Twenty two years ago when I was 19, I packed a backpack and took off for a year in Slovenia. Croatia to the immediate south and the rest of former Yugoslavia were still at war. I do think everyone, especially my parents, thought I was crazy. I was a little. I mean, I was 19. I’d fallen in love with Slovenian poetry and this tiny little jewel box of a country I had visited the year before. I wanted to dive in. I had great plans to master Slovenian and become a translator and a poet and teach and travel the world. This year in Slovenia was meant to push the boat out into those particular seas.
So much happened that year. Hence the reason I decided to write a book about it, even if it never sees the light of day. I fell in love with Slovenia, hard, but initially it didn’t seem to care much for me. I constantly felt out of place. I felt so American, so foreign and the language was so difficult, I thought perhaps I had made a big, and expensive, mistake. But then, near the time I was to leave, I suddenly seemed to have enough Slovenian to get by. I knew my way around on my bike. I had a job. And, most surprising to me, I fell in love with a Slovene.
And then I left because I had to go home. I had to finish school. I thought I had to do the expected thing, try to be the good girl. And my heart broke. No one told me that coming home would be its own culture shock. I dreamed in Slovenian. And I missed Ljubljana and the friends I had made and Saša (as he is called in the book). And school was miserable. I had fallen from grace for things too complicated to explain here. And I did stupid and slightly destructive things to self-medicate my heartbreak.
In the midst of all of that, I became a mom. Grad school happened, but not as planned. Returning to Slovenia as a translator definitely didn’t happen. I was too broke to travel. I stopped writing after grad school because, again with the self-flagellation, I thought I had screwed that up so badly I didn’t deserve it and I needed to find something that paid the bills. I met Keifel. I became a chef. Julian grew up. And we moved again and here was this stack of letters and notebooks and a postcard from Saša and now there is a book and this trip.
And last night there was kava s smetana. Coffee with solidly whipped unsweetened cream. I was sitting at a cafe yards from the bar I’d spent most of my evenings drinking back then. I was surrounded by the sounds of people speaking Slovenian and the soft chink of wine and beer glasses and the smell of cigarette smoke. And there was a flood inside me as if the Ljubljanica had jumped its banks to run down Stari trg through 41 year old me and 19 year old me sitting at a table feeling completely exposed and completely invisible, stunned that so much time could pass.