June 23rd 2013
I’m trying to walk off this big lump in my throat. That is all I can do at this point, just walk. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’ll do when I get there, but I can’t just stand here. I’ve got to move, the rain is getting harder and harder so I guess I’ll look for shelter. At least that is some destination, better than aimless walking.
Five minutes ago I was dry and warm with a place to sleep for the night. Five minutes ago I didn’t feel lonely. I spot a train station and head for it. There is shelter from the rain and perhaps even internet.
I step inside and try in vain to get a wifi signal. I look for a restroom and see that it costs money. I step outside, its raining, I come back in, look at the large screen of train info and can’t read it from where I’m standing. I broke my glasses about a month ago so I’m used to not seeing things clearly. Even if I could read the train times and destinations, I wouldn’t know which one to get on or why. I muster up some courage, pretend to seem like I’m not sad, confused or lonely and give this language my best shot. “Excusez-moi, ou est-ce que on peut trouver wifi ici?” I have to repeat myself a couple of times, adjusting my strong american accent to be understood. They give me quite simple directions to where I can find wifi about 20 minutes away. I thank them and even though I don’t quite want to go back into the rain, I feel stupid not leaving after having asked, so I set off.
I should’ve been more honest with my feelings sooner. I saw this coming. Was this another case of a self-fulfilling prophecy or were my premonitions simply accurate? I feel like I’ve already learned my lesson with things like this before and I’m repeating my mistakes. I should’ve been more courageous with communication. To be honest though, in this very moment now, I’d much rather be cluelessly walking around this foreign country in the rain, than be back in that warm, dry house with her…
26 days earlier…
I am soaking wet. Literally drenched neck to toe. It would be head to toe but I’ve been wearing this helmet for the last 10 hours. I woke up this morning in the rain, packed up my tent and my bike in the rain and drove in the rain. According to locals, my ride should’ve been about 3 hours in total but here I am 10 hours later in a traffic jam. If I were back in California I would zip right through all these cars but here in New York it is illegal not to mention dangerous.
This is bad for my bike to just sit in traffic like this for so long. After a while, I decide to take the risk and jet out into the middle of the lanes and start squeezing myself between huge semi’s, school buses and all the infamous aggressive drivers of New York. It’s a rush breaking the rules and taking the risk to navigate through this herd of wild metallic beasts.
Water sprays up from the pavement soaking my already drenched feet. I bet by now they are all crumpled and wrinkly. There is a threshold of how wet you can get, which I’ve reached and I feel like I might as well be swimming. I have these weather tested expensive waterproof pants and jacket that for the first 8 hours of the day did their job well. At some point a couple hours ago they decided they’d been working too hard and quit. Really just quit, instantaneously and simultaneously. I remember the exact moment when they gave in, it was like I just dipped myself in a bath.
Cars begin going faster, space frees up and things start moving again. The intensity of the situation steps up as semi truck tires splash water from the puddles of their lanes into mine. Yesterday I lost one of the lenses of my glasses, so everything is half blurry. Its raining hard and visibility is low. Aggressive mergers add to the equation intensity takes another step up.
I haven’t felt like this since the first time I took a motorcycle out on the freeway. I remember feeling so overwhelmed and stressed that I wanted to purposely crash the bike so it would all be over. I grip the handles hard and use every bit of wit and concentration to get me out off of this island and into Brooklyn, my destination.
I get off and pull into a gas station to call my friend whom I’ll be staying with here. I’m so relieved that the hard part is over. I go to start my bike and find that I have no power. The rain must have shorted some circuit or something. I don’t want to think about that now so I push it, gather some momentum, hop on, drop it into gear and keep riding. I realize how huge Brooklyn is after driving 45 more minutes not even getting half way across it. I pull over a couple blocks from the apartment to look up the address and accidentally let the bike die. I have to push it the last 2 blocks before I can finally celebrate the arrival.
I haven’t been this ecstatic in a long time. I’m in New York! No more riding in rain or life threatening drivers cutting me off, just old friends and a new world to explore. I spend the next couple of hours in the warm living room sharing stories and catching up, hearing about life in new york.
