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Karley in Wanderland

Never stop wondering/Never stop wandering: life in your 20'somethings

Looking back, remembering the first time I left

I wrote this almost a year and a half ago before embarking on my first big adventure. Then, it was titled ‘Five More Days’. Cheers to looking back and recalling emotions and tracking growth since then! 

In just five short days I leave on my European adventure for two whole months. If you had asked me my feelings on leaving to study abroad just two weeks ago, I would have told you that I was super excited. I am still ecstatic and can’t wait for the new experiences that lie ahead, but something hit me in the last week or so… my life in Atlanta is pretty dang great. I have the best friends who are always down to have fun, I live in walking distance of all the best bars, (it’s summertime, who wouldn’t love that?), my job is great and pays well, and I have a pretty stellar internship. Not to mention my family isn’t too far away and I can see them whenever I want, and my dad comes by at least once a week for dinner and we go get our growlers filled together. So, why am I leaving? Why am I leaving this comfortable and excitingly amazing life for an entire summer?

In the words of John Green, “I go to seek a great perhaps.”

Nothing is permanent in life, and all of this stuff will be here when I get back… or it won’t. Either way, we cannot live life in just our comfort zone. One of the greatest things I have ever learned in life is that you grow the most in uncomfortable situations. Once outside of your comfort zone you are forced to see life from a new perspective and experience something different for once.

Not only have I never left the country, but I have never even been on an airplane alone! My first week in Europe will be spent in Paris, sleeping on two random guy’s couch that are so willingly providing me a free place to lay my head. From there, I have an apartment in the heart of Barcelona for a month and a half where I will be traveling around Spain on weekends. Then, I have no plans on where I will go for the weeks that follow after finishing up classes. I will go where the wind and good vibes take me. A new experience for me will also come while taking two classes at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. Apparently college is different in Europe, who knew?

I can’t wait for the adventures that lie ahead and the experiences that will stay with me forever. I look forward to stepping out of my comfort zone and seeing life in a new perspective. Doing and trying new things will be a chore daily for two months. I plan to keep my American roots while seeking out new cultures. After all, I am not just a citizen of the United States or of Atlanta, Georgia, but a member of the world that belongs to all of us.

So, I go to seek a great perhaps. To learn new things. To see parts of the world I have never been. To meet new people. To be humbled. To carry the people I love always inside of me. To grow. To live in a new place. To not take as many showers. To become a greater member of the world community as a whole.

‘Two Weeks In’ [written three countries, and two weeks later]

Well, I left the states two weeks ago, but it feels like it has been so much longer. Learning to live only a day at a time does something interesting to time. You finally begin to learn to make each moment count and that living in the moment truly is a blessing.

I could tell you how beautiful London is, that the Eiffel Tower is just breathtaking, or that Barcelona is one of the most amazing places on earth. However, those are things you could figure out on your own and they really are just a surface to all that I have been learning abroad.

Alone: I would be lying if I didn’t tell you my first day abroad was long and filled with many emotions. It hit me all at once that I was completely alone in a country where I knew absolutely no one. I couldn’t make phone calls or send texts, and only had access to wifi when I was back at the hostel. So, I was completely stripped down to just Karley and was left alone with only myself and my thoughts. After a day of adventure alone and basically talking to no one, I headed back to the hostel to spend about 20 minutes in the bathroom crying like a baby. I was experiencing a feeling of alone that I never experienced before. I later discovered that breaking down like that was necessary on my journey, I had to know what it was like to completely rely on myself. 

Being Still: I learned on the second day that I was going to walk miles and miles during this trip, and see amazing things. But, it would be in those moments that I was still that I could really take it all in. I discovered in London that it is one thing to look at the beauty around you, and another to actually connect and become a part of it. There are some monuments that I have gone and sat in front of alone for hours just trying to absorb all of the details and the life around it. I don’t want to be a tourist of the world, but a citizen of the world that belongs to all of us.

