i love traveling
it keeps me humble and kind
It has been two years since I had seen you.. touched you.. felt you.. experienced you.
Two years ago, if someone would have asked me to tell them about all my favourite memories, you’d be in each and every told adventure… but not anymore.
Like I said — it’s been two years — two years without your time period overlapping mine, influencing mine, warping mine, changing — me. The two best years of my life happened without you, and so when we decided to meet up again, understand the paradoxical risk I took at becoming a time travelling writer.
For the life of me, I can’t remember what you were wearing. A jacket and a scarf for sure — the weather demanded it in Germany — boots, I’m positive about.
But I can’t remember the details. And this is an important part of the story — the meaningless details of you.
I told you to meet me in front of the McDonald’s at the Grand Central Station of Cologne. We didn’t know who’d arrive first, so we had to pick a point to reunite.
You got there first, a little after 9am. As the escalator climbed up, I wondered to myself, what would I feel upon seeing you again?
Would it come back in waves? Would you pull me back in like the tide?
Because no matter how much Mother Nature dictates earth and water as separate entities, the waves always wash back to the shore — coming and going. How bittersweet the sand must feel after each kissing ripple leaves — never to stay.
Seeing you was not so grand, unfortunately fortunate. I saw you, and felt happy, yes of course. Of course, I was happy to see you again.
Please don’t think I wasn’t.
But it wasn’t the utter and absolute gut wrenching, hands shaking, forehead perspiring feeling that used to overwhelm my entire physical body. It didn’t seem like before, all the many countless of times we had reunited in airports after long periods of time.
This was a new experience for me. And well, I’m very much a fanatic of new experiences — wanting to constantly feel every combination of chemicals my brain can neurologically produce.
So this curious feeling took me by surprise when we embraced.
Along with it came the first monstrous wave — your scent. It overpowered my newfound lack of love, and uncomfortably drowned me — which is a terrible way to describe it, because who has ever attested to drowning being comfortable?
(Only writers in love.)
So I shifted to let go of your body, but you held on still and I humored you. At this point, I knew you missed me more than I missed you. You missed the person in your arms, while I missed the girl from my past — completely different people.
That is not to sound cocky at all. But I know I rely on our friendship less, because it has grown to be one-sided. You come to me more often than not with all your problems — you even started calling me your life coach, ironically. I never understood why you didn’t go to your best friends or your boyfriend with matters of your troubled mind — why it was me you were still calling at 2am.
Comfort is funny that way, I suppose.
We were exhausted, to say the least. 12 straight hours of exploring a foreign city had completely depleted our energy. There was a mall about a 5 minute walk away from our airbnb that had a small Viet café inside. We decided to go there for sushi and noodles — our hosts told us it was a must to try, claimed it was the best place to get authentic Asian food.
I hadn’t had sushi since being in Berlin — whereas I ate it at least once a week back home. So, I was enthusiastic about the choice selection.
When we finally got back to the airbnb, you looked at me sympathetically while I fumbled around trying to find the keys in my jacket’s pocket. I knew this look, but I asked anyway, key turning inside the door, “what’s wrong?”
I paused in front of the kitchen, and you went straight to our room, inside the apartment. I followed behind you, with the bags of food in my hands.
“Can we just eat inside here? I don’t want to have dinner with them.”
Them meaning the couple who owned the apartment, and rented our their spare room to travellers. She wasn’t being mean — I understood her sentiment. In fact, our hosts were actually pretty great. One was studying to be a doctor, while the other was a photographer — the beautiful mix of science and art.
But, I, too — was exhausted. And didn’t feel like depleting what little energy I had left on conversation with strangers, no matter how interesting. I wanted a comfortable silence with someone I knew. I wanted to mindlessly watch a show while savoring a comfort food I had been deprived of for 3 months.
However, before we could do all this, I wanted to shower. A personal… charm of mine, let’s call it. I enjoy being clean, it’s one of the best feelings.
And what better way to end a perfect day of exploration, than baptized with a full stomach?
I told you my plans to shower first, and I could tell you wanted to protest. You were hungry now — and we both know the ways in which hunger can change a person. But you agreed, knowing you’d be too lazy afterwards to move.
So I showered quickly, eager for food and relaxation. There’s something about water that is cleansing — metaphorically. I stayed under the water for longer than I care to admit, letting the water caress my body, removing the proof of the day’s adventure.
I felt good — rejuvenated, walking back into our room. While you showered, I set up dinner. We had a side table that I moved closer to the very low bed, and pulled up a chair, so that we could sit somewhat side-by-side to eat.
Sitting on the bed was the obvious answer for the most comfortable position to eat in. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t imagined myself sitting there. But you took the spot, and I let you without hesitation.
Small selfless gestures — the type of kindness that wouldn’t change the entire world over night, but that had the power to change someone’s perspective on the world in an instant. You had told me before it was one of your favorite things about me — reflecting now, you were right, you know, over the past few years of your absence in my life, it’s something I have learned to fiercely love about myself too.
I know it all could have gone terribly wrong. I could have used my broken heart as an excuse to become the complete opposite. I could have let my anger fuel me to ferociously guard my heart. I could have closed myself off and called it “protection,” to keep my distance from people to avoid disappointment.
Instead, I let my heart break completely wide open — that’s how you let the light in.
Before moving to Berlin, one of my best friend’s from back home, Lisa, told me something that will stay with me forever. “Despite everything you’ve been through, you love entirely with all your heart, and that is so powerful.”
And I’m so proud of that, of this person I’ve become… of this heart that I possess.
There are so many things I have learned to love about myself in your absence — and beyond doubt, I know how strong this makes me. I know how capable I am.
Losing you was the beginning of an exquisite adventure to finding me.
And yes, I know how cliché that sounds. But you used to be such a vital person to my life, every decision I made revolved around you.
But I replaced you with me, and does that mean you can’t hurt me anymore? No, but it does mean I know how to pick myself back up.
