Previously on Nayrotica…
I sat on the curb until the bus pulled up in front of me. I stood up and looked at each person with an unparalleled intensity; I studied each face and was desperate to find the fella. The steady flow of people eventually became a trickle… and then the trickle became a single drop here and there. And then there was a drought. No more people emerged from the bus. The driver got back on the bus and the it drove off.
My brow furrowed and my eyes burned. I didn’t understand. Stomach twisted in a tight knot, heart vanished. There was a hole in my chest as I sat back down on the curb and couldn’t even muster a tear.
I could feel my body slump, sinking into the asphalt that surrounded me. My heart ached, my mind raced, and I was done. Finished. I couldn’t keep up with my thoughts or myself anymore.
The voice came from behind me. I knew the voice… barely. But I definitely knew that voice. Turning my head to the right, there he was just standing there in his black shorts, with striped athletic socks, Chelsea boots, a jean jacket, hat and aviator sunglasses, backpack slung over his shoulder. “Who are you waiting for?” He nodded toward the street.
“YOU CAME!” I stood and lunged at him, practically toppling him over.
He laughed, “Of course I came.” He furrowed is brow, probably wondering why I was suddenly thinking he hadn’t made the journey. I explained to him that another bus was right in front of me and I was expecting it to be his bus, and then when he didn’t get off the bus, I became defeated and petulant. “But it doesn’t matter anymore,” I declared, “because you’re here now.” And it really didn’t matter; we hugged a few more times, and kissed once or twice for the Pols out on the town, their eyes staring holes through the homosexuals in the streets of Wroclaw. I then guided him back towards the hotel. We stopped for a bite to eat at a café that overlooked a fountain and some green space. We shared a… (wait for it, wait for it!) We shared a quesadilla and a Caesar salad. Up until this point on my visit to the motherland of Poland, I had pretty much only consumed borscht and pierogis, so to partake in a quesadilla just seemed odd! But share it, we did.
And as we sat there, I remember looking at him after we finished eating– his image emblazoned in my mind. He leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head. He looked relaxed, content. I was excited and nervous to bring him back to the hotel where he would be inundated with a meet-and-greet. Not that he wasn’t gracious, but feeling like I had to tap dance on a bed of raw eggs without breaking any of them, I was a reticent. However, I also felt like he could handle it. And our love was new, but felt genuinely grounded (at least it did a few days prior), so I also just reassured myself that it would all go smoothly.
We paid our tab after sitting for a bit and sipping espressos, and then wandered through the woods to get to the hotel. As we entered the grounds, it seemed as if we entered a scene out of a coming home film– classes that were meeting in the grass turned en masse and looked at us. Someone shouted, “NAY!” And everyone came running. The fella and I kept walking as everyone formed a mob around us, “IS THIS HIM? IS THIS HIM!?” As we reached the palazzo at the back of the hotel, he turned and said, “I am merely a man. I come to you today in preparation for a bountiful feast… and to publicly take my groom in honor of all of you. However, first… I am weary from my journey. So I must retire to my chambers. Continue with your day… and tonight, we will celebrate.” The crowd, my cohort, burst into a joyous cheer. The birds flew from the trees at disruption of the resonant applause and shouting. The masses disbanded and went back to their classes in the grass. And I stood there, next to him– watching everyone return to their activities.
“Nay,” he said. “Nay…”
I looked at him as he was gorgeously sitting with his hands behind his head. We were at the same café where we had just shared a quesadilla and a Caesar salad. “What did you say?” I asked.
“Are you ready to go? I am a little tired and could use a lay down.”
