I’ll never forget how lonely I felt in Tallinn—standing like an island in a rough sea of early twenty-somethings about to embark on another Friday night bender. Me: at least seven years older than all of them, remote, and incapable of conversation. Them: throwing back can after can of Baltic beer to keep pace with drinking games I’d long tired of, swapping taunts, high-fives, full-toothed grins, steely-eyed and sure-footed, engaged in that tacky peacock kind of flirting I knew some of them would never outgrow. All of us: tossed in the storm of incorrigible youth.
Ava was with me only a week ago, but we were elsewhere then. (Copenhagen.) Her train had been late, and I paced back and forth beneath the massive clock in Central Station, hoping she would save me from the reality that I had no one there. (She did.) My hostel was hotelish: sterile, automated, indifferent to chance encounters. So I was lucky to have met her last August: Finn by birth, Dane by residence, then a bleach blonde sore thumb on the Amalfi Coast. She shared a pizza with me. She spoke too many languages. She said, If you’re ever in Denmark. (I was.) Read More
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Oscar and I landed in Budapest on Gypsy Christmas. Officially called lomtalanítás, it’s the one day each year where residents are free to toss their junk, en masse, onto the sidewalk for collection. We hadn’t exactly studied up on the city beforehand. Like much of our homework that semester, it went undone. And thus we were not aware of this annual “event.” In fact, we found ourselves in the Hungarian capital only because, in late July 2011, it seemed more off the beaten path than any of our other classmates were willing to venture. So after having dragged our suitcases along the sweltering city streets, dodging mysterious, man-high piles of garbage while searching for our hostel, our instincts felt vindicated.
Casa de la Musica was a technicolor funhouse of a hostel in the Palace District of Pest. In its courtyard, chest-deep in an inflatable pool on the afternoon of our arrival, we met Albert, a German physical therapist who learned The King’s while studying in Sydney. The only thing more delightful than Albert’s accent was his grasp of American slang. “I hear the ruin pubs here are shit,” he told us, leaving out the crucial definite article. So it wasn’t long before the three of us—”the wolf pack”—were huddled around a table at just such a pub, arguing with a few Swedish girls about whether it was stupid for a modern country to have a monarch—a tradition they adamantly defended. I found Albert in a stairwell making out with one of them maybe thirty-minutes later. “International relations done right,” I thought. Read More
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I wish everyone a life of streets and alleys, lanes and country roads. Wet, dry. Narrow, wide. Busy, quiet. Lit, or dark. They are, and they have always been, my escape. My feet follow them, one in front of the other, as I struggle with what feels so heavy on my shoulders. And I’m reminded when I look down, or in fatal despair, toward the sky, of my place in the Universe. That is power.
Thinking back now, I remember more of them than I would have guessed yesterday. One memory leads to another, and then to another. They head in this direction and that, woven together, related but distinct, emanating out from the center, creating a pattern that no single one would hint at. In whole, they map so much of where I’ve come from and who I am. Read More
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There’s something about the way the light catches him. Something curiously soft about how it falls across his face. I tell him repeatedly what I see in the highlights and in the shadows—scars and freckles I’ve discovered—the hills and the valleys. He doesn’t protest my worship, he just chuckles a bit and let’s a smile slip out of the corner of his mouth until it falls. He turns away from me pulling the covers up around his chin, as if he’s bashful, ignoring that we’re wrapped up together.
It’s Saturday morning observations like this one that might seem the pedestrian thing of love. The quiet, in-the-middle times of a relationship where there’s nowhere in particular to be. The stuff of rom-coms and high school romances. But to me, at the edge of thirty, they are new, and exciting, and scary, and everything I wanted but could never have. So I genuflect to each second that is ours, and pray that none of it will ever feel normal. Read More
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As children, we talked about enlisting together. We didn’t feel like children then.
He was too sick to enlist when I left. I don’t know if we would have stayed close otherwise. Our lives were already very different before his diagnosis. I visited him in the hospital every time I took leave. It was like a pilgrimage. The first time, both our heads were shaved.
