Something important to understand about me is that I have never had any stories of my own. My entire life has been defined by the stories of others. What can I say, I’m a reader. I have sailed on a raft with Huck and Jim, drag raced with Gatsby into New York City in the sweltering heat of the summer, and felt freeness in my bones while skiing down a mountainside with Slyvia Plath. I fought my way through the arena with Katniss, anxiously wore the sorting hat on my head with Harry, and fell madly in love with Augustus Waters in Amsterdam with Hazel Grace. Grand people like Gatsby deserve the grand stories they inevitably bring. My life, however, has been far from grand.
I have always been content with my lack of grand stories. It’s been a simple life, and yet I never yearned for change. I consistently returned back to my home that was a sandwich of pages held together by two covers. My family of lively, courageous characters filled the pages and told me stories of their adventures while I listened wide-eyed and, unabashedly, jealous. While it is true that the thought of a life filled with as much constant change and uncertainly as my family of characters had terrified me, I found my curiosity growing with age. Little did I know, this curiosity would drag me from a life of living in the shadows of others’ stories and force me to write my own.
The first chapter of my story begins in Naples, Italy, where I found my future home for the next four months: the MV World Odyssey. Semester at Sea, a college on a ship that travels across the world with 400 college students aboard—yes, much like Zack and Cody in ‘The Suite Life on Deck’—set the scene of my first story. The characters of this story, while less sensationalized than I was used to, were bright, kind, genuine people who shared the same hope of bringing home grand stories. We traveled together through countries we’d never been to before and quickly formed tight bonds with people from all over the world. The broad collection of individuals, each with their own unique background, culture, and views on the world, permeated my story and became supporting characters for my life.
In Malta I took a ferry to the neighboring island of Gozo and wandered aimlessly without a clue of where I was going, let alone any phone service to figure it out. In Gibraltar, monkeys leisurely watched as me and my fellow Semester at Sea students marched by them, determined to find St. Michael’s Cave where giant stalactite fixtures greeted us.
My life became a series of impossible moments, which turned into memories only the people surrounding me would ever be able to understand. The impossibility of what I was experiencing, the stories I was creating in each new country, came to its summit in France as I found myself looking up at the Eiffel Tower under its sparkling lights in the chill of a weekday March night. Thinking back to stories I read in my childhood of people dancing underneath its lights with their one-night only whirlwind of a romance I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of awe at what I had accomplished and who I had become in three short months. I was able to completely rewrite my own character in a matter of nine chapters, and still a few more were yet to come.
Chapter 10 started in Greenock, Scotland, where the small, quiet lives of the people who lived there brought a much needed reprieve from the chaos that had been my life for the last three months. I strolled through markets, ate slowly at cafes, and popped in and out of shops all around town. Chapter 11 was similar, filled with Danish pastries and colorful houses situated alongside the river. Walking through the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark, taught me something entirely different: I was completely comfortable creating my own story.
The supporting characters of my life, the people I met on my voyage through Semester at Sea, were much like me at the beginning of our adventures. We all needed each other’s encouragement to step outside of our comfort zones. For me, that was people encouraging me to step away from the shadow of the characters whose stories had always been my own and into the light of my own life. While there is comfort in the familiarity of living through the stories of others, I realized I no longer found it a content life. In fact, I realized I found it, simply, boring.
I can’t say that I know the ending of this particular story yet; I have no idea if there will be a sequel. I have not thought about what comes next, just that I want there to be another adventure I am in charge of writing. So, while my story may sound incomplete for now, just know that the end of my first novel features the MV World Odyssey sailing into the sunset and out of view, on its way to give someone else the chance to start writing their own story.