June 28th, 2013
ON THE AWAKENING
It was June 28th, 2008, when you stepped off the city bus on O’Connell street in Dublin City. It was early in the morning. No one was out. Shops were still closed. You’d timidly parked your butt on a curb and watched as the city stirred itself awake—first, with street sweepers, and then, with, early-morning shopkeepers half-way lifting metal gates. Business men stamped by. Paper peddlers. Cars, more buses. Engines. Horns.
Dublin was a city, not unlike other cities you’d seen, save the fact that the people drove on the left, that buildings were old and ornate, and every corner had a pub called “The [insert adjective] + [unrelated noun].”
It was the first day you were met by the little challenges of travel that accumulate in a lump of frustration: too early hour of the day, an inability to figure out a foreign payphone, the incredulity that Dubliners didn’t know what a “grocery store” was, and that you would have to say “supermarket” forever after; street signs were difficult to find, and there was no grid system; certain food items were unobtainable, and you didn’t know whether you would have to factor in sales tax. Little things. Truly.
Little things, but hurdles.
Your host picked you up from the city center after you managed to make contact with him. His name was Eoin, a member of globalfreeloaders.com. He was the first of what would be a very long list of hosts. He took you home, made you breakfast, blew up an air mattress, and left you a set of keys. You couldn’t believe he was so trusting.
His twenty minutes of action was like a glimpse through a periscope. No matter which way you turned, you saw the same scene, again and again, in different forms, in different degrees. But always the same story told.
How much you had to learn about people! How much fear, anxiety, and suspicion you had to release.
Five years, Maria. Five years of bouncing from place to place, country to county, city to city, job to non-job, volunteer gig to cash gig. Relationship to flings, to one-night-stands, to… deep loves, broken hearts, and good old-fashioned rebounds. You heart bounced. It swelled, deflated, blackened, flushed, jittered, and sank. It did every feat of emotional acrobatics there is—and yet it remained, beating away persistently. A heart that wouldn’t quit, even when kicked.
Oh how much you had to learn about people…
“You need to learn to give me space. People need time to experience their feelings, whatever they are.” It was Jane who said it, in an effort to teach you how not to go into panic mode the moment you suspect someone is angry with you. It was one lesson about people you’ll never forget.
Feelings are powerful, often unpredictable. They are what govern every decision that you make. Feelings can be rationalized, but they do not shelve themselves. Feelings take time.
The feelings of other people are complicated. Even your own feelings are a challenge to understand. Know thyself. So few people do. People are just bundles of feelings.
ON BRAIN CHEMISTRY
You’ve learned a few things about feelings from drugs. Those incredible can’t-get-enough highs are all in good fun—sometimes over the top, but generally okay. And the comedowns from the high highs… the fear, the anxiety, the negative self-talk, the vulnerability, the “You should really write your mother a letter to tell her that you love her; while you’re at it, compliment this old friend on Facebook to remind him that you care; in fact, tell everyone that you care, that they are in your thoughts. Oh god, you feel so alone! Weep already! But your eyes are dry—too dehydrated, even for tears. Wish you would stop trembling. Look at her, over there. How can they sleep? You’re here gnashing your teeth, heaving sighs, hoping this anxiety would just go away already! So cold…” Sigh. Bury your face into a pillow, clutch the edge of the mattress. Knees draw into your chest—feebly. Fetally. God help you. Every mistake that you’ve made plays on a reel projected on the wall of your mind. Remember when you fucked up everything? Remember that bridge you burned? Sigh. Open your eyes against bright light of summer seven AM and scowl at your sleeping comrades. Write so-and-so. Post cards. Email. Look at map. Research this. Find that clip. Tell her that you love her, and that you are so-so-so worried about her. Do something, Maria! Do something!
You scream silently into a pillow.
Time. It always takes time. A couple hours on the cold white tiles of a bathroom floor, with a pair of tweezers usually does the trick. Pluck, pluck, pluck, goes your leg hair, one by one. It calms the nerves. Passes the time.
Passes the time.
It just takes time. Then your feelings change. You start to feel better.
It’s all just brain chemistry.
Doesn’t matter if it’s drugs, or food, or love, or experiences. It’s just chemistry. Everyone finds their fix somewhere.
“These people,” Alexis chided. “They’re here, dancing, painting, meditating, walking around and talking to ‘spirits’ in the trees and the flowers. That woman sees elves. They pay money for this kind of self-indulgence. It’s no different than finding meaning in the bottom of a glass.”
Always the cynic.
You’re certainly self-indulgent. Like the members of the “Open Your Heart” group, you found meaning everywhere you wanted it to be. Once your lacerated figure found love again, you rebounded and began to see everything in the beauty of newness and discovery. Love does that.
And even when the love was gone, you found meaning elsewhere—in your own abilities. In the notion that you could do the things that people told you not to do; in the notion that you could collect the stories people were unwilling to collect. You could suffer the most, if you chose to do so. You found meaning in your independence. You found meaning in your flexibility and adaptability. You found purpose.
But those tricky feelings of yours, ever-shifting. What happens when the novelty of all of that wears off? Then what?
ON TEN BUCKS
So you think you want to travel on ten dollars a day?
