Moving through the streets in Amsterdam, it’s difficult to tell if my meandering is due to being lost, absorption of culture, or from both. I walk in the opposite direction of everyone else that occupies the path, and I begin to wonder if the alternate driving rules apply to walking too. I’ve been wandering all day, (maybe even in circles), and decide that I deserve a break, one that involves chocolate. I sit on the rocky edge of a short bridge, overlooking glassy water below me, and while watching people pass, I begin to feel goose-bumps form on my arm from the thin mist the breeze rolls over my skin. In this chilly, cloudy setting, I experience a sad realization: Traveling is far more enjoyable when you have someone to travel with. I knew that was a common thought among other travelers, but it was definitely a theory I imagined could never apply to me. I thought I was the exception. I was a nomad.
A thin, but handsome man with pasty skin approaches me.
“Excuse me, but do you know where the Ann Frank house is?” He was a lengthy man, which forced him to lean over quite bit.
“I don’t mean to bother you.” He politely pushed a wrinkled map of Amsterdam in my hands.
Knowing I wouldn’t be able to serve much help, I quickly returned his map that I hadn’t asked for and replied, “I’m sorry, but I am afraid I’m directionally dyslexic. Maybe a local would know.”
“Oh, Of course. Thank you.” It was very obvious he was American. I watched him walk away, fumbling, trying to multitask as he shoved the ruined map in his back pocket and pulled change out from his fanny pack. He had only managed to take a few steps away from me, before his camera started to slip from the crease of his inner elbow. Through pure instinct, I jumped with my hands straight out and landed in an awkward squat just in time to catch his falling proof of travel.
“S***! Thank you!” He said, still slightly out of breath from the scare.
I began to laugh before responding, “No problem.”
He took a step back and began to collect his things. His floppy, brown hair kept pulling his hand away from the wreck of crumpled papers and loose change. I stood in front of him just smiling at his purity. With his hands shoved deep in his black fanny-pack, he looked up at me and noticed my entertained expression and released a goofy and sincere smile. He grinned like he was admitting to the mess he was. Yet again, hair fell across his forehead and with that, his head dropped, laughing at his misfortune. Embarrassed, he slapped his hand against the left side of his face, “It’s not easy to travel alone.” He chuckled. I nodded my head in agreement. “Michael.” He stated.
“Caitlyn. Where are you from Michael?” I asked.
“Columbus, Ohio for now. Been planning on leaving for a while.” I said.
“It was supposed to be a stop on my way to somewhere better.” I admitted.
He ran his fingers through his hair, and proceeded.
“I don’t know about you but I have no plans here. Would you like to get dinner?”
I agreed to go and we exchanged numbers and locations; he walked away seeming satisfied. He was trying to hide his excitement, and instead of coming off cool, he came off sweet. Endearing. He walked away with a different swagger than when he first approached me. As we separated, I looked back to notice that he was wearing a dark green sweater and a tan button-down underneath. The tan ends stuck out behind him, crumpled, damp and a little dirty.
Opening the door to my small, single hotel room, I dropped my bags and flopped straight onto the bed, unsure if I was tired from travel or weary for my dinner-date. Being the nervous wreck I am, I decided I should probably start getting ready early, just in case. I opened a blue bag crammed to the top with three-ounce bottles, various brushes and makeup. Pulling each one out and carefully placing them in a row on the small desk next to a mirror, I began to start the long process of getting ready for a night out. Typically, taking three hours to look better would not have ever been on my agenda, but I haven’t felt the need to look nice in a long time. I tried to enter the mind of a painter in order to calm my shaky hands from smearing black lines all over my face, and creating patterns similar to ones of tribes.
I finished in roughly fifteen minutes, and sat conservatively on the edge of my bed, wearing a maroon dress with a pearl necklace. I couldn’t help but think how foolish it was for me to allow three hours to put on clothing and draw on my face. And with that, I threw my legs up on the bed, and flung my head back on the pillow with the TV remote in hand and a bag of stale chips in the other, and waited for seven-o-clock to come.
I awoke out of my gross sleep with a knock on the door. I simultaneously started brushing off crumbs from my chest and walking towards the door. But before I could answer, I realized I had forgotten my deodorant.
“S***!” I mumbled as I stumbled around on my heels and hurriedly rushed to the drawer that held my perfume. I aimlessly misted it around the room and myself, looking like a manic beekeeper spraying chemicals. Despite the mess I was, I opened the door with a smile and heavy breath.
You know how in the movies the man looks at the woman and becomes breathless and glassy-eyed? That’s how I felt. He looked thin, but not fit, tall but not muscular. He was average in many, if not all ways. I hadn’t known it, but average was everything I wanted and I was seeing a new version of me in this regular perfection of him. He wore an awkward smile and a blue button down with his hands respectfully placed behind his back. His hair, though obviously groomed, still had traces of the previous smooth but floppy look.
Shaking my head at my trance, I uttered “uh”, followed by a “one second”.
“Sure,” he said while bending down to tie his shoes.
His pants rose as he fixed his laces, revealing his socks that matched in color and in personality. Black with a variety of animated cats. He was perfect. While he fixed his shoes, I peeked in the mirror to make sure all evidence of my early snack was gone.
“Ready?” I asked.
He stood back up, hands in his pockets and replied, “yeppy!” He then apologized for using the word “yeppy”, cleared his throat as if it was to blame and replaced it with a “yes, yes I am”.
We started down the stairs and out of the familiar hotel lobby, stepping out into a different world of uneven brick, white lights and smoky air. Still seemingly oblivious to the correct direction of travel, we floated by the rest of the world as they walked around us.
Everything was captured in a bubble of perfection. Perfection.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I can do this.” We had barely made it down the block before realizing how ridiculous this was. I wasn’t a person of sponteneighty, or even a fan of romantic coinicidences. My mind was stricken with panic, confusion and worry. What was I doing? I began to walk away, trying to focus on my breath in the air and not on how I was leaving a dream hovering in the cold, alone.
“Wait,” he said with confusion. “What’s wrong?”
Walking in the opposite direction of where he stood, I spoke while making my escape.
“This,” I proclaimed. “Meeting someone in a foreign country, in this serendipitous way? This is just too much.”
I chose not to look back, knowing that I would feel painful, instant regret. I suddenly found myself wandering again, this time definitely lost. I sat on the curb outside of the hotel, confused and angry that I couldn’t touch the ground, that I couldn’t handle anything real.
It was difficult to tell how long I had been sitting there contemplating every life decision I have ever made, and I wondered what I would be like if I could correct my pool of mistakes. I lowered my head into my knees in self-pity and sleepiness.
The sound of a man clearing his throat pulled my head up, and I looked up at Michael holding two Belgian Waffles in white cones. He sat next to me, and stayed quiet as he held the two cones and looked out at the street. The night was dark, but light enough that it looked royal blue. I looked at him, then the cones and back at him.
“Oh, this is awkward.” He said.
“Why is that?”
“You think one of these is for you,” he said with a smirk.
He began to eat one of the cones in a monstrous way. I would have been disgusted if it wasn’t funny to see a grown man, smothered in chocolate sauce.
“Fine. Here, take it.” He jokingly handed me the waffle that was untouched and continued eating his like lion would a gazelle.
He looked up at me and smiled, which was hard to discern behind layers of chocolate. His knees were close to his chest and I looked down to see his black socks with animated cats. Perfection.