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  • Writer's pictureZanny Merullo Steffgen

Full Circle

What a gift it is to feel that I have come full circle. I believe that life is a series of lessons, sometimes given to you through hardship or achievement, and sometimes through circumstances that act like a mirror: that allow you to see within yourself or note your change. This is a phase in my life in which I feel lost, disconnected from who I was and who I thought I would be, so life has allowed me to come full circle to appreciate how much I have grown, and how much  growing is ahead.

It all started with my return to Rimini, where I had lived for six months in 2014 as an equally lost, and very sick sixteen year old. The circumstances under which I returned this summer were quite different: I was healthy, I had spent two years at boarding school and learned how to manage my time and myself, I had been traveling Europe for a few weeks with a group of my close friends from high school and learned all the secrets and harsh realities of being abroad (my wallet was stolen on the first day I arrived in Barcelona). Being in Rimini with my American friends and showing them the place that had been my home, that had allowed me to connect with the culture I had grown up with, the place that had fostered my growth through the chronic illness I had endured for so long, the place that had shaped my mind and made such a fundamental change in my personality. It was the clashing of two very different worlds and facets of my life. The night I brought my American friends to my host family’s hotel for dinner was such a gift. I laughed and joked and teased my host brother and sister, spoke to my host mother about my life and future and problems, hugged Farid the waiter with whom I share a past life kind of connection, was brought into the kitchen to kiss the sweaty cheek of Mimmo, the hotel’s chef, and if I hadn’t stolen glances at my American friends seated next to me, I would have thought I was back living in Rimini as a sixteen year old.

Later I realized that wasn’t true. I was an eighteen year old version of myself, living the same life as I had at sixteen, and this showed me plainly how much I have grown. At my host family’s house where I stayed once my friends had left, I cleaned up after myself- making my bed each morning, keeping my things neatly together, and washing the dishes after dinner. I was able to speak clearly, my Italian much improved, and be available to play with my siblings and talk with the family- something I had avoided out of a mixture of fear and desire for solitude.

The next phase of my coming full circle was my decision to live at home for six months before exploring the world. The last time I truly lived at home, I lived the half-life of a chronically sick person, I was moody and in pain, I created only trouble for my family and felt imprisoned by the woods that shield my home from the real world. Since then, I have felt too absent in my family, too much of a fleeting presence. I have flown off to Italy as often as I could, and when not in Italy I was at boarding school where I missed all of my sister’s soccer games and concerts, missed her growing up. I had lived in this way for too long, and I needed to return home and right all of my wrongs, to ground myself before I saw the world and truly became my own person.

And so here I am, back at the desk where I used to do schoolwork in eighth grade. Many of my friends from home have left for college, the rest of my friends from other places soon to follow. I wrestle with that reality daily- realizing that my decision has altered the course of my life dramatically from that of my friends, has alienated me even further from what is considered normal. But anyone who knows me knows that I wouldn’t be happy any other way. I’ve decided to take these six months at home to do all the things I wish I’d done, and fill in all the spots in my view of myself that need filling so that when I do leave home and head out into the world, I am ready to face whatever I find there. I’ve found a job being a hostess at a restaurant (I’ve never really had to discipline myself in that way before, never been told what to do by a boss or worked long hours), I’ve entered a volunteer program helping homeless children in the area, I’ve joined a gym and plan on joining an adult soccer league to reconnect with my former identity as a varsity athlete. I plan on going to all of my sister’s soccer games and school events, playing golf with my family, and hiking all the mountains that surround the area I live in.

It isn’t easy to be so unsure about the future. All my friends are either attending college or have deferred a college acceptance. Sometimes I find myself being jealous- the people who formed my life now have new lives, will make new friends, will have new realities so far from my own. With so many choices, I have no idea where life will take me, or which path I will choose. I don’t even know if I want to go to college next year. But this is one of those growth times in which I know I have to just keep my head down and stick to my routine for now and have faith. You often don’t choose a path in life, the path is created with each step you take, no matter how many twists and turns you leave behind you.

So far I have found great comfort in my new job. There, I am surrounded by people who work hard and humbly, who joke and laugh and talk about the issues that plague their lives, who find it funny that I call my time off from school a “gap year.” I feel much more comfortable with these people than I did with those at Exeter, many of whom worked hard but would never have to maintain two jobs (like many of my coworkers do) to afford their lifestyles, many of whom lack a certain humility that I, too, started to lose after my years in academia. I’ve gone from depending on my parents for rides to driving myself everywhere, filling up with gas at my own expense, thinking of where to save money and where to indulge. As much as I would love to live with my family, as easy as it would be to continue my job as a hostess and save money for the future while attending a local college, that lifestyle is not meant for me. I am a person who seeks adventure, human connection, and knowledge about how people live, and that will carry me all over the world. No matter how much pain I have felt in my life from straying from the typical path, leaving behind communities and groups of friends I care deeply about, it is nothing compared to the pain I would feel if I lived a life other than the one meant for me.

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