It was the longest travel day of my life: Sydney to California, California to New York, New York to Berlin. Over thirty hours of flight time, not including layovers. My flight out of New York was delayed due to the rains that had been drowning the state for days, and I sat in the airport, a half a step from brain dead, not knowing what time it was or what day it might be. My fellow delayees and I did our best to sprawl out and make ourselves comfortable at the gate, and by the time a message from the loudspeaker that we would begin boarding in an hour had awoken me, I had gotten a reasonable amount of sleep and no longer felt like dog shit thrown into the bin. I straightened my clothes and headed for the bathroom, wiping at my smudged eyes as I looked at my sleepy reflection in the mirror.
Whenever I felt too hassled or troubled by traveling, I remembered that I had the job most twenty-six year olds would commit murder for. As a writer working for a prestigious travel magazine, I had been given the world on a platter, so to speak. I was paid to galavant across Europe, put up in the best hotels, and supplied with lists of the best places to shop and dine. I kept a small apartment in London, but rarely ever saw its interior. And currently, I was on my way back from a corporate trip in Sydney, Australia, where we staff had been treated to Sydney nightlife, Adelaide wilderness, and Victoria’s beaches. And I hadn’t paid a thing for it. Berlin was my next assignment; a city in Germany that I had not yet explored.
As always when it was time to board, it was also the time to put my thoughts away and get settled in for the next seven hours.
It is a known fact that crying children are never truly welcome on an airplane. Neither are men who insist on sitting with their legs spread wide apart, or individuals who have been too liberal with their fragrance. Unluckily, I was seated in the middle row of the plane, between a mother with a crying toddler and a man doused in cologne. I wondered very briefly if my boss would take pity on me and upgrade me to Business Class if I called and asked him very nicely. Instead, the presumed father of the unhappy child, a trendy New Yorker by the looks of him, leaned across the aisle and asked me if I wouldn’t mind trading seats with him. I glanced over to his row of three seats; sure enough, the guy at the window was slouched, knees apart, with a bowler hat over his face, taking up precisely one and a half seats worth of legroom. Luckily, the middle seat was open. I agreed to the exchange, and arduously moved myself and my belongings to the new location. My seat mate did not stir, and I busied myself with arranging my book, magazines, and tablet in the seat pocket in front of me.
It wasn’t until several hours into the flight that the man stirred, straightened his posture, and pulled the bowler hat off of his face. He stretched a little, looked out the window, and noticed me. “Oh, you’re not the guy that was sitting here before,” he said smiling, nonplussed.
“No, he opted to be next to his family,” I replied, looking up from my reading.
“Have we been flying long?” he asked, peering out the window as if he may get an answer from the blackness.
“About three hours, I think,” I replied, turning the page of my book.
“You’re reading; sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you.” Something in his smile, though, made me want to smile back. And I did.
“No bother,” I said. “Going home?” I asked, somewhat presumptuously.
He nodded. “Yea. Well, Berlin isn’t technically where I’m from, but it’s home for now,” he replied. I nodded, and not knowing what else to say, went back to my book, only pretending to read. He was handsome; nice blue eyes, dark hair, good style…..
“Have you been there before?” he asked. I shook my head. “Nope, this is my first time,” I said, closing my book for good. I was ready to pursue conversation. He seemed like he might have an interesting thing or two to say.
“You’ll like it. It’s a great city. There’s a lot going on. Do you know where you’re staying?”
“Eh, yea, a pace called Das Stue,” I said, rather conscious of my shitty pronunciation.
“Hm, I don’t know that one, but I’m also not very familiar with the hotels in Berlin,” he said, smiling again. “Are you on holiday?”
“No, actually. I write for a travel magazine and Berlin is my next city of discovery,” I said, smiling. It always felt good to answer that question.
“What a great job. You’ll have a ton to write about. Berlin doesn’t disappoint,” he remarked.
“What about you? What do you do?”
“Well, I often ask myself that same question.” He smiled again. “What I’m trying to do is finish my Uni degree in Film Studies, and simultan—, simulta—fuck, what’s the word? Si-mal-tane-e-us-ly, trying to open a studio where I can record film music.” He shook his head.
“That’s really interesting. Is it working out?” I asked.
“It is. Slowly, but it is.”
I smiled. “That’s great.”
We talked. For the rest of the flight, the four hours remaining, we made conversation about you name it. Just as the final ‘beep’ went off to initiate the clicking of all passenger’s seat belts, he said, “I don’t know how weird this is, but if you ever need someone to, you know, take you around the parts of Berlin that not everyone knows of, I would be happy to do it.”
I smiled, squeezed my eyes shut briefly and thanked the gods, before turning to him.
“I think that would be very helpful indeed, can you give me your number?”
And from then on, it was game on.
I spent half of my nights in Berlin in that swanky boutique hotel. The other half, I spent in his one-bedroom apartment located in an up-and-coming neighborhood. He took me out, showed me the sights, brought me to his studio, played me music, and made love to me. Believe it or not, this was not typical of me. Very rarely did I ever make anything past a superficial connection with a man while traveling, and certainly never slept with the ones who bought me drinks.
