Summer of Defiance
I am on a bed in the back of a Bulgarian trucker’s truck. He picked us up at a gas station near Linz, Austria and is bringing us all the way to our destination — Vienna. I want to hug him for doing this. The sheets on the bed are a medium bright green color and are patterned with yellow and white daisies. The sheets feel like my childhood. My mom puts sheets like this on my bed when I’m coming home for Christmas, or in the past when I’ve brought a boy home from Brooklyn. I feel cozy and safe, as though my mom has been to the truck and put these sheets on the bed because she knew I’d be particularly tired today.
I’ve just turned twenty-three years old and I am hitchhiking. These are the lengths I must go to if I want to see my brother. Some brothers meet their sisters for a Budweiser or a scone, but I am barely out the door of the airport in Frankfurt before Trevor hands me a piece of cardboard that reads WIEN in black sharpie. He shows me how to hold my thumb up. I remember being a child, my mother dancing in the living room, doing “the hitchhiker.” The Bulgarian truck driver is smoking and keeps the radio on low. The pack of cigarettes next to him reads something like MOSKVA or MOCKBA.
The trucker was born in Bulgaria. My brother is being polite and mentions how beautiful Bulgaria must be, being surrounded by the black sea. But the trucker just mumbles something like “No,” and dismisses the country with his hand.
“Europe — old, America — new,” he states.
“Out with the old and in with the new?” my brother asks with a laugh.
The trucker grows serious and says, “Yes.”
I fall asleep for a while. When I wake up, I ask the trucker if I can smoke, though I know the answer is yes. He is enthusiastic that I want to smoke and shakes his pack towards me. But I have my own. I bought Bali Shag tobacco in New York before I left. I’m not addicted to cigarettes, but I’m trying to be.
It was June in 2009. I was experiencing profound boundary issues and confusion. I’d fallen madly in love with a man who didn’t believe in monogamy and who would not share things with me to the extent that I thought he should. There was a resistance to sharing T-shirts or books or bites of his dinner. I was dying for a man to give me a T-shirt or a book or a bite of his dinner. This guy was giving and generous in every other way: emotionally and sexually. I’d been seeing him for two years.
It was a period of transition for me. I’d left New York City, where he and I both lived, a month earlier. I knew if I didn’t, I would die. I would wake up at thirty-five years old an alcoholic or I’d get hit by a taxi, or I’d snort a drug that would kill me. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to turn into an alcoholic. I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to write books. Even at twenty-three, I knew my time there was up. I was burnt.
I moved upstate and in with my dad, and it was he who suggested I go to Berlin for five nights. I agreed. Maybe it would be good for me, he said. His attitude is always “just do it” like Nike, so we booked a flight. I was supposed to stay in Berlin for five nights, but I stayed for three months.
A few days before I left, I went to visit Simon, the man that didn’t let me borrow things. While I waited for him to get out of work, I drank a decent amount of alcohol at various bars around Alphabet City, then went to a gallery in Chelsea to see the exhibit on the performance artist Sophie Calle. I loved Sophie Calle; identified with her. She ignored barriers and boundaries. In the guest book I told her I loved her and wrote my email address. My writing wasn’t legible, as I was drunk. I never heard from her, not that I expected to.
Simon wasn’t as bad as I’m making him out to be. I wore his pajama pants to bed. He bought me drinks. Let me wear a T-shirt to work once so I wouldn’t have to go in wearing the same thing. But I don’t think he liked it very much. And he was right about a lot of things. It wasn’t my apartment. They weren’t my things to take. I was so in love with Simon. I often couldn’t sleep the nights before we were going to see each other. I carried a different book at all times to give him. He didn’t give me books. (“I don’t give you books because I don’t give anyone books,” he said. “I’m too anal for that and you know it.”)
We had a night full of fun and drinking. We went out for ice cream cones. In the morning, I reached down along the side of the bed looking for my underwear but pulled up someone else’s. They were tiny and light blue, with a small pink bow. From Target. Simon and I never discussed not seeing other people, but I was still crushed. He made breakfast and it was too spicy and my nervous system was screwed and I kept having to go to the bathroom. I went to the bodega to buy more toilet paper. It was fucking hot. I kept changing my clothes, uncomfortable.
