Wandering, lost, towards a destination that Joakim can’t seem to pinpoint. The Swede is trying to guide the four of us, who have been traveling together around Italy for the last few days, to a delicious Italian restaurant: but although we know the ‘where’, we don’t know the ‘how’. Familiar territory: from Rome to Florence to Cinque Terre, our group has found ourselves in this situation before.
Directions, gesturing, bits of Italian, and soon enough we arrive. And it’s amazing: not only the delicious food but the atmosphere and our energy and the connections that we are further cementing.
A bottle of wine, delicious food, being a little toooo loud, introducing Joakim to Instagram then flooding each other’s timelines with pictures, all of it was a start to what would be a memorable Firenze night. Another half liter, more Instagram nonsense, and we are out the door wandering around trying to figure out our next destination, our next step for a successful evening. We know we want to dance and we know we don’t want to aimlessly wander around all night (like the many nights before, hoping something would materialize out of our desire for something to materialize). Beyond that: let the Firenze nightlife direct us.
Hey, where are y’all going tonight? to a three-set of attractive Italian girls. Then navigating the Duomo steps, some back alleys, picking up some more alcohol, we find ourselves back at Joakim’s hostel playing Uno. That is, only until our different variations of the rules bring the game to an abrupt and quick end as we all throw in our cards, frustrated. On to Black Jack, until we decide none of us really know how to play.
Waiting waiting waiting to go out. It’s early, maybeee 10 and some change, and nothing starts until about 11 or 12, so we have to kill time at the unusually quiet hostel where talking at a normal level feels LIKE YOU’RE YELLING: the place was deadddd. But soon WE’RE OFF, with no real destination, just imbibed with a few spirits and stomach full of delicious food.
The inevitable: we end up wandering and lost and moving around until Brylee starts bitching and we end up sitting down to rest every few steps and we are all getting to the point of frustration because THIS IS WHAT ALWAYS HAPPENS and tonight it’s not supposed to happen because WE ARE SUPPOSED TO GO DANCING but it’s still early so “Stop bitching, Bitch” and “Hey Bitch, stop talking” and “Suck me off, Bitch” are thrown around a normal (for us) amount of times. See, we’ve been together for 1, 2, 3, 4…. maybe more nights, sleeping in a TINY FOUR BED ROOM in Veranazza or wandering to and from each of our hostels, or just walking around the city refusing to go into the expensive JUST ANOTHER CHURCH. The four of us have spent TIME together, becoming more and more comfortable with each other, to the point where every other word we use to address each other is “Bitch” or a whole slew of other cuss (or curse if your Australian, Bitch) words we use to emphasize our points.
We’re walking and Brylee is threatening to walk home because “I’m sober!” and she doesn’t want to do this AGAIN and “Shut up, Bitch, it’s still early” but we really don’t have a plan. But somehow not having a plan turns into a plan and we end up at Twice, a club near the Duomo with free entrance. And tons of guys. And no girls. But Fuckkkk it: We will make our own party! And we’re dancing and jumping around and being loud and taking up space and jumping around and being the life of the party. All eyes on us.
It doesn’t take long for me to disappear to approach three girls with one guy because Why the hell is this guy with three girls and no guys are talking to them? and we start chatting and making friends and soon enough the Austrian siblings and their friends join our dancing group. More jumping and more clubbing and we are killing it having a ball and living and breathing and bonding. “Who cares what the Italians think” and “We’re here to have fun!” Soon enough I disappear again to join a Brazilian girl on the dancing block. And then I join her again. And one more time for good measure, running my hands through her curly hair to test the waters. No swimming allowed.
Blur, blur, blur, the hours flying by, exhausted from the continuous dancing but energized by the knowledge that WE ARE IN ITALY and we have to live and breath it all in while lasts because it won’t last. Hours, gone. Time, not important.