It was three years, two of which were actually the embodiment of unparalleled happiness, before we finally decided we had to go our separate ways. We had begun to slip into a mutual understanding, a mere friendship that transferred us into the roles of roommates who occasionally slept with each other. When it came to the heart of things, we were both artists; artists who both had careers that had taken flight and recently begun soaring. I was approaching thirty with gusto, never slowing down, not even for a moment. How could I? My writing had, thanks to social media, gone global. I was freelancing and contracting as a stay-on for not only travel magazines, but also fashion and lifestyle publications. In addition, I was glued to my tablet or mobile phone, constantly tweeting or posting about something when I was wasn’t updating my blog, which was making me enough money to live on by then. For his part, he was working long hours, composing, going to meetings, and networking. He had already gotten his foot in the door of the German film industry and had begun reaching companies well outside of Berlin and even Europe. Between his twelve hour days and my erratic travel schedule, we saw next to nothing of each other outside of video chats where we gobbled down some take-away food and talked about the weather.
My mother, every time we would speak on the phone and no matter how briefly, would insist that we were going to start arguing if we didn’t spend more time together, and inevitably one of us would become bitter. As a result, I called her five minutes before I was due to board a flight so as to have a savvy excuse for not being able to listen to her full lecture. In all fairness to my mother, though, she loved him, and he her, and she wanted me to settle down a bit more since I was getting, as she so kindly put it, ‘older’.
On a cold and blustery Fall day, he brought me to the train station where I would catch the nine o’clock train to Geneva and from there, go on to the city of Montreaux. We were both running late and had not much time for a proper adieu. We stood together on the platform, hands clasped, a single tear rolled down my cheek as I watched his eyes well up. He brushed the water away hurriedly with a knuckle. “I’ll call you when I arrive,” I said, trying to smile, trying not to think of the stack of boxes in the foyer of our shared apartment that would be shipped to my flat in London the next day. “Have a nice trip,” he replied, smiling ever so smally.
“I’ll miss you.”
We kissed for a moment, looking and feeling like lovers, but we knew we were saying our last goodbye.
A whole decade passed in which we had little more contact than the occasional and very impersonal social media blip. Ten years is a long time for life to work in its mysterious ways, and the decade went by in a flash. I took up residence in a beautiful, sunlit apartment in a pre-war building standing on the banks of Lake Geneva in the Swiss city of Montreaux, home of a world-renowned jazz festival, and the exact city to which I had traveled when I left Berlin for the last time. I was not residing alone; in fact, I had met a Swiss man who had given me what had remained for me to desire from the world, including the recognition and acceptance of my occasional cultivated bi-sexual preferences. He was in his fifties and aging very well; a banker with a surprisingly docile demeanor. He was also divorced, on friendly terms with his ex, and childless. He liked me for my creative mind and wanderlust tendencies, and I liked him for his good taste and ever-present patience. Together, we made up a team of steadfast comfort and understanding. He was the type to take me on tours of his friend’s vineyards in the mountains, book a spontaneous long weekend for shopping in Paris, meet me for dinner when I was in London, and allow me to treat him to a stay in some fashionable London hotel. I never took him back to my flat because that had become the place of my very own, housing the part of me that never wanted to share, give up, or compromise anything.
Moreover, Montreaux was a stay in paradise. Beautiful during every season, the lake greeted me every morning from outside the bedroom balcony. For three quarters of the year’s days, the light colored wooden floors became silent underfoot, and the spacious living room became a basin of light all day long. Working from home became much more appealing. So appealing, in fact, that I began to leave Switzerland less and less. Instead, I took train trips to Bern, Lucerne, Interlaken, Geneva, or other cities, and occasionally, I would venture over the border into France. Actually, most of the international travel was done in the company of my dear partner. We breakfasted every morning together; he read the paper, while I exercised my fingers scrolling through emails and other alerts. He would head off to work, while I would place myself at the seat of my desk and begin to write something for someone, somewhere, but had mostly turned to blogging full-time.
One magnificently brilliant summer day as I leaned over the railing of the balcony, taking in the panoramic view that I had grown so accustomed too, I realized that I had grown incredibly established in my habits. There was no spontaneity to my day, and weeks went by in a similar fashion and structure. I wondered briefly if that made me happy or morosely depressed. Instead of answering myself, I frowned deeply and went back inside.
That very evening, over freshwater oysters, I broke the news of my discovery very delicately to my companion. I don’t think he was surprised; yet, I did note the sadness in his eyes when he looked up from buttering his bread after I told him I would be leaving. Truthfully, I was sad, too.
The next morning, I embraced him in the foyer one last time before he saw me to the door. While the doorman loaded himself up with my luggage, I took one last look behind me to see him standing there, hands in his pockets, sad smile on his lips, and the balcony doors thrown open to the breeze, the glistening lake winking behind him.
Opening the door to my flat in London, I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been a monstrous mistake to leave Switzerland. I looked around at the coffee table, sofa, and bookshelves, all dusty from months of disuse. I unpacked my things, straightened up, and, all the while tried to sort out the consequences of my actions. For three days, I hid from the world, keeping myself within the confines of my bed, crying over ridiculous movies and devouring tea sandwiches. By the time I knocked a bit of sense back into myself, my friends, family, and followers had all dropped me some kind of line, each sounding more concerned than the one before it.
And that was the end of my self-doubt and regret. I stayed no more than two nights in England before jetting off to the south of Italy, meeting up with friends and making new ones along the way. That first dive into the clear chartreuse waters of the Mediterranean gave me credence and clarity like nothing else could. This was where I was meant to be, and tomorrow it would be somewhere else. The rolling stone had not yet turned into sand.