It’s bizarre how things can change so quickly. Only yesterday I was alone in some deserted gloomy beach in Delaware thinking deeply about why I’m here and what I’m doing. Today I feel as though I know the answers to those questions. Not that I actually know the answers, I just feel I do , and it feels good.
Times like I had on that beach are important. I need those moments to stop, think about my life, and put things into perspective. Seeing my friends wouldn’t have been so good without feeling so alone out there Having shelter wouldn’t have felt so good without being soaked to the bone. These things come in cycles and the more I realize that, the more I can enjoy the good and appreciate the “bad”.
2 days later…
The park is full of people. All kinds of people coming and going, laying down, in a hurry to work, taking pictures, eating ice cream. I wouldn’t really call this place a park actually, it is an old overground subway track converted into a park. A park of the future, a green path on stilts dissecting skyscrapers and busy New York streets.
In all this busyness one man catches my eye. As the noisy world goes by in a hurry he calmly sits indian style, eyes closed, obviously in meditation. Whether he is actually meditating or just trying to attract girls who are into meditation, peacefulness, organic things and all that rigamarole doesn’t matter to me. Watching him brings me back a few years. This became a big interest of mine for a bit while I was in Europe. I spent a lot of time reading books on meditation and trying it myself. I don’t know if I every did it “right” or what exactly that meant but I felt good doing it at least. I don’t know whether the good feeling came from practicing meditation or simply the idea of intentionally trying to feel good and taking a moment out of my day to do that.
I was traveling at the time when I was into this world of peacefulness and remember thinking that when I would return to the busy working world I would keep meditation as a part of my daily life. I knew I’d be busy and have responsibilities to take care of, but planned on putting aside at least ten minutes per day to keep it up. When I did finally get back into a regular routine of work and school, I quickly lost the habit.
Even now as I relax on this grass I know I could be “meditating” or clearing my mind of thoughts but I don’t. Most of my mind is two feet away from me, focused on the girl I’m laying next to. She looks as peaceful as this guy meditating but prettier. I haven’t really met anyone like her. She is open, intelligent, calm and kind. She is adventurous too, having traveled many places around the world, and still seems to be focused on her future. A caterpillar has been crawling around my stomach since I met her two days ago but now I feel some butterflies starting to flap their wings around in there.
“Have you ever tried meditation before?” I ask her, breaking the silence.
She tells me she has tried it a few times but it never really worked for her. She says that she doesn’t feel the need for it so much, that she doesn’t experience much stress or anxiety anyway.
I ask her if she ever experiences depression, anger or anything like that and it is almost as though those concepts are foreign to her. Sweating the small things is a waste of energy, she feels. I find her more and more attractive the more I learn about her. She seems to be achieving what I have been aiming to for some years. I feel that each year of my life I get a little better at dealing with stress and things like that but it is nice to be around someone who can be sort of an inspiration.
I just want to lay with her or hold her hand but I’m unsure how she feels. With the kind of personality she has, I imagine she would be kind and open with anyone so I don’t think its special that the last couple of days we have walked hours around the city together. I can only hope that it is special.
We walk more. We talk ceaselessly and it seems that there is an endless amount of topics to share between us. Aside from her personality and way of being, I find her lifestyle fascinating. She works for a french airline and studies in France just taking her classes on Mondays. She has spent every week in the last six months in a different country always managing to fly back to Paris for her Monday classes. The airline pays her while she is studying as part of some too-good-to-be-true contract and she is able to fly anywhere with only paying the airport taxes.
She tells me that if I need a cheap flight to France she could help me out. I appreciate the offer but decline. I’m in the middle of my cross-country motorcycle trip and time is limited as it is. It would be a great opportunity, but how would I get back? Where would I leave my bike? I have responsibilities to think about.
4 days later…
I can’t sleep, I’ve been up all night. She is sound asleep right next to me. I wish she would lay her head on my shoulder but I’m still not sure if she likes me in the same way I like her. Either way, I’m happy to be near her. I watch her for a bit as she sleeps and it makes me feel good. My body is exhausted but my mind is restless.