I don’t claim I’ll never get hurt again, pain is inevitable. But it also means, that I’ll love again, too — and I have loved, so much more than I thought possible, since you’ve been gone. And I’m excited, because I know it’s only going to get better from here.
I’ve gone on a tangent though. Back to you.
You sat on the bed, and I took the chair. You looked genuinely happy for the first time. It had taken you awhile to warm up to me, honestly. At the beginning of the day, you were lost in your own thoughts and problems, not fully enjoying the new city underneath our feet. It was something I noticed as the day progressed — your cynicism for life.
I hated to see you this way — so different from the person I had fallen in love with at the delicate age of 17. In many ways, it was a relief because I realized I could never be in love with you again. It confirmed it for me, absolutely, put away any false hope I had left lingering.
But more strongly, it saddened me, to see you, someone I still deeply cared for no matter in what form, in so much pain and conflict over your own life. How much it engulfed you, stole away your pleasure for the ordinary, blinding your happiness.
For the first time in my life of knowing you, I found something that you could not wear attractively: pessimism.
And so when you leaned over and kissed my knee gently, and said, “I’ve missed you so much, bear.” — something inside me rekindled, my soft spot for you: my want to protect your heart, to comfort you, to make you feel better. The combination of your physical touch mixed with our old term of endearment just struck a chord in my chest.
I smiled at you and we finished our food. Before booking the airbnb, I had asked you if it would bother you to sleep together. Honestly, I had initially wanted to book a hostel, so we’d have separate beds and bypass the awkwardness, but the airbnb was just much cheaper, especially for me, as a grad student.
You said no, not to be silly, that sleeping together would feel normal.
“We can be friends without hurting anyone right?” you asked, while I fixed the blankets on the bed. I sat beside you over the covers and looked at you curiously, I hadn’t expected you to ask something like this. You wrapped your arms over mine, and held me in an embrace.
During lunch we had already had this conversation. I expressed to you how I found it weird, and also felt slightly guilty, that you were going on a trip with your ex and hadn’t told your boyfriend — even if we were just friends and I had no romantic feelings for you anymore, I was still an ex lover. And you justified yourself by saying you knew me and trusted me enough to know nothing would happen.
So I shrugged off your question, along with your hug, “Yeah, we can be. We happened so long ago, it isn’t important anymore.”
Which was sort of a lie, thinking about it now — if it wasn’t important anymore, to either of us, we wouldn’t have made a point to see each other again. I realize that now, that even if I don’t feel the same way as I did in the past, the past will always be important. I guess I was trying to spare her feelings of guilt.
So we laid together under the two blankets, and I put on a random episode from Black Mirror at your suggestion. I held my iPad on my stomach, propped up so we could both view it. You slept close to me, but platonically, drifting off into slumber.
I didn’t mind. Honestly, it was comfortable — how easy it was to slip back into us again. It felt good to be your friend, no more, and no less. And truly it was so nice to be able to do normal stuff with you, without a screen and miles between us. Being able to have dinner and watch TV just seemed much more… I can’t find the word, but it just felt more with you, and maybe it’s the distance that constantly blurs the borders of our hearts.
I nudged your shoulder lightly, “I’m going to go brush my teeth, let’s go together before you completely fall asleep.”
“Five more minutes, please.”
Why was I so surprised with your plea? That was always your response every time I tried waking you up, all throughout our senior year in high school until our senior year in university when we finally broke up. 4 long years of you always asking for 5 more minutes, it was why I first started calling you, “bear.”
I didn’t respond immediately, you didn’t give me a chance. You placed your head on my shoulder, wrapped your arm around my waist, put your leg over both of mine, and used your other hand to weave your fingers between mine.
Holding hands is so intimate to me. It’s a more than just friends kinda gesture for me. It might be more important to me than kissing. It’s a comfort thing, don’t let go, and stay. Please, stay.
So why didn’t I let go? Why didn’t I immediately just get up and go brush my teeth by myself and wake you up after?
I just stayed still. Her bone joints rubbed against mine, and ignited a warm sensation all throughout my body.
I keep using this word: comfort(able).
You didn’t feel like home anymore, but you still felt — comfortable. Like an old sweater I had outgrown, but still loved.
So as normal, instead of 5 minutes I gave you 10 minutes. Then I unhinged my body from yours and went to the restroom. I watched myself in the mirror as I scrubbed the minty texture into my teeth.
Then I returned to bed, and gently woke you again, becoming more persistent in getting you up this round and not falling victim to nostalgia a second time. Finally your eyes fluttered open, you brushed your lips against my shoulder, and got up.
When you came back, you put your favorite episode of Black Mirror on for me, while you rolled over and put your back against my shoulder. I also changed my position, and set the iPad on the bed and turned around — our spinal chords now inches from each other. I honestly thought you were asleep, and then I heard you whimper in your sleepy voice, “Don’t turn your back on me.”
I laughed surprised at your request and obliged by lying on my back again, with just my head turned to the right to see my iPad. You scooted back closer to me, and felt the entirety of the back of your body pressed up against me, your one foot slipping beneath my leg. I didn’t mind it — sleeping together is what I missed most about a relationship.
Ten minutes into the episode and I had become consumed by my own fatigue. I closed the iPad shut, and lay in bed looking at the ceiling. I knew this was weird, but I couldn’t quite say it was romantic in any way possible — I was just being myself with you, and this is how we were.
So I rolled over again, this time spooning you, slipped my arm beneath your arm and held your waist, pulling you in closer to my body. “You didn’t finish it?” you struggled to say, surprising me again. I was for sure you had succumbed to Sleep’s sweet spell. I mumbled, “no.”
You shifted beneath my arm, I thought to move away, but you didn’t — just a small readjustment, placing your hand over the back of mine and putting your fingers between the spaces of my fingers, pulling my hand up against your chest, the pulse of your heartbeat reverberating against my palm.
