Listened to these three songs on repeat. Read a lot. More than usually, that is. Drank wine in beer gardens. Missed another flight. Booked a different one. Instead of three weeks, I spent ten days at home by the sea and felt grateful every single day. Slept outside on the terrace under the stars every night. Swam in the bay. Swam in the open sea. Cooked coffee on the stove in dzezva. More often, it’d be maman who’d do it for me. For some reason, hers is always better. Drank espressos strong as hell from tiny cups with Almodovar images on them. Spent a morning in Split. A morning in Zagreb. A weekend away from Prague when things looked very positive but they weren’t. Drank flavored water: watermelon, mint, and basil. Drank way too much coffee. Stopped smoking cigarettes for a while then started again. Came to a realization that the circle of people around me is too wide and that I need to narrow it down. A self-preservation thing of sorts. Went to of Montreal with a special someone. Wrote lists of things I felt grateful for at my corner coffee shop. Some mornings I’d wake up to different messages: from the sunshine, from my barista (the coffee is waiting for you!), from friends across the globe, from First Love, from the one I left behind. This month, more than any other, I’d been reminded that I am not alone. At all. It doesn’t matter what he used to say anymore. Some nights, I’d stay wide awake until 5.30 am, not being able to sleep. Some nights, I wouldn’t sleep at all. Others, I’d be under covers at nine. Spent a few days waiting around hospitals. When he was there, it was indefinitely easier and I am grateful that he refused to leave me alone. Wrote more lists of things. Mostly to soothe my mind. To feel the ground under my feet. To be reminded that I am a lioness.
“Don’t go back. Whatever you do, don’t go home or you’ll break your heart.” — African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe; Doris Lessing.
But I did. I went back home and I went back to the terraces because, for a short while, it felt like a home, too.
A few things have happened since I last wrote here. A whole month went by because somehow time spins out of control for me and I can’t catch the loose threads of it. It seems to me that Friday comes every three days. But at least, it’s summer now and I can say that I am okay. For the most part. I sampled ash coconut ice cream with a friend from university and it has since become my favorite. It’s Mid-July, and I am the girl in a black t-shirt, black trousers, black sneakers (with a black tote bag) eating black ice cream. I spend too many afternoons in Kampa Park; it’s never enough. I finished seven books in as many weeks; plus another three in just three days*. Once his text messages stopped, the reading came back on its own. He’s better than most books but most books are better than most people. I am selfish, private, and easily bored. Will this be a problem?*
I went to a board game night and instead of being a part of it all, I drank a bottle of wine by myself with a David Baldacci’s novel in Croatian. I’ve been reading in languages that aren’t English lately. To recalibrate my brain. Slovakian, French, Serbian in Cyrillic. I began reading Stalinovy krávy one afternoon in Kampa but shortly after that I went on the road again and I haven’t had a chance to finish it yet. I remember keeping my phone close that afternoon but there was nothing. Deep humiliation nestles between your ribs when you are hoping to hear from someone and you never do. Instead, I see Bubble Tea more often now. Sometimes, in Londynska; sometimes around Riegrovy Sady. We are both lost and lonely and need hugs. He understands me more than anyone else around me and I realized that it’s the comfortable silences that mean so much to me instead of expensive dinners and empty plans.
Which is to say: I’m grateful.
A weekend in the north with him calmed me down. Set things into perspective. It was too easy to be true. Hanging out with him; the little things. He wasn’t drinking but bought a bottle of wine for me anyway. The simple salad for lunch instead of anything else (I scraped the tomato pulp saving it from getting binned), The Unusual Suspects that I hadn’t watched until then (yeah, I know), and the simple act of him holding my feet in his lap. When someone makes breakfast for you in the morning, you cannot help but fall for them a little. Just a little. But when it’s someone like him, it’s as easy as much as it’s dangerous. Like that thing, you aren’t allowed to do and you know it but go straight for it. Except in the past week, I realized, again, that after twenty-twelve, nothing matters anymore. Nothing. He could have been anyone. It doesn’t really matter anymore. Who, or what, or when.
