The phone crackled as I walked aimlessly around the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris seeking a stronger wifi signal.
“Wait. So what did they say?”
“They strongly recommended that I should transfer to a different school for next year.”
“Next year? As in… next year?”
“Yeah. We can’t afford it and they don’t want me to take out loans.”
“Um. Okay. Well. See you never I guess?”
“Don’t say that. It’s probably not going to happen.”
I was about to board an overnight train to Rome. I wouldn’t be able to communicate for over twelve hours and he decides now is a good time to tell me we might never see each other again.
“Well. Trains boarding. So I guess I’ll just talk to you when I can.”
“See you soon.”
He always ended our phone conversations with “See you soon” it had always bothered me but it stung especially this time.
We weren’t supposed to be together anyway, I thought to myself as I crossed the train station back to my friend who was guarding our packs.
Eight months earlier on New Years Eve I broke up with my boyfriend of two years. It wasn’t a clean break. While I became a chore to my friends, needing copious amounts of attention and council, he tried to appear to be fine to everyone around us. This bugged me. This was why, I suppose, we didn’t work.
I saw him across a room at callbacks for a show a month and a half after my break up. He looked interesting. And, more importantly at a small school, he was someone I didn’t know. He seemed to be someone no one knew. We sat there for hours together waiting to be called in to read for parts. Talking, not talking. I enjoyed being with someone for a few hours that didn’t know anything I had done, and didn’t expect me to be whoever everyone else expected me to be. We started spending time together. We weren’t supposed to be together. I was supposed to take time alone. But there was something about him. Something different.
We boarded the train and I remembered the bottle of wine in my pack I picked up at the grocery store in Paris before we left. Way to go me. Travel pro tip: never expect anything to go according to plan when traveling by train. Lightening struck a tree and it fell on to the tracks. We stopped for hours as they cleared them off. Then the engine gave out: total electrical failure. We waited for a new engine. Then we woke up and we were in Switzerland. We were supposed to be in Rome. We emerged from the train station to see a beautiful town surrounded by mountains and green. The air was clean and a sense of calm swept over me even though I didn’t know why we were here. I didn’t care. This was exactly where I needed to be.
After twenty-eight hours of travel we were finally in Rome. I sent my mom, dad, best friend, sister and him hurried text messages and we practically sprinted to the closest restaurant the little Italian man at the front desk had recommended. Armed with a fork in one hand and a vat of wine in the other I devoured my pasta in four bites. We returned to our cockroach hotel and I sent a grown up text message: “Pasta and Wine help me think more clearly. Transfer schools. Go to New York. Staying at a school you don’t like and can’t afford for a girl is stupid. Even if I am that girl.”
We ended our relationship the following evening. He resisted, wanting to figure out exactly what was happening with his life before we broke it off, but I, surprisingly, was a grown up once more and stood up for myself — it wasn’t fair to string me along while he made the decision I knew he was going to end up making.
“So I guess we should break up.”
“See you later.”
“Yeah you’re definitely not allowed to say that anymore.”
We went to Florence for two days. I allowed myself just those two days to mourn the relationship. I had a week and a half left in Europe; I wasn’t going to spend that time thinking about a boy, even if he was that boy… I would think about it later.
Italian men adored my friend. Her skin was pale and her eyes were blue. My frizzy brown hair and tan skin were less impressive. One charming Italian man explained it to me:
“You blend in.”
I raised my glass to him. Good. That was exactly what I wanted. I liked blending. I needed to blend because then I didn’t have to think about going back to the small college town, my last year of school, with people who had already formed their opinions about me and didn’t plan on changing them any time soon.
By the time we got to London I felt like a robot. Deep down I felt everything, and I knew exactly how to express how I was feeling but by the time the words reached my lips they came out as some sort of gurgle.
I met and talked to people in London for the first time as if I had known them for years. They had a genuine curiosity for what I had to say and I listened fascinated as they described different aspects of their own lives. Up until that evening my world felt narrow and small populated by people waiting for me to mess up but after talking to strangers from all different places in the world it began to feel bigger.
I got back to the hostel as the sun was rising. I felt full and hopeful. It occurred to me as I climbed into my bunk that I had perpetually been in a relationship for three years. This realization shocked me because before college I had always seen myself as someone who was good at being alone, a person who didn’t need anyone but was lucky to have a weird core group of friends from high school who loved each other unconditionally and continued this through the years we were apart. We all needed each other, or at least, I needed them. We needed to learn how to be alone, together.
As I grabbed my pack and walked off the plane I thought about how I reached my destination. The flight had left on time, from the airport we were suppose to leave from and we had arrived exactly how we were suppose to. But this wasn’t where I expected to be.
On the surface I left home for Europe fine, I had a bad year at school, people disappointed me, but I was fine. In reality, I left the country more negative than I have been in my whole life, frustrated by things and people I couldn’t change, wanting so desperately to be done with college so I could start my life already.
“Start my life already” what, was I twelve? This is my life. I’m in it, its happening. People will disappoint, plans change, people leave, but you could also end up in Switzerland and it could be beautiful.