Previously on Nayrotica…
Coming faster than a speeding water buffalo, the arbitrarily drawn line that separated Germany from Poland was nigh, and the dots were still undulating.
(CONFESSION! They were not dots… I was on WhatsApp, so right below the contact name at the top of the conversation, it simply states, So-and-so is typing… So, the whole iPhone jargon with the three dots? Yeah, it doesn’t apply. Sue me. Whatever.)
As we drove on and passed a sign,
My eyes darted back to my phone… HE WAS STILL TYPING! And then just like the silence following every time I have said ‘I love you’ for the first time, they stopped. No more was the short inhalation of anticipation; the message didn’t miraculously appear. I had fully entered into uncharted territory and could only speculate what the message would say onceI was able to get back in range on my German SIM card. The challenge that now lay ahead? Getting a Polish SIM and thereby changing my phone number… reestablishing communication with my new companion and finding out what was said on the missing text message. “BUT WAIT!” I kind of shouted, startling the woman in the babushka sitting across from me. I looked at her and said in a friendly, very matter of fact tone, “I was using WhatsApp,” playing it off like it was meant to be and reassuring her that I wasn’t crazy. I continued, “Therefore, I only need a Wi-Fi signal!”
I looked up and there above my head was the lightbulb I was looking for, “Darmowe WiFi.” Could this mean what I think it means!? Rifling through my settings on my phone, I was able to find an open Wi-Fi network for the bus… I clicked and MAGIC! Messages started rolling in on WhatsApp.
The new fella and I spent 5 hours together and exchanged some text messages, so I was then wondering how demonstrative I should be via chat; I mean, my cards were on the table: I told him I was super into him; I wanted to spend more time with him… maybe ALL my time; I was sad to leave him behind in Berlin. These were things he knew. His most recent message told me to travel safely and “chat soon.” Chat soon? Well duh! But no ‘I miss you already’? No ‘when can I come see you?’ Just CHAT SOON.
Now, that wasn’t my first rodeo, so I was able to decipher the elaborate code hidden within chat soon… In short, it was over. I received his message loud and clear. CHAT SOON was practically like, please lose my contact info and get a life. Resigned, I put my phone away and focused on the… picturesque countryside?
It looked remarkably similar to the fields of my youth… and so, I closed my eyes and attempted to think of times when I was happy and not miserable from the horrible rejection that I had just withstood. Chat soon. Pfffft. But he was right! The self-loathing began. Why would anyone want me anyway!? It kept going, eyes squeezed shut. I was a terrible human being and not worth anyone’s time!
Psych! I am actually pretty damn amazing and one guy and his ‘chat soon’ were not going to bring me down.
With my eyes still closed, I eventually dozed off, which was a bit of a surprise to me in retrospect. I was, after all, still reeling on account of waking up in a German town filled with zombies. But I was able to get a little shut-eye after a very shallow sleep the night before on a pull-out sofa with my Frau.
I woke up, this time much before I was at my destination, and felt a new sense of wonder — a feeling that I was previously too preoccupied to acknowledge. I was in Poland, and that was dear to me for a few reasons. Poland is a place that I spent much 0f my formative years talking about with family. Since I am half Polish, summers were often spent with the Polish side of my family: we were loud and boisterous pickle-eaters. To this day, I still have a fond affection for pickled things and boisterousness. Wonderment took over my previous thoughts of doubt and speculation; I was suddenly excited about my reason for being in the motherland: to study. I elected to take 2 courses for my Masters in Poland over the summer, cutting down my program by a whole 6 months, therefore I was on the trip to participate in an intensive summer school abroad– and not to chat soon. The sentiment was still slowly eating away at my will to breathe… that’s when my phone vibrated loudly. As I reached for it, I paused and reminded myself to not get my hopes up. But I was wrong not to, because it was him. He texted and said, “How’s the trip?”
