“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”-Dalai Lama
It takes a second to remember what city I’m in – and then it hits me. “Oh that’s right: Novosibirsk. How could I have forgotten I’m in the middle of Siberia?”
I’m hung over from all the exhausting train-travel lately, but that doesn’t stop me from doing what I’ve done every morning for the past eight weeks.
I swipe my phone off the nightstand and pull up my email. Maybe today. Maybe this is the day she finally responds and accepts my offer to give us another shot. I’m getting worryingly close to Beijing, the place I figured we could meet up – and I still haven’t heard back from her.
I flick some junk mail aside. Ugh. Still nothing….
Suddenly, there it is. For the first time in months I see her familiar email address at the bottom of my inbox. My heart leaps out of my chest and my fingers get clumsy with excitement.
The wait is finally over!
I’m picturing us meeting in Tiananmen Square later this week, her on one side of it and me on the other, and when our eyes meet we race across and she leaps into my arms like a scene from Gone with the Wind, and it all looks absurd against a backdrop of modern China, but neither of us care, we couldn’t care less….
Her email is eloquently written, as usual. (She has always been a much better writer than I am.) After letting me know that all is well on her end she cracks a couple of inside jokes like we haven’t spent a day apart. I quickly skim through all the small talk – I can go back and read that later – as I desperately look for her answer.
I find it towards the end of the e-mail.
I read it out loud to the pillows around me, hanging on every letter.
“Maybe I can meet you again some day down the road, but it is evident that we are a bit too off-sides to make much movement down the field of life together.”
My heart immediately hardens and I’m a bit confused. Not by her football analogy (that doesn’t exactly make sense according to the rules of the game) but by the rejection. It never really dawned on me that she would actually turn me down. I always thought – or maybe I should say my ego always thought – that she was just passing the days and waiting around for me until I invited her back into my life. I figured it was just a matter of time until she read my email and responded with a “yes, I can’t wait to see you too”.
I let out a stunned breath, and then my mind goes blank.
Eyes glazed with sorrow, I look out the window at the snow that’s piled high atop the rooftops across the street. I watch the outline of a burley Russian man lean out of his bedroom window and puff on a cigarette. I watch everything and think nothing.
Finally, I drop my head into my hands, wondering if there is anything I can say that will get her to change her mind.
I figured Siberia would be a good place to stop for a few days, so that I wouldn’t have to spend seven straight days crammed inside a tiny train car. And besides wanting to break up the journey from Moscow to Beijing a bit, I was also curious to see what Siberia was like. Now I’m wishing I wasn’t here – but at the same time I’m wishing I wasn’t anywhere.
Novosibirsk isn’t anything special, by the looks of it. Just like any other city, except much colder. Clear skies and far-below-freezing temperatures make this one of the harshest places on the planet to spend the winter. It feels like karma’s at work – it’s so very fitting that I got this harsh news here.
I go back to her email and read the rest of it. More unexpected news; she says that she’s headed back to Miami, which is the god’s-honest last thing I would have ever expected her to do. She hated Miami when we both lived there and vowed to never return.
She goes on to say that she’s flying back tomorrow, which, ironically is just days before I’m finally supposed to arrive in her neck of the woods. I’m stung. After nine months apart, she could have waited just a few more days, so we could have met in person and hashed things out – but she hasn’t, which cuts deep. This is not only a “no, I can’t see you” – it’s a very loud “no I don’t want to see you.”
Then as I get to the bottom of her message I come across the worst thing I’ve ever had to read.
I cringe as I read it.
She tells me she’s spent time with someone else along the way. My stomach churns and I physically feel ill at the thought of her being intimate with someone else. She goes on to say that it was nothing serious, but the damage is already done…
I race out of bed and over to the toilet and brace myself above it, because it’s very possible that I might actually vomit. My hair dangles in front of my face and I break into a cold sweat while gripping the toilet seat for dear life.
My mind and body are in full meltdown mode; if you asked me to describe my worst possible scenario, my most sick and twisted imagination could not have dreamed this up. Not only does she not want to see me, but she’s going back to Miami and she’s been spending time with someone else. If I thought I’d been hurt before, that was nothing compared to this.
In all fairness, I did ask her if she’d met anyone – and she was only answering honestly. But did I really want to know the truth? No, of course not! And she can be honest to a fault sometimes. And in full disclosure, it’s not that she’s done something that I myself haven’t done. Nine months is a long time to be apart.
But that does little to stop the pain from seeping into my bones right now.