Rewind: way far back to 5th grade when I loved break dancing and took classes for a short time and learned how to do the VERY basics of popping and a few ground moves. Very basic stuff. Compare it to basketball and it would be dribbling the ball, maybe a cross over, how to do a lay up. Not very hard at all but for some reason it looks good and impresses people and just those few moves have carried me pretty far on the dance floor.
Live: I’m standing in the middle of the club watching a group Italians doing a little break dancing surrounded by EVERYONE and I guess (it’s still a little fuzzy as to what EXACTLY happened) I make eye contact with a girl who is also watching, and by girl I mean extremely cute, dark hair, dark skinned girl, and I walk up and we’re watching and I can do better slips out of my mouth and she says “Ok, show me.” That’s all she needed to say.
Then there might have been a break where I go talk to Amanda and then I come back and she’s still standing there and I slide into the circle and dance and people are cheering and I guess it looked pretty good and as I wrap up my piece I turn around and do a little slide towards her and get really close and next thing I know she’s asking “What are you doing tomorrow night?” and then she’s typing her email into my phone so I can find her on Facebook. And I’m pretty fucking happy because this girl is cutttteeee and I go back to Joakim and point her out from the dancing cube: Dude that girl just gave me her email and I’m sure at the time it was all a blur and who really knows what’s happening at 4 in the morning, anyway.
And it’s late and we’re leaving so I go to say goodbye to her again and tell her I will Facebook her in the morning. Girls and guys: this type of exchange typically rarely works. Either the girl doesn’t accept the request or the guy doesn’t add her or (insert reason that club contact info doesn’t work out). Therefore, the next morning I’m not really expecting much but I add her as a friend (Or should I not add her just message her?) so I un-request my request (but I should add her as a sign that I like her) so I re-add her and type her a message. Send. We’ll see what happens. And I can’t look at her pictures so I don’t really know what she looks like besides the zoomed out Profile Pic so whatever happens, happens.
Then, a message from the Austrian and soon after a response from Johanna.
I guess my dancing made quite an impression. Especially on Johanna. Bam! And I’m going through her profile pictures and she’s gorgeous and she’s from Colombia and she’s living in London. Message her, message back, message her again: We’re going to try to meet up.
This exchange takes place while Amanda and Brylee and I are recovering from the night before, sprawled across our hostel common area. Amanda and Brylee are trying to figure out where they are going that afternoon because we are splitting ways and the two of them are headed a beach, somewhere. I’ve decided to stay for another night, to hang with Joakim before he leaves the next day. And then, we will all be split up, the group that has spent a solid week and some change together, will be splitting up to each go our own directions. Joakim is going back to real life, to get suited up and listen to his dirty rap music while working his real life job. Amanda and Brylee are going to the beach to kill a few days before Amanda has to go to Germany and Brylee starts making her way up north. And me? At this point I’m still not sure where I’m going. I’m tired of the same, the “scripted traveler’s path”, the normal routes that everybody follows. I want to get away, to go somewhere new I have no idea about, somewhere random and adventurous and out-there and “I don’t know anyone who’s been there”.
I’ve been talking with Joakim about it over the last few days and through the conversation he recommends Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania. I don’t even know where those countries are. Google Maps. But we are leaving to get food and find Joakim so the girls can tell him bye and I will figure out where I’m going later.
To the Mercado to satisfy Amanda’s craving for dried fruit and my need for delicious mustard to spice up the endless amounts of baguettes, cheese and salami that I will be eating in the near future, all of which we passed up earlier in our Florence explorations.
The four of us are cruising, buying food, spending the last few moments of our togetherness, together. A lot of “Hey Bitch” and teasing and poking and playfulness that we have all come to enjoy from each other, the comfort that we’ve developed over the last few days, from train to beach to hiking to shitty meals to amazing meals to wine to sunsets to memories that we will all store in our mind for “Remember that time!” when down the road when we meet up in our own countries or maybe countries where we happen to cross paths.