In the middle of the night, I woke up. We were still in the same position. I don’t know why, but the blanket of guilt was weighing heavy on me at this moment.. or perhaps I was just hot from the body heat. She had a boyfriend, so why was I the one feeling this way? I retracted my arm away from her and rolled over on my other side, now wide-awake.
I stayed like this for an hour or so — thinking about the day. How everything we had done up until dinner seemed so much just like old friends catching up. She ranted to me about problems with her boyfriend and how she was conflicted in how to tell her parents she was moving in with him and abandoning her job in Amsterdam and I showed her pictures of the girl I was crushing on and how we met over slices of oranges. We talked about school and work, and all the things we had missed in each other’s life.
Before I knew it, I felt your hand against my bare waist, distracting me from my train of thought. My shirt had been slightly lifted, and now you were pulling my back into your body. There was no use in fighting it. This was just part of us. You were just being you with me, and this is how we were.
My alarm blared at 9am. I was a bit flustered and still very much so tired. I shook your shoulder gently again and asked if you wanted to sleep another hour, you nodded your head yes and I reset my phone to ring at 10am.
When I turned back towards you, you had your back facing me now — but your arm was in the air. I knew what this meant — you wanted to be held. Why not? It was the last hour we’d sleep together, probably the last time, in general. I don’t expect to see you again anywhere in the near future. Why would we?
So I held you, selfishly. I wanted to, to suffice my need for physical touch; I hadn’t slept with anyone like this in years and I missed it, and yes, I suppose a part of me had to miss you in this way, too. And you, well, I don’t know why you wanted me to hold you, you had someone.
But for one last hour, we were us again.
“Did you really mean it, that we wouldn’t see each other for another two years again?” she asked, looking directly into my eyes, while my train slid into a halt in front of us, ready to whisk me back to Berlin.
I used you in the worst way possible — and only realized it at the end, when I came to the conclusion that I was only a substitution for your loss, too. The gravity of grief meant attempting at being together — you called it love. I called it failure.
Nonetheless, I still tried.
Hand break. The pain is always in my fingers — I feel electricity within my joints, the spasms igniting my bones. It starts from my wrists, an almost paralyzing impact; they go limp, drooping a bit above my waist, unresponsive to my emotional effort. My palms sear with an uncontrollable heat, and then the tiny shocks manifest, and spread. It’s almost inevitable to resist. Almost – I say this because pain must be felt.
I felt nothing when I watched you walk away for the first time at the airport.
I didn’t experience it the second time either.
I decided not to stick around for a lucky third’s attempt at charm.
I had my own plane to catch.
After we were done, without hesitation, I whispered into the void of the darkness of the room, the waft of alcohol piercing the oxygen between us, “Are you okay?” I thought you had fallen asleep, but you answered quietly, “yes,” while wrapping your arm around my naked body, kissing my neck one last time before sleep stole your intruding conscious. I shifted away from your padlock embrace, and counted my breath before calmly answering the question directed at myself, “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
We had argued about this a couple of weeks prior. Delicately, I had rejected you, I wasn’t in love, and your emotions were too strong for this to be just fun — I wanted so desperately for this to be just fun.
But this arrangement we had couldn’t last; it wasn’t meant to.
A few summers ago I learned to drive with only my left hand, so I could use the other for a variety of reasons, namely: placing my right hand on my ex lover’s thigh, holding her hand within mine, being able to scarf food down — you know, the important stuff. I learned this from my parents. Growing up, I always watched them interlock fingers while we vacationed or had long drives, only letting go to wipe the sweat from their palms, and wondering if they thought that small moment was too long a time to be apart.
Drunk and incoherent, you held onto me, both you arms fully wrapped around my elbow, your head against my shoulder. The smell of alcohol and cigarettes combined on your lips. You tried to kiss me, and I turned away disgusted. We had just had an argument after leaving my friend’s party. So many good moments ruined by our superficial fights, it was what we were used to. This was our understanding of romance — and I, well I wanted more.
Both my hands gripped the steering wheel. I was annoyed to say the least. I hated how much I had to take care of you; I hated how careful I had to be — and maybe that’s why I was so careless with your heart. Maybe that’s why I could never recklessly give you mine.
Or maybe it’s because I never trusted you with it.
Surrounded by some of my closest friends, I was deliciously drunk. We were celebrating a birthday. I am so passionate about birthdays. They’re extraordinarily special to my heart. The symbolism of someone’s personal new year. To start again, to do more, to be better. A new start is always refreshing.
Energetically, I grabbed you from the dance floor, and we disappeared outside, away from my friends’ curious eyes. The breeze was gentle and warm, inviting and friendly, but damp, “this is how summer feels,” I thought.
I grabbed your hand in the parking lot and ushered you into the bed of a stranger’s truck, the hopeless romantic in me emerging as the rain began pouring over us. I was acting impulsive. Both my hands held each side of your cheeks, fingers intertwined with your matted wet hair, and I kissed you, without holding back. I was trying to create a memory for myself, to solidify this feeling, this ever-present nagging euphoria I had become so accustomed to abroad. You kissed me back, fervently. I should have noticed then you were kissing with an uncontrollable feeling.
But I couldn’t save you — I didn’t want to.
My best friend tells me I’m attracted to long distance relationships. I’m not quite sure if he’s right or wrong yet, as I’ve only been in one real relationship, and the majority of it was spent oceans apart, with transatlantic plane tickets in between.
Misunderstanding is the worst distance between two people. I realized this when you moved across the world, and thought I was going to wait for you; that I was going to put my heart on pause for a future I never agreed to.
I hated how much you romanticized me.
I hated how much you put the burden of saving your heart on me.
According to the Bible, seven is the foundation of God, signifying perfection and completeness.
The first time it is referenced, it is in relation towards the creation of the world.
After that, you can find it in almost every book in context of divine perfection.
Which is ironic, since man was supposedly created on the 6th day. Then after, God rested on the 7th.
I don’t believe in any of this like you do.
But I understand God’s sentiment — humans are exhausting.
