I am fairly active in my local CouchSurfing community. Over the past year, I’ve made countless friends, many of them whom I now see several times a week. We’ve become a motley group, a microcosm of the success and principles of CouchSurfing.
This group we’ve formed has become a second family to us who are in it. At any given time, half of us are “locals” (permanently residing in New York City or neighboring areas), while the other half of us are here briefly. That latter half are like people going through a revolving door; every so often one leaves and soon another enters. However, the relationships that are built between me and those who are just passing through are much more lasting than when this “revolving door” metaphor is used to speak of, say, courtship.
Being born and raised here in New York City, I have always felt at home here, but our familial arrangement has surely made some of those who stay with us weeks or months more comfortable. The summer of 2012 was a blast, and many of the people who I now consider my closest friends were met during those hot, eventful months. As the summer drew to a close, half of the family that we became had to move on to their next destinations. It was fucking bitter, yet this is our commonality and what allowed us to share and reciprocate such strong sentiments; we are travelers.
These are the perils of CouchSurfing; it’s a gift and a curse.
I met one of my recent “family members,” Helena, on a rather uneventful Wednesday evening. I was out with two of my close friends, Joseph and Bob, and Joseph said he had a German CouchSurfing girl who he invited to join us. She came late, which I would soon realize is her usual modus operandi. The movie was Cloud Atlas, and I immediately liked her for her witty comments about the movie afterward.
Helena quickly became part of our group, and then family. As a native German, she found comfort (I assume) in the fact that another of us, Katia, hails from Munich. When she spent Thanksgiving with us, it was out of her hands; she was then our sister, whether she liked it or not (she loves it!). Hellipoo (our pet name for her) had initially told us that she’ll be here for 6 months. As a CouchSurfer and New Yorker, that was an eternity. However, I write this now as months have dwindled into mere weeks, and soon days…
Helena is a quiet girl, very introspective and intellectual, but she was always up to spend long nights out with us. Her sarcasm, wit, and dry humor perfectly complemented our international group. We threw her a birthday party, she lectured us on all manner of psychological processes, and we danced many nights away together.
While many may hold these “friendships” suspect, I know that most of these people who’ve become close to me during their short stays in New York will remain close friends. There’s Allie Feru, who I’ve talked to every single day since she’s left (we missed literally 2 days without texting, Skyping, or messaging each other in the last 7 months since she’s returned home to Italy. There is Paolo, Rocio, and Julia who my friend, Joseph, and I went to visit for the Christmas/New Year 2013 week in Italy.
There are my friends in Poland from over a year ago who still write to me every week, and we work on projects together, transAtlantically. There’s my sweet, loud Anna from Latvia, whose boisterous voice still reverberates in my mind. Anne and Jenny, two of the nicest girls who have ever graced any spare bedroom as Couchsurfers, will soon meet me again on my next trip to Germany. My Australian partner-in-crime who currently resides in Brazil, we still talk, albeit less often, but each time just as comfortably as if nothing happened. There are Colombians. There are Mexicans and Austrians. There are Nepalese, Indians, and even a girl from Djibouti. And there’s more, so many more.
This post is dedicated to Helena Schiller. Who knew that such a tiny, quiet girl could leave a large, indelible hole in her place, even before she physically left? Hellipoo may leave us here in New York, but – and I have to resort to cliché here – she will never leave our hearts. And she knows this. Though this imminent departure is heartbreaking for me, and for the entire group, we are better off than before we met her. And I am certain I will see her sometime in the near future, maybe not at our original home in NYC, but somewhere around the world.