Home.

I’ve had people ask me a lot lately about where my home is. Where I come from. Where I was born and raised. A lot of people in Texas take pride in the fact that they were born and raised here, so I’ve been hearing that a lot lately too. Each time I hear that my heart pings with slight jealously because I realize I’ll never get a chance to say that. Ill never be able to claim “I was born and raised here.”

For those of you who don’t know my story, I was born in Bucharest, Romania while it was still under communist rule. My incredible and brave mother escaped Romania and communism by herself when I was around two years old. She left me with my grandmother and grandfather in Bucharest and risked her life to escape the communists. She failed the first two times she attempted through Germany, but made it the third attempt through Turkey. That is a whole different story and deserves the glory of its own blog post. I will focus on the big picture of my home now. Also, public service announcement, I may be full-blooded Romanian but I’m full-hearted American.

Home. What is the definition of home? Where you were born? Where you were raised? Where you spent most of your life? Where you live now? For me, all of those are different: Bucharest, Chicago, Sacramento, Dallas. Which one do I call home? Honestly? I feel it’s a tie between Chicago and Sacramento.

I spent only six years in Chicago, but it was during my most impressionable years: from 6-12 years old. I learned to speak English there, joined the Catholic church through the legacy of my step-dad’s elementary school, and became a loyal Cubs fan there. Chicago defined me as a person and set the standard for my morals, ethics, and personality. I owe my blunt nature to Chicago. We speak our minds and know ourselves, we are rooted deeply into Chicago culture and we fiercely defend ourselves and our city. People know better than to mess with us or mess with Chicago. I owe my foodie tendencies to Chicago because we are the melting pot of America and I don’t care what anyone says, we have the best food in the entire country. Two words for you: Europe 2.0. I owe my love for winter, snow, and rainy autumns to Chicago. That city has actual seasonal change and it’s stunning. Yea yea, the wind is not ideal, but damn that city is beautiful under a blanket of white.

I also spent seven years in Sacramento. Three of those years were in Davis, but they’re 11 miles apart, so I consider them one “home.” I met my best friends there. People I will be friends with until my dying day. If I ever have a wedding and bridesmaids, nearly all of them I met while living in Davis/Sacramento. Except my brother, Michael Castaneda, who will be my maid of honor, I met him at UCSD. I learned how to drive in Davis, I graduated high school there. Being the first person in my family to graduate high school in the United States, that is a huge deal for me, definitely an honor. I got my belly button pierced there and drank alcohol for the first time there. I also had my first job interning at my mom’s company during high school one summer and my first big girl job out of college there. I experienced important rites of teenage and adulthood passage in Sacramento.

Since and in between then I’ve also lived in Dallas, San Diego, Rome, and Oslo. I know what you’re thinking…”Girl gets around.” You Betcha! And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been blessed with the ability to visit 20 countries and live in four of them for at least six weeks. Let me tell you, six weeks in Rome is nowhere near enough but it gripped my soul so intensely, I still think of Rome on a daily basis. Maybe it was the mid-summer afternoons strolling along the narrow cobblestone alleys that thrilled me, or perhaps hearing the mysterious stories of historical figures and seeing that architecture enchanted me, or maybe the combination of living with ease and pleasure, eating with delight and appetite, and dreaming with possibilities and excitement all seduced me and captivated my heart. I often joke that I left my soul in Rome, but that statement is not far off. If you find skepticism in my words, I encourage you to visit Rome in mid-July and walk along the Tiber at dusk from the Vatican to Trastevere. Open your eyes to all the sights and your ears to all the sounds, but most importantly, your heart to all the culture. Breathe it in and let it consume you. Actually let it or not, it will consume you. Is Rome my home?

I bring us back to the present. I moved back to Dallas, Texas one month ago, today. I took a giant leap and decided to trust in God’s plan. Too many prayers were answered by pointing me in this direction for me to blatantly ignore or disregard them as user error. I often pray to God for guidance and wisdom but humbly ask that he answers me several times, at least three, because I don’t trust my self-doubt to catch the signs the first time around. So, here I am today, at least five signs from God pointing that I belong here. Five that I had the ability to see, there may have been more. But was I leaving my home? Or returning home?