Late June, Early July 2009
The first time I went to Paris, I was 17 and I collided with someone who changed the entire course of my life… surreal going back to where it began.
October 7th, 2016
Exhausted and starving, Ramon and I agreed to eat at the bar and grill attached to our hostel.
Our day had been filled with history and monuments… and who could have known a monumental time of my historic past would come full circle on this night?
We walked in around 10:30pm, and the place was already filled with swaying sober bodies, some playing beer pong, others attempting awkward socialization. The bar was set in the middle, with a dance floor in front of it, and a built metal stage perched on top. There was a live band playing covers of old American rock songs.
This is the part of travel, I love the most.
I used to travel solely for sight. I wanted to see it all. To know my own eyes witnessed it — and don’t get me wrong, I still do want to amaze my eyes, but as an advocate for equality, I crave experience for my other senses.
And so after much extensive sightseeing, I have changed. When I travel now, I want to stimulate every single sense of my body. Not only seeing, but touch, taste, sound, and smell — in effect, my heart.
I don’t know if this is because I need more stimulation now to feel the same high that travel initially gave me, or because my priorities in life are different, but this is where I’m at now — a desire to experience everything on the human spectrum.
And so this small bar gave me much comfort, after a long but adventurous day of trekking around a beautiful city.
Before ordering, we met up with a friend we made from the hostel, Cameron. Ramon had spent our first day in Paris with him, while I did some solo soul searching — I went back to all the places that I knew before you.
There weren’t any empty spaces, so we wound up asking a gentleman, named Barry, who was sitting by himself if we could share his table, which was located right behind the bar. Perfect, I wouldn’t have to walk far for drinks. Eagerly, he obliged, as long as we left an open seat for his daughter, who was late for their dinner.
I understood… timing is not my best forte either.
I opted for a corner seat on the booth side, and Ramon sat across from me on a chair. Cameron, sat next to me and enclosed me between him and the bar, while the dad sat on Ramon’s side with a chair between them.
The unsymmetrical positioning of our seating made me anxious, and a bit claustrophobic, so you can imagine my relief when the boys when to the bar to order food and beverage.
While they were gone, the daughter finally showed up. Honestly, I hadn’t really even noticed, until the boys came back and Ramon took his initial seat, but Cameron took the empty chair between Ramon and Barry.
Now leaving a space between her and me. This I could handle, the entrapped area was beginning to wear on me.
The conversation at the beginning stayed mainly between Cameron and Barry — they were getting along like they had known each other personally, big belly laughs erupting at our unlikely table. Barry’s daughter was on her phone for the first 20 minutes hardly looking up at her father, and this annoyed me greatly, since he had waited for her — turns out one of her social medias had been hacked and she was trying to change the password — at least that’s what I think I heard, as I diverted my attention away from my party to a brunette girl at the bar.
Her beach waved hair sat right above her chest, and a tan turtleneck graced her body, a leather jacket created a second layer. She had electric sea green eyes, and was casually leaned against the bar sipping an orange cocktail.
I’m a sucker for someone with light eyes, and dark hair.
And Europe brings back old European habits, as I openly stared at her with bravado. I didn’t want her attention or time, looking was enough. I hadn’t found nearly anyone as attractive as this human in my entire year home in the states. It was refreshing to say the least.
The smell of grilled onions and mushrooms snapped me out of my trance, as I turned my attention back to my company. The burger in height, was about 5 inches, and oozing out of the sides was melted cheese and BBQ filling. It looked glorious, and welcomed my sense of smell.
Ramon and I always half meals — we’ve found one is enough split between the two of us, and it’s probably saved us so much money, and warded off unwanted weight gain from the preposterous serving sizes of the food industry.
We ate ravenously, and with stomachs full, and alcohol guzzling down our throats, conversation seemed much more fluid. I’m not quite sure when Barry walked away, but alone with us, was the daughter.
Her and Cameron were talking up a storm, and laughing. I waded in and of the conversation from time to time, but at the moment, content enough with my meal and drink.
Eventually, she sat next to me and filled the space between us, making it an evenly seated table of four. Her dad had been gone for quite some time, and we were all becoming fast friends in a foreign country.
Here, she formally turned towards me and introduced herself. It was the first time I really looked at her full on. White silk tank, black leather jacket, dark blue scarf — my eyes led up, full set of pink lips, a gap between her front top teeth — not unattractive though, endearing — a common elongated nose, and soft light brown eyes lined with thick long eyelashes. There was a scar on her right eyebrow, and she had the symbol for female tattooed between her bottom thumb joint and wrist on the back of her hand — huh, interesting I thought.
“Hi, my name’s Kate.” She held out her hand for mine.
“Great,” I thought to myself, trying to mask my ironic distaste, “another Kate, in another random bar in Paris.” I force smiled — “Trinh, nice to meet you.”
We shook hands, I let my thumb grace over her tattoo — unsure if she noticed — and she smiled over at Ramon, mimicking the same friendly introduction.
I can’t accurately remember what got us onto the topic, but she started telling me and Cameron about how she and some of her friends used to have a tree house really close to the beach in Vancouver. It was on private property, and so all the parties they threw there finally annoyed the owners of the property to have it cut down. So she was simultaneously ecstatic to be exploring beautiful France to mask the distraught of her lost sanctuary back home.
I felt for her. It sucks losing a place that feels like home.
Cameron got up to get another drink, and she turned her full attention towards me — proceeding to tell me how she is a Sunday school teacher at church — and I nearly choked on my vodka tonic and truly, for the first time that night, genuinely laughed harder than I meant to.
I didn’t mean it to be rude — just her previous stories of alcohol and drugs caught me off guard to this transition of conversation about occupation. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against either — in honesty, I think the war on drugs in my own country is counterproductive. Being high is fun, and I absolutely love being in a state of drunkenness — all in moderation of course, and in a healthy state of mind, emotionally and mentally.
