The beautiful thing about sleeping in hostels is you never know who you’re going to meet. I met Michela at a hostel in Koh Lipe beach in Thailand last summer. I came back to the room after a day of snorkelling, and there she was–my new roommate. The conversation quickly extended beyond the basic “Where are you from? How long are you staying here? Where else are you travelling to?” and ventured off into a forest of tangents. I honestly don’t know how long we ended up staying in that room chatting away.
Of course, with her being Italian, I couldn’t help but profess my love for pizza to her. She then suggested I join her for pizza at a nearby place run by an Italian gentleman. Now once you share good pizza with me, people, you have yourself a friend for life. For the rest of my brief stay in Koh Lipe, she became a welcome familiar face.
Among the rain and clouds that descended upon us, this trilingual beauty (English, Italian, and Spanish) was a ray of sunshine.
On our last day together in Koh Lipe, we walked together to the nearby beach where I was going to get a boat ride back to the mainland and she was scheduled to go snorkelling. On our way to the boat, Michela said something to the effect of, “It’s amazing. We haven’t known each other for very long, but I feel very comfortable around you. I can talk to you about anything.” The feeling was very mutual.
And so it was that when I was trying to figure out where in Europe Trevor and I could go for ten days before meeting up with Doris in Ireland, the decision was all too easy: Italy. I’d been to Italy ages ago, but the country has so much to offer that I knew I’d find my way back one day. Michela simply made the decision that much easier.
Michela in a nutshell: A tall, thin, beautiful, and athletic woman with an addiction to Latin dance music. (I’m convinced she dances in her sleep.) Michela is extremely outgoing and friendly; you simply can’t resist her warmth and charm. While she thrives on the positive energy of the amazing family and friends around her, she is also a motivated, driven, and passionate individual who is proud to stand on her own. She has won several gold medals in various roller skating competitions–both nationally across Italy, and internationally across all of Europe.
Michela is the bold, daring, and brave adventurous type. I think if you were to tell her that she couldn’t do something–no matter how stupid or dangerous it might be–she’d try to do it just to prove you wrong.
This is Michela’s story.
It was 3:32 am on April 6th, 2009 when the earthquake struck L’Aquila.
At 11:30 pm the previous night, another earthquake had struck. I lived on the 5th floor. My boyfriend at the time lived on the first floor. I called him and asked if I could go to his floor. He said we could sleep in the car. He was scared too. I was rational, though. I said, “No, then we’ll have to go to the car every night.” But we should have left.
At 3:32, I opened my eyes and touched his leg. Less than one second later, he was on me. The bed was shaking so much. I can’t even describe it. I try to remember that feeling, but I can’t. It was just so scary. I can’t re-live it. It lasted thirty seconds.
I don’t get scared, but in that moment, I shouted so loud that I didn’t have a voice for five days. He held me so fucking tight. I didn’t know he had that kind of strength. All pieces of the wall fell on his back. The two right legs of the bed broke, and he continued to hold me. I was waiting for the house to fall. I kept thinking, “It will hurt. It will hurt.” Fortunately, it didn’t happen. The structure was still there.
When it stopped, I said, “We need to go out immediately.” We were half naked, so we dressed up. While we got dressed, there were more shakes–smaller ones–and we were so scared. I remember him covering my head under the door.
The corridor was full of water from the broken pipes. The main corridor was blocked by fallen pieces of the house. I twisted my ankle climbing over the debris. Another piece fell on his knee. I could see a hole in his knee. I knew the whole city needed an ambulance, so they wouldn’t give a shit about his knee. We had to stop it.
Everything was so dark that for one year after, I slept with the lights on.
I looked for the phone to call my parents. It was next to my bed. There were pieces of the walls all around it, but I found it.
I opened the window and felt freedom outside. I saw light.
He jumped. I jumped. It was two meters down. It wasn’t easy.
The earthquake destroyed all the houses around us. If you go now, all those houses are gone. No house survived. They were all torn down later.
I tried to call my mom, but the network was busy. We went to the corner of the house and saw that from the outside, we could see his mate’s room. “We could’ve exited from there,” I thought. It was impossible to see his mate from the street. Thankfully, we were the only ones in the house.
We met a man and told him we were going to the main square–our emergency situation. He said, “You can’t because there is a huge hole in the street.” We couldn’t pass. And I had wanted to park right there that night.
I called my mom to tell her what happened, but she already knew it was in L’Aquila because I had told her and dad that there was an earthquake evacuation the previous Monday. It had been 4.5–not that big.
“Can you pick us up?” I asked. They were already on their way. They were there in an hour and fifteen minutes.
It was so cold even though it was April. I hugged my boyfriend to keep warm. We were in our pyjamas. People were almost naked. There was a guy in just his underwear and a woman in a fur coat and heels.
People were crying.
The interesting thing is that I didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation. We went to another square, and there were so many people there. I thought everything was fine, but there were already people buried under houses. I didn’t know. I thought “I have Physics 2 in the morning. How could I go to a lesson if parents were already picking up their kids?” A military man said the university had collapsed. They estimated that if the quake had struck in the daytime, there would have been 3, 000 dead just in Engineering. In a town of only 300 people, we were really lucky. “Okay, maybe there will be no physics tomorrow,” I thought to myself. I didn’t realize that if nothing happens to you, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen to others.
Mom said it was good that I took my phone. My boyfriend and I stopped a car and it took us to the wall of the doors at the wall of the city. These were people we didn’t know. We met my parents. They brought a blanket.
My boyfriend went to a hospital 80 kilometres from L’Aquil. During the quake, a big piece of debris had fallen on his back, and I was holding my head to his chest. My head went back. I thought he must surely be dead.
I told my parents what happened in the car. I’m ashamed now because I was excited in the moment while people were dying. Then I watched the news and saw hundreds dead. I could have been one of them. One guy in my course died. A beam fell on his head while he was sleeping.
The following weekend was Easter. There were still people buried under houses. We eat lots during Easter. My table was full of shit of eat. I didn’t want it though. I didn’t want to celebrate. I didn’t understand why my family wanted to celebrate anything when I almost died and hundreds actually did die. I went in my room and cried. My sister came and hugged me. I said I just wanted to go skating and to be left alone.
Pescara was empty was eating. The only person who understood was my boyfriend, and he was alone too. He was in front of his house. Neither of us wanted to celebrate. No one could understand.
I started to enjoy every day of my life after that. I realized that nothing is guaranteed. “I’m twenty years old. I’m not immortal,” I thought.
After a few years, I graduated from university and I became depressed. I forgot that feeling of gratitude. I felt hopeless. I had no job. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I forgot to show gratitude for my life. It’s such a pity, too, because that had really motivated me.
It could seem like bulllshit, but (going to) Thailand and (meeting) Buddhist monks helped me reach my inner peace after that.
I saw with my own eyes people living in happiness without being rich. Vice versa, they were giving more than taking and enjoying life for what it gave to them!!
And I saw pure people. We are too used to anger and hate, while there I found paradise. I understood that all this is possible because of their way of looking at things, because they see themselves as part of a group, and they dont want to succeed over others. That’s why they live in that sense of peace.
And then in my Buddhist lessons, hey taught me how to relax and not let things and situations affect my mind and my feelings.
Obviously it s not easy, but whenever something that could possibly stress me out happens, I try to remember their teaching and think that those problems are not going to kill me. I’ll live anyway because I’m a complete being.