Survival: Going into this adventure I knew I had a brave spirit, but I also was unaware of some of the obstacles I would face. I arrived by train in Paris around 9:30 p.m. and three people tried to pick pocket me in the first ten minutes that I was there. I don’t speak their language, so it was hard figuring out where to go next. The trip to take me into the city and to the flat where I would be couchsurfing, that should have taken no more than an hour, took me almost four hours. Again, with no phone and a language barrier I got lost a few times. It was during this time in Paris that I learned there is always a way. Don’t give up hope and try everything you can… and YOU will make it. The feeling you get in the end, when you know you made it on your own, far outweighs the obstacles. 

Love and Peace: In Paris, I fell in love with no one, which was according to plan. I did fall in love with myself, though, all over again. In my two weeks so far I have found so many times my heart light and a consistent smile on my face. I made a Canadian friend that makes me think a lot of myself, just ten years older. Even with such an age gap, we bonded instantly and were able to teach each other so much about life and happiness. Unlike many women today, we are both happy being single and free. Too many people wait around for that special someone, while we are out living life in the meantime. A lot of people spend their time worrying about people of the opposite sex, and although we did a lot of that, it was in the sense that we are extremely happy with ourselves in our current state. Cliche, but you can’t rely on other people for your happiness. You have to go out and find it yourself. 

People: People come and go. I have realized this trip that although you may enter someone’s life for a short period, each second counts, and how marvelous it is when you truly make those seconds count. People have helped me so much along the way, and it was confirming that people are actually good and willing to help others. My second to last night in Paris I went to a dinner party with young Parisian’s in their late 20’s, and I was welcomed with open arms. The laid back mentality and light conversation of people around my own age really opened the door for me to see into their culture.

I have five weeks left in Spain, and wow, what a beautiful country it is. Living in the heart of Barcelona I am learning so much about their culture… and I love it! I am not alone anymore, but living with three awesome American roommates from all different backgrounds. I can’t wait to see what else is in store, stay tuned. Cheers!

‘My Second Home’ [written during my last days in my beloved Barcelona, five countries and almost two months later]

The number seven doesn’t normally seem that large, however living in an unfamiliar place for that many weeks is enough to make it familiar and feel like home.

After spending eight weeks abroad, and seven of that living and studying in Barcelona, while traveling Europe on weekends, I have fallen in love with Europe. It took only the moment upon arrival in Barcelona to know that I was going to experience a love affair with Spain. At first I was a tourist, but it didn’t take long for this beautiful city to become my second home.

People began to come and go, but it was all the same. I realized about half way through that I knew the hot spots around town and the nights that they are best. Barcelona is a city that really appeals to tourists, so the vibe from many places got to be all too familiar each night we went out. The music is the same, the type of people are the same, the prices don’t change, and you begin to realize the small things that make the city tick. As I started noticing this, I knew I was no longer an outsider, but an insider. I knew the feeling and the ways of a typical night out on the town in Barcelona.

I gained a schedule. Breakfast, class, lunch, class, siesta, dinner, homework, go out. Weekends: travel or stay home and explore Barcelona. I quickly became accustomed to the schedule of the Spaniards. Each day you wake up later, be productive for a few hours, eat a big meal, nap, have a semi-productive evening, then go out from 12-6 a.m.

Along with schedules is transportation. You learn quickly the hours of the metro and what time you should make all departures. You know when a taxi is trying to charge you too much, so you begin speaking Spanish and it all works out.  I know the Barcelona airport probably better than anyone living here for just the summer would want to.

I knew the way of the hagglers and figured out the bartering system. After being around a time or two, you begin to know the actual prices of things. So, you learn to never pay more than you should.

The bakery down the street knew me and my typical order. The café by school was my hideout between classes, and they never stopped asking me if I wanted coffee. (Duhh I was only there for the beignets and free wifi) I will miss these two places dearly.

Barcelona is my second home. It will forever hold a place in my heart. I studied International Business…internationally. I studied art in the city where many of the most famous artists gained their inspiration. Not many people can say they went to Dali’s house, saw the rocks he was always painting, and kayaked in the cove that was one of his big sources of inspiration in paintings. I lived by one of Gaudi’s biggest masterpieces. I have seen many artists’ work first hand, and now have enough knowledge to interpret these magnificent pieces of work. I learned some Catalan, attended celebrations for one of their largest holidays, and now know much about their culture and political system. The experience of living with females for the first time ever…well, it was an experience. I tried and saw many new and marvelous things.  I have lost so much money, but I guarantee I am returning way richer than I could have ever anticipated. While abroad I finally learned the importance of being present, and my how I wouldn’t have changed a minute of this great adventure for anything.