“Homeless” is not a word I would use to describe my current predicament, but rather, home abundance. I don’t have a lack of one home, I have an abundance of seven. Each city, state, or country I’ve been fortunate enough to live in has welcomed me with open arms, some were wider arms than others. But I try to remind myself that I do not have to pick just one, I can fondly recall how each one contributed to my contradictory personality. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I appreciate life more because of what I’ve seen, the struggles I’ve faced, and all the souls I’ve met who helped shape me. I do not exist as I am now by chance, but by the grace of God putting me in situations which I could never have fathomed or conjured inspiration for on my own, by living in one place my entire life.

People are always fascinated to hear my story of where I come from and how I ended up in so and so. It’s flattering, really, to be the shiny new toy for people and to answer all their questions about how I like so and so compared to so and so. People always want to hear their city is the best, you can never be sincere and tell them traffic sucks and it smells like a Mexico City zoo. Not that I’ve ever even been to a Mexico City zoo, not sure if they have one, but I imagine it’s rough. So I say I love it. I usually do though.

Moving and traveling around so much, I’ve developed the essential life skill of making the best of any situation. So you’re in Bratislava, Slovenia and the local police stop the inner-city tram to check commuters actually purchased tickets but they’re carrying AK-47s while they do their ticket checks. Well at least you bought your ticket and aren’t getting locked up abroad today! So you’re in Machu Picchu, Peru and go to pet a Llama but almost get your hand bitten off. Well at least you visited one of the original seven wonders of the world! See, I can find good in just about anything, or anyone. Probably why I’m still single, but that’s another story for another time.

To be completely sincere, it is lonely. It’s isolating knowing there exists not one place on this entire planet where I can go and say I genuinely belong there and be treated like I belong there. I am an outsider everywhere I go. There is a sense of freedom, that I may wander to the ends of this beautiful planet and find happiness literally anywhere I find myself in some capacity, but there is also a looming thought, one I often attempt and sometimes fail to ignore, that I am a person without identity. Sometimes, I look at some friends of mine enviously who have lived in one city their entire lives. They still spend Friday nights with the friends they had in elementary school. They can proudly claim they are from that town, that state, rep that football team’s sweatshirt with such devotion, rest assured that when they eventually plan a wedding, everyone they will invite lives within 30 miles. I will never know what to write when online user profiles like Yelp ask me for my hometown. These are things I think about.They are things that always keep me separate from literally every single person I meet, have met, and will meet. I have never found and will likely never find anyone like me, who has followed the life path I have, and there is something tragically isolating about that. No one will ever truly understand me or appreciate me for what I have been through or who I have taught myself to be.

However, on the bright side, per usual there is always a bright side and it always has the final word in my book, my roots may not be firmly planted in one zip code, but my heart does beat to the Star Spangled Banner. My respect goes to this country’s brave veterans, active military, law enforcement officers, and other emergency first responders. My passport is American navy blue and although foreign stamps fill its pages, I still consider this country my home. I may have been born abroad, but this country adopted me with open arms and gave me opportunities beyond my family’s wildest dreams in Romania. I may have sprinkled a little bit of myself in multiple places throughout this world, but I embrace my American culture like my life depends on it. The United States is my home, this entire country is my home. I don’t have to feel alone when people brag about growing up in the same city anymore because I grew up in the same country, the greatest country on this planet, along with all my best friends. And for that, I will never be an outsider.

Positively grateful to be an American and living in the great state of Texas again! Yeehaw!

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Miracle.

Today was quite surreal. I did something I never thought was possible. I feel both shocked and humbled. Scratch that, “humbled” does not describe it well enough. I feel sobered. Have you ever had those out-of-body experiences when you look at yourself and can’t believe what just happened to you? Today was one such day for me, and I’ll explain it all. But first, some background information:

There is a certain person in my life. This person has quite frankly made my life miserable for over nine months. I won’t go into details…much…but just know this person has caused me many tears, moments of self-doubt, extreme stress, and general unhappiness. Forces beyond my control forced me into close proximity with this person on a frequent basis and because I am so conflict-adverse, I could not bring myself to ever tell this person how his or her behavior affected me. I keep referring to said individual as “this person” because I think it’s important for me to see the humanity behind the harsh approach and condescending tone of voice, to remind myself, Im dealing with a human being. It was THAT bad.

I can appreciate the clarity now and see how my “good-intentions” and complacent attitude actually did our connection an injustice. I let things fester which ultimately lead to resentment in both of us. What a horrible word, probably in my top 5 for bad words to avoid. Resentment. Wow, I hate to think Im a resentful person, but that is what happens when you bottle emotions and thoughts inside – things are escalated and blown way out of proportion. We should have talked sooner. Granted, some situations in life don’t allow a healthy exchange of such confiding, but I have seen the long-term effects of resentment, and I can personally attest that it only leads to inner turmoil and a wider ass because I certainly overate sugar-crack when I felt stressed about this person. And probably gained 20 lbs over it.