And soon enough our group is splitting up. Joakim and I are leaving Amanda and Brylee at the station for their trip to Sorrento: hugs and kisses and “Safe travels” and “Come visit me in (insert country)” and “It’s been a fun time”. Accompanying these words is the desire for this adventure to not end, to stay together and hop on a train to a different place to keep the fun going. But with the desire floats the understanding that this dream life we are living can’t continue forever and we have to split ways and follow our own paths. These three emotions of happiness and longing and understanding are all woven together into words and actions and tones and non-verbals, with everybody feeling the braid in their own variation. And then it’s “Bye” and Joakim walks off and soon after I walk off and it’s sad but also freeing because now I am on my own, free to move and wander and agile / autonomous and I am a solo traveler, again.
Laptop, Google Maps, SkyScanner, WikiTravel. I’m back at the hostel and I just booked my ticket: I’m heading to Tallinn, Estonia in a week. I know nothing about the history, the weather, the city, or the location so I really have no idea what I’m getting myself into. But I book the ticket, book the hostel, all while feeling a small twinge in my stomach that I’ve come to interpret as: You are doing the right thing. It’s new, it’s different, but it’s right, good choice.
Dinner, just Joakim and I on the other side of the river, after a leisurely stroll, once again with no specific destination, just a direction. The energy is different than the last week, more slow, less hectic, just he and I eating and chatting on topics ranging from rappers that have disappeared to girls to the random tangents of a two-sided exchange.
Bill. Paid. Walking. We follow our feet across the river while our minds follow their thoughts, sometimes intertwining for a few words, sometimes keeping us quiet. Dark streets, bright lights, people everywhere, footsteps, quiet, loud, discussion, thoughts. We are both moving in slow motion, exhausted from a late night with little sleep and no afternoon siesta: calm and smooth and no rush to get anywhere.
How will this night turn out? I’m not really sure. Joakim is set on calling it early and not coming to meet Johanna and her friend at the Lion’s Fountain. Come on, man, it’s only an 8 minute walk but no, he’s in for the night.
One more beer together, a goodbye toast to remember the good times and to send each of us off an a high note. I’m leaving, saying goodbye, the typical guy handshake-hug “Come to Sweden” and Come visit America and that same goodbye energy resurfaces, knowing we’ve been through a lot together but now is the time to say goodbye (or see you later) and divert paths.
I’m out the door, following my GPS to find this pub to meet Johanna and her friend. But not in a hurry. Step after step through the cobblestone streets, thinking Now what? and reflecting on the time the four of us have shared, something we will all remember as a unique experience. Mind running: the future, Estonia, the next week and Where I will go between now and Saturday? I’ve been thinking I want to catch a train to a beach town without booking accommodations with the intent of figuring it out when I get there. I want to sleep on the beach, literally on the beach, for a few days before heading up to the cold, so I’m thinking I will pay a hostel or hotel to hang on to my bags and I will wander around until I find a good spot to crash, hearing the waves crash as my brain slows down and I pass out for the night, soaking in the warmth.
Lion’s Fountain. I see her and she’s cute and friendly but there’s some tension because we really don’t know anything about each other but that’s how it should be. And she’s with Julia and we all *kiss kiss* on the cheeks and we head inside for drinks. The conversation is flowing, no pushing or pulling required. Typical getting to know each other conversation but it’s nice, easy, different than the usual hostel introductions. They both are going to school in Florence to learn Italian, for a few months. She’s been going to school in London for the last 3 years. More typical conversation, talking about random topics as the bar becomes more and more crowded, filling up with tourists and students that have come here to study (party). We walk outside for a cigarette as the conversation turns to different cultures and getting to know people and how traveling develops a person like few things can and how it changes how one perceives the world and how those that travel are different than those that don’t. Her dark skin perfectly complements her cigarette and I can’t help but admire her, fully, leaning against the railing, frayed jean shorts, thin but perfect figure, captivating brown eyes, Colombian accent mixed with London phrases.
Back inside the conversation switches to me and my travels and my next step. I want to sleep on the beach this week. “We are going to the beach tomorrow, come with us!” I’ll think about it.. (but how awesome would it be to go to the beach with her all day!)