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I intimidate men, and that’s okay

Keep doing you and be the best you can be. Never let anyone else dominate your life or make you feel lesser.

My dating life is a mess of awkwardness, disillusion, and The Hunger Games all mixed into one. Dating has never really been my thing and my one boyfriend ever in my twenty-two years, barely lasted three months. I’m the opposite of normal, my hours at work are far from the typical 9-5, my dog doesn’t like anyone coming near me, I am known for canceling plans/dates, and my mom judges any and every one with the iron fist of god. You might not believe it, but I have hundreds of other flaws. Per my wannabe suitors, though, the biggest “drawback” is that I’m intimidating. (*rolls eyes, pushes back hair, and checks watch, because I do not have time for that…keep up) But not only that, I’m a strong-willed lady that can care for myself.

This is not a rant about how perfect I am, because for real, I’m far from it. However, it has the soul purpose of showing like-minded ladies that there are similar gals out there experiencing the same thing. Men are intimidated by us and our standards are “too” high. Hold strong, because in the words of Kendrick Lamar, “We gon’ be alright”.

Recently, I was test driving a new Mercedes and sent a video to a friend, telling him I was thinking about buying it. Knowing he is a business savvy and honest man, I hoped he’d lend some insight. However, his response was “haha, yeah right”. I was left dumbfounded and immediately questioned what he meant by that… no response. It was not in question, but I immediately got the lesser than feeling that so many women experience on an everyday basis. Who was he to even have a thought that I couldn’t buy such a thing. Because I promise, I most definitely can and do not need a man’s approval or money to do so. Too often men look down on us and don’t believe we can actually do big things. Smhhh. It is up to us to continually prove them wrong.

I have a degree, and am one of those who actually use it. What’s even more hard to believe is that I love what I do. You know those times when men are shooting the bull and talking politics, and when a lady chimes in they just look in disgust. Hey, I’m a human, too. I can read and write and follow along with what is happening around the world. (Also, it’s part of my job to do so) Ladies, insert yourself where you see fit, don’t let anyone hold your ideas and beliefs back.

I’m sure many other females know about men talking lavishly to them, saying how they can take you out, do this and do that. Thanks for the offer, but I can already do that. What I am looking for is a travel buddy and someone who can enrich my life and question my thinking. So often they are intimidated to the point of feeling like they have to over compensate. Don’t.

Long story short, when you’re intimidating, men tend to either stand back, or you just attract the douches that want to see if they can overpower you. Keep doing you ladies, and the one who can handle you will eventually take on the challenge… this is then defined as “power couple”. I mean, I wouldn’t know, but it’s what I assume.

We are climbing the ladder, let’s make sure we keep on going up.

@karleyinwanderland

My biggest challenge is…

Reliving the life and death of my best friend over ten years later. Death is hard, but we can learn something from it. 

I was playing hooky at Disney World, or possibly actually out sick. Either way, when I got back to school that day in the sixth grade, I had a big paper due ASAP. Mrs. Robbins briefed me on the latest assignment, saying that the topic was “My Biggest Challenge Is…” and we were to write about what we thought that may be. Within the next week the whole class would read their story aloud and vote on the best story. The winner would move on to the school wide competition and from there county, and state. I don’t know if it was genuinely well written or if I straight up tore apart everyone’s heart strings, but I made it to the state competition, and boy did I have a story to tell.

She was beautiful, pure. Anyone who met her knew she was special, and honestly, not meant for this earth. The plan was always for her to spend a short time here, leave her mark, and fly back up to where she came. God sent us an angel, made her gracefully go through hell, then took her back to His arms where she will forever have a fresh coat of paint on her nails and endless plates of the most delicious cheesy bread.

