“In French, you don’t really say ‘I miss you.’ You say ‘tu me manques,’ which is closer to ‘you are missing from me.’-Unknown

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels, Belgium

I’m worried – and it’s driving me crazy.

My plan was to beeline towards Beijing and meet up with her there, but there’s a major snag.  It’s been six weeks since I emailed her…and I still haven’t heard back.

I’m checking my email what feels like a thousand times a day.  Each day I run myself through the exact same excruciating gamut of emotions. I start the day hopeful and optimistic that today, yes, today will finally be when she responds, and then one thing will lead to another and we’ll end up living happily ever after.

Naturally, that quickly leads to fits of missing her like crazy, which usually stick with me until around lunchtime.

That’s when things start to take a turn for the worse.  It’s like a malevolent force starts oozing through my mind, feeding off my fondest thoughts of her until nothing’s left.  Then – an awful feeling of anger and betrayal sets in.  I can’t believe that she has the audacity to ignore me after all the things I’ve done for her.  Next, I start listing all the nice things I’ve done for her (unwittingly editing out the bad stuff, of course).  I even start talking out loud:

“Remember that time back in Miami when I went to the doctor for you and pretended that the symptoms you were having were mine because you didn’t have health insurance so you could get the antibiotics you needed?  And oh, how about all the money I’ve been sending you, you know, so you can survive, you think you could do one damn thing for me in return and answer a simple email!”

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Frustration follows, and I start regretting that I even emailed her in the first place.  Around dinnertime I’m wishing I could just move on with my life and meet someone else already, which festers until hopelessness swamps me.  It’s the kind of feeling where I don’t care about anyone or anything or even want to travel around the world anymore.  Right then, I just want to be alone and stuff my face with potato chips or some equally unhealthy food so I can feel even worse…

You know the drill, right?

I wallow in that embarrassingly slobbish state until I decide to get ready for bed.  As I lay awake at night, the cycle completes itself.

I go right back to missing her like crazy and hoping that tomorrow will be the day she’ll finally write back…

I know the reason she isn’t writing me is partly because she doesn’t have Wi-Fi, and that she only checks her email when she heads to the nearest Thai town to load up on supplies before returning to the monastery she living and working at.  I know all this, but I’ve gone ahead with my plans to find her even though I don’t know exactly which monastery, or if she even wants to see me.

I organized visas for Belarus, Russia and China, and I booked a ticket on the Trans Siberian Railroad that should get me to her part of the world by Thanksgiving.  And now?  Now I’m currently headed her way, my heart in my mouth.

I’m sitting in a comfortably modern 4-berth cabin on a train that’s rumbling through a chilly Eastern European November night.  I’m sharing the cabin with a Polish twenty-something with light blonde hair who hasn’t stopped talking since the train pulled away from Warsaw a few hours ago.  I feel bad for the grumpy middle-aged Belarusian man that’s sitting across from him – he has nothing to do but listen and nod along.  I’ve got my headphones jammed deep into my ears in an effort to tune the “conversation” out, and my laptop is balanced across my lap so I can write this.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

Even though it’s only 5 P.M., it’s already pitch black on the other side of the window because winter has crept up earlier in this part of the world.

My two compartment-mates are headed to Minsk where they’ll get off in the middle of the night, and I’m stopping in Moscow for a week.

I’m scheduled to arrive at around mid morning if all goes according to plan.

I’ve moved across Europe pretty quickly since I left London in late September, and I’ve stayed in the most interesting string of places I’ve ever come across.  First, the home of a Jewish Family that converted the attic of their home into a four-room bed and breakfast in Brussels. Then I stayed in a gay-friendly boutique in Berlin – after which I spent a few nights in a 5-star hotel called Panorama, overlooking Prague and all of its splendor…and then, earlier this week, another bed & breakfast that doubled as a classical music concert hall in Warsaw.  All of them accepted my standard offer for photos and films in exchange for a free room – and all of them couldn’t be more different from each another.

I admit it – I sometimes wish I had a hotel chain like Marriott or Hilton sponsoring me, putting me up in their hotels as I make my way around the world.  But then I think about all the unique experiences I’m having at the eclectic places I get to stay at.  Why would I ever want to trade that for the same cookie-cutter hotel each place I stop? What would I lose along the way?  (Too much, I suspect.)

One day in Brussels, Nadia, the French-speaking owner of the B&B, let me use the family kitchen to make my lunch. Preparing my meal with two (two!) sets of young twins running circles around me, I opened a can of tuna, and as I leaned over the sink to drain it under her watchful eye, I said, “draining.”

She looked back at me with the most mortified look I’d ever seen, and then she said, “drinking?”

