The air was cold, but it felt like home somehow. He looked at me like I was autumn, golden hair shining against a rust red sweater. His hands were crisp like the air and his hair mussed like the leaves drifting across the ground outside, but he reminded me of winter. We were toasty inside, seated on a brown leather couch worn by years of moments like this. He was cold, distant despite the millimeters of space between us, and I was hesitant to close the gap, afraid of rejection because he reminded me so much of my father. It’s only when I’m cold, shaking from fear and anxiety so deep it burns a hole right through my insides, that I feel most alive. So I crossed the bridge that separated us and reached for his hand.
“We met at the wrong time. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway. Maybe one day years from now, we’ll meet in a coffee shop in a far away city somewhere and we could give it another shot.”
I’m sat alone in Letna park, in a patch of shade overlooking the Old Town of Prague. The three Australian girls I met in my hostel room last night have just left me, and for the first time in over a week, I have a chance to think. To reflect, to write. And in a way, to grieve.
Last night, I saw a man in a suit hand over the lead of a black lab puppy to a haggard-looking woman who was clearly on drugs. He paid her 100 CZK in cash and she yanked the dog harshly, holding the leash tight and dragging it upwards by the neck, making it yelp. Watching it all sort of broke my heart, and I wanted to cry.
Some people might say I’m a pessimist, and a lot of the time I’d agree with them. But deep down, when it comes to it, I’m a dreamer. A hopeless wanderer, with itchy feet and an open mind prone to fantasies. I love adventures, and the idea of romance, and I want it all, together. I used to want it abstractly and from a distance; it was more of a “someday” sort of dream than an active one. Until I got a little taste. Just a drop—three days. But it was enough.
Enough for me to want more, and to realize I probably won’t get it. Not this time, at least. It’s odd, because I’d never really worried about being clingy before I traveled. I’ve always been pretty good at separating my feelings, isolating the annoying or unnecessary in the presence of someone who might not reciprocate them. And I’ve had flings, and even hookups, during the last three months abroad. They’re fun, and they don’t last. We go our separate ways. We might stay friends on Facebook, or we might not remember any more about each other than a blurry face and a first name. That’s the unspoken rule of travel: you let go. Everyone’s here to meet people and see the world, not to stay or settle down or fall in love. Not in a way that lasts, at least. But somehow, despite knowing all of this, I sort of did.
I don’t wish it didn’t happen, not really. He’s a good, good guy. One of the best I’ve met. In fact, I can only think of one other guy I’ve known, back home, who comes across as pure and lovely as this one. My cynical British friend insists I’m naive about it, too hopeful and foolhardy. But I know. I’ve met good guys, I’ve met decent guys, bad guys as well. But only a few are… tender and pure. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s more of a feeling, that they respect you, treat you like an equal. They might be more reserved with touch because they’re a bit shy and don’t want to overstep your boundaries. They’re sweet and can express their feelings but they don’t overload you with them. They feel lucky to be with you, but not because they’re insecure. I’m doing a shit job of trying to articulate it, but like I said, when I meet one of these guys, I know.
I feel fortunate, really. It was a beautiful thing for me, and I’ll always have the memories. But it still hurts. It feels like I lost something that I only barely managed to grasp as the time slipped away. Part of it is lust, of course; I’m not entirely immune to that feeling, or the knowledge that it’s a factor in all of this. But for me at least, there was an audible click. And the hard part is not knowing whether he heard it too. Or rather, whether it was loud enough to last. Like I said, I’ve never worried about being clingy, but expectations are different with travelers. Snapchatting or messaging a few times a day at home would be normal, but I’m suddenly worried it’s too much. That maybe I’m a bother. This is all internal fear; nothing he’s done has implied as much. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised when he messaged me that day, after we’d said goodbye. I left expecting it to be over, and was prepared to resign myself to it. I prefer to leave rather than be left, so perhaps I’m overanalyzing the signs, preparing for the worst and to be the first person to take that step if need be. It’s such a long shot for anything to come of it… And yet I want something to. That’s what makes me a dreamer, and that’s what makes it hurt. Because in some parallel world or storyline, something like this could happen, and does happen, for people. The knowledge that, if feelings and motivation were mutual, something grand could emerge from a simple travel fling makes the leaving hard sometimes. Painful even. Because they often aren’t or maybe they are but the two people don’t know that they both feel the same way. Want the same thing. We’re too scared to be honest, to make ourselves vulnerable, and who knows how many opportunities we miss out on because of those fears. I fear rejection, because rejection ruins the dream. And if you let it, taints the beautiful memories.
I’ve never had a breakup before, never had my heart broken. Not in love, anyway. This is probably the closest thing to it I’ve felt, and I don’t quite understand why. Why him, why now. I wasn’t even looking for anything that night, had worn a loose dress and little makeup and thrown my hair in a bun because I was tired of going home with someone. Tired of missing out on dancing with my friends because I’d met a guy. It’s funny how you find what you’ve been looking for when you finally stop searching for it. And it’s sad because the beginning was almost the end for us; we were both about to move on.
I could have stayed another night. Thought about it, but not really. I was going to stick with my new friends and see another town, because after all, that’s what I’m here for. Not boys, but places. And the people I meet along the way. But then he came the next day, and stayed up all night with me, long after our friends had gone to bed, because I had to catch an early bus and didn’t want to sleep and didn’t want to miss a moment of this goodbye. I can’t say how much I appreciated that. To sleep with someone—twice—without any sex. Without feeling like I owe something, or that someone expects it from me. Not to say I didn’t want to, because I did. But I think it means more to me this way. It’s more special, rare, and therefore treasured.