Launching into full-on attack mode, SHIELDS UP! I was uncertain of my next move. Should I be coy? Baiting? Aloof? I synthesized my options and landed on the perfect retort:
“Dreary. But almost over. How’s Berlin?”
He responded to my question immediately, telling me that his day was going well– it was a Sunday so he had gone to the market, had a coffee, strolled a bit, and he was considering heading the park to lay out in the sun. His response was much more thorough than mine, so I really wasn’t sure how to proceed. Chat soon had never played out quite like that– a loving check-in without me having to send scores of texts simply reminding the fella that I exist! So, did his chat soon actually mean just that? It appeared so. At this point, I threw my compass and GPS out the window and decided to rely on the True North of my heart… the iceberg enclosure than encased my thumping muscle was melting.
And I was officially scared.
By the time I had floated back from the ether of desire and hope into my own body, the jolts of nerves subsided a bit. By that time we arrived in Wroclaw and passed by the central train station, Glowny. It seemed like Glowny was the main transportation hub in the city, so why were we passing it?
The bus moved on to an open dirt parking lot… of course. Open dirt parking lots were becoming a theme for me. Clearly I sprung for the expensive seats that bypassed traditional drop-off points and instead opted for gravel terrain. And there I was, suddenly confronted with a country where I could only sing Happy Birthday in the native language. The lack of language skills made for reading the signs VERY difficult, to say the least.
However, I was not about to let combinations of letters throw me off my game, so symbols became my friend. After all, I was discovering that Nayrotica translates. Therefore, I just needed to maintain my calm, breathe, and smile as much as possible while trying to get through my to-do list: SIM card; coffee; find my hotel.
Outside the perimeter of the gravel expanse, there were tiny markets that sold magazines, beverages, pickles (probably), and SIM CARDS! Item 1: complete. From there, I walked back towards Glowny where there were a lot of people coming and going– and on the informational packet that my university sent with me, I remember them saying that I needed to go there to get to the hotel. So to Glowny I went… and you will never guess what I found there.
That’s right! STARBUCKS! I was basically seeing Europe by visiting Seattle-based cafes, I realized the absurdity of this, but I still felt a certain zeal with each one I discovered. Not only did Nayrotica translate, but Starbucks did, too! Crazy. So there was I was drinking iced Americanos and checking another box on my list. Item 2: complete! Having saved the most difficult task for last, I readied myself.
Mission: hotel trip. Go!
I knew I had to get on a bus or a trolley, and that I had to pass by the zoo. And that’s literally all I knew about my pilgrimage. After making my way to the trolley station, I purchased a ticket for the ride (I was at least 25% sure I got the right fare) and stood there, waiting with others who looked like they may have been fresh out of my family reunion. The sun was beating down and the humidity was akin to a warm molasses bath. That’s a thing, right?
After a few minutes, the trolley finally pulled up and I boarded, unsure of where to put my ticket, so I just watched everyone else. Some stamped their tickets on a little reader, others just did nothing and took a seat. So, I followed suit and rode the trolley for a bit, taking in the picturesque city. Two shopping malls, a zoo, and a couple of Starbucks later, I stepped off the trolley in a sparsely populated area. I heard the hum of crickets, frogs, and other buzzing creatures, but according to the materials I was provided, I was exactly where I needed to be. Following the directions, I traipsed up one road, veered left and right and managed to go in the wrong direction. But it didn’t take long to fix my mistake as there were not many path options, nor many buildings on the outskirts of Wroclaw. As I approached, I must have looked as if I was looking for something– a bearded man in his 20s approached
me and said in a Polish accent, “New School?” I confirmed his suspicions, although to this day I am wondering what made me stand out.
Sweating and disgusting from travel, I had arrived and the hotel looked… fine. It was a cement cube and I didn’t see a single sign that indicated it was a hotel– however I was assured that we were staying in a fairly nice hotel, so I entered and felt the cool air conditioning blow onto my face. At that point I resolved to be content with the cement block; it was refuge from the heat and humidity, and that was good enough for me. I made my way through the lobby that resembled the common space of an American dormitory, and found the reception desk. When I checked in, I was told that there was only one key per room and that my roommate had yet to arrive. Okay, I can handle this. I was doing my best to be fine with all of the circumstances surrounding my check-in to the “pretty nice hotel” I was told about: one key per room; cement block; outskirts of the city. The list was just beginning.