Looking around a bit to get my bearings, “Yeah. I am all set. Let’s go nap.” I was clearly lost in my head for a bit– distracted by the thoughts of what was to come and too lost to know what had just happened. My mind was unraveling thread by thread, but I was attempting to maintain my composure. Don’t let the cracks show. DON’T LET THE CRACKS SHOW! I didn’t want him to know that I was slowly melting down like a nuclear reactor and that I had the potential to wipe out the entirety of Europe and part of Asia if I continued on this path. So, I led him back to the hotel through the trees, but the masses of people didn’t convene and instead, we just ran into one or two people in the lobby and then went directly to my shared room. My roommate was in class for a bit, a class that I was supposed to be in, but received permission to be absent on account of my future husband’s arrival that day.
We immediately took off our clothes, devoured each other, and took a cat nap.
Waking up next to each other felt amazing, refreshing, and ultimately reinvigorating. It reminded me of the person I fell in love with not so long before– the sweet and caring man. He hadn’t changed, but I had just learned about new aspects of his person, and that was sobering, so to reconnect physically gave me a great sense of comfort and ease. From there, we took turns in the shower and readied ourselves for a night out on the town. We were going out for dinner on the town square.
After making our way into the city, we chose a restaurant of Italian cuisine. We shared a thin crust, wood-fired pizza that night. The food was fine, otherwise I would remember well enough to write a terrible review of it now. Instead, I remember nothing of the actual meal itself. I do, however, remember that the fella had his foot on my lap during dinner under the table cloth– and I remember massaging his foot before the food arrived. It was intimate, and I felt it was familiar– how and why did this feel familiar? Was my mind reminding me of someone or something? Was I creating stories in my head about the familiarity of feet? And why was I so comfortable massaging them under the table at a white table cloth restaurant? We were seated outside, on the edge of the patio area, so perhaps the proximity to air and sky made me feel like it was acceptable to push my thumbs into the fella’s foot whilst others ate around us. Whatever the rationale, I remember liking it. And to me, that also seemed a bit out of character.
That night, we ate and then we rested. The next day was going to be a long one– it was our wedding day, so there were obvious stressors that were soon to be ever-present. But before the wedding, we had a group excursion on which to embark: the concentration camp.
Yes, you read that correctly. The next day, we were scheduled to go to Gross-Rosen, a concentration camp from World War II in modern-day Rogoźnica in the Lower Silesia region of Poland. So that night, we slept entangled. When we woke the next morning, we readied ourselves quickly. The bus arrived early.
On the bus, we sat near the back. We spent much of the time chatting amongst ourselves, but also answered the questions of those seated around us. People were curious, sweetly so. We made multiple stops leading up to Gross-Rosen, and finally arrived at the camp around noon. It was a grey day, so the weather was perfect for the somber day trip. We toured the site, most of the buildings had been removed– but some still stood where they were once contained inhabitants, occupied by fear, rage, defeat, and possibly (just possibly), sprinkled with some hope.
While the building outlines and foundations remained in tact and the incinerator still held its ground, the most haunting piece to me was the grand entrance to the plot of land. A long and winding cobblestone street that was installed by those imprisoned at the camp led us from the main gate to the many outposts and bunkers where people would rest after a long day of forced labor. Gross-Rosen was a work camp, not a kill camp– which was pointed out to us time and again; regardless, thousands upon thousands died at the camp due to the brutal working conditions that inmates had to endure while working in the quarry that was located within the camp. This same quarry provided the stones for the cobblestone path that marked the entrance into the dark and somber grounds. I imagined the blood on the stone; the sweat that dripped from the brow of countless inmates. I imagined the people falling from fatigue, illness, starvation. The stones bore the ghostly footsteps of so many people who were not spared in the widespread genocide. And that made me ill– knowing that my feet were treading the cobblestones that were installed by prisoners, the stones that, if they could speak, would tell unspeakable horrors of the abuse and deaths that occurred right where I was standing. I was (and am) privileged enough to stand there, feeling safe and uneasy because no longer was Gross-Rosen a work camp, but it was now a museum– a place for memory. A place for ghosts.