Simon had to go upstate to visit his parents. He’d recently bought a motorcycle. I stood outside on the street with him, and he asked me to hold his helmet for a second, and I accidentally dropped it on the pavement and it cracked. “Fuck!” he yelled.
That night, I slept at his apartment and my friend Skye came over because I didn’t want to be alone. Skye had just “gone crazy” as she put it. She’d accidentally smoked PCP and was found crawling around in Central Park and the New York City police found her and put her on a bus to Massachusetts. She woke up in a psych ward in Boston on her twenty-third birthday.
Skye was thinking about going to Berlin, too. She’d just gotten out of a relationship with her Turkish boyfriend, and didn’t really have any where else to go. “Let’s go to Berlin!” we said. We went to Lucy’s on Avenue A that night, where we met some guys that told us, “If you like New York, you’ll love Berlin.” We were manic with excitement about starting over, any possibilities.
Later that night, Skye and I sat outside smoking and drinking beer on Simon’s steps listening to “Blood on the Tracks” on the small tape player I was always carrying with me. I told Skye about the underwear I found, and about the way Simon wasn’t sharing with me enough. Why could I be so intimate with him and not have free reign to his T-shirts? If my orgasms were so strong, why couldn’t I borrow his books? Might be stupid logic, but it was my logic nonetheless. I couldn’t shake it, couldn’t get over it. I held it so tightly, like it would kill me. I had nothing of his to hold on to. Not a piece of paper or a sweatshirt or a book. What I was really saying was: He doesn’t love me enough.
In How Should A Person Be? Shelia Heti’s friend tells her: “Barriers. Boundaries. We need them. They let us love each other.” I think Simon knew this. But I was having a hard time accepting it.
It was pouring the next morning, and his cat had vomited on the floor. I wanted to leave it. But I cleaned it up because I loved him. He made me laugh more than anyone and it was impossible for me not to love him. It would take many years. Skye and I stole some of Simon’s quarters to get coffees across the street at MUD.
That afternoon I took the subway to the JFK airport and I went to a bar and drank whiskey. I texted Simon something about how I felt existential, about how I loved him and he would never see me again. He didn’t respond. I loved the song “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover,” and was pretty proud of my interesting way of leaving. I hadn’t even left a note, which for me, felt really badass.
The only thing I had with me was a red and black Jansport backpack. In it was a journal, a pair of shorts, a sweatshirt and a couple shirts. My hair was in braids. Jeans. Black T-shirt. Blonde hair from a box. Broken heart. I drank beers and whiskey.
Right before I left Simon’s apartment for the airport, I’d searched his messenger bag and found one of this journals. I read an excerpt about sleeping with a woman with a taut stomach and tight ass and I barreled the journal across the room. It wasn’t the first time I’d read his journals, but it would be the last. I texted him about what I’d read, and he said, “I think you should leave the apartment.”
When I arrived in Europe, my brother and two of his friends met me at the airport. They were hitchhiking around, had been for weeks. I’d never hitchhiked before but I could tell there was a high that came along with it, from the way they were acting, from their upbeat energy. So we split up into two groups, my brother and I together. Each time we got into a car, I fell asleep in the back of the car. This turned into a routine, one my brother didn’t love. I never sat in the front. I fell asleep in the back, drooling all over myself.
“It’s not fair,” he told me, “That you just check out and I have to do all the leg work and small talk.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I’ll be better next time, I promise.” But then I’d repeat the behavior.
I keep saying that I was going to Berlin, but looking back, that wasn’t the plan at all. I guess the plan was for me to just travel around with my brother. I flew into Frankfurt and then we hitchhiked around Copenhagen and Austria. My brother and his friends shared everything: bread, brie, melodicas and guitars. I was on a completely different planet.
We took rides from all shapes and sizes: The Dutch pilot for Lufthansa who told us: “I didn’t always look like this. I use to have long hair and earrings.” The jolly German tan couple who had their own pot of coffee and mugs in their car. The trans woman who had my brother transfer 20,000 euros over the phone to her friend, while she drove. The woman who used pets as therapy and whose car had a Wild Wild West theme. The hippie van of five Italians. I sat down next to one and he said, “Hi. I’m Mathias. You have to help us finish all of our drugs before we get to Switzerland.” The German fifty-year-old who told us he was really into the band Grizzly Bear from Brooklyn and had we heard of them? The guy in The Netherlands who told us he loved George Bush. The Swiss guy who played Eddie Vedder’s Into The Wild soundtrack for two hours. I liked it the first time, and even the second, but on the fourth I swore to myself I would never listen to Eddie Vedder again.