At the very least, I wish I started writing down my feelings about this person when things first started to turn downhill about eight months ago. Writing is my therapy, but I didn’t even consider that because I didn’t want to “waste” anymore time thinking about this person than I had to. I did other things to relieve my stress about this person on a regular basis that weren’t as constructive as writing would have been: I complained to friends, family and boyfriend at the time. I whined, I insulted. Not my finest moments, but those were my grieving and coping mechanisms.

I look back and feel ashamed that I said the things I did. After all, it does take two to tango, and although I don’t consider myself an enabler, the fact that I never approached this person willingly to discuss my feelings in a mature and proactive manner, well, that contributed to the increasing tension in its own way. Although I didn’t mean to cause harm, I caused harm by speaking to the wrong people who wouldn’t be able to actually help the situation, but rather nod and say comforting things like “I’m so sorry, that sounds horrible.” Sometimes all we really need is someone to listen to us, not judge, and just say they understand, but in this case, my whining was not helpful, it likely made me feel even worse and more hopeless about the situation.

This person was in a position of power, an elder, and someone I tried for months to be respectful to. I tried to live up to unreachably high expectations, while simultaneously walking on eggshells to avoid triggering this person’s explosive behavior. Several times people witnessed things this person would say to me and they would stand up for me and say “hey [name], stop bullying Andreea” or “Andreea, don’t let [name] get away with treating you like that.” This person even admitted to my face at the very beginning that he or she is a bully and I just need to learn to deal with it. The sad part is that I did want to deal with it. I know I’m a sensitive person and words, tone of voice, and positive and negative reinforcement really affect me in every sense.

My mental state is strained by constantly preparing myself for the worst around this person, my emotional state is compromised by constant criticism, and my physical state is constantly on high alert in “fight” mode just anticipating the need to protect itself from this looming source of stress. I wanted to become immune and shut off my sensitivity. I wanted to change not only how this person affected me, but also who I naturally am. This person got into my head so much, I allowed this person to chip away at my self-esteem and convince me that I wasn’t good enough. It was bad. I thought about it all day during work and all night when I came home.

When I was home, I was too exhausted to interact with friends or family because I spent all day on edge and it drained my energy. I became a hermit and saw friends less and less. And when I did see my friends, family, and boyfriend at the time, I just complained about this person and my stressful situation. I should have just walked away. I shouldn’t have waited for the universe to take matters into its own hands and force me away from that toxic environment. I should have had the self-respect and wisdom to walk away first. But I kept trying to prove my worth, to win this person over. I kept doubting myself and my abilities, and just saw myself through their lens of criticism. I suppose in some ways it was psychological abuse. But I wasn’t forced to stay there, I could have walked away at any time. None of this was ever against my will. It was my decision to stay and I made that decision a few times each day, it was absolutely exhausting. The daily rollercoaster of “I need to get out” and “I can handle this” was the worst pain of my life.

There was a period, about two months, when it was so bad I had scary thoughts creeping into my mind. Thoughts Ive never had before or every thought I’d have. I was worried about myself and confided in people I trust that I didn’t trust myself anymore. Even if it was my decision to be around this person, I had certain obligations and responsibilities tied to this person. I was stubborn, and determined. I also didn’t have the strength and faith to leap away from security into the unknown. So there were scary moments. Moments Im not proud of, but moments that happened regardless and worth mentioning. These moments brought ideas into my mind of how I could avoid seeing this person for some time, without completely severing ties and turning my back on my responsibilities. I remember thinking if I get into a car accident, it would be a legitimate excuse to be away from this person just for a day or two.

I was terrified. I caught myself thinking this a couple times and burst into tears. How crazy to think something like that. That was the 2nd lowest part of my life. The 1st is a completely different blog entry, stay tuned! J

So I prayed. I had no other options at this point. When you think a car accident will bring you peace, you know things have gotten out of control. So I strengthened my relationship with God. That was THE ONLY option left for me. Just as I refused to walk away from this person who caused me so much pain, I refused to let the pain ruin me and all I have worked for my 28.5 years. I put my thoughts into prayer and I gave it all to God.

