love is a dog from hell

Charles Bridge, Prague

Early December.

We were at Bukowski’s in the back room; crowded around a small table littered with half-empty wine glasses, cigarettes, and matchboxes. Bukowski’s Bar is across the street from my apartment building, which is just in the epicenter of the Prague underground culture. And the posh neighborhoods are just two blocks and a park away. Balance of my kind.*

I was about to take a sip of my third gin’n’tonic — my vision slightly blurred in the dark shadows of the room and cigarette smoke floating around me, seeping into my hair and clothes — when someone turned to me and said: you must be here all the time, right? They told me you lived around the corner.

I didn’t know who were they and I didn’t know the person who was speaking to me despite the past half hour of conversation. He sounded like he was a Montenegrin or a Dalmatian by accent, I couldn’t tell for sure. The way you can never really tell with people who’d been away from home for too long. It was a random Balkan encounter in the middle of the week; I rarely want to say yes to these things but I don’t say no, either. Then I caught myself saying a straight out lie: yeah, I am here all the time, like home away from home.

Except you wouldn’t have found me at Bukowski’s more than four times altogether this past year. It would have been hard to find me in Prague to begin with. I spent more time on the road than anywhere else. Twenty-sixteen saw me in fifteen countries and thirty-three cities. Thousands upon thousands of miles of being on the road, always somewhere, never here.

And definitely not at Bukowski’s, even though, it might be my favorite bar in all of Prague. With the cigarette smoke, and weird strangers, and the huge portrait that hangs in the back room. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t at home. Was I trying to make up for the loneliness and fill the void the size of an Asian city with new European experiences and encounters? Perhaps. But that’s not it, either. Something far more important happened.

I discovered pieces of myself in places that soon became as familiar to me as I had become familiar with myself. I walked certain European streets for the first time, and I met myself there.

I met myself in places I’d never been before and I realized cities no longer dictate how I feel. Home is everywhere I am.

* (Wikipedia confirms. For an unparalleled description of my neighborhood, I recommend Helen Oyeyemi’s Maybe Something, Maybe Nothing.)

nineteen twenty five

Isabelle Adjani

Tuesday morning. Post office. Tchaikovsky’s Street. Eight minutes past eight. I am standing in line, waiting for my turn at the window. A woman before me is running an errand and I unwillingly overhear the exchange.

“What year was your mother born?”
“1925.”

The number struck me like a bolt.

For the rest of the day, I couldn’t shake away the thought of our immortality; human imperfection. The fact that time doesn’t wait for anyone, even if they are lucky enough to live to be a hundred years old. I thought of our correspondence from the day before — everything with a meaning between the lines, the heaviness of not being able to speak freely, the pathos of it all. They don’t make them like you anymore and then you need to find a stable relationship. One worse than the other. If I hadn’t promised myself not to cry anymore, I would have.

I felt the weight of your words against my mortality and felt trapped in my inability to do anything about any of it. That’ll be that for us. For a split of a second, I imagined our own responding to the same question decades from now.

“What year was your mother born?”
“1991.”

Does our mortality terrify you as much as it terrifies me?

secret love

Split, Croatia.

The waves, again.

The beginning started in Split — just like last year. The same raw steak with mangold and a bottle of impeccable red wine. All the blue, the salty air, the beating heart of what home is. Nine days of bliss. With the first sunset of the year, I left the seaside. As we drove up north, it became darker and colder; a thin moon crescent followed me through the window. The second I lost sight of the sea, the sinking feeling flooded me. A melancholic sadness of sorts. Similar to the way one thinks of a lost love. The way I think of him. It’s always the same.

The tiny Zagreb airport. A home between the homes. I slept three hours and instead of an alarm clock, I heard the staff come in to work at the check-in counters. My flight was so early the sun wasn’t going to come up for another five hours. First coffee of the day at 4.15 am. My eyes burned from the lack of sleep and I couldn’t shake away the screenshot of his email from my mind. Three dots, a question mark. A bit like my naivete. Happy New Year. No sleep except for everyone on the plane. My hands shook too much to write and I couldn’t read because words danced before my eyes, so I flipped through the in-flight magazine just to do something only to be hit in the face with a full-page Victorinox ad featuring The Center and nothing else. Of all Hong Kong skylines, they picked his. I shut my eyes close but slumber never came. Of course not.

I came back to Prague uneasy; I came back to snow, deadlines, conversations that never happened, and having to face the reality. But I’m not blinded by fear and insecurity of the unknown anymore.

The hope for this year is to stop at nothing. To keep believing. To never settle for less.

Post scriptum — the title is a nod to George Michael.