I felt bad about myself. I was unhappy. Destabilized. At a Turkish grocery store in Frankfurt, I saw a box of hair-dye at the grocery store Bordeaux. I wanted to be like Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I bought the box of hair color but couldn’t actually go through with it, though I let a German girl give me an unbecoming cut — she cut it to my chin with dull scissors in her bedroom.
When my brother proposed the idea that I should go back to Berlin with him, stay for an indefinite amount of time the night before I was supposed to fly back to New York, I decided to stay. My gut said no, but something else said yes. Plus, Skye was coming, so I had that as a motivation. I was excited — take THAT, Simon! I win! I’m exciting and unpredictable! I share things with people. I don’t believe in privacy. I am so adventurous that I am moving to Europe. That’s me. Yep.
After more traveling, staying on a houseboat in Amsterdam, eating space-cakes (European for pot brownies) in the Netherlands, we hitchhiked “home” to my brother’s flat in Berlin. My brother lived in a place they called The Big Pink. And it was big and pink. There was a tiny kitchen in which they all cooked and baked, and they did it well. I slept on an air mattress in the living room. In a week, Skye was to arrive.
I looked back in my email from this time period and I see that I requested Skye not to bring me more jeans or underwear or even more books — I’ve asked her to bring me mascara, cassette tapes, and a hair straightener. I see my brother has asked her for brown sugar (almost impossible to find in Berlin) and his favorite kind of pens.
My brother emailed Skye and me, what now feels like an ominous foreshadowing of how the summer was going to go, and also kind of like my favorite sort of indie movie: Doomed, where nothing really happens.
Word on the street is that it should be fine for you to stay here for a week-ish. I wouldn’t mind longer, but it seems we have a lot of guests around at the moment, and my flatmates, knowing neither my sister nor you, don’t want to have *two* people staying for a rather extended period of time. Don’t worry about that, though. Just make a good impression and you’ll be fine. Plus, Chloe and I are thinking that we might want to do a bit of traveling in a week or so anything. Denmark calling?
I was always emailing Skye and asking her to check my messages on my cellphone since I couldn’t from Europe. I was sure Simon would be trying to get in touch with me. “It says no messages, dude,” she told me.
When Skye arrived, three of us decided to hitchhike to Denmark to attend the Roskilde music festival. My brother figured out we could go for free if we volunteered. So we were friskers. We had shifts of four hours a day and had to wear neon orange vests. People weren’t allowed to bring in food or alcohol, and whatever we found on them, we could keep. So we were never out of alcohol.
Roskilde was like nothing else I’d ever been to. We saw the Fleet Foxes cover “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. We saw Kanye West and Nine Inch Nails. We saw Lucinda Williams. We saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and we saw Oasis and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
On paper, this sounds like it would be epic, but it was difficult; I did not know how to maneuver a festival like that. Skye and I both got our periods as soon as we got there. Dehydrated and bleeding, we were stressed. Skye and I were unprepared (the theme of the summer) and didn’t have any tampons or pads. We asked the other girls who were camping near our tent, and one girl said she had exactly two tampons but couldn’t give them to us in case she got her period. We were certain we would lose each other, and die in a field somewhere, bleeding and alone.
Skye and I were besotted with the Danish tan and blonde girls, who didn’t have a hair on their bodies. One morning I woke up and the first thing in my eyes was a perfect tan ass in a thong belonging to a beautiful Danish woman.
This made us feel worse about ourselves. I had that unbecoming haircut and had gained weight from the beer and homemade bagels that were always being made at The Big Pink. Life was more sedentary — in New York I walked miles each day, here, I barely walked. And when we hitchhiked, we brought with us Baguette, brie, and Nutella. I was getting fat.