She smiled her toothy grin, nervous I think, her gap showing — I found it cute.
“It’s not the kind of church you think, it’s more centered around the universe… it’s super hippie, ha ha ha.”
The look she gave me, I think she expected me to think she was crazy for believing in the universe as God.
I pursed my lips into a small smile before answering carefully as to convey seriousness, and not mal intent or sarcasm, “I honor the universe inside of you.”
The relief in her eyes was instant, “I’m not crazy.”
I shook my head and shrugged off her commentary, “I don’t think you are, whatever belief makes you the best you.”
She put her hand over mine for a few seconds, the heat between our skin noticeably apparent, “You’re not what I think of when I imagine people from Texas.”
Another hearty laughed escaped my parched throat, “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“It’s a good thing,” she removed her hand from mine and went into an all out story of how her first encounter with Texans had been at an airport, and security was delaying everyone and causing people to miss their flights. And how it was the Texans that we’re being the most rudely obnoxious about it, even though everyone was going to be compensated. She passed around her phone to Ramon to show him the picture she took of the Texans and scooted closer to me — by accident or intent, I’m not sure.
At this point, a few drinks in, we were all much more relaxed and enjoying the atmosphere. Ramon added her on facebook to check us all in together. She then turned to me and asked me in French if she could add me… the switch to one of the languages of Romance was… sexy. I know no other word to describe it, but someone knowing multiple languages is such a turn on for me.
Once she added me, I noticed her profile picture and kind of just blurted out, very unlike me, “Wow you look hot.”
Then Ramon chimed in, “Duuuuuuuuude, I know, I was like wtf? Is that her?”
She laughed nonchalantly, obviously used to this response, “Yeah, I model. It doesn’t look like me at all.”
I begged to differ though. You could tell it was her — it was just different seeing her in high fashion, as she blended in with this normal crowd on this normal night.
I closed my eyes and rubbed my hands up and down my face, yawning, finally pushing my hair out of my face and declaring out loud, “I need a shot to stay awake.”
“Let’s get you one then,” she answered.
We moved out from the booth, and walked over to the bar.
“Surprise me,” I said — I wanted to know if our drinking habits were compatible.
Her smirk displayed confidence as she called the bartender over, skipping all the people in line ahead of us that had been waiting.
“Can I have two shots of Fireball?” OOOOK, now I was intrigued.
“Only if I can take one with you lovely ladies,” the barman replied, winking at her. I liked his style. He wore a simple black vneck and a peppered colored beanie over his ginger hair. His beard was well kept and full, and his arms were covered in elegant ink, a quote in French lining one of his inner arms.
I cut in, “better make that four, for luck.”
He laughed in his French accent — yes that’s real — and poured up 5 shots. We took the first with him, and the second together.
“3 euros please,” he asked, while cleaning up the shotglasses.
I handed him a 10 and promptly waited for my change. At this point, Kate had taken up conversation with the guy on the other side of her. He was handsome. Light grey blazer, clean-shaven, with light blue eyes. They were laughing about something, and I noticed her hand on his shoulder.
Yikes, I thought, I didn’t want to be a c-block. I saw my barman go on break, but he hadn’t given me my change, so I was becoming annoyed. I figured I’d just go back to my table and call it a loss. I really didn’t feel like ruining my feel good mood.
I told Kate I was going back to the table, and she leaned over into my ear and whispered, “you’re seriously so adorable.”
I laughed and shrugged it off, “you’re seriously so drunk,” and walked the few feet away that our table was located, and stood by her dad. At this time he had returned, and was eagle eye-ing the interaction between Kate and Rico-suave.
A few minutes passed though, and she also came back, “babe what about your change?”
“Ah, the guy never gave it to me, but it’s cool, no worries.”
She grabbed my hand and pulled me back to the bar, “that’s dumb, let’s get it.”
Once we got back to the bar, we stood next to the same guy she had been chatting with. She introduced us as well, but I forgot his name. I suck at names, honestly.
Another barman addressed me and I explained the situation to him. He was pretty cool with the situation, but said he wasn’t allowed to give us back physical money, explaining that the guy who served me is new and he would get his manager to talk to him about it — he did however compensate us with free mojitos, which would have cost us more than my change to give back. So it all worked out, since I was going to buy more drinks anyway.
Again, I left Kate with her eye-candy to go back to the table.
I sat back in the corner of the booth and sipped on my drink. The mojito was excellent, fantastic blend of mint, lemon, and sweet, but not overbearing enough to still savor the taste of the rum — at this point, Cameron had disappeared into the crowd to mingle, it honestly sounded like an inviting plan I might try next.
I moved on to a lemon gin afterwards. Lemon gin reminds me of my roommate from back in Spain, Sara. I missed her so much, my soul sister. If she had been with me, we would have been dancing on the bar together already. I snapped a pic of the drink, and sent her a message, “I miss you nanetta, salud (heart emoji).” The light of the text illuminated my face in the dark atmosphere. The grill was finally closing, and the bar was making its transition into a more club vibe.
Kate returned about half an hour later to the table, a group of girls surrounding her. She squeezed in beside me, as the girls filled the vacant spots of the table, the side of her leg pressed up against mine. A cute Australian girl sat beside Ramon, and finally diverted his attention away from his phone. I smiled over at him and raised my eyebrows, “this is gonna be interesting” I mumbled over to Kate.
She brushed her shoulder against mine and said in a low voice only we could hear, “these Australian girls are hot, I’m gonna make out with one.”
I chuckled, “go for it dude!”
I was bored of sitting, so I moved around Kate, and stood at the end of the table where some of the girls were making conversation. I introduced myself to a couple of them and we started talking about our travels, and experiences. One girl was with her already intoxicated cousin, and holding back on drinking to take care of her.
It was kind of her. I looked at her sympathetically, “just make sure you have fun too, okay?”
She nodded amused and half smiled, “don’t worry, tomorrow is my night.” Just then her cousin, with deep dark blue hair, showed up.