It was one of those lost-in-translation moments that normally ends with me getting hopelessly misplaced when I ask someone for directions – but instead of sending me in circles down a dark alleyway, it ended with both of us in fits of laughter.  I couldn’t imagine drinking the juice from a tuna can (especially in front of a stranger that’s letting me stay in her home) – but when she thought that was what I was going to do, it might have just been the funniest thing I’d ever been party to.  Maybe it’s one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments, but either way it was one of the true joys of traveling the world.  However funny it may actually have been, we ended up laughing like we’d know each other for years.

Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland

Then there was the dungeon dominatrix room that the boutique in Berlin wanted me to take photos of.  Yes, you heard me.  They didn’t exactly tell me what I was walking into.  After I had taken photos of all the regular hotel rooms (which were stunning – some of the best interior decorating I’ve seen to date) they said:

“Oh, and one more thing, can you take some photos of the room at the end of the hall?”

I walked to the end of the hall and opened the door without suspecting the surprise behind it.  I walked in, and….

Well, quite frankly I didn’t even know that kind of stuff existed.  I will spare you the details, but try imagining something dark with lots of padded walls, leather whips and chains hanging from a spiked ceiling.  All I could do was roll up my sleeves and get to work.

I went from that eye-opening experience to the biggest filmmaking assignment a hotel has ever asked of me, in Prague.  The hotel was a five-star hotel, and they wanted more than my standard offer – a full five-minute film for which they would hire actors and storyboard out the shoot.  I’d never filmed anything like that before, but I assured them that I could do it.  The pressure was well and truly on me to deliver from the second I arrived – and I became the director for the week, saying things like “3, 2, 1, ACTION” in Czech.  I had another hotel in Prague that agreed to my offer and they only wanted photos, something I could have done in just a few hours, but I went big and I took on the project that pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to learn new skills – like I haven’t done that enough lately…

I emerge from my thoughts and look over at my Polish cabin-mate.  He still hasn’t stopped blabbing, so I shoot him a dirty look that says, “Can you please stop talking so I can hear myself think?”  Nope.  He doesn’t get it, clearly being one of those people who are oblivious to how loud they’re talking.  If he had a bluetooth headset, he’d be screaming into it.  Sigh.

Sundays in Miami

Sundays in Miami

It’s impossible for me to write when something gets under my skin like this, so I take a break and flip though some old photos.  I can’t help but stop on my favorite one.  It’s back in Miami, taken a few months before I left on this around the world journey.  I remember this moment like it was yesterday.

Every Sunday when I was still living there, I would go over to my buddy’s house (the mutual friend that introduced us), which was where she was living at the time, and the three of us would watch the one o’clock football game together – then after the game we would race across the Biscayne bridge to the closest Taco Bell in my buddy’s convertible.  Then we would order everything off the menu and race back across the bridge with piles of Mexican food (if you could call it that) to watch the second half of the football game that started at four o’clock.  By the time we polished off our last taco, the pinkish sun would be setting behind the wall of buildings across the bay.

In the photo, I’m in the front seat – and she’s in the back.  She’s wearing my navy blue Yankees hat.  It was a picture-perfect day, the weather exactly how you’d picture Miami in December.  Palms trees swayed above us, the ocean glistened on either side, the top was down, the wind in our face, my favorite song was on the radio, I was with my two best friends and the whole world was still in front of us.

My thoughts fly from that happiness back to our failed first attempt at a sustainable relationship, and then to the no-man’s land I currently find myself in.

My life could go in so many directions right now.  I wonder what will become of me.  I could get to Beijing and still not have heard from her – then what? She could accept my invitation, and I could end up meeting here there and, who knows, things could work out perfectly and we could end up together forever…

…or she could meet me in Beijing and things could unravel (again), and it could not work out for a second time – which would be even more devastating.

Sundays in Miami (My favorite picture I've ever taken).

Sundays in Miami (My favorite picture I’ve ever taken).

I picture her in the monastery.  I imagine her meeting someone else that’s more her speed, more the yin to her yang.  Someone who is willing to go further, not faster – and then I wonder if that’s the reason why I haven’t heard back from her yet.

You would think that after all I’ve been through this past year while crossing Africa that I would have learned my lesson about how wasteful it is to worry, that I would have learned to trust the process, to remember how to deal with all this.  But I can’t.  It seems I remain as human as I ever was.

After another hour or so of mental warfare, I unhinge my tiny bed from the wall and sink into it, letting the train rock me to sleep – and as I drift away, I hope that I’ll get to see her again soon…

Even if it’s only in my dreams.

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  • I know

    Fantastic site and writing man, Dave from Beeterz (# aka Twatter)

    • TravelTall

      Thanks so much!

  • gabby_glebe

    Feels like I’m reading a novel now!