Beers, done. Entrance, exited. We’re walking to the same club where we met the night before to meet up with some of her friends. It’s another club night, loud music / crowds of people / etc etc etc but this time I’m with her and that’s all that I want out of the night. I’m not talking to other girls, I’m not bouncing around and shaking hands and wandering SHINY OBJECTS! I’m dancing with her and drinking with her and smoking with her and Damn, this is awesome. And again she brings up that I should come to the beach with them tomorrow. And again and again to the point that I know that she really means it. They are leaving early, at the crack of dawn.. or 8:30 which is earrrlllyyy which means I have to wake up at 7:30 and pack and meet them at the station at 8 and (Fuck it, I can’t pass this up) so I will see you in the morning in front of the Pharmacy at 8. And I take off to get some rest for the next day. At home, to confirm, I send:
My alarm goes off. Fuck, it’s early. Snooze for a little while? No, I can’t. I have to pack and hurry to the train station. So I do, and I’m hurrying and my bag is packed terribly so I decide to leave it at the hostel and I leave not paying for my last night nor telling them that I won’t be back another night but Whatever, I will figure it out later.
I get to the station, to the Pharmacy at 8:04. No one. Waiting, sitting, hoping she shows up, hoping I wasn’t set up and let down, hoping hoping hoping it works out. Head ache, drinking water, waiting waiting. I will give her until 8:20 then I’m leaving. And I’m waiting and nope, no one. I dip at 8:18, let down but not so much because it would have been tooooo perfect and something else will work out instead.
Back at the hostel, 2 Facebook messages. Fuck, how did I miss her?
So I repack my bags, decide to leave them at the hostel and soon I am on the next train to Vada, alone with my headphones and my book and my head ache and my tirednesssss. Then I’m out, sleeping, catching up with my friend that I haven’t been with enough. And I switch trains and this time I can’t sleep because Vada isn’t the final destination so I have to be careful not to miss my stop or else Thatttt would suckkkk. 45 minutes later I’m off the train. 11:45. The beach is a far walk, through a long tunnel of trees that shade the road from the sun beating down, the same sun tanning the already dark skinned local Italians scattered around the beaches a few kilometers away. Walking walking, how will I find WiFi to figure out where they are? But a SIGNAL and I send a message and then go out to hunt them down, following what feels like the right way to the beach but who knows? And I arrive and Holy fuck there are a lot of people and this beach is loooong and it’s allllll Italians and there’s definitey no Wi-Fi out here. But I walk, down the beach, slowly, scanning the crowds of dark skinned people for a dark skinned girl. This might not work out crosses my mind. How the hell am I supposed to find her? I turn on my data roaming, willing to sacrifice a few dollars for a few minutes of data so I can check my Facebook but even the reception out here is SEARCHING… I turn it off, keep walking, then turn around when I feel they can’t be any further.
This really might not happen. I might have to settle, alone, by myself, with no towel and no sunscreen and no other English speakers. But that’s adventure, right? I took a risk. Something good will come out of it? Maybe…? I need to find her.
I walk, slowly, down the beach, scanning the bodies, then back into town to find Wi-Fi but it doesn’t work. Fuck, this could get bad. I stop for some food, I’m starving. I will have whatever he has is what I mean as I point to the guy in front of me, because who knows what the food is and I’m starving and will eat anything. The result: a sausage patty with sauerkraut and ketchup and grilled veggies and it’s good enough and I wash it down with a cold Heineken. Then I set out, again, with more hope, to find her, hoping to find her. But I need to find wireless first.
Fuck, Mr. Italian at the Hotel, just let me use your Wi-Fi. I NEED TO FIND THIS GIRL. But he doesn’t budge so I try down the street and the receptionist has no idea what I’m asking for but eventually I get the hotel’s Wi-Fi password.
And I’m off again, encouraged by this next bit of information, with a direction, with a better idea of where she is. This is fucking ridiculous, Zoom. You’re chasing this girl, to a beach, with thousands of people, in a city 2 hours away. But it’s a good story. And I’m confident. And she’s: her.