On the last days of Roskilde we walked around the fairgrounds and it was like the scene in Charlotte’s Web where the rat walks around and sings A fair is a veritable smorgasbord after the crowds have ceased, each night candy found on the ground. Each night when the lights go out/ It can be found on the ground all around/ Oh, what a ratly feast! We found food and euros and a pair of brand new green Doc Martens that didn’t fit any of us but we were excited by the idea that we could sell them. We lugged them around after that, all summer, and never sold them.
After Roskilde, Skye and I lived for a few weeks in my brother’s living room, and searched for an apartment to sublet. When we left the house, we spent most of our time at a playground made for adults. We drank bottles of Radlermass (half lemonade, half beer) and sat on a wooden structure filled with sand. It was shaped like a boat with a table in between, two logs for seats. We listened to cassettes taken from the free shop. Berlin was the first place I’d seen these free shops (and I’m sure you can guess how I felt about them). We had Radiohead’s Pablo Honey and Green Day’s Dookie.
We latched on to each other, became one person. Anxiety feeds anxiety. It was easier to do this, then to challenge ourselves and go socialize with my brother and the people at The Big Pink. After the huge show I’d made about sharing and privacy in New York, it turned out I wasn’t yet comfortable with communal meals and this whole “living well” way of life. We were used to Brooklyn, where we could be loud and aggressive and binge-drink. Plus, it was difficult for me to be in my brother’s shadow.
We spent the long afternoons waiting for the all-you-can-drink-for-1-euro wine bar to open up and feed us; we craved that exact orange-pesto-soaked pasta we found totally unappetizing the week before. One night we ate and drank for hours at the 1 euro wine bar, and when we left we got in trouble for not paying enough. My dreams were vivid in Berlin, so I wrote them down in the mornings.
Had a dream that the God/President of Europe told Skye and me that if we got in trouble one more time for being loud or getting too drunk, we will be kicked out of Europe.
We frequented the free shop, and one day we were offered Turkish tea by the two French dudes, Pete and Bruno, who managed and slept in the store.
“We were living in the squat,” explained Bruno, “But a group of Germans in their early twenties took over.” So the store was all they had left. They slept on the floor.
“But most things here take care of themselves,” he said. “We just sit around and drink tea and smoke.”
He asked if we had any weed. We didn’t. Pete produced a second cup of tea. Some crust punks and dogs came in. Bruno filled a large metal bowl with dog water. The dogs were big, leash-less things, but rather nice. A sticker in the window read “Make Hip Hop, Not Bullshit.”
There was a place called The Project House formerly known as The Caravan, where thirty or forty people lived. It was communal living, and they all slept in one room, cooked, divided up chores, and had a workspace with computers. To live there you had to do an interview. If you’d told me about this place while I lived in New York City, I’d have told you it was my dream house. That I would live there in a second. But now that I had the opportunity, it gave me anxiety, and I felt it would be insanely stressful to live that way. Skye and I went to their events, movies and chocolate night, hair-cutting night, but we found no one talked to us much, and I always left with feelings of inadequacy. It was like everything I wanted was in front of my face, but I didn’t understand how to take it. On Gchat one day I told my dad I was having a hard time, and he said, “Anywhere is a prison if you let it be.”
The sublet Skye and I eventually landed was enormous. The natural light was the best and worst thing about it. The bathroom and bedroom were nothing like the bathrooms and bedrooms we were accustomed to in New York. You could do cartwheels in them. In the bedroom we shared there was one small mattress. Instead of acquiring another mattress, or futon, or a bigger mattress, we switched off and on. Whoever wasn’t sleeping on it slept on the hardwood floor with a white sheet. There were three cats roaming around and they liked to jump out windows so we always had to remember to close every door behind us and we always forgot. The summer in Berlin was made up of the days off we’d wished we’d had in New York City. Now we had them, and it was a culture shock. We literally had nothing to do. Nowhere to be. Nowhere to go. No cell phones. Eventually I asked my dad to send me his old PC computer. The computer was broken — it didn’t connect to the internet. So I just typed on it. When I needed email, I borrowed Skye’s computer.