Just recently, God answered my prayers. I was too stubborn or too scared to walk away on my own and eventually events unfolded on their own to separate me from this person so this person no longer has power over me. I no longer have to swallow my feelings, and the most unthinkable thing happened. We bonded over a mutual hardship. This is what I love most about the power of prayer. You pray and you open up your soul to God and ask for guidance, wisdom, and strength, and God listens, then gives you the lesson of a lifetime.

So back to what I did today which shocked me. Let’s talk about the seed planted. It was an out of body experience and the initial thought came to me out of nowhere. It was a couple weeks ago when I was driving home on the 5 south merging onto 80 towards San Francisco. It was a moment of clarity and then extreme confusion, questioning, and doubt. Where did this come from? How could I ever do this to myself? It would be a lie. How could God expect me to lie? Then I quickly dismissed the thought as a dangerous seed I dare not nurture. I pushed that idea out of my mind, hid it in a box, locked the box, closed the vault door, then locked the vault with a 16 random-digit code. And I hoped it would pass. Why would I ever do anything to willingly help this person? I was certain this person was pure evil. I have made several jokes at some point about resemblances to Satan and the fiery pits of hell.

But in true God-like fashion, the joke was on me. A few days ago, I was forced in the same room with this person and we managed for the first time in nine+ months, to be real with each other. This person showed me vulnerability, something I’ve never thought I’d see. This person told me deep, personal secrets and listened to me as I shared what was heavy on my shoulders. We bonded over the mutual pain we were both experiencing, and at one point this person chuckled and said “How ironic that we’ve been through so much together and right now, we are the only ones who can comfort each other through this.” How true were those words.

For months I spent HOURS each day worried about this person, dreading seeing this person, and questioning my value and worth because of how this person saw me. I talked about this person with everyone in my life and asked for advice on how to handle this person. I know for sure this person confided in others about me, and I’ve heard confirmations from those people of what was said about me. I was no angel either. I caused this person a lot of stress in my own ways and Im certain he or she resented me for months as well. Yet, when life stepped in to bring us both to reality through hardship, per usual, we found comfort in each other. And then we hugged. It was weird. I felt connected to this person for the first time since we met. I saw this person as a human with feelings, with hopes, and with vulnerability. So I reached out for a hug in consolation. There may have been shock on both our ends, but from that moment on, things changed.

The next morning, I was convinced of what I had to do. I unlocked the vault, opened the box, and reexamined that idea that popped in my head on the highway on the way home a few weeks ago. I sat down in silence, searched my soul for every ounce of good I find in myself, and I forced myself to write this person a letter of recommendation. I knew from our recent conversations that this person was actively applying for new jobs, and I knew this was my only opportunity to make amends and to clear myself of resentment. That was God’s work. That was a miracle.

This person and I have no tension anymore. We are civil, we laugh now. We may even be friends one day, but at least I know we are no longer enemies. And it all stemmed from one tiny idea. It was an isolated idea, and something I had never in the past nine months ever considered possible. I couldn’t fathom ever saying something nice about this person to another in passing, let alone creating a letter highlighting this person’s strengths when I had spent nearly a year focusing on this person’s weaknesses. It changed me. It changed me in a way I cannot take any credit for. I spent hours praying, questioning, “GOD WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME”, and begging “PLEASE STOP THIS because I cant.” God answered that prayer and it came in a spontaneous thought while driving on the highway one day.

Now I look at myself with a newfound kindness. I understand my limitations, and I respect myself for having them. No longer will I prolong situations which make me feel uncomfortable, or connections of any kind which make me question myself, my abilities, or my worth.

No amount of money, power, or prestige are worth batting yourself for. And that is an invaluable lesson I have learned in all of this. Walk away when you aren’t valued. Every breath you take is precious and if someone comes between you and your self-worth, you stand up straight, you pray to God for strength, and you walk as fast as you can in the opposite direction.

I no longer make exceptions for people because they are family, managers, life-long friends, or exciting intimate partners. If you abuse my trust and patience, to a point where I question my worth, I WILL walk away from you.

I challenge you to look deep inside yourself and be brutally honest with yourself. If there is someone making you uncomfortable or unhappy, try to see things from his or her perspective. Look at how you react to this person and how your actions or inactions may have affected them and the situation. We are rarely victims outright with no contributions of our own.

I am positively grateful for this life lesson. This experience taught me more about myself, my strength, and my capabilities than the past 28 years of my life combined. Thank you, God, for answering my prayers in the most epic way: with a lesson learned and with a smile on my face at the end of that chapter.