He stopped going to the hospital, and I visited him at his mom’s house. The small town around us seemed as sick as he was, but one of them was improving. I quit going by after he got better. I moved on with my life. I went to college and made new friends. I went home less and less, though I lived much closer. I don’t remember what I was doing when I found out. I remember consciously not asking for details. I felt guilty enough already. Read More
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Her husband doesn’t call anymore. We leave our phones in the room now anyway. Too many pretty people here. White pebbles and locals raised in a land without modesty. She takes her top off like all of the other girls, lies diagonally to the water. Evenly tanned chests lap up the brutal rays. A joint sticky with sunscreen and a wet copy of Cat’s Cradle. The pages smell like sea salt. She asks me if I can afford another two Coronas. I tell her that I’m beyond broke; it’s time to go home. She says that she’s beyond broken; she’s never going home. Lies and lies and lies and lies.
It took me too long to learn her name. She knows this. I had to ask for the last time last week. Two towns ago. A little coffee shop in the Jewish Quarter. A honey cake I bought her because this city is known for them. She says that hers are better. I don’t believe her. She stirs her black coffee without reason. Without blinking. I justify my work for the Galactic Empire. She tries to explain what the food is like in Ljubljana but never comes close to convincing me she was really there. I tell her it takes more than miles to get away from what we’re leaving behind. No response. Read More
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Samara doesn’t want to discuss her family because, They’re all crazy. At least that’s what she tells me, flatly, and I don’t think twice about trying to change the subject because I know better than to tack too far into seas where there be dragons. Especially on first dates.
She peels the bacon off her burger, confesses that she hasn’t quite adjusted to pork yet—a segue into the formative years she spent in Iran. I slide in a contrived reference to Zoroastrianism, ask about her grasp of Farsi, and we talk about how she owes her existence to the circumstance of revolution. That I’m conversant in these topics is something I hope that she’s impressed by but isn’t, and maybe I can’t blame her. American Intellectualism is what everyone else in the world is expected to know. Read More
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Faith reveals to me that she’s a DJ from D.C. and a budding bisexual over two pints of blonde at the hostel bar around 1:00 AM only twenty minutes after I arrived and keeps glancing at her phone because she’s expecting a text from the cute bartender she met last night at a burlesque show who swore she would be free after her shift this evening and wants to meet-up at an after-hours discotheque that she’s been dying to check-out and now I’m being roped into tagging along even though I’m exhausted but of course I cave and call a cab because I can’t stand to say no to new adventures or pretty girls or nights beyond prediction.
She talks to our driver in French with an accent I can tell he finds atrocious and honestly so do I but then again I speak so little and the words she says sound right and her pace is probably fine because he continues making conversation although it dawns on me eventually that it’s only to keep her from getting keen on the fact that he can see down her shirt in the strategically tilted rearview as she leans forward from the backseat to paint her lips in cherry black and while I make a solid effort can’t manage to mime this to her subtly enough for it to not be awkward so I must admit to myself that he may have won this round and I hope he hits a moose on his return trip to the city. Read More
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Bert Fischer: You’re like one of those clipper ship captains. You’re married to the sea.
Max Fischer: Yes, that’s true. But I’ve been out to sea for a long time.
– Rushmore (1998)
“You don’t have to be the Float Queen, you know.”
“But of course I do,” she said. “I am the most beautiful girl in Trachimbrod.”
“But you don’t even like it,” he said. “You always complain after.”
“I know,” she said, adjusting the tail, which was scaled with blue sequins.
“Do you like thinking about Mom?”
“Does it hurt after?”
“Then why do you continue to do it?” she asked. And why, she wondered…do we pursue it?
– Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
It’s a bit after midnight in mid-August of 2006, about ten hours before I move away for college, and in the flickering light of a silent television, I watch her lose the battle between the tears on her cheeks and the white sheets she’s trying to defeat them with. Don’t go, she says, and I don’t know if she means right now or for good, but I have to get up early because the future waits for no one, so I shut her bedroom door after I roll four more bittersweet grenades across the floor: I love you I love you I love you and it’s only a few hundred miles.
In a supermarket line, the second week of April, 2013, I pick-up my phone to an angry voice on the other end saying fuck me for taking her friend to that dance, and, How come you didn’t ask me? Dutifully, I remind her, You have a boyfriend. Read More
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I worry about our obsession with vanity. Not Hollywood stardom or photo-shopped hips—although those too are troubling. I’m concerned about our pedestrian vanity. You, me, that woman we walk by on our way to the coffee shop. We care less about who we are than who we want the world to believe we are.
We are, in a very real way, the Mad Men Generation—we are all our personal ad executives and our product is “Me.” Our ability to transform the ordinary, a mural on a nice day, a coffee on a dreary one, into the extraordinary would be uncanny if it wasn’t, apparently, innate. We are all prodigies. Our medium is social, and our means is the lens. Read More
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