My thoughts take me back home. The ideas of responsibility and freedom float around my brain and I try to pick at them. I spent the last two years focusing on responsibility. Responsible with work, school, saving money, preparing for my trip, learning how to repair my motorcycle etc. I put so much effort into preparations and building a solid foundation of knowledge, money and experience on which I could enjoy freedom. Everything I worked for was to be able to experience freedom. I would leave my house at 6am and come home at 11pm everyday for work and school, a routine exactly opposite of freedom. All of it was for my future self to be able to hit the open road with no plan or time limit.
Even though I am unsure, as I am with many things, I feel good about my decision. I can’t sleep because I’m excited. She may or may not end up liking me as I do her, my motorcycle may or may not be in Brooklyn still when I get back, a spontaneous trip to Europe may or may not have been the best idea but I’m not going to spend any time wondering if all of this is good or bad. I will simply accept my situation and adapt to whatever comes.
7 days later…
Streams of water obscure my view of the countryside as I gaze out of the car window. I’m happy to be in a shelter in this rain even though it is only temporary. It is getting dark outside, not only because the sun is going down but also because we’re headed for menacing black clouds.
The man to my left in the driver’s seat is from Zambia. I think he told me his name but I forgot what it was. I’ve only known him for about an hour and don’t know much about him. He’s got a wife and kids, he left Zambia 25 years ago and he’s driving this Mercedes that he is either selling, or driving for someone. I’m not sure but I don’t think it’s his. Between my mediocre french and his strong zambian accent we don’t have the best communication.
I’m exhausted having been some 15 hours on the road today with only two hours of sleep. I would sleep but I don’t feel comfortable sleeping in strangers’ cars, I trust this man but I’ve had many miscommunications in the past and have been left stranded in all kinds of places. I’m almost at my destination anyway. I started off in Berlin this morning around 5am and have been hitchhiking all day. I can’t really take my time because I have a flight to catch out of Paris tomorrow and you never know when or if you’ll arrive with hitchhiking.
I left her in Berlin yesterday and I will see her again tonight in Paris. There is no more mystery left between us. It was exciting when I wasn’t sure if she would like me or not but now I know and realize that half of the attraction was mystery. I still like her and think she is a great person but the butterflies in my stomach have rested their wings. This is normal, I shouldn’t expect to always stay excited. Or should I?
Should I tell her that now I feel less attracted because the tension has been released? Is that fair? She didn’t even do anything wrong. This is all in my own head so I just need to learn to deal with it. Before I jump to any conclusions I should just wait it out and see how things go. Besides, we are kind of stuck together the next couple weeks and I don’t want to go saying something dumb without thinking it through.
We finally pull into Paris around 10pm and the zambian man drops me off at a metro station. Alone and in the rain in some arrondissement of Paris, I think about things a bit. What is it with me? One minute I feel one way and the next, another. Each time I go through something like this though, I feel I understand what is going on a bit more. I am nowhere near understanding the inner workings of my brain but I’m getting there. The only way I will learn is putting myself through all kinds of experiences.
I look forward to seeing what the next days will bring as we set off on our next adventure. I have no idea what to expect…
3 days later…
I can barely see 10 feet in front of me. I’m up in the clouds. I feel disoriented. Usually I have a good feeling about where north and south are and where I’m going but I’m totally turned around. She’s also in the clouds but I don’t see her. I mean, we’re together but in this moment we don’t see each other eye to eye.
I’m in a high place though. It’s great being here, it is, I’m just a bit tired. The air is cold and wet. This is where rain is born. Up in the highest places with the most beautiful views water makes the long journey of evaporation, climbing to great heights. It gets to a peak where it stops and floats around with no other intention but to connect with other water vapor, condensing. Eventually it just gets to be too much and it all comes crashing down on the beauty below.
I finally reach the highest point of the path and wait. She is not too far behind. I’m used to waiting now. I’m in no rush, I just like to walk fast. I’m glad its me that must wait for her and not her for me…
I see her figure approaching out of the mist.
“We made it!” I tell her.
