2020

When I left the United States in January, I was a clean slate. I lived in a new country, attended classes in a new education program, spent my free time with a new circle of friends. I could become anyone I wanted.

In Dublin, I was alive, and I acted like it.

I don't live in Dublin anymore. I don't walk to class every day or see the mural on my way home, neon leaping off the walls and echoing a call down my spine. I don't have to worry about trips to take or how to construct my ideal identity or whether I was doing enough with my time abroad, but I would so much rather return to when these were my largest worries. I have come to miss the daily reminder that I really am alive, that there exists a better life for me outside the limitations of my head and body. I miss the pace of the streets, the shriek of wind and its breath on water. I miss the wash of rain that I swore I would be glad to leave behind.

In my first blog post of this two-part series, I asked myself if it was a betrayal to admit I had started calling my Dublin apartment home. Forget betrayal. I will freely admit that Dublin was more of a home to me than anywhere else I've lived.

My loyalties lie with Ireland, and I don't predict that will change any time soon. But it's hard to feel so attached to a place I've vacated, especially when it wasn't exactly by choice. I've been planning a final post with this title for a few months now, but having left Ireland far earlier than planned, my plans have undergone drastic changes. I thought the most difficult aspect of returning to the States would be the culture shock, trying to figure out who I am now that people are watching again. In reality, it's been most difficult that people are watching at all. While abroad, I became so accustomed to a life of freedom, experiencing more unconditional acceptance for every bit of myself than ever before. Here, I feel like I've been reduced to a past sense of self. I sense the same eyes that have watched me since I was a child and I sink with their expectation that I, too, am the same person I've always been.

I hoped I would return from Ireland definitively changed. Instead, I've been having trouble remembering why or how I felt different in the first place. I've had to re-center myself on what matters to me, my investigation now trying to reconcile my values before, during, and after I studied abroad.

I liked who I became when no one was watching.

Alone in my childhood bedroom, I am working to understand how all these selves can be possible, and how they align with what I now believe.

I attempt yoga for the first time in my life. I am horribly inflexible and always have been, but maybe if I keep at it I'll finally be able to touch my toes. I start taking walks without any destination. I give away all the clothes I didn't miss in my time away. I keep writing.

Who are you without the watchers, the expectations, the same tired idea of home? When you know your name better than anyone and have long survived middle school and can cry whenever you like?

You can always start over, be clean again. You are still 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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