[…an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force…]
Flight to London
I packed pages torn from the mid-80s edition of Let’s Go Britain of destinations for us to visit near York where you’d been studying abroad. We never used them.
Ferry to Holland
On the phone in the London rail station I said, I’ll see you on the continent after your finals. When the line went dead, I turned and said out loud to myself, I’m going to Amsterdam and get fucked up.
Not long after dawn while the two college girls from Connecticut I’d met on the overnight ferry and I waited in a tavern for the hostels to open, smiling old men bought us drinks. We stumbled laughing drunk onto cobblestone streets.
Train to Brindisi
Three freckled Minnesota schoolgirls harassed by a group of Italian boys sought refuge in my compartment. When the boys showed up, I spoke with my hands and indicated the girls were with me. The pack leader, a teen with a standing wave of hair, pointed to one and lifted his eyebrows. I jerked my thumb at my chest. He pointed at each in turn and I claimed them. For emphasis, I rounded the huddled girls up with my forefinger in an invisible lasso and thumbed twice back at myself. He pursed his lips and nodded slowly, buffing the nails of one hand on his lapel to show he was impressed. They gave up and moved on.
I, however, hadn’t given up on us…yet.
Ferry to Crete
I called you multiple times and left messages with that guy in your hall who was unfortunate enough to have a room near the phone. I said, I’ll call tomorrow night at this same time. You weren’t ever there.
I decided not to circle back and instead took a ferry to an island halfway to Africa. There, I slept under a small tree on a beach by a massive cliff wall. A single fissure cleaved its face so deep as to form a cave. It smelled like the Cyclops’ goat pen.
The first day a baby bird hopped the low dunes to my side as I lay reading. It opened its mouth wide. I cracked flat snails into its maw. I imagined a mythological god having taken the form of a helpless creature to test me. The second day the bird, learning to fly, fluttered down from the branches, cheeping. The third day I met a woman traveling alone and when I returned the bird had gone but the woman stayed.
Bus to Cappadocia
The two Dutch sisters plucked mulberries with fingers streaked purple. We’d descended into a labyrinth of groves fed by hidden cisterns hollowed inside volcanic cinder cones. That night the elder sister visited my room, also carved into the heart of a cone.
Further east into Asia Minor at the zenith of my odyssey, beheaded stone giants sat atop mountain thrones facing the directions of the rising and setting sun. There, I wrote you to say what hadn’t been said.
Cruise to Budapest
The student at the youth hostel counter confided that her coworker wanted to go out. We dined on a boat at the bend in the river. She spoke scant English but we managed to communicate well enough. More clearly than you and I had months earlier.
When I’d called from London you’d said, There’s someone else.
I said, Oh…you should have told me. I meant, you should have told me before I’d planned to travel from California to England.
Your voice moved up an octave. It’s not what you think. He knows all about you. He knows you’re coming.
I repeated myself, more flatly this time. You should have told me.
I watched the phone card counter tick down toward the single digits, resisting the urge to count backwards like before a rocket lifts off.
Auto to Austria
The German family I hitched a ride with was returning from Romania where they’d smuggled bibles into underground churches. They put me up in their farmhouse and uttered my name during prayers, the only word I understood. Each morning the unmarried sister and I walked down the lane to get fresh milk. Her mother mended my jeans and her older sisters pulled baked goods from the oven whenever we showed up to their homes. We rode bikes through the dappled light of the forest.
One night, the younger brother, the one with the weakened heart, sat on a swing under a sky of stars and gently handed me a hedgehog. I cupped the shy creature in the bowl of my hands.
In that last phone conversation you’d spoken urgently, your words a run-together stream of sounds I could hardly process. Before you were cut-off mid-sentence, I’d already untethered like an astronaut free to drift off into space.
Train to Paris
I went with the Dutch sister for a weeklong holiday in France (where I once expected to rendezvous with you). We boarded the wrong Metro line and I stepped back out onto the platform. On hearing her cry out my name I turned to see her fallen and being dragged backwards with her arms reaching out to me. Women screamed.
I ran two or three train car lengths until I grasped her outstretched hand, then pulled hard. Her left foot, caught between the sliding doors of the old carriage car, slipped free shoeless. Her purse lay on the step of the moving car.
I knelt by her side and asked if she was okay. When she nodded I bolted after the receding purse.
The doors slid open to reveal a slender man intently regarding a woman’s empty shoe cradled in his hands. He looked up at me trotting alongside the train. I motioned for him to toss it to me, which he did, throwing open his hands as if releasing a dove.