At some point, between laughter, I looked over at Kate who seemed annoyed. She was trapped between the bar and another body, in the same position I had been in. I asked the people sitting next to her if they would let me get in so I could sit by her and save her from whatever annoyance was plastered across her face.
Once I starting scooting in, she tried scooting out, “hey hey, where are you going?” I asked playfully.
She gave me an odd look, and grabbed the neck cuff of my sweater and pulled me towards her, “no where now.”
Once we settled into our seats, we toasted to travelling and new friends. The toast went around the table.
I’m not quite sure what happened, but someone moved the table while she was setting down her cup, and the unevenness caused it to spill over into my lap.
Wonderful, wine in my lap was super attractive. Good thing it was white, easier to get out later.
She covered her mouth in response, and ushered out waves of apologies. I waved off her response, no big deal, it’ll dry.
She then started drying my lap with a napkin in her hands. Her movements on my lap went from innocent to decreasingly slow and seductive, lingering on the inner part of my thighs.
Per normal, I laughed nervously, and moved her “helping” hands away, “I’m fine really, no worries.” I didn’t want to assume she was flirting with me; I didn’t want to make this situation into something it wasn’t, because I was drunk and possibly imagining things I wanted to happen. It was just an accident — that’s all, nothing more, nothing less.
Dizzy and drunk, I wiped away whatever excess wine I could and decided I’d just sit and let it air dry before getting up again — I had two drinks in front of me anyway, that would hold me over.
Kate, also clearly drunk, leaned over and placed her lips momentarily against my neck, before pulling away and moving up towards my ear, “you really are so god damn cute, my eyes have been yours from the beginning.”
I scrunched my nose up and laughed lightly, while patting her cheek with one of hands in a friendly manner, “you’re drunk dude.”
She dug her arm behind my back and wrapped her other arm around the front of my body, her hands meeting and linking at my waist, “drunk words, sober thoughts, haven’t you ever heard of that?”
I shifted beneath her embrace, and suddenly became hyper aware of her body against mine. I don’t know what other sign I needed to know this girl was clearly into me, but it made me nervous. Her hands were wandering up and down the spine of my back, her other, tracing my thigh up and down.
At this point, another Australian girl replaced the first one, and was sitting beside Ramon. I lost focus on the moment between Kate and I, and overheard parts of their conversation, something along the lines of, “yeah I’m bisexual, it seems that girl is too for your friend.” “yeah my best friend is gay.”
I don’t quite remember the verbatim, but something along these lines. Kate looked at me with desire in her eyes. And honestly, I was feeling uncomfortable as fuck.
Here was this girl, younger than I, being unashamed of her sexuality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no longer embarrassed of being gay. I’m proud of who I am, and I love myself all the more for it. You have to, you are forced to find an inner love and strength when you aren’t part of the status quo.
But I just wasn’t used to this. I’ve only been in one serious relationship, and we had to be very discreet. So now I found myself in the same country, in another random bar, meeting another Kate… but I wasn’t 17 this time.
I’m 24, and being this fucking nervous at physical touch was ridiculous. The openness of it, perhaps is what unhinged my nerves the most. The public display of affection — and here was this beautiful girl, throwing herself at me, and I couldn’t get over the fact that others might find it weird or make them uncomfortable.
It’s exhausting going through this mentality. Having to constantly watch what you do and say, at the comfort and expense to others — because you don’t want to cause a scene or receive a bad reaction.
But I was in Paris — and no one flinched a muscle. I wasn’t back home in Texas, and I didn’t need to be careful, I didn’t need to have this cautious mentality again that I adopted when I moved back home.
I could be the Trinh I fell in love with in Spain — that person didn’t give a damn how she expressed herself.
All of these thoughts swarmed in my head within a matter of five seconds — and I found my arm around her shoulder, her arms still wrapped around me. I pulled her in close to the side of my body, her face pressed close to my neck.
Her musky voice caught me off guard, “you smell so good, babe.”
I was done, there was no fighting it anymore — my want for her, too. I responded, “you know, that’s my favorite compliment.”
“Well you’re my favorite girl,” she brushed her lips against my ear, “you’re beautiful. I’ve had plenty of sex with other girls and guys, and you’re just beautiful in a way I didn’t mean it with anyone else.”
Was I swooning? Hell yes.
Were we drunk? Hell fucking yes.
Did it matter in that moment? Fuck no.
Would she remember this tomorrow? Not a damn chance.
“I think… you’re pretty, too” fumbled clumsily out from my lips. Though practical, I’m still a girl — and I’m sure the redness on my face wasn’t from alcohol at this point anymore.
Her thumb traced circles on the back of my hand, and then her fingertips went beneath my sweater and from my wrist to my foream, peeling back the sleeve and revealing my bare skin.
She grabbed my arm suddenly and said, “Oh! You have a triangle tattoo! What does it mean?!”
“It’s a really long story.”
She removed her arms around me and smiled, while pulling her pant leg up above her knee, revealing a part of her exposed thigh. Honestly, drunk Trinh was impressed she could pull her pant leg up that far, and wasn’t paying attention.
Then I heard Ramon, “duuuuuuuuuuude no way!”
I looked at what she was showing me, and it was a FUCKING TRIANGLE TATTOO.
An equilateral tattoo, much smaller than mine, but there it was. Beautiful and glorious.
“I think it’s cool,” she said.
I cupped her face with one of my hands, “you’re probably my soulmate in some form.”
“Yeah, I’m in love with you. I have been since we met.”
I realize how ridiculously cheesy this exchange was — but it happened, and I remember it. And sometimes I really hate how emotionally attached I become to experiences that are just that — experiences. That don’t need to be held on to. So I guess that’s why I’m writing about it; to release it, to stop thinking about it.
I am not normal in the sense that I have chance encounters with people and then the next day I forget.
Generally, these kinds of occurrences haunt me. Things that should be enjoyed in the moment, find their way into my thoughts, and I find myself tirelessly thinking about it for the next few days — even though it didn’t matter. At least not to the other person.