Except for the hugs. The hugs mattered and they still do.
The first one was awkward and brief and neither one of us knew what to do with our limbs. I flew to Brussels the next day and the unpleasantness dissolved. Or I forgot about it. Either’s fine. Then I came back and left again and came back again. I needed him and it brought us closer than we were before. I guess, that’s why the second hug felt suddenly familiar and easy and something more than friendship was conveyed in the short span of time. Something stirred in me and I couldn’t stay still after that.
The third one, the most significant, was everything the others weren’t. He leaned in first, and he wouldn’t let go. Not when most people do. If pressed for it, I could tell him apart in a crowd of people in absolute darkness just by his hug. I’ll always remember the ugliness of the platform we stood on, the night setting down around us, the noises. People walking past. I know they were other people around us but nothing registered and nothing existed for me in that moment. Only him, hugging me, the way I think no one has ever let themselves go before. Not for me. The feel of it — his chin settled in my collar bones comfortably, his relaxed breathing, the heart beats, the warmth which flooded me and stayed for days. I hung onto that thread of happiness so hard, I unintentionally unraveled it.
Just a week later, he sent me off to work in the morning; then said goodbye. Take care of yourself kind of thing. I was instantly alert. Then he hugged me and I knew. I knew it was a goodbye hug and that was the strangest thing about it. Is it even possible to feel such a thing? But I did. As I walked away from him, I reached for a pen in my bag and wrote it down. Date, time: that was it. As if I needed the evidence somehow. Something for later to prove that it wasn’t my fault. I threw that scrap of paper away later because it felt like a brand on my forehead. It felt like I signed a contract I cannot walk away from. There’s still a digital copy out there though. I’ve always been a historian. For some reason, I am still keeping a little flame of hope alive even though I know I shouldn’t. I like to play with it; bring my fingers a bit too close, feel the burning until it hurts too much. The obvious question is why do I do it?
And the truth is — I have nothing to lose. What’s an extra set of memories to weigh me down? So I left again.
But I am grateful. I am grateful for him. Because ours is a story told in four hugs.
I battle with sleep. I battle with my brain that refuses to settle. I change my mind so often I am not sure how I ever make a decision about anything at all. And yet, it’s one of the things that I am actually good at. Making decisions, that is.
Everything seems to have fallen on me in an abundance: the number of flights taken, glasses of wine drunk, packs of cigarettes inhaled, nights of broken sleep (that I still managed to pull through). Which makes me all the more grateful for someone like him. I am not ready to put it into words yet. It doesn’t seem fair.
It was a Monday when maman called about our grandmother. We’d been waiting for it for so long that I wasn’t even sure how to react when it finally happened. I sat in the darkness of the Harrison conference room, thinking. I knew instantly I had to go home. For the funeral, but mostly for my dad. I didn’t want to leave without anyone knowing. I craved support but the type you don’t have to ask for and with him, I don’t have to ask for anything at all. I’ve been taking more than I’ve been giving; the damage is self-apparent already.
Four days in Bosnia exhausted me. Emotionally, physically. I returned to Zagreb and downed three glasses of wine just to feel my pulse again. Bosnia is my motherland and I don’t have any need to ever go back there. If that’s not the definition of the sinking feeling, I don’t know what is. Back to Zagreb airport, back to Prague. Back to nothing. Except not really. It felt like there was something to return to and that was a new feeling. A scary new feeling.
With this return to Prague, I am okay with being back. Okay with being for the time being. I’ve been hanging out around my neighborhood, mostly alone, but not always. Vietnamese for breakfast with a double espresso and an early-summer downpour that drenched me to the bone before I could reach my front door. Mornings at my corner coffee shop with a law book and hopes for the future. Mornings with him. Mornings alone. Obsessed with light and time. I haven’t been this content in a long time but when was the last time that lasted?