We befriended a German man in his thirties who lived downstairs from us. He’d recently tried to commit suicide. He liked punk music — his favorite band was No Bunny, and through him I started to love No Bunny too. We hung out with him most days, laid on couches watching Wristcutters, Sid and Nancy, and Suburbia. He became a true friend, and a dark one at that. He worked for some porn site, xx.com or something. Sometimes I took one of his antidepressants for fun, something called Mirtazpine. He warned me it would make me more tired than usual (I was already somewhat lethargic with the heat and depression) and give me crazy dreams but I took it anyway and slept for almost two days. When we didn’t hear from him we received this email:
Hey girls, what´s happening?
Hope you guys had a good time on a Thursday in Berlin!
Please excuse me, but tonight I had to meet those friends of mine on my own…
What happened was that I showed up being the only lonely sorry ass motherfucker that kept hiding his sorry ass face behind glasses of vodka/whiskey/schnaps/whatever without actually being in touch with anybody else…
I so wished you´d be around!
In the end I destroyed several pieces of furniture, made that one girl cry, made enemies with my friends boy-/girlfriends, left the place, got picked up by the cops, finally got out of the police station, back home, writing this email…
So fucked up htat I couldn´t possibly be bothered going to work tomorrow, hehehehehehe ;)
Cheers Chloe and Skye, luv ya!
yo howßs it going?
just had a chat with patrick and he says he is still unsure about trippin today, but he´s got all the shiat and i´m going over to his place around 8 or sth…
you wanna join? maybe trip, maybe speed or whatever?
you were right, chloé, i had a good time at the doctor´s, she is really keen on chemicals and putting them together like lego blocks, so I got additional pills, some prozac type high end feel good shit — sweeeeeeeeeeeet ☺
so are you up to anything? please come over if you feel like it!
Skye and I took German acid and German speed. Sometimes the only thing we did all day was swing on a swing-set. We didn’t know how to take care of ourselves. For example, we’d bought underwear at a department store, and unable to read the German labels, when we brought it back to our flat, we found out it was children’s underwear. In our summer of defiance, instead of going back to the store and purchasing new underwear, we chose to wear children’s underwear all summer. It makes me think of Joan Didion in Slouching Towards Bethlehem when she explains she did not call anyone at her hotel when the air conditioning was freezing, because she did not know how much to tip the person that came. Was anyone so young? she writes, I am here to tell you that someone was.
I have a vague memory of going to a protest. We rarely did anything, so when we did, it felt like an epiphany. I emailed the article about the protest the next morning to both my parents, telling them I attended it. “Was it a general economic protest?” my dad wrote back. I didn’t answer the email. I hadn’t a clue what the protest was for.
Christian brought us to a library event space called Another Country, run by a self-proclaimed transsexual woman who used to be a man named Alan but was now a woman named Sophia Raphaeline. She looked very similar to Fred Armisen’s character in Portlandia, when he plays the owner of the feminist bookstore. You had to pay five euros to be a member, and then you could come for the free dinners that were served in the confined basement, where the walls were lined with science fiction paperbacks. We ate lasagna and omelets and chicken and stuffed peppers. You could rent out books and either return them or not. Skye got Queer by William Burroughs and I got something I didn’t end up reading, I think it was Lady Chatterly’s Lover. After dinner, they showed the movie The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and we sat on a couch watching while drinking wine and eating cookies.
Skye and I talked a lot about this Leonard Cohen quote that goes:
You’re living for something now, I hope you’re keeping some kind of record. We talked about how easy it is to flip it: You’re living for nothing now, I hope you’re keeping some kind of record. We felt like we were living for nothing. We were off the grid. Aside from a few journal entries and emails, no one knew where we were, what we were doing. We had twenty-minute conversations about whether it was three p.m. or seven p.m., and whether it was Thursday or Friday.
We got by on quotes and music. We’d sing to each other, The Smiths: Take me anywhere I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care. We sang Jens Lekman while we waited for the train: Oh no god damn, I missed the last tram, I killed the party again, god damn, god damn. And his other song: Oh, no what have I done, I came to Berlin to have some fun and the clock on the wall strikes four, five six, my eyes caught by a big crucifix.
