How I Made My Way to Europe

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How I Made My Way to Europe

Emma Hutson

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I will begin to state that I have only kept the dearest of friends I made unexpectedly and rather rapidly during my two week stay on the outskirts of Muskegon, Michigan. How I yearn for its signature soft summer breeze. Its beautiful, deeply rooted evergreen trees that expanded far beyond the brisk, taunting glow that the earth gave off around me. I remember the shortfall of the cell phone clicks, ticks, beeps, rings and vibrations that otherwise stunted the sensuous palpitations that nagged and toggled all such organs beneath my ribcage. I was sleep deprived for the majority of my visit,  the night time the only opportunity to rack my brain. More so, I spent most afternoons thoughtlessly fatigued from the continuous withdrawals of creative energy our elders prompted of us musicians. The days were long, the nights encrypted in a sweet, shallow haze of OFF bug spray and light bonfire smokes. I often awoke bathed in a cold sweat, and my bones felt as If they were shifting in and out of various states of rigor mortis. I was ecstatic.

The tenth of July was a day I will never forget  as long as I live.(2019)

                                                               ★

For myself personally, financial stability has never been considered an issue prevalent in my family. However, I have a distinct awareness in that my parents didn’t grow up nearly as privileged as I am- I have been blessed, to say the least, with an insurmountable opportunity to flourish as a young woman. I’ve gone on countless vacations, driven through many states, stood upon landmarks to bewilder the soul. A music and arts stay away camp I attended multiple summers allowed me to tune my craft to the most delicate of precision and artistic efficiency. I’ve wandered through airports of grand, clean structures, and those of a rural, dank foreign air. I’ve been Lost within an adventurous haze of fascinating individuals, pungent sounds, the thrill of exhaustion coursing through my body in livid color. Because of my father, who has slaved for the Des Plaines Police Department for longer than I’ve been alive, awake the odd hours of the night as the rest of the world engrossed in lifeless slumber. My mother, who has been employed full time since I was a toddler, single handedly manages all of the purchasing logistics for a multi million dollar waste management company. Truly, I’ve been given more than a child could possibly deserve. My youthful years in transition to young adulthood will always go down in my memory as carefree, bountiful, joyous.

However, childhood doesn’t last forever- It was time for me to start taking some personal and financial responsibility, my parents encouraged.  Around November of my sophomore year is when I began applying for part time jobs in my area. I would scrounge valiantly for any sort of lead I could find online-indeed, monster, snag-a-job. I was applying everywhere, yet there was no company who was willing to hire an aloof teenager, never mind one who doesn’t have the flexibility to work long hours and tailor my schedule to a job. I didn’t actually begin working until May of 2019, when I received a call from the place of my nightmares.

When I entered the doors of the Crystal Lake Little Caesars for my first job interview, the cool and collected outdoor air dissolved into a damp, raunchy, humid smelling musk. The automated bell chimed in the doorway to alert my presence, as If I was expected by somebody. The floor was gritted with dirt, lumps of molding dough, footprints condensed in flour and discolored pepperoni pieces. The man behind the counter spoke on the phone in some Indian language I recall, perhaps Hindi now that I think about it. He ended the call abruptly as I turned to meet his eye, approaching him with caution- my interview attire, I observed, far too formal for the setting. 

“Hi. Emma right? I’m Bilal, nice to meet you.”

“ Hi! Wonderful to meet you!”

I shook the meaty, sweaty paw he offered out to greet me.

“So what’s your availability like? When can you start?”

I was drawn aback. I came to the interview with the expectation of, well, being evaluated based off my qualifications. Which I have to admit, really wasn’t much- I have a relatively high GPA. I’m really involved with the school band. I’ve volunteered at animal shelters before. 

“Um-” his bulging brown eyes pressed me to flee. “I guess I can start next week Friday.”

“Great. See you then, Emma.”

Retreating to the Civic, my father scraped up a fresh expression of curiosity.

“The job is mine.”

                                                      ★        

i : Le Début- pour Clèment

“I walked in parched,

Skating on broken glass and wallowing in the cremated remains

Of the love I had before me 

Digging in the ashes 

Finding a dead boy’s tooth

Cased in my brain as a piece of the delicate jaw 

Begging for it’s tough edges to sink into my skin

Now weak

Dry

Spotless.

 

Crying in my room because 

Before I went in I was in love 

And when I went out I was

Continuously in love with another 

A game of a sort like connect the dots where

We follow the markings and wait for the right one 

But I butchered the beautiful picture 

The first and the eighth, the second and the ninth 

We don’t look right together

They all fight the same 

So with the urgency of a toddler’s fist

I scribble them out 

 

Now I met you

In a place of art

My friends pages were 

Disoriented, from hell and back 

They had 

Given themselves away to him

Sliced and scored

Bled 

And hurt 

 

You were new 

To my heart 

You had vaguely seen 

Who I was 

We had walked down to the lake and 

Shocked each other 

In the complexity of the lives we are living

Within the prices we were paying to 

Like each other.