She half-heartedly smiles and sets her bag down. The air between us is cold up at this altitude.
“It’s all downhill from here. Literally!.” I try to lighten the mood.
My enthusiasm and cheap humor doesn’t seem to amuse her. I open my bag of peanuts and take a hand full. I offer her some but she doesn’t like peanuts, says they’re too heavy for a hike like this. She seems to resent the fact that I’m eating peanuts up here. I like peanuts. I like these particular peanuts especially because I bought them myself and she wouldn’t eat them anyway. I wouldn’t dare go into our shared stash of food at this point. I’m trying to limit the things she could be annoyed by. I eat when she eats and life is simpler that way.
We spend the next few hours descending the other side of the mountain that we worked so hard to climb. Eventually we leave the cloud world and get back into the visible one. We get to a point where we can see civilization again after two days in nature. Safely tucked between tall, lush mountains on all sides, the wine capital of the island beckons us.
We finally get down to the road heading to Cilaos but it seems to be a three hour walk so we put out our thumbs. We get picked up by the first car coming down the road. That has not been uncommon here on the island. I feel like I can really judge a place by how easy it is to hitchhike. People here are very relaxed. They don’t seem to give it a second thought, they just pull over and say get in, end of story. Maybe living on a small island far away from the rest of the world gives you a certain laid back attitude and sense of community.
One week ago I had never even heard of this island and now I’m here. It’s called “La Reunion”, a french owned island in the Indian Ocean. I don’t really know much about the place except from what french I could understand from people we’ve been hitchhiking with. That is my favorite way anyway to learn about a place, straight from the mouths of the people who live there. Facts don’t really mean anything, just the way that facts affect humans. People here seem to be happy. They are poor but not impoverished, they have what they need and each other.
We arrive in the town of Cilaos and treat ourselves to a well deserved cake from the bakery. We set off again down the road that leads to lower ground and warmer temperatures. The last two nights have been almost sleepless from the cold, we are still at a high altitude and, since we are below the equator, are in winter. Night falls upon us and we are still walking the windy mountainous road with hardly any room for pedestrians or cars to stop. Our thumbs tire in vain as we trudge along with not much to talk about…
10 days later…
Muffled american pop music seeps through the wall I’m leaning against. There’s a small awning 3 stories above barely deflecting the rain that I’m managing to stay out of. I turn and look through the foggy window and see bright flashing lights and the figures of people dancing. I wouldn’t mind being in there cuttin’ a rug or two but now is not the moment for that.
I catch a glimpse of her inside dancing and rub some condensation off the window to take a better look. She seems jovial and happy, dancing with her cousins. I know she’ not though. If I didn’t know the context, I’d believe her appearance. But I do know the context and as much as I wish she were happy, I know she’s not.
I turn around to her sister and sister’s boyfriend who were just chatting away amongst themselves. They acknowledge me and give a look of empathy and understanding. They’ve known her for a long time and explain to me that this is just how she is. I feel naïve for being so smitten and blinded. But this is the way it goes, things are not always what you expect and it feels good to be smitten whether it works out in the end or not.
We’re in the countryside of Normandy, France for her cousin’s wedding. I’ve been having a great time meeting her family, practicing my french and trying all the delicious food. I can tell that she’s not having as good of a time and she seems to be blaming me for it.
She is stressed, as usual, about some things that I couldn’t help her with even if I tried and I get the feeling that she would like me to be stressed too. I express my sympathy and understanding but that hasn’t seemed to suffice. She has been ignoring me for the last couple hours, having left me to twiddle my thumbs at tables of older relatives with whom I’ve already exhausted all elementary french small talk.
I am lucky to have met her sister’s boyfriend, although I think he is part of the reason she is ignoring me. The whole evening him and I have been connecting, seeing that he is close to my age, speaks english and also used to live in California where I’m from. She doesn’t like her sister’s boyfriend because he’s a bad influence and I think she would prefer I dislike him as well.
