Please welcome Hannah Vanderpool to the blog! Hannah sent me this submission for the Words that Changed my World series a couple of weeks ago, and I have been SO EXCITED to share it with you. Leave her some comment love, won’t you? (It should be easy… I loved this post!)
It was cold in Vienna. Winter had snuck up on us and I could no longer crack the window in my tiny dorm room. I lay on my bed staring up at nothing. Like a treetop perch it stood six inches from the ceiling to make room for storage underneath. I counted the holes and hieroglyphs students before me had made, their own versions of ‘Starry Night.’ I waited for direction, measuring the silence with the beating of my 20-year-old heart.
I slipped off the edge of my bed, feet bracing for a cold landing. I wrapped a robe around my shoulders. I was glad I’d thought to pack it months ago. I could hear the buzzing of male voices outside my room and crossed an arm in front of my chest before creaking open the door. The studentenheim’s community phone was attached to a concrete pole just around the corner and stood unoccupied. I surveyed the open room where students had gathered to smoke and sip cheap wine.
A moment later I shuffled across the hall, ignoring the pair of Swedes kissing on the dingy couch, and grabbed the receiver. I typed in the country code for the United States with shaky fingers and waited, shifting my weight from one frozen foot to another. It was the middle of the night but the town and its students were still going strong. I tried to imagine what he might be doing now. I chewed my lower lip and rubbed the place where my engagement ring would be if I hadn’t left it at home.
A familiar voice lit up the line, amber and clear.
I swallowed, hoping my own voice sounded normal.
“Hey, Jon. It’s me.” Swallow.
“Hey, babe! How are you?” he replied. “It must be, what? the middle of the night there. Is everything OK?”
My young fiancé was carrying on in the US, getting though college and part-time jobs until I returned from my study abroad semester. He was steady and kind. I was twisted in knots.
“Well, I…no. I’m not OK, actually. I got this opportunity to audition for a big musical theatre company here. I’d be an understudy at first but they think my chances of landing a lead are good.” I paused. Static filled the heartbeats between us.
“So anyway, I guess I look just like the girl who sang the part of ‘Belle’ before. She left the company to do other things. I’d be singing and acting in German. It’s…a good opportunity. I’d be crazy to pass it up.”
In an instant my mind covered all the old ground. Our first date, the way his hand enveloped mine, his proposal. I loved him. But this chance was everything my voice teacher could have hoped for. My parents, both musicians, would be so proud, wouldn’t they? I was headed somewhere and I couldn’t turn this down.
Finally he spoke.
“I will come be with you.”
“But you have to finish school and then…what will you do—in Europe—for no reason?” I heard my voice inching upward.
“We’ll get married and then we’ll figure something out. I’ll finish up here and then I’ll buy a plane ticket. We are more important than a location or a job, you know? I promise it will all work out.” He sounded sure.
Fifteen expensive minutes later I hung up the phone. The couple on the couch had moved on and curls of smoke trailed from an ashtray they’d shared between moments of passion. I shivered and half-skipped back to my tiny room. I lay on my bed all night, struggling and praying. But by the time the sun had slipped over the buildings outside my window I knew that I couldn’t stay in Vienna and pursue this life. It wasn’t my dream, not really. Jon had given me permission to try, had promised that he’d do this life with me whatever that meant for the two of us.
And somehow, that had helped me to be brave. It had given me the courage to say no to a once-in-a-lifetime offer. I finished my semester abroad and came back to the United States. And then, to borrow the words of Jane Eyre, “Reader, I married him.” We grew a family together, sending tender roots down into the soil of the mundane. We are living a quiet life.
I have never looked back.