Do you want to walk for hours out of a city, along the edges of highways, in the sun, rain, humidity, through construction, garbage, and gypsies? Do you want to stand on the side of a dusty road, thumb out, smiling through rejection? Do you want to be honked at? Do you want to men to lean out of windows and make lude gestures? Do you want to be solicited for sex?
Do you want to fear falling asleep in the passenger seat? Do you want to be dropped in the wrong place, suffer bad communication, and lose time? Do you want to feel objectified? Taken for a joy ride? Do you want to be groped? Invited to hotels? Offered drinks? Questioned about your “boyfriend?” Do you want men to treat you like a woman in the least polite way?
Do you want to be at the mercy of strangers? Invite yourself into their homes? Be on your best behavior all of the time? Do you want to feel like you can never fully relax? Like you are constantly under the microscope? Do you want to fear criticism?
How would you like to buy the cheapest food on the shelves: white bread, carrots, cream cheese, and peanuts? Maybe a cucumber or a tomato? Plain lentils with olive oil? Bags of frozen peas?
Would you like your chewing gum to come from the street? Little forgotten tablets, still dry on the concrete? Would you like to drink most of your coffee from concentrate? Would you like to order hot water only, and bring your own tea bags?
Do you want to feel like a vulture?
“I wanna tell you something,” the drunken man says to you. He’s losing his steam. In minutes, he will crash, and then he will probably go home and sleep. He’s been up all night, gambling (and losing) hundreds of Euros in a casino. Just got back from London. Wanted to cap the night off at a bar, where you’d wandered in at 10am looking for wireless internet.
“What’s that?” you ask.
“I would really like, one day…” dramatic pause, “to eat your arsehole. And certainly, your—” P-word.
It is an attempt to be vulgar. It is an attempt to upset you somehow. But it doesn’t work.
You smile, sip the beer he’d thrust in front of you at such an early hour, and say, “Tell me more about that.”
And so it begins. You have yourself another “Shifty.” Shifty is the name of every whack job you pick up—every weirdo, every creep, every lonely straggler, every misfit. They shift around a lot. Probably why no one ever talks to them very long. No one likes to tolerate the Shifties of the world.
Except for you. Everyone has feelings, after all.
Shifty shows you his penis under the table. “You’re a lesbian, right? Well what do you think of that?”
He cannot upset you. Your indifference to his exposed penis arouses his interest. He buys you more beers. You drink the day away at that little cafe bar. Even watch some Trannie-porn together.
More beers. You are wasted and having a great time because Shifty makes a complete and utter ass of himself without respite. You see another Shifty across the room and drunkenly invite him over. This upsets Shifty #1, so you make Shifty #2 leave; he leaves you his beer anyway.
You must be bored, because you invite yourself to stay in Shifty’s apartment. Although he has been exposing himself to you all afternoon, you do not find him threatening. Especially when he admits that he is 40 years old and had never had a girlfriend.
Gee, wonder why…
And then he begins to cry. You tell him things about how he makes the wrong lifestyle choices, or perhaps that he is an “acquired taste” for some women. Surely, someone will date him. He has money, after all.
He isn’t sexually frustrated. Just emotionally frustrated. He’s awkward, but not socially awkward (despite his exhibitionism). He gets over his tears and returns to critiquing the porn. You flinch at scenes of women spitting on each other.
The next morning, he arrives twelve minutes late at a designated cafe, white as death, dragging his feet behind him like a zombie. You must be bored, because this train wreck of a man is the only thing keeping you in this otherwise unexciting region. And you are mildly concerned about him.
Unsurprisingly, despite his raging hangover, he removes all of his clothes shortly after you place your backpack on the floor of the sitting room in his new condo. “What do you think? I mean, you’ve already seen it! Who needs clothes?” He is fully erect; he gestures to your surroundings. “What do you think of my fireplace? And this furniture. God, I love these pillows. Shag-a-delic. Yeah baby!”
You tell him that you plan to buy some groceries, then go for a run. He normalizes for a moment, gives you ten Euro, and asks you to pick something up for him, and buy more water. He gives you the keys. “I’m going to lie down for a while.”
“I’ll make you something when I’m done with my run,” you say.
He pulls out 100 British Pounds. “Would you mind swapping this out for some Euros?”
After your errands, you find him half-asleep, naked, on his couch. He is too sick to move. Not too sick to touch himself.
“You want something to eat?”
“Later,” he mumbles. He does not look well. You bully him for two hours until he agrees to go to the alcohol clinic for a glucose infusion and some anti-nausea medication. “Okay. I’m going. I hate that place. Listen… just like… don’t nick anything while I’m out, okay?” It seems like an odd request, considering the level of trust you already have.
You read a book about different ways of thinking while he is out.
Shifty returns, looking much better. He masturbates at you for a few moments before losing interest and disappears into his bedroom. He does not surface again, so you go for a walk to look for some nightlife on your own. You don’t find it. But you do meet some rip-roaring drunk hipster girls. One of them is a 30-year-old librarian with carrot-orange hair, pink lipstick, and a purse full of cheese. Her teeth are stained purple, and she throws wine everywhere as she gesticulates.
You part ways. Eat some french fries. Finally go back to Shifty’s condo, sleep, wake, pack, and depart without leaving a note.
You must be bored. Stupid bored feelings.