I had many bad tattoo ideas. The one I was most married to was a Joan Didion quote. Under my right breast, I wanted to ink her words from The Year of Magical Thinking: “Leis go brown tectonic plates shift, islands vanish, rooms get forgotten.” I knew I was maybe too young to feel so strongly about those words, but they spoke to me. At that point in my life, I hadn’t forgotten any rooms, and it fascinated me to think that one day I would. Skye and I often talked of getting braided friendship bracelet tattoos around our wrists, another plan we abandoned. We were good at abandoning plans. So far I’d abandoned my flight home, dying my hair bordeaux, becoming vegetarian, and getting more tattoos. Skye and I couldn’t even buy ourselves the right size underwear, I haven’t a clue what kind of tattoo we’d of ended up with.
I’ve always wondered why my summer in Berlin was so fucked. I see now: culture shock, speed and acid and space cakes, jet lag, age, self-esteem. It would be four years until my mother sent me a handwritten letter that asked, “Do you like yourself? Are you happy?” and it was two years after the letter she’d sent when she said, “I worry you take risk-taking too far.”
The musician Storm Large has a quote in her memoir Crazy Enough about her mother where she says she’s spent her life searching for someone to love her like her mother did. When I read this quote, years after my Berlin summer, it explained many things. I texted the quote to Simon, as he was still in my life, and he responded, “That’s my diagnosis.” It was both our diagnoses. I’d wanted Simon and the lovers after him, to love me like my mother did. Call it emotional maturity, but I don’t expect anyone to love me that way anymore.
My brother and I pretty much stopped hanging out. He was perhaps slighted I chose Skye over him and I was slighted because I always felt condescended in front of his genius radical friends. I remember once he explained to Skye and me the “right” way to do the dishes and use less water.
“He’s right, I guess,” Skye said later, surprising me, then following it with, “But it’s like… who fucking cares how to do the dishes correctly?”
In New York City, I knew what was up. I thought I was hot shit. I had tons of friends and a cool job. I knew how to pay my bills. I knew where drinks were two for one. I had sex. I had dozens of people who would meet me in bars. I had support from my friends, my boss, Simon, and my parents were a quick train ride away. In Berlin I had zero sex drive, didn’t know where a bookstore was, or what the word for anything was and I didn’t have a way to Google it. I could have asked someone. But I did not. I was sleeping all the time — we were sleeping all the time. When I wasn’t sleeping I was pretending to be sleeping.
It wasn’t my first time in Europe, I’d had other trips there, and they were full of dark memories. Maybe I just get depressed in Europe, I thought. It’s a character flaw.
We had leisurely mornings, waking up anywhere between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. In the kitchen there was a radio we always had on. The station we liked literally called itself “the black radio station” and it played American rap songs we knew. One morning one of us dropped the lid to a teapot and it broke. We assumed it was not a big deal and left a note for our German roommate, Wiebke. But she was upset, and gave us directions to take a three-hour train ride to a specialist to get it fused back together. This was one of the only days in Berlin that we had something to do, a mission.
I finally received a letter from Simon. I’d been sending him, maybe once a month, some incoherent anxiety ridden typings and sometimes he responded and sometimes he did not. I wanted, and needed his attention. It is one of the most self-destructive things you can do — choose one person on whom all of your self-worth depends. I wanted him to love me more than he did. I wanted to control the situation.
He emailed me scanned photos of a long love letter he typed on his typewriter. I asked Christian downstairs to print it out for me. I read it out loud to Skye and Christian. I kept it in my pocket, in my bed. I’m sorry you found those underwear but not because you found them but because of how they made you feel, he wrote. I don’t give you books because I don’t give anyone books, I’m too anal for that and you know it, he wrote. I love women: fat skinny tall short boring and exciting, he wrote. I wish I was with you on your adventures. I guess I’ll have to have my own. But as usual yours seem better, he wrote. Why does time equal pain? I remember how happy you were back when we met, he wrote.
Skye, Christian, and I took the train to The Baltic Sea. We drank whiskey all the way there and the entire time we were there. We buried each other in the sand and passed out on the beach. I collected some stones and shells to give my brother for his upcoming birthday. When we got back to Berlin 24 hours later, Skye fell asleep and vomited into an orange bucket by her bed for three days — either alcohol or sun poisoning.