At just twelve years old I contemplated what my biggest challenge was during that pre-teen era of life. Would it be the confusion of figuring out who my friends really were, that I didn’t understand how to part my hair, or being the furthest from knowing what sine and cosine meant? Nope. I knew that my biggest challenge in life was watching my best friend battle cancer and leave me on this earth alone.

Gina was smart, happy, curious, sweet, and a fashionista. She knew more than most her age, and had most definitely lived through more than most ever will. I watched the twelve-year-old queen slowly lose her life, but never the royalty status. Eventually, cancer took over her body for the third time and she became immensely weak. In my sixth grade paper I recalled pushing her around in her wheelchair during visits to the school. She was now blind, but would laugh because she could sense that I was a bad driver (similar to today) and we would carry on, me almost nailing her to the walls. She didn’t mind. We were doing kid things, and that’s exactly what she needed to be doing. I also took my audience down a not so bright memory lane, when I wrote about the last time I would ever see my friend. The cancer had nearly taken everything from her at this point, except her genuine soul and being. Gina was in a coma, and people took turns coming by the house to say their final goodbyes. I loaded up all the ladies, the tea party squad, and we all headed to her Moldovan household. She lay still, a tumor growing out of her nose. She looked like Sleeping Beauty and a peaceful vibe maintained its presence in the room. I picked up a Bible nearby and read to her, well kind of, as it was in her language which I didn’t know. Later on, post coma and days before death, she woke laughing. She told everyone I read to her and did a terrible, comical job! Walking outside that day, the vibes changed as it was quiet, and the rain poured down. The raindrops fell in a similar pattern to the tears rolling down my face. Everyone hopped back in the car, but I took another glance back at the house, where my dear friend lay waiting for the day she would get back to that party in the sky.

It was the last time I saw her alive.

But, that is not how I remember her. I remember her alive and vibrant, the biggest dimples beaming from her cheeks. The many wigs she wore, looking for that queen feel after cancer took her luscious, dark hair. I think about painting her nails, giving her those few moments of pre-teen normalcy. I aimed to take her from that cancerous world for a bit, and show her a piece of a worldly heaven.

Gina Rykhlov died at twelve years old on May 3, 2006. I was in the shower singing, per usual, but got the news right after when her mother called me up. But, she really didn’t die, she just came back to life, and she lives through people like me every day.

Today, “My Biggest Challenge Is” not watching my best friend go through cancer, watching her lose all of her strength and eye sight, and eventually going to her funeral knowing we would never have another play date. Instead, I am years older and wiser and can think of the many blessings she brought to my life. Man, the way she lived. Really lived.

I am sharing this to show a short part of the life of my friend, and the big impact such a small, young lady left on me… even to this day. We often want to grieve when we lose a loved one, which is fine, but only for so long. At a young age I learned the real purpose of death, to teach us left behind on earth something… a way to live a better and more meaningful life. It turns out that really is the least we can do for the deceased, find a way to make their lives more meaningful. Gina is an angel and always has been. She touched my life and hundreds of others. For a life to end that soon, the least I can do is share her story about the good fight, and the one that took her home. I carry her with me, I carry her in my deepest being.

Live life to the fullest. Be kind. Set a good example. Smile always. Don’t give up. Be brave. Get uncomfortable. Learn something new. Give more than you take. Appreciate what you have.

Gina did. You should, too.

 

@karleyinwanderland

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Love yourself and celebrate YOU

We can all remember Valentine’s Day in elementary school when the whole class was our Valentine. I would decorate an old shoe box up to the max, with colorful hearts and rose pedals, and would hand out miniature cards of lust and stupid sayings to everybody, because everyone deserved to feel special and know they had a lil’ nook in the corner of my heart. Jon was totally into me, so he went above the store bought folded card and cut out a big red heart for me. On the card he wrote “I love you” and glued a tiny picture of himself to it. Little did McKenzie’s mom know, but the school pictures she paid good money for that year would be put to good use. He gifted me the biggest print of himself- no card, words or anything. Tell me that’s not confidence. It’s definitely some type of confidence that many of us lack in our older, less wise years.

Here we are years later and I have still yet to find a real Valentine and have been single all 22 of the February 14th’s I’ve lived through. The words “I love you” have yet to slip from my mouth toward anyone but family and my most beloved friends. And I’m OK with that.

