SOUTHAMPTON, England – I haven't lived in the same place for more than six months since I was 18. I've spent four years shuttling between two states and a portion of this past year sailing in and out of five continents.
The hardest part hasn't been the lack of a place to call my own, the absence of a steady income, or an inability to financially detach from my parents. The hardest part has been saying goodbye to all the friends I've made in all these places.
Unlike saying hello, waving goodbye never gets any easier. I thought I'd gain experience, first saying farewell to my high school friends when I went to college, then to my college friends when I left on this trip, but I never did.
The average age of the guests on this ship must be pushing 70. At the advent of the journey, I never thought I would make friends. There's only so much a 22-year-old knows about golf and Social Security. As a result, I approached it as a personal journey, a chance to learn and grow from a fairly solitary perspective.
But it turned out that I learned as much about myself from the places we visited as from the friends I made on ship:
• Anne, the Englishwoman with fire in her heels, who encouraged me to take ballroom-dancing lessons, guiding me through the stuttering steps of my first foxtrot.
• George, my Scotch mentor, who had a passion for travel and Macallan 12—“A double, if you'd be so kind,” he said, “on the rocks.”
• Robert, who inadvertently taught me how to dress with style and re-instilled my sense of “carpe diem.”
• Elisa, who told me money doesn't bring happiness, only good company and new adventures.
• Misato, a tiny Japanese woman with whom I never exchanged more than a “konichiwa,” but whom I admired nonetheless for never removing her smile.
There are countless other friends, the majority of whom I'll never see again, fallen into memory with the others I lost after high school and college.
The two people I'll miss the most, however, are the people I'll see most of all: my parents.
I've never had such uninhibited access to the people who raised me. Perhaps it was because the stress of their daily jobs and roles were oceans behind them. Maybe it was the fact that we were all on the same learning curve, traveling and experiencing new things together. Or it could have been all the free booze; but my parents now seemed human. They were transformed from the foes who kept me from busting out on my own to the friends who were helping me bust out.
As the ship sailed to its final port in the England, I said goodbye yet again to all the friends I had made. But this time I noticed a change. I'd learned that if you can capture a lesson, just one lesson, from the friends you make, you can take that person with you for the rest of your life.
I'll always have Anne there when I foxtrot. George will be with me when I sip a whisky. I'll have Robert beside me when I iron my pleats.
And my father?
Well, he'll be there more than he'll ever know.
Joe Kita is a freelance writer and editor. You can learn more about him at www.josephkita.com. Paul Kita is a reporter for Men's Health Magazine. They both reside – for now – in Pennsylvania.