I would love for her to be happy right now but I’m not going to pretend to be stressed or to dislike someone I like so I’m in a bind. Never before have I desired so strongly to go back to America. I’m depending on her for the flight back to New York and we leave four days from now. I don’t want to imagine how those days will be but I will make the best out of them and try to enjoy it. It will be an interesting night in the hotel room tonight…
19 hours later…
I managed to find shelter from the rain and a wifi connection. The lump in my throat has cleared and I’ve already accepted my new reality. Jean, her sister’s boyfriend will be here any minute. He heard that I got kicked out and is coming to help me find somewhere to stay.
Even though I’m in an uncomfortable situation, being stuck outside at 8:30pm in Versailles with no place to sleep, I couldn’t be more relieved. Instead of walking on eggshells, I’m plodding through puddles. I can breathe, no pretending everything is ok in front of the family anymore.
Jean meets me and we walk down what seems like every street in Versailles. He listens to every detail about my short-lived relationship with her and it feels great to vent. Jean is sweet and understanding in his own tough way.
We seem to meet every single friend he has in Versailles so he can borrow a cell phone, get a ride, find a drug dealer and buy some weed. He doesn’t have any money so I just buy it since he is helping me out. I wouldn’t mind a smoke by this point anyway.
It takes us until 2 am to get to the center of Paris where we will stay the night at his girlfriend’s apartment. It reminds me so much of the apartment I lived in in Germany except a quarter of the size. Pieces of art are strewn among dirty dishes and trash, spread out on the makeshift furniture that looks like it was found on the streets. Its dirty but I love it. The wannabe mattress with springs popping out is more comfortable than the fancy hotel bed I slept in the night before. I reevaluate the idea of comfort and realize the physical world can be overcome by the mental.
2 days later...
Only a few hours until I leave this country and now I wish it wasn’t so soon. I’m gazing at a beautiful sight that Parisians themselves probably don’t often get the opportunity to see. From what seems like only inches away from the lit up Eiffel tower looms a huge orange rising full moon. It looks twice the size of the tower. It occurs to me that this marks 2 months from the full moon that lit up my campsite on the first night of this journey.
I’m a little drunk, a little high and once again a little smitten. I’ve just spent the last eight hours with the most beautiful girl. I’ve known her for maybe four years but have only seen her 2 or 3 times in all. I would’ve like to have seen her earlier during my time here but I was sort of tied down. I’ve always thought she was beautiful and really cool but now she is even more so to me. She is the exact opposite of… her. Laid back, rebellious, bad ass, fun, beautiful.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Of course I’m going to be easily smitten by someone who is completely opposite, especially given the context. Maybe I’ll be wrong about her too and she’s not as laid back, rebellious and bad ass as she seems.
Everything that happened in the last month makes me doubt my judgement and think about how my mind works. From this point on I could be skeptical and doubt appearances or I can give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Either way I am one extreme or another. I’ll either get burned or close myself off to possibilities. I think back on how things went from good to neutral to bad this last month. Do I regret it? Should I have stayed in New York? No way. I learned a lot about myself as she did about herself. We had hi’s and lows and experienced things neither of us had before. Both of our lives have been enriched whether that feels good in the moment or not.
We get our fill of the full moon Eiffel tower scene and head back to her apartment. Knowing the little bit about this girl that I do and how impaired my judgement of women seems to be, the question is: If I weren’t leaving would I pursue her? Yes. This is of course easier to be so resolute about, knowing that I’ll be leaving in a couple hours and don’t really have the chance to try.
So many factors subconsciously affect my decision making that no matter what decision I make there will be some faulty logic behind it. All I can do is just go after my desires and take risks. I really hope I can see this girl again. Maybe I’ll end up hating her or her hating me. Maybe we will both fall in love, maybe she’ll throw me out of her house in the rain. However it may fare is not important, I just know that I’d like to see her again.
We make dinner together and she stays up until 4:30 in the morning to see me off. Once again I’m walking down foreign streets alone, left with my thoughts. I feel on top of the world and love drunk. I’m so happy to go back to America and to my motorcycle. The idea of being on my own on the open road sounds better than ever at this moment. The sky is clear and the air is cool. I’m ready for a new chapter…