As I try to compose myself in the bathroom – a sudden, horrible suspicion hits me. I grab my train ticket and double check it, I’m supposed to leave Novosibirsk for Beijing tonight at midnight, it’s a five day train journey – but suddenly something besides my love life doesn’t feel right.
I unfold the ticket and look at the date that’s printed across the top. I’m scheduled to leave on November 16th. Huh, that can’t be right, I swear I was supposed to leave on the 17th.
“Wait, what day is today?”
I left Moscow a few days ago and there was a three-hour time difference between there and here. I didn’t really sleep well on the train, so I’m just kind of lost as to what day it is.
I flip on the TV and turn to a local news channel; the date is stamped in the bottom right hand corner.
Today is in fact November 17th.
I throw the ticket up in the air, and as it flutters to the ground, I punch a nearby pillow in frustration. “You have got to be kidding me. How could I have missed my train to China by a full day?”
Dollar signs fill my brain. This ticket was the most expensive thing I’ve purchased along the way, and not only can I not afford to have missed the train financially – but the mental toll on me is going to be unbearable. It was such a complicated process to book the initial ticket that it took nearly two weeks to do so, and I had to pick up the ticket in person at a very out-of-the-way Moscow office. I have no idea how to rebook it – or if rebooking it in Siberia is even possible. And on top of all that, who knows when the next train leaves anyway? Novosibirsk to Beijing in the middle of November, when its negative ten degrees outside isn’t exactly a popular route for locals or tourists alike?
This is a disaster. And I’m simply not ready to deal with it.
My attention is momentarily pulled back towards the TV by breaking news. It’s appalling. There’s been a massive terrorist attack in Paris and over 100 people are dead.
I don’t know who’s responsible for the attack – nobody does yet – but my mind goes right to the Syrian refugees I met when I was traveling across Eastern Europe earlier this year. I imagine that they are going to catch the backlash for this. Some people are going to find a way to blame them for this atrocity. The gutter press will drum up some sort of story about how the borders were weaker around Europe because of these Syrian refugees seeking freedom, which made it easier for the terrorists to make their way to France.
I shake my head in disgust. Everything in the world feels messed up today.
Back to her email. Maybe I read it wrong….
My phone warbles. A text has comes through from my family. 11 hours away at the other side of the world, they are all gathered at my cousin’s wedding in Florida – but the text reads that my grandmother has collapsed at the reception, momentarily stopped breathing and had to be rushed to the Emergency Room.
I raise my arms to the sky. “Really? This too?” I can’t think, I can’t process anything, my brain short circuits on me. I’m well past the point of tears and a numbness I’ve never felt before sets in. I am well and truly lost.
The only thing I manage to do is to pick up the phone and call down to the front desk. Knowing that I will most likely need to spend a few more days in Siberia, I ask to extend my stay, and then wait for the answer while I listen to the concierge click across his keyboard.
“I’m sorry, Sir, but we are fully booked.”
“Of course you are.”
I slam the phone down – and as I do so I pull a muscle in my back and tweak something in my neck. My whole body seizes up, which sends an excruciating pain up my spine and across my shoulders. I can’t turn my head from side to side because of the pain. It’s like someone slide a knife into my back.
Everything is unraveling.
I gingerly lay on the bed, stretch my arms and legs out like a starfish, and I talk to the empty space around me, “What is happening? Why all this?”
I start demanding one.
“Do you want me to quit? Is that what this is about?”
I cannot think of anything else that could possibly go wrong at this moment. Not only is my world imploding, but from the looks of what’s happened in Paris, it feels like the rest of the world is falling apart as well.
I think about hopping on the next flight back to Miami, going back to my old job and old life where I didn’t have to think. I never felt pain like this back then. If ever there were a moment to quit, this would be it.
“I’m in Siberia, for god sake.”
In the past when I was on the brink of quitting, it was because of safety-related issues that were out of my control. This is different. This is an avalanche of stress all at once, and it’s my inability to handle it that is the issue here. It kind of reminds me of the game Jinga, like when someone pulls the wrong block from the stack and all the other blocks come crashing down. At that point the game is over.
Have I pulled too many wrong blocks? Is it game over for me?
I gave this thing a good run, but maybe it’s time to put the pieces back in the box and the box back in the closet.
As I lay here alone, I can’t help but think of one of the things I’ve always asked for, which is solitude. Well, mission accomplished. I’m in Siberia, I’m at the edge of the world, and right now solitude is my only companion as I try to work out what to do next.