Walking, asking directions with my screen shot and Spiagga Bianca ‘free entrance?’ but it seems that every direction is different. “20 minutes that way” or “2 km that way” or “That entrance is back the way you just came” or from the lifeguard “No, 20 minutes down that way”. Fuckkkkk. So close.
And I’m walking, down the beach, repeating what I’ve been doing for the last two and a half fucking hours, looking for this dark skinned Colombian beauty.
There she is! Maybe. Yes! That’s her. And I walk towards her, hoping it’s her, and I get closer, and IT’S HER! I found her. Something impossible, or very near to it, just happened!
But I’m tired and exhausted of looking and I don’t think I conveyed, either with words or excitement or gestures or anything how excited I am that I found her. I calmly sit down, no excitement just Wow, can’t believe I’m here. Hindsight, I should have…endless actions I SHOULD HAVE…. But I didn’t. But she’s beautiful and she’s dark and She’s so damnnnn sexy. And we talk about how crazy it is that I actually found them and that neither of us thought it would happen and how glad I am that I am actually here (but still I am not expressing myself clearly enough).
Dive and the water feels amazing and it’s blueeee, light, aqua blue like I’ve never swam in before. Not too cold, not too hot, perfect temperature for relaxing, for floating, for staying in for long periods of time without having to get out.
But I do get out because She isn’t here and I walk back to the spot where we are lying, where she is lying and she’s dark in a leopard pattern bathing suit and she’s beautiful and I want to… but I hold back. And I lie down and we’re talking, placing rocks on her stomach, smooth flat rocks starting at her belly button, moving up, one by one, lined along the center of her body, about six or seven, past her suit top. And she’s lying there, reclined, not moving, letting me. Then I start running my hands along her body, circling the rocks, down her stomach but the flow isn’t smooth, slowed by the salt water residue. I pinch a bit of sand and sprinkle it along her side (white on her dark skin) to allow for a smoother touch, for a smoother flow which allows my hands to slide along her skin, up and down and all over. More sand. More parts of her body. Up her side. Around the rocks until I one by one I throw the rocks away. Then I take a bit of sand and sprinkle it on her neck, sliding / swirling my nails up and down her neck to her ear. Then I brush the sand off her neck and go in for a kiss, licking and kissing up and down her neck until she turns to meet my mouth with hers and our tongues are dancing around each other (starting a dance that will continue for…), still a little salty from the water, just a little bit of a bite that only magnifies the intensity of her biting my bottom lip.
To the beach. To the water. She’s pulling me and holding me and kissing me and my hands are all over her, sliding across her back and her arms, cutting through the aqua blue water that makes her skin soft, softer than it already is, while our tongues continue their dance as the occasional wave splashes up to our mouths.
This goes on.. and on.. and on, throughout the day, moving from the water to the beach to the water to the sun to us talking and asking each other questions and holding each other in the water to holding each other on the beach and I’m glad I found you. And it’s right. Great. Amazing. And she’s beautiful. And smart. And I just keep falling falling falling: This girl is… fill in the words for how you feel when you meet someone and everything clicks, moving in time when there’s no time and it’s you and that person, floating.
Then we’re walking back to the train, holding hands, arm in arm and I don’t feel forced or as if I’m forcing myself to hold her because it just happens and it’s right and I just want to stay at the beach with her and go back tomorrow so we can spend more time together, just me and her. But I don’t say anything, Maybe it’s too quick to suggest something like that? (But, damnit, you don’t have enough time to take it slow!)
On the train ride home, cuddled up, her leaning against my shoulder: “We should have stayed the night…” and I know we should have But that would have been tooooo amazing. It’s a two hour train ride back to Florence, arriving around 10 and I don’t want to get my bags at the hostel so I’ll just do that tomorrow and not worry about it tonight because I want to be with you so I go back to their flat and make a cot on the floor and pass out. But only after a few goodnight kisses..
