The train had been coursing through open pastures of rolling green hills for the past two hours. It was all empty, barren. But to her it felt filled with something. Possibility, maybe. The grass was a fluorescent green unlike anything she had ever encountered in her hometown. She soon came to realize that that's how things were here. Fluorescent.
The train arrived in Oberstdorf, Germany later that day. The place she was to call home for the next four years or so. Population: 9,923. It consisted of small local cafes, an ice rink and not much else. But wow, was it beautiful. The mountains peaked high above her head, and open fields of wildflowers stretched as far as the eye could see. It looked just like a scene out of a movie. She arrived at her apartment, unpacked, met her coaches, walked the whole town twice and then some. Her mom left her at 2:20 p.m. that night and waved as the train peeled away. And then she was alone.
Things moved pretty fast after that. Her coaches did not waste any time getting started, and training days were long and exhausting. As an elite ice dancer, there comes a certain level of trust, so it was a good thing she trusted her dance partner above anyone she had met so far in this little town. They quickly developed a sibling type of bond and had each other's backs no matter what. She met other skaters at the rink, too. Her favorite among these was a lean, tall German boy named Benji, who was four years her senior. Of all things she anticipated coming here, she certainly did not anticipate falling in love. It's funny how things work.
Before she met him, homesickness had consumed her. Most nights she didn't sleep. She would call her mom at 3 in the morning in a frenzy of tears. But somehow with Benji, the homesickness went away. It wasn't that she didn't still miss all the people she loved, it was just that the hole they'd left had gone. She no longer experienced the physical pain of missing, no longer had a gaping emptiness in her chest. Benji had filled it.
Later that year, all of her dreams came true when she and her partner were selected to represent Team Germany in international competition. She was young and in love in a dazzling town with rising mountain peaks and her lifelong goal had just been realized at 18 years old. She could not even believe the beautiful dream that had become her life.
But the thing about times like these is that they are rather precarious. When you are on top of the world, it is practically inevitable that a fall is coming. Hers came in the form of a phone call the night before her first competition representing the German federation. "I just don't love you anymore." Those were Benji's words. But she didn't understand them. Couldn't understand.
The sheltering he had been offering her was all too abruptly ripped away. There was a new and possibly even larger hole in her chest, only this time it was amplified by her coaches' nagging demand for her to shave even more weight off her already tiny frame. Amidst it all, her heart longed for home more than it ever had before. It hurt.
But the dream wasn't over. Neither was she.
This is the story of the past year of my best friend's life. She has been through so many beautiful and terrible and surreal moments in the past 12 months, but I know she wouldn't trade any of them for the world. I miss her, but I'm positive she is right where she needs to be, even if she does not know that right now. She is the strongest, bravest, gutsiest and most gracious person I have ever known. She chases after what she wants with a stubbornly determined heart and even in the face her greatest adversity she can still smile. Because of all of this, I know she is going to be okay. And Amanda, if you're reading this, remember: The dream is still real.