 

I can’t refund myself 

The priceless time 

That we cherished 

I can’t go back.

 

After you 

I can’t promise and explanation 

To my eccentricities 

 But to you

Only my soul has spoken 

And my mind 

Can only attempt to comprehend 

It’s behavior.

 

When I was a girl 

I let a boy 

Kick me for fun 

I let my personality be contoured 

By a ten year old 

For the love I thought 

For the approval of a teen 

In junior high school

For the wistful stare

Of a young man

Who couldn’t have matured

In a heartbeat for me

Who couldn’t of viewed a woman correctly in his lifetime 

Because of the blurred visions 

Of her acquaintances

Her depth and her intricate smile 

As only the strange guys

will spare a passing glance

The ones who look into her eyes 

Rather than her body.

 

Tuesday night

and I’m cradling a piece of plastic in my hand 

It’s too loud to think 

We exit north 

As the music roars before us

I think of my father 

and his spiraling profession 

My mother’s unethical workload 

My sister’s collage of friends waiting for her back home-

 

We meet, and

Suddenly the energy 

Catches up to me 

and for one of the first times in my life I’m thrilled 

To socialize and empathize,

To spill out my story 

And absorb yours

To link hands in the first few minutes 

Reach out into the crowd 

Feeling myself breathe, smile

There is no substitute 

For joy within the moment 

There is no logic behind 

My Beginning of interest in you.

 

We fear of falling apart 

Of growing gone 

But every night 

I gaze up at the stars 

And internally acknowledge that 

They’ve been rewritten

There’s hope that was never there

And tears that refuse to fall 

As we sit and wait patiently 

For sanity to emerge.(2018)

We met when I was fifteen. He had curly hair, thick rimmed glasses. He played the tenor saxophone- He was from France.

I hadn’t made a friend ever so quickly before, rather any at Blue Lake thus far in the week. I thought my cabin mates were so odd. A girl in particular, Riley- a self proclaimed “Equestraunaut”- freaked me out beyond belief. I didn’t feel as If I belonged in such a competitive, artistically extensive world. I direly missed my new boyfriend of two weeks, and I just wanted to go home.

It was the night of the camp dance. We spotted each other through a clearing in Stuart Shell, a vast outdoor concert hall that arched over the sky. I suppose it’s most like the bean in Millenium Park-in the way it obnoxiously boggles above your head, and shuts you out from the tantalizing glow of sun. I liked it.

I noticed his thick accent off the bat, and appealed to me as if unsure of what to do or who to talk to. I always got along better with guys, more or less so. I could tell how uncomfortable he was, floored by all of the jumping, screaming, the chaos. I could barely make out what he was saying, a muffled sentence or two maybe. I was beginning to exit the crowd, uninterested in being toggled within a mass of heavily perspiring middle schoolers. He caught me nearly on my way out, stuck in a file line directed towards the seating area.

Hey, what do you think of this? Too loud to have any fun, I think.

I then, anxiety tumbling off my shoulders in uneven heaps, began to unwind to the melodic boom and crash of early 2000’s pop music. We looked at each other briskly, a smile creeping across my face as I hustled myself in his direction, shouting across the shell, “This dance is so stupid, you know?”

                                            〜

We learned so ridiculously much from each other. Only slightly younger than me, he was on track to graduate high school in 2019, as the French school systems send their youth much earlier to university compared to US students. He spoke amazing English, and knew about everything pertaining to modern day American culture- Books, music, TV series’- he knew it. 

I remember when  he didn’t understand why he heard everyone around campus recycling words around like “Cringy”, “epic,” “Yee”, or “Yeet”. I cracked up upon him telling me that. 

“Primarily, you will hear kids saying that in reference to a meme of this animated green dinosaur who makes the gutteral “yee” and “yeet” sounds. People put him up against TV and movie soundtracks and make remixes in conjunction to the sound.”

He furrowed his brow slightly and gave me a sincere half smile. “Emma, this phrase is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

I chuckled, forming awareness about of how stupid it probably sounded to someone new to the US and its awkward means of entertainment.

“ That’s why we call it cringy.”                                  

                                       

I so desperately wanted to see him again. The week and a half we spent together was magic in simplicity- I felt renewed, inspired, eager to live a little. To say he and his culture fascinated me does no justice to how it felt to know, befriend, and make music with a person who lives just about halfway across the world.