It’s hard right now to imagine meeting another guy. Charlie Puth’s lyric “Does it feel, feel like you’re never gonna find nothing better?” comes to mind. I’ve only thought that before about one other guy, the only other good, good one that I’ve known. (Known and been interested in, I should say.) And even with him, it wasn’t to this extent. That adds to the sadness, because I can’t help but wonder about the “what if’s” and the “might be’s”. Will the feelings fade? They have to, if nothing comes of them, because people move on from real relationships and breakups all the time. They survive, and thrive, and fall in love again. At the moment, I don’t understand how, but I guess I’ll just have to trust the journey. Travel is crazy, and can make you crazy, I swear it. Yet I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
After a week, I think that’s what I needed to say. To get it out of my system, or at least sort it out a bit in my head. Writing down my feelings helps me validate and understand them, and I’ve been in a bit of a limbo this last week having them bounce around with no sort of sense. This has been a stream-of-conscious post, which I love doing when I want to dump my thoughts and feelings onto paper (or in this case, the notes section of my phone) without worrying about making them sound orderly or pretty. Despite the fact that I’ll probably post this on my blog, it’s not for anyone else. If you can take something from it, all the better, but I wrote it for me, and I hope that if you’re reading it, you can understand and respect that. I’ve been pretty open and vulnerable, and I hope to God that doesn’t make me come across as fucking clingy. Or crazy. And that I can stop worrying about those words entirely.
“So we’ll just let things take their course, and never be sorry.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
my heart is an iron safe, rusted and sealed shut to keep the demons out, to keep you out.
they say if you love something, let it go;
is that why every move you make pushes me fifteen, sixteen, seventeen steps away from you?
i don’t think so. i think that you don’t care yet, you don’t realize:
i’m getting out of here. and once i’m gone, i’m never coming back.
so you can sit there and cackle and think “i’ve got her”
and keep pretending that you don’t need me.
because when i get to eighteen steps, i’ll disappear from your senses.
you won’t see me, you won’t hear from me, you won’t touch me.
so enjoy the power while you still have it. revel in it, roll in it.
because when i’m gone, we’ll see who really needs who.
Oh, I remember this feeling.
When hunger is power. When black and white is everything. When glistening sweat and sore shins mark us as different, special. Protruding bones and control are currency and I want to be rich. We trade secrets, all-or-nothings; two pounds, five pounds, as much as we can peel off ourself. And then before we know it, we’re weightless, floating on wisps of the air that we consume, made only of sunken eyes and hollow cheeks and sharp collarbones and a spine we can see as we glance behind us in the mirror, filled with paranoia. Everyone is watching as we clutch our ribs, poking and prodding through the gaps until we seize our own beating heart; mine, yours. Thump, thump, thump.
It feels good at first, you and I joined together as one. The honeymoon stage, one might call it. But soon it’ll be a game of tug o’ war, lasting only seconds until it’s no longer a game but a fight to the death for one of us, maybe both of us. Neither can live while the other survives. And though I’ve kept you under reigns so far, you’re slowly creeping back from the darkest corners of my mind, seeping into my bones until you and I are conjoined once more, “as it should be,” you whisper.
I haven’t spiraled yet. But still, after all these years of pushing you back and tucking you away, after all this time of folding you neatly into a chest inside my skull along with my other demons – still a part of me longs to lose control in the black hole you belong to. They don’t teach us this in school, that control and chaos are long lost twins – it is impossible to possess one without the other. I crave the rigidness you offer me, yet I know I am only a host whom you will inevitably take over. And I’m not sure yet whether I’m willing to go down that path again with you, a trip down memory lane for old times’ sake. If I do I will surely go down in flames, screaming while you smile and slither back, waiting for the next time my despair comes calling. But I cannot walk this road alone. Right now, all I know is that I don’t want it to stop, this feeling that I remember so vividly from the period I worked so hard to repress. I don’t want to forget anymore.
So we beat on.
Today the sky was blue. Not blueish, not stained with white wisps of air and water, not fragmented by Apollo’s rays. Pure blue, so blue you’d think the sky went on forever, that there is no universe beyond this moment but that there is at the same time because surely this can’t be the end. Today the grass was green. A vivid, luscious, effervescent jungle springing up from the ground, filled with wildflowers where before there were none. The dirt was deep and beautiful and brown. The bricks that were mortared together a century ago were suddenly as vibrant as the red ribbon he tied my hair back with in another lifetime. The world had come to life, returned to its full glory, if only for a day.
Today the world was colourful. It was more beautiful than a chrome filter, more striking than most people ever dare to dream. I swear I saw a rainbow today, and not in the sky after the early morning showers, but everywhere I looked in nature and in the oldness of it all. The wind was crisp and cool; it felt like a gentle breeze whispering ”you’re home.” Today I felt like I belonged, like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, like everything is right. Peace, content, still, wonder. Today was one of the few glorious days where I stood in the middle of my driveway after school and was overwhelmingly glad to be alive.
Today is the day we live for. The day we stop and think and reflect instead of go go going and planning and wallowing in the misery of now. The day that Elpis’s spirit is infused in all of our bones, seeping into our marrow until hope reaches our core, casting out our deepest fears, our shallowest troubles, all of our weariness. Amazing us with the lucid simplicity of it all. I wish days like this came more often, days when the world is so beautiful that all I want to do is run run run to the woods, to another continent, to every place I’ve never been before, but I want to stay here and enjoy the fleeting beauty at the same time and even if I did run it wouldn’t be to escape like usual. But if every day were like today, we would lose our humanity, our ability to appreciate it; we would ruin, destroy, trample all over the signs.
So maybe tomorrow will be faded again, like a washed-out old film, hazy because the human race struggles to see clearly through all of its agony. Maybe tomorrow I’ll curse the gods or God or whoever created this damn existence. But today I thanked them.
Because today I felt infinite.