Society tends to bring about a great depression this time of year, making many feel not good enough and unwanted. For some reason if we don’t have a dozen roses or a bushel of sunflowers on the kitchen table come the morning of February 15th, we have done something wrong. I like buying my own bushel of sunflowers whenever want them, because I am perfectly capable.

This Valentine’s Day will be very similar to the rest, doing me and what I want to do on yet just another day. However, this year it will be a bit more meaningful. I am celebrating me and all of the love and energy I have to offer others and the universe, but most importantly myself. Far too often we strive to please the opposite sex and build ourselves up for others. But, if there is one thing I have learned in this life, it is at the end of the day what I really have is myself- mind, body, and soul. So, why not do me and let the rest fall into place?

I realized this idea at a young age, and THANK GOD. Otherwise, I don’t know the dating hell’s and mishaps I would have gone through. How could I be out there finding someone when I’m still busy finding myself. (I don’t wanna ever completely find myself, because the search has become the best part) Maybe some would argue against this, but I am okay with trying and being hurt, because at the end of it, it is my heart and mine to rebuild. I really trust that lil’ guy. I can rely on others to break it time and time again, but ultimately I am the one who mends it and strengthens it.

So, ladies and gentleman. I dare you to make this a Valentine’s Day where you don’t indulge in unhealthy amounts of queso, tacos, tequila, and cookie dough because you pity yourself. But, instead because you are celebrating you and the love and kindness you instill in yourself every day. YOU are way too valuable and worthy of anything less. Go out with your friends and look hot, plan your next out of country trip, and take one too many shots, and do it for you…no strings attached. Happiness and  love comes from you, and only you.

The words “We accept the love we think we deserve,” never rang so true. You’re all more than worthy of a great and never ending love. Cheers to finding the happiness that comes from within!

@karleyinwanderland

How another’s addiction made me a stronger person

I was 10 and he was 16. I remember looking up and my long-haired, Billabong t-shirt wearing brother was sitting on the bed with my mom, knees bent to his chest, crying. His face was blushed and the tears were flowing, I had never recalled seeing him this way before. This one moment in time that I look back on and remember so clearly is the first time we realized drugs had taken a hold of our family and would leave a stout impact for years to come.

It has been almost twelve years since then and what a story I now have to tell. The roller coaster has been full of ups and downs, and it has moved forward, but also zoomed backwards numerous times. I decided to write this piece to shed a light on what happens behind the closed doors of an addict’s home. As the addict finds refuge in filling their body even more with their wicked poisons, the others are left watching soberly as the one they love slowly becomes a stranger. My brothers turned into people I didn’t know and would have never chosen to associate with, as they became liars, thieves, cheats, and slaves to the devil’s venom. Yes, I did say brothers- plural. Eventually the disease would take hold of both of them.   

I am not writing this to call out their flaws and shortcomings, but for others who have been in my shoes or theirs, to know they are not alone. There are others out there who have done the same messed up stuff. My middle brother took the typical path they warn you about in school in your health classes. “Don’t smoke weed, because it will lead to other things.” We always laughed and thought it was a joke, what was the harm in smoking a beautiful plant that sprouted from the Earth. Eventually he did move on and want more, taking to ungodly amounts of pills. The oldest brother, well who can say. We never knew he had a problem until he broke down and begged for help, moved back to the burbs from his dream life in Savannah, and gave all of his belongings to the now a bit richer homeless people. His eventual downfall would also be the drug that is currently plaguing much of metro Atlanta, heroin. So much heroin that he was often found fading in and out and we feared the time we would find him dead.

I prayed for years that sobriety would come and they would get help. Often times it felt we were living in this endless hell where we were constantly gasping to come up for air, wishing we even had some clue of what we could do. I took knives from their hands, often slept on the floor of their rooms making sure they didn’t wake to make a decision they would regret come morning. I went on numerous drug deals, without evening knowing what was actually happening. But, as I got older I was fully aware of what was taking place. I contributed to their nasty habits by giving in and believing their lies and giving them whatever money they needed, even if I was in high school and only making server pay. When my oldest brother was kicked out of his second rehab, I made the haul to go get him. We all experienced endless nights of yelling and my parents and brothers equally telling the others how worthless they were. Covering up for them and playing into their lies so they wouldn’t see trouble happened on the reg. At the end of the day, I knew that at the core of their bodies was the heart I once knew, and I could only pray that the black tint that had engulfed it would be removed one day. 