As I walked around near a man I so desperately wanted to know better and with whom I wanted to spend all of my time, I began to question that impulse. The ghosts of relationships gone by, my ghosts, began to emerge and cast a shadow of doubt on every move I made, but more so– I began to question his every move. I began to think that nothing was real or intended. Everyone around me, I thought, has ulterior motives. My mind was racing and the shadows of negativity were creeping in. I wanted so badly to believe in the best of people, but rational thought was gone. I started swallowing every doubt; I could not relax… I couldn’t breathe.
Doing my best to appear like I was not melting down, I rejoined the side of the fella I was about to marry and playfully nudged him– Gross Rosen was not the place for “playful.” He half-smiled at me and we made our way to the bus where we shared some water and a snack. I was failing at my mission to remain under the radar with my meltdown, “Are you ok?” He inquired.
I just looked at him and nodded, knowing that any word that left my lips would betray my need and want for my clandestine spiral downward. Perhaps that was the moment I should have known– when I should have known that after years of trying to conceal what was actually
on my mind in my heart, that I could not fake my way through a marriage. A sound mind would have insisted on seizing that moment to begin unpacking the knot in my throat. However, being of a different mind than the one my doctor advised, I put those thoughts away and smiled. “You’re sure…?” He reiterated his question.
“Yeah. I am good. Just feeling a lot– it’s a big day,” I said something like that, probably less and/or more eloquent, perhaps with some bumbling and self-corrections. The bus soon pulled away from Gross-Rosen, and there was a quiet that fell over the passengers for a while after leaving the camp. Indeed, people were feeling a lot. But like any moment of gravity, levity followed soon thereafter and the group was laughing and chatting again as we made our way to a countryside inn where we were to have a mid-afternoon lunch.
The inn was lovely– open farmhouse style tables and buildings. It was a served lunch and you will never in a million years guess what was on the menu! That’s right… BORSCHT AND PIEROGIS! We dined on beet soup and potato dumplings, and they were much better than any of the others I had tried while in Poland– not that the others were bad, but these were buttery and amazing. I sat next to my fella, I was at the head of large table and he was to my left. We sat with some of my cohort and, in general, spirits remained elevated and people were having a good time. At least that is how it appeared– I was having a hard time remaining in the moment. I watched everyone as if the volume were muted and in slow motion– it wasn’t a constant reality for me, but I was coming in and out of that state of being: foggy and underwater. When people turned to me for response, I would smile or laugh depending on the inciting look. And that worked most of the time. If more was requested, I would simply ask them to repeat and then respond accordingly. I couldn’t focus.
Eventually, we were back on the bus and resting before the big night. At that time, we still hadn’t decided on a first song to dance to, or which rings we were going to use for the ceremony– so that last hour on the bus was largely about making those final decisions. iPods were handed to us, so that we could see what songs were available, and we decided to use the rings that were already on our fingers. We were
not ready for the wedding.
Once we arrived back at the hotel, we had a little time to ready ourselves before the ceremony. The wedding site was a clearing in the forest, so the sun was our light and were definitely running against the clock. As we showered and discussed what has happening, I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to wear– at one point, I actually had on athletic shorts, thinking that was okay to wear. And then I had a moment of, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU THINKING, NAY!? You cannot wear gym shorts to your own wedding! YOU CANNOT WEAR ATHLETIC SHORTS TO ANY WEDDING! I put on some pants, and as we made our way down the main staircase in the lobby, we were met by our officiant, our best man, the camera crew, the flower girl who pinned homemade boutonnières on us, and the musician. They led us to the clearing in the forest. Soon after darkness fell, the music started (voice and ukulele) and the wedding congregation marched in with lit candles in their hands. The song ended, and we stood in darkness, surrounded my candlelight. Overcome with feelings of glee and incredible appreciation for those around me, I was once again underwater trying to focus on what was happening around me, but only seeing glimpses of reality. Our officiant’s phone screen glowed in her face as she pulled up the ceremony.
To be continued.