I have been living in Prague for a full year now. The word I prefer is based — I often say to people that I am based in Prague; that I live in Prague at the moment. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know with a shaky certainty that I will one day leave this city again. And this has allowed me, prompted me in fact, to enjoy the city more than I would if I felt stuck in it.
Somewhere in the past twelve months, I fell in love with Prague. With its seasons, neighborhoods, tree-lined streets, parks, and oh, the gorgeous Prague Castle. Every time I am on a tram on the Most Legií, I look up from my book to look at it. To look at the Prague Castle and admire it. I am usually the only person to do so and it reminds me of a conversation I had with a taxi driver once.
At the start of the year, I was on my way to the airport and the cab driver who drove me took the scenic route with a view at the Castle; and just as we were passing it by in the distance, he turned his head and said: “What a beautiful thing. Except people don’t appreciate it here enough. Tourists come to see the Castle and marvel at it — they pay money to see it! — but we as locals don’t appreciate it enough. We ignore it just because we see it every day.”
His words stuck with me not only he was right but because I recognized myself and felt ashamed. I decided to live with more intent. The past year has been about that: seeing the beautiful things every day, taking the time to stop and take a breath, take in my surroundings. Because Prague (and my life here) is everything I want it to be.
Stardust, n. — dusty material found between the stars; a dreamy romantic or sentimental quality or feeling; the substance of you and me.
I remember waking up in your white bed covers, in the hilly neighborhood, with the sun cutting through the blinds, forming soft faded lines on the whitewashed wall. I remember the feel of your pillows and how the room smelled sweaty with love on lazy weekend mornings when we lingered in bed longer.
Everything in the bedroom was white, beige. Even the carpet, which I disliked because it made me sneeze but enjoyed the way it felt soft beneath my toes. I remember the feel of the carpet on the first night when you leaned in for the first time, and my heart was beating in my throat, and I felt it in the soles of my feet, and the carpet soaked it all in.
I was nervous, light-headed, dreamy, floating in realms of reality, unsure of anything. Not even that you were actually in front of me, a breathing person. After that first night, I could never break away from your sad eyes. I could never break away from you. With you, I was finally home.
You never invited me to move in, yet I spent so much time there I ended up living on the doorstep. Never quite turned away, never quite inside. Some mornings I was alone, walking barefoot around your flat, careful not to invade your privacy. It was a thing with me back then. I didn’t touch your things or look anywhere into closed spaces. I couldn’t bring myself to it. I wonder whether it was out of respect or because I didn’t want to be disappointed with what I might find.
I did explore your bathroom though, searching for ominous signs more than anything else. There was no medication cabinet but your range of cosmetic products revealed more about you than I had asked for. I stole quick sprays of your Burberry perfume every morning so I still smelled like you after I showered. This was to carry you around the city with me and pretend you stood next to me at a street crossing or in a Starbucks line. When you actually were there, I felt silly about my little fantasies because the reality was supreme to any of my daydreams.
Your scent, the mental image of you walking down the road in the morning sun, the look you wore when you looked at me, the Vietnamese place we frequented. Everything survives in my memories despite the years, despite the distance, despite the immeasurable pain and misery that followed. Despite the hole that you left after yourself. I expected everything to fall through it.
The ominous signs were there; blinded by naivety I never saw them.
I cleaned your fridge one afternoon for no apparent reason, except to show you that I wanted more; that I wanted a life with you; the daily life. I wanted to show you that I cared. I created more mess in the process, and had a laughing fit, but finished with a sparkly refrigerator cleared of mold and old takeaway boxes. I didn’t ask you what I was allowed to throw away or not. You hoarded old meals in your kitchen but ate none of them.
I wonder whether you ever noticed how much of your food I ate because you just left it there to rot away and I didn’t want it to go to waste. I wonder whether you understood what I was trying to tell you. If you did, you never said anything.
Passing the time with you came naturally; there was never anywhere else to be. Drinking coffee in the morning, watching The Wire for hours, offering you spoonfuls of food, cupping the soft skin at the back of your neck when you sat next to me, and the heaviest to carry now: making you laugh while exposing the mess of my mind to you.
There was no judgment from your side. You wanted it all but I mistook it for the convenience of the moment. There’s no reversing of what happened. I carry the weight of our history every day and navigate the vastness of the ocean that is my life without you. A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.
I breathe with your name on my lips. Like Stardust, you are in everything I touch.