This is my favorite part of travel. The experience, the overload of sense stimulation, the memories, the stories — the writing, afterwards.
“Come with me to the restroom, babe,” Kate invited.
All night Ramon had been telling me to take her to the restroom, but me being me, didn’t. I fear rejection, I suppose.
So here was the golden opportunity — the universe couldn’t have presented me with a more perfect situation.
I followed her out of the booth, and she held my hand. Intertwined her fingers between mine and led me through the crowd.
This was very intimate to me — the holding hands. I don’t know why. I just think holding hands means so much. Like, we are joined, we are connected, don’t let go. It’s a comfort feeling.
When we got into the restroom stall, I turned my back on her, as she pulled her pants off. I didn’t want to appear rude or make her feel uncomfortable.
She laughed amused, “you’re a super nice person huh?”
I took a deep breath and sighed a chuckle out, “I try to be.”
She finished and grabbed my hand to turn me around. She was taller than I, and my back was pressed against the door. We looked at each other, and this was it, this was the look Ramon always talks about.
The look girls get when they want you to kiss them, the slight lip bite, and the unbreakable eye contact.
I could smell her, whatever fragrance she was wearing; the base of it was floral. The scent committed itself to my memory. This is how I would remember France now.
But what I also smelled was the undeniable waft of alcohol on her lips. I wanted so bad to kiss her, but I also didn’t want to feel guilty for it; for feeling like I took advantage of a younger person while under the influence.
I know normally, people my age kiss when drunk and have a good time of it.
So I don’t know why I didn’t just do it, because I know she wanted me to, too.
But alas, I didn’t. And I instantly regretted it, when I grabbed her hand and said, “let’s go back to the table.”
And that’s the story of how I failed at kissing someone in the most romantic city in the world.
Once we got back, her father had returned too. He asked Kate if she wanted to go outside and have a smoke, and she replied, “only if Trinh comes.”
So I obliged, and followed them both outside. Kate put her arm around my shoulder, and I put my arm around her waist — this wasn’t for affection, more stability. I think the alcohol was finally settling in and she was stumbling across the dance floor.
Right when we got outside, I think the cold air confirmed her state of being. She was a lot more intoxicated than I had previously thought, and was swaying clumsily in my arms. Her dad’s arms replaced mine, so I could light their smoke, and once the shared cigarette was done for, her dad said he was going to take her upstairs to sleep.
I bid them goodnight, and left them to retire to their room.
When I went back to the table, I noticed they had left her scarf and his jacket, so I kept them to give to them the next morning.
And I did indeed see Barry and Kate the next day. Her dad explained to me that she got super sick and had been throwing up in the morning. I laughed at his expression of her bad luck, and handed over their stuff, “oh thank you, you’re so sweet, I was hoping you guys kept our stuff! Kate will want to say bye to you, I’m sure,” he ended with a wink.
I nervous laughed, and wondered just how much had had witnessed from the night before.
I sat back at the table with Ramon, we were waiting for our lunch to be served in the same bar from last night. Kate walked in and immediately went straight to the bathroom. When she came out, Ramon motioned his head towards her so that I would turn around, “she looks dead as fuck, dude, ha ha ha.”
I turned to look at her, and we met each other’s gaze. I casually waved at her and she walked over to our table, “feeling okay?” I asked with a twinge of sarcasm.
“Yeah, I should have known better,” she said, with no hint or recollection of what transpired between us last night.
I was a bit disappointed, honestly. My luck with romance is always just so ironic, and fruitless.
Her dad walked up again, and said they had to catch their train back to the south of France, ushering them both away, “have a good trip, guys.”
Ramon and I both waved at them, “safe trip to y’all too.”
Handle me with caution, because I don’t give myself often.
I may never meet you again, but the scent of your skin is forever embedded in my neurological synapses.. the feel of your breath against my neck flirting with every single hair follicle, your arms are around my waist and I don’t know what to do.. I’m at my wit’s end.
I suck at flirting, and I’m drunk, and you’re gorgeous.
Fuck, why I do get myself into these impossible situations?
Today I have officially been home for a complete year. 365 days, come and gone.
And still, since I’ve had my feet on familiar ground, I’ve never felt more like a foreigner trying to dictate my every growing feelings of restlessness into words.
So finally, here’s my attempt… at making some coherent sense of my unsettled heart.
It is never quite easy saying goodbye. It doesn’t matter how much practive I’ve had, I’ve never been able to perfect this art.. and truthfully, I’m happy with that. It’s kept me honest and vulnerable, it’s kept me… quite frankly, me, in an ever-changing journey.
It’s kept me coming back home.
The thing about returning home though, is that you are never the same person who left.
Not with malicious intent, but, unfortunately, people will still treat you like you are, and they are normally the ones you love the most.
(But who doesn’t hold on to the past? I’m guilty of this, too.)
And that, for me, is always the hardest battle to fight when coming back.
I am not arrogant or ignorant enough to think that constructive change only happens to people who travel, well, at least not anymore. It simply isn’t, and will never be. Life has many different paths to choose from.
Personally, however, it is my favourite method of personal growth. I love the feeling of being lost in a city. I like meeting new people, and listening to different languages. Sure it can be frustrating at times, but the challenge of adapting to a new environment keeps me grounded. It keeps me humble, and I’d like to think it keeps me kind.
Because what I’ve learned is, no matter where you are in the world, no matter your mother tongue, your degree of education, what skin colour you contain, or how much money you have…
There is a universal truth that we are all trying to figure out life to the best of our ability.
It’s my personal motto — always change for the better. It’s what my tattoo symbolizes, and it’s what I want my life to reflect, too.
And so — Travel is my catalyst.
But the culture and societal standards of where I come from is not always… understanding… of how I lead my life.
I’m a 24 year old female, single, and without children. I would like to think that this is normal, and it truly is… in other countries. But in my corner of the world, it isn’t. Specifically, my state in the US.