Mine was room number 1, so just up the flight of stairs and to the right was the door with the corresponding number. I unlocked it with the token key and walked in… gone was the air conditioning and dry air. The walls were moist with humidity and the air was rank with mildew. I descended a half-flight of stairs that began at a landing near the door and into the dungeon of a room, noting hat there were two twin beds/cots nearly side by side. I turned around to look and there was another half-flight of stairs. I continued my dive into the depths of the chambers. At the base of the second flight was a dead end and one more twin bed/cot. I selfishly selected this bed since I was the first to arrive: no direct sunlight and it was lower in the ground, therefore cooler. I sat on the edge of the bed/cot, and it was springy beyond belief. This was my life for the next three weeks… I was a 35 year old man staying in a dorm room. I was grateful for the shelter, but when a hotel is pitched to you as “pretty nice,” I expect a little more than warm, stale, and damp. But, I prepaid! So, I was going to make the best of it.
I took a moment to install my new SIM card, and checked my messages. Nothing. I felt a sense of surprise… not because I hadn’t received any messages. Quite the contrary; I was relieved I hadn’t received any. However, that was juxtaposed with missing someone terribly and not knowing how to marry those feelings with my relief of not receiving a message. I missed him, the Berlin man. I missed him terribly. Why?! Is this another case of you want what you can’t have or that is unavailable? I thought to myself. And I really didn’t know. There was something about him and the situation that seemed equally possible and impossible at the same time. I chose to focus on the former and sent him a message with photos of the room. I was feigning optimism in the hopes that it would influence my actual mood. His response was one of even and deliberate candor. I appreciated it– I agreed and admitted that it wasn’t ideal, but I could live with it. We left it at another “chat soon,” this time with less doldrums on my part, and I began to explore the campus.
I was about to embark on 3 weeks of intensive studying, so I wanted to take advantage of my downtime when it arose. I spent the afternoon sipping on water and coffee, while simultaneously meeting the other 25 or so participants in the program, of which only 4 or 5 were from the U.S. A dozen or so countries were represented, and I very much appreciated the international perspective on which the program focused. I chatted with most of the participants, identifying those that I would have the most in common and the most to talk about, etc.
After dinner, I retired to my room, chatted with my roommate briefly, a wonderful man. And then I grabbed my phone and put it out there:
Hey there. Just finished with dinner and I have a confession. I can’t stop thinking about you. I am strangely missing you something fierce. I hope you’re having a great evening. Let’s connect soon. xo
My heart was no longer in my chest… it was floating in the digital universe, hoping that a specific someone would catch it and, in return, send his to me. To my great pleasure, he obliged. He asked me if I could FaceTime– we were both on Apple devices, so that made it possible– and luckily, there was Wi-Fi (albeit spotty) in the “hotel.” That night, for the first time in a long while I noted that, lying on my springy cot/bed, I had a gigantic smile on my face and I was happy. Gazing at the ceiling, I wondered what the next day’s classes would bring, but mostly just focused on my memory’s rendering of his handsome face. I don’t remember dozing off, but I do recall feeling calm and at ease.
The next morning I awoke feeling fresh and chipper. I was ready to knock these classes out of the park and face the day with smiles and glee. I texted my new favorite person in the world a simple good morning text and then readied myself with the daily pampering (shower, teeth brushing). I started thinking about the high dose of the anxiety/depression medication I had been on for many years, Vitamin Z, and as I vigorously scoured my teeth I stared into the mirror at someone who thought it was time to adjust the dosage (of course without the assistance of a doctor). So that day, and for every day that followed while I was in Europe, I decided to reduce my intake by 50%.