At 18-years-old I moved to downtown Atlanta and began school at Georgia State. My middle brother would stay with me often, always saying he was looking for a job. Here I was working my a** off at school, working crazy hours at the bar down the street, and I would come home to my living room turned into a massive cloud of smoke, and him in the same position as when I left that morning… on the couch. He became depressed. The drugs had torn him down to thinking he was helpless and hopeless. He didn’t know where else to look but the pills, but at the core he knew he wanted more, was more. It was April 2014, years of addiction later, that my mom brought him to my house to say goodbye. He had finally made the decision he needed help and even made the call himself. I watched him walk away for the final time I would ever see him as a boy, as the next time I would see him, he was finally on the path and making his first moves to becoming a man. I collapsed into my then roommate’s arms crying, joyful yet fearful of the unknown. It was almost as if I could suddenly breathe a little better, but I was hurt knowing of the insecurities and fears my brother would be taking on as he stepped into a very harsh and new unknown.

I have heard him referred to as “Captain Sobriety” and watched him change from the shy, quiet boy, into to trustworthy leader of the pack. The guy that couldn’t talk about feelings now is emotional and a go-to therapist among his friends for advice. 

He will be three years sober in April 2017.

My oldest brother, he is something else. One of the smartest, most wise guys you will ever meet, but his head is made of concrete and has the hardest head I know. His journey has not been a one stop shop like the other, which makes sense because everyone has their own journey with its own story to tell. He is at his fourth rehab, or halfway house, but is ten months sober. He has never been one to follow the path laid out and ultimately chose to do things his own way. Last year he was living at my parents and working for a great company and making good money, but it was money he couldn’t quite seem to keep a hold of. It was magic, it ALWAYS disappeared. One day, at almost 29-years-old he discovered he couldn’t do it anymore. He nearly lost his sister and his family, as we couldn’t do it anymore. His job was wavering and his co-workers were beginning to notice his impulsive actions at work. He broke down, hopefully once and for all. The next day I made the five hour drive to take him to the home where my other brother became sober and changed his whole life around.

Today is a day I long awaited to see, but here we are. Life is at a blissful peace.

This is the longest he has been sober in years, and he genuinely appears happy. He feels stuck and like he is not filling his potential, but knows this period of his life is necessary in order for him to move onto the next part of his life as a man. His heart is back, he actually cares again. I want to be around him and look forward to his calls and hearing about his day. His phone calls are no longer screaming threats and begging for money, but conversations of golf, friendship, and an actual semi- normal life. The water wavers at times and sometimes we want to abandon ship, and to be honest I did at one time, but it was the right time and the right thing to do. But, when the time came I hopped back in and we paddled to shore together.

Doc’s Place in Brunswick, Georgia is something I will always be grateful for. From the outside it looks like a bunch of striking fellas chilling and getting sober together, but it is so much more. Its walls have seen great turmoil, the rooms have held in some of the greatest pains the boys will ever know, and the porch has been home to some of the deepest heart- to hearts. I can’t say much as I was only allowed in the living room once for a minute, but the stories I hear let me know that Doc’s is a safe haven and a saving grace. It saves boys and turns them into men, but not only that, it saves families. It’s the prize I prayed nearly ten years for and came when I least expected it, in a way I least expected. 

It’s a lifelong disease that my brother’s continue to battle on a daily basis, and I fight for their lives alongside them. Not only is it their struggle with addiction, it has become mine, too. It made me a stronger person and showed me the deepest ruts I hope I never have to see again. I grew up fast, moving from baby sister to the wiser go-to of the three of us. I learned that the age old saying is true; it is not what happens to you in life, but how you handle it. My brothers, though… their eyes and hearts have been opened to life again and they are more in touch with themselves and the World around us then most (thanks AA).

Never give up on those you love, hope is always just around the corner.

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