Nearly a year later, my first week of my new job started, which piled onto multiple weeks, and abruptly ended a month and a half later. I was miserable and overworked, and often thought to myself I’m lucky I’m not in the situation Bilal, or the majority of Little Caesar’s employees were. 

I had picked up from my co-workers that Bilal was in his late twenties and attended university before he wound up manager of our location. Apparently, he had dealt drugs on campus and was expelled on the spot. He had been banned from the college for a hundred years, or some other absurd number of years that equated to life.

I began to gather Bilal was not a hard worker. Oftentimes, even on our busiest nights of the week, he would leave the store to smoke in his car for what seemed like hours on end. One night in a rampage of frustration I told him he should do his job for once and cigarettes were going to kill him, no matter if he switched to juuling or whatever else he justified as acceptable for his health. He told me he didn’t care, as long as he got paid it didn’t matter.

                                                           ★

I wanted to go more than anything.

Blue Lake, as I knew since the past summer, offered a month long tour of Europe for competitive musicians who wished to perform in an international band, choir, or orchestra. On a particularly lazy summer evening, I found online that only 250 out of 2,000 kids were accepted out of all applicants. I sank down in my bed sheets. 

I’ve never been the best at anything. I was academically bright when I pushed myself, which I did rarely, but I was far from a natural or prodigy. There just wasn’t a way. A six thousand dollar tuition fee would destroy any hope of the trip being financially in reach for my family. 

I wanted to go more than anything, and although I hate to admit it- Little Caesar’s gave me that opportunity.

I was accepted in late September, although I had left that oppressive grease pit long before I got that news. Thankfully, I was able to snag a job from an unusually cheery assistant manager, Joseph, responding to my indeed application for a kitchen position at Mariano’s. I hated food service from the start, but I was so grateful for the two extra dollars an hour, among other aspects of the job. Mariano’s was a union. Who had been there the longest didn’t determine who had to do the dishes.The employee bathroom didn’t smell of stale weed and molding garlic sauce. Employees were right minded because Kroger respected our time and didn’t overwork us or demand unattaintably quick service. I had collected 2,000 dollars since that month of May. Months of misery, of tears because the job was tearing me apart, but I needed the money. My preferred option to leave was triumphed by my everlasting need to stay. 

I was a baby, in a sense, because it would all be worth it in a few months time. For the first time ever in my life, I had paved the way to my own opportunity. Through many hours of tricking myself into feeling I was being “slaved” into making cheap pizzas and scanning groceries, time and a more mature mind has brought me to rethink that belief. Yes, pizza is gross, and crabby grocery store fossils who still write checks despite the year are unbelievably annoying. People are hard to work for. Employers and coworkers will not dedicate every living second to you to make sure you are happy and comfortable with your job. I have been frustrated. I have been emotionally beside myself, even.  But I’m not clueless. A part time grocery store gig will in no way compare to the stresses of a developing career prevalent to my future- So I take what I can get, fake a smile and turn on that “customer service Emma” persona. 

Because?

Because I’m able to go on a life changing journey across Europe through the generosity of my employers and hard earned cash. I’m able to pay for this trip in its entirety, independent of my family’s income. After dedicating myself to “becoming the best” in my musical life for the past three years,I decided to discard terms like“good enough” and “Worthy” from my mental set. I was good enough when I made myself good enough.When I practiced before and after work everyday. When I started paying for half of all my music lessons. Even when I enrolled myself in two languages instead of one, to show Blue lake I’m culturally versatile and experienced enough to take on this International experience.

I did it. Better yet, y’all,I did it for myself.

My last tech rehearsal was coming to a close, the second to last day of session two at Blue Lake. I had been floundering around with my mange-y, wildly unkempt stand partner Robert for the past two weeks in tech class, and I felt a loss unprofound yet utterly disappointing. I would miss our inside jokes, our slips of the tongue where we would accidentally address our clarinet professor as “Gary” or “Gare-bear” instead of Doctor June. I knew I would never see most students in that room again, and that saddened me. I was exhausted in every state, but craved if only a few more days to coincide amongst the inevitable, of going home.

Dr. June went around in a circle and asked us If we had future plans of pursuing a career in music. “I want to go into music education,” I spoke in a nearly incomprehensible blur of words when my turn came. “My parents are worried I won’t find a job. They want me to go into a more solid line of work. But-” I stifled my urge to yell. I can’t imagine my life without music. Whenever I look into my future through a chilling glass window of a 9-5 office building, my heart tailors to a crisp and I forget how to be happy. He could see how my head was spinning, because Dr. June saw me for the player I was, the dreamer and creative I was.

“Every school needs teachers,” his smile cooled over my nerves. “Music performance is a way more difficult type of work to get into. Teaching is a far more manageable career, and truly rewarding. You have passion.” Hopeful, my eyes met his. 

“I know you can do it.”