I’m from general small town name here, Texas. Known for proper manners, big guns, conservative politics, and churches galore.
I should be happily married with 2.5 children, and have a husband/superior that works 40 hours a week and grills steak on the weekends – while I mange the kids, and worry about what scent of laundry detergent I want to be present within the confines of my household.
Okay, soooo maybe I’m exaggerating… a tad. The thing is, I have absolutely NO problem with the women and men who lead their lives in this manner. This is how we were raised, and belief is a beautiful honour.
But I truly do not care how other people live their lives, so long as they’re happy, not harming anyone, and it’s THEIR personal choice.
Yes, you’ve guessed it, reader. I’m a filthy fear-mongering feminist… guilty, send me to prison asap, as long as it’s like the prison in OITNB plz.
Truly though, I would probably classify myself as a humanist. I want people to do whatever they want that makes their heart happy, societal norms or not be damned.
Realistically though, this is not the general consensus of where I come from.
Let’s also add that I am Mexican and Vietnamese American, I am pro-choice, I understand the true historical intent of the 2nd amendment, I have a uterus, I do believe in God but not the traditional Christian one, I’m for universal healthcare and education, and that I’m gay.
I do not write these descritptions of myself to make a political statement, or argue viewpoints.
Or to throw a pity party. I’m not looking for handouts, sympathy, or conversion prayer.
I write this, to understand my personal position in the world, and how my cultural surroundings will effect how I express myself to the outside eye.
And so understand, when I come home I have to battle this all over again.
Last year coming home from Spain was the hardest thing I’ve had to do.
I initially moved to Spain to heal my broken heart and discover who I am independently of a significant other. That, truthfully, was my biggest problem, and I know how privledged that sounds – for heartbreak to be the biggest ailment of my 23 year old heart, but nonetheless I cannot deny how lost as a person I had become.
And by the end of that year, I transformed into someone I was proud of again. I moved past just existence and learned how to live again. Spain was a beautiful experience, because it allowed me to shed every expectation of every single person I had known at that point in my life.
Half a world away, I had no obligation as a daughter, friend, or girlfriend. And the three major points of my life disappearned and the only obligation I had was to my heart.
I lived simply for myself.
Here, I learned the value of self-love, and this radical notion that my happiness mattered too, changed my entire outlook on life.
Before, I would have put anyone’s wants, desires, dreams, goals in front of my own. I wanted to save people, from themselves. I wanted to fix whatever emotional trauma someone had that labeled them as damaged goods, called it a “hero” complex, which I still have to remind myself not to do — truly, I thought I was being altruistic, but now I see it as a form of self-destruction.
And I know now, that I am solely responsible for my own happiness, and no one else’s.
And so when I finally came back home in the beginning of last July, I had to manuever through the obstacles of what that would mean, and how that would effect my personal relationships.
It was not easy. There were fights, and there were tears. There were offensive words, and there were broken promises. I hurt people I didn’t mean to, and I suffered my own pain.
But throughout all of it — there was love.
And that is the most transformative energy in the entire universe.
Time and time again, I relearn through different situations that love is the only thing that will save my heart.
Thus being home has simultaneously been one of the most rewarding and heart-wrenching experiences I’ve thus far had.
I came home specifically to spend time with family and friends. I know, in my soul of souls, I will never again live in West Texas for an extended amount of time. I fear missing out on the lives of my loved ones.
Being abroad, and away from home, you experience so much. You learn that the world isn’t as scary as the media portrays, that your country isn’t the best in everyone’s opinion, that cheese has many more ways of being eaten than you could have imagined – and just so much more. You grow in ways you never thought possible.
What I forgot
Is that I wasn’t the only one changing and experiencing. You see, I came home different. And instead of extending that gratitude to my loved ones — instead, in the same way that they treated me the same, I followed suit.
And sometimes, I wanted to prove so desperately that I had changed and fixed myself that I ended up hurting people I wish, now, I hadn’t.
But such is life.
I was so furious that everyone kept treating me the same, and kept placing expectations on me of how I should be. It angered me beyond reasonable logic that my family and friends couldn’t understand the mental and emotional ways that I had changed. How the golden buildings of Belgium changed my distate for gold, how Greek cuisine incorporated onions and managed to appeal to my tastebuds, how Spanish attitude for leisure time made me forget my desire to join corporate America, how the Dutch use of weed for entertainment/medical purposes eased my holier than thou southern attitude against drugs — just the ways in which my mind and been remapped.
And sometimes, it’s frustrating how no one can relate to your experiences. But I, too, was close-minded to their personal growth. And this caused a lot of unnecessary arguments and pain — but nonetheless, it happened, and I am better off for it now.
It made me realize that personal growth… is just that, personal. And I have no right to hinder someone’s attempts at becoming better — now, I only want to honour the universe that resides in each individual’s heart.
And if I assume someone hasn’t changed, I become toxic to their happiness.
So realizing too, that sometimes I’m the toxic person, has made me strive to not only always change for the better, but to always change people for their better, too.
To be the positive influence or constructive criticism they need. To try and not say anything out of a place of jealousy or negative intent, and to always try to love, encourage, and help — even if I don’t agree, or understand.
And I was only able to realize all of this, after I learned to fully love myself… no matter where in the world I was. Once I respected my heart enough to allow it to feel and love and change, I was able to extend this to others, and it has been miraculous.
I’ve learned to fiercely love people, and I’ve learned to delicately let go.
But, I still haven’t learned to say goodbye, and maybe one day I will, but for now, I’m happy with where I am.
In 3 months, I will move my life to Germany for a couple of years to begin my master’s program.
The thought of leaving is making me mentally prepare for it again, the goodbye part. But, this time I’m not running away. This time, I’m running towards my future — and that makes all the difference.
I wonder who I’ll be when I come home next time.
I pray to God it’s someone my parents are proud of, and my friends still love as loyally.