The next day she doesn’t have school so we spend a majority of the day together, in the flat, repeating the touching and the kissing and the staring and I could stare at her all day. The day passes like this, all day, back and forth, dancing, me totally captivated by her, all of her, mind and body, fallinggggg.
Next day, sitting at the Palazzo Strozzi, I’m writing, writing, trying to capture my feelings, my thoughts, the story, the memories all morning until she gets out of school and we can create more memories. And I realize through my writing and the remembering and my thinking I don’t think she totally understood how excited, times a thousand, I was to find her on the beach. It was my fault, with my approach and my initial actions that I didn’t fully, or even minutely convey the joy and happiness I felt when I found her laying there in the sun.
We are sitting on the balcony, Jo and I alone, talking, going over the events of the chaotic morning, how she lost her place to stay for the next 4 weeks and how she had to frantically find a new place all while her friends’s landlord was snooping around wondering if there were more than two people staying in the flat and me finding out that I have to find a hostel because I can’t stay there anymore. We’re talking talking and I bring up I don’t think you understand how I felt when I found you on the beach. But it doesn’t come out that easily because I don’t like to directly express myself, (for fear of… something), so after a couple of attempts I didn’t express how fully excited and happy and completely amazed I was that I found you and “No, I thought you weren’t happy and that maybe you were mad that I forced you to come” and I know, I messed up and just sat down and played it cool and “Why?” and I really don’t know. Then I tell her about how excited I am about meeting her and how interesting it will be when she reads the thousands of words that I’ve written mostly about her and how we’ve met and my thoughts and feelings. Maybe you will read it before I leave because I’m thinking I want to revise them before I let anybody see but Maybe you should read them now…
So I grab my computer and find the portion about the morning of the train and not finding each other then me still getting on the train and then searching for her and then finding her. I let her read it, raw and uncut, exactly how it came out of my mind, sitting beside her, watching her brown eyes move across the screen and I love watching her. And then it all makes sense to her and she sees me and my thoughts and my feelings and Maybe she understands almost exactly how I feel because these words are truth with no censors. And for once in.. a very long time, longer than I can remember, I am making myself vulnerable, opening up and being real and not taking precautionary measures to keep me from getting hurt. Open. True. Real. It feels good, right. And then she reads the rest of the piece, which is mostly about her and us meeting and my thoughts. I’m reading along with her. She understands me, now. That’s me, in the thousands and thousands of words on the virtual page. That’s the real me.
We start kissing, dancing again as the world disappears, and my hands once again gracefully attack her beautiful soft soft soft skin coated in a thin layer of sweat, just enough to make her glisten and enough for my tongue to taste the trace amounts of salt as I lick up and down her neck, to her ears, back to her mouth as our tongues connect, playing the game they’ve become accustomed to over the precious hours we’ve spent together. And we dance and we dance, eyes closed, eyes open, staring at each other. Brown and Blue.
I don’t want to stop. I want this to continue, until it has to end at some natural point down the road. I don’t want it to end artificially like it will, with my departure to Estonia. Or even a month later with her departure back to London. I want this dance to last until it can’t anymore, until one of us has to stop. This dance will be interrupted, forced to a halt. Maybe it will keep going down the road, maybe if I visit her in London, but even then we will dance into another forced barricade keeping us from going further.
She knows it, too. She knows that this relationship-bond-connection-dance can only go so far, that it has to stop, that there will be an end neither of us wants. “Her words” and my words float to each other with this burden-pain-weight. Her soft accented English floats to me, weighed down with the understanding that we have to end too soon. Too damn soon. And this means that not everything can be invested, not in a weeks time, holding us back from throwing it all in, keeping me from Really Opening Up. Maybe she feels the same.
“Don’t forget me,” she whispers.
There’s no way I’ll be able to.
And it’s true. I won’t forget her, this experience, this time together, however brief, the touches and the kisses and the glistening sweat teasing me to touch her, more more more, inviting me in.
To forget her: I won’t. I can’t. Not possible. Never.