I went to The Big Pink by myself to bring my brother his birthday presents. He wasn’t there — his flatmates told me he was gone traveling with some friends. I left the stones and shells in a note on his desk, then lay down in his bed and cried. I logged onto Facebook on his computer and messaged with one of my oldest friends. I asked her if she thought I was a bad friend. I felt bad about just taking off to Berlin. “Being selfish isn’t being a bad friend.” I cried harder, on the verge of an anxiety attack. She thought I was selfish.
In the movie Half Baked, there’s a part where the guy selling weed describes all of his different clients: the hippie girl, and so on. Jon Stewart plays one of the clients and they call him the “everything’s better on weed guy.” Because he’ll be like:
“Have you ever looked at the stars man?”
“Have you ever looked at the stars on weed?”
Skye and I came up with our version of this. When friends in New York Gchatted us, asking how Berlin was, expecting epic responses and stories, we wanted to say:
“Have you ever been anxious and depressed?
“Have you ever been anxious and depressed in Berlin?”
The sun barely went down. But I wanted it to. It should have been the best summer of my life. I should have left happy and tan and thin. It would be four years before I’d find a therapist who taught me not to “should” all over myself. I was still of the mind that if you went to Europe, you had to have fun. So it was a conflicting position. “I get to spend the summer in Berlin! But it’s awful.”
Earlier in the summer, my brother and I, in good moods, booked a flight back to New York for me on the last day of August, from Paris. I booked a round trip including a flight back to Paris, seven days later. It was cheaper that way, and I had the idea at the beginning of the summer that possibly I’d want to go visit my family and friends in New York, grab more of my belongings and then head back to Europe. But that plan seemed ludicrous now. Skye wasn’t leaving Berlin for another month, and our sublet ran out, so we found another place. We had a German roommate who’d just visited Canada and literally said, “Canada’s awesome!” thirty-seven times each day. He smoked cigars inside and loved Coca-Cola and Abercrombie (“Abercrombie’s awesome!”) and worked at a bank. August 30th was approaching, so I packed my Jansport backpack, and left Skye with Lorenz. I do not remember my bedroom in this sublet, at all. So I guess rooms do get forgotten.
My brother and I had to hitchhike to Paris. We got our regular brie and baguette (I would grow to resent these foods, even now I dislike brie) and green apples. We hitchhiked through Nice, and actually it was lovely, though as usual, I woke up with my period on the day we left. Our grandmother was born and raised in France. Her brother lived in an apartment in Nice, so the plan was for him to pick us up there. We’d met him briefly as kids. He picked us up at a church, I do not remember how we possibly planned the time we would meet, I don’t believe anyone had a cell phone.
Patrick took us to his apartment where he made steaks and proudly showed us his whiskey collection. My brother and I shared a small bed where we had a nice talk before we fell asleep.
In Patrick’s car, he played the Willie Nelson album, Always on My Mind, and his favorite song on the CD was “On The Road Again.” This is what played in the morning when Patrick dropped Trevor off on the road to hitchhike back to Berlin. On the road again, I just can’t wait to be on the road again.
Before that, Patrick took us out to lunch. I had barely any money left, so I ordered a paté crepe, while my brother ordered a Croque monsieur. I did not realize Patrick was treating us, and silently cursed my brother and his sandwich and the knowledge that Patrick would pay.
The next morning, Patrick brought me to the airport. When I arrived at JFK, it was past eleven p.m., therefore no trains were running upstate. I had some sort of cellphone but it wasn’t activated in America. I called Simon from a payphone and he didn’t answer. He was probably with his girlfriend with the tiny blue Target underwear.
My backpack and I spent midnight to seven in the morning in Penn Station, which should be everyone’s worst living nightmare. I got in trouble for lying on the floor. I probably also got an STD from lying on the floor. I befriended a woman who was also stuck at Penn Station. She took a photograph of me with my disposable camera. I still have it somewhere. I’m wearing camouflaged shorts, gold and black Nike sneakers. I am laying over with my legs over my backpack. My arm is over my face. My sneakers smelled.
But I was almost home. I was getting closer to knowing what that meant.
Chloe Caldwell’s novella, Women, is out now from Short Flight/Long Drive books. Her book of personal essays, Legs Get Led Astray was released in 2012 by Future Tense Books. Her essays have been published in Salon, The Rumpus, Thought Catalog, and various anthologies. She lives in upstate New York.
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