Early in the morning, Harman and I got up to grab a quick bite at the Coop Supermarket and then meandered around the city for a bit before his train to Zurich arrived. We bounced between a handful of bakeries and confectionery shops multiple times, taking new samples of that day’s pastry over and over again. We didn’t have a ton of time but walked the Chapel Bridge and surrounding blocks that have a home on the Reuss river. At one point we found ourselves on a bench freshly stuffed with plenty of desserts from the local shoppes, watching the water rush underneath our feet, wondering what life would be like once we got back home.
Harman, a new life in Seattle, a dream path, a job for which he absolutely deserved. I, on the other hand, was still TBD — and it was finally starting to set in; it was getting easier to forget that I was in Europe with my best friend. When Harman asked me what I was planning on doing at the end of the next week when my return flight left Paris, I teased the idea that I’d run off to Italy for awhile like the most cliche of movies or books, not to be disturbed for years to come. I thought I’d follow him to Seattle and continue building that foundation I laid earlier in the summer while trade working. Or maybe I’d follow in my own father’s footsteps, I offered ironically, and fall back to Brooklyn for a bit to take pictures and write and just figure life out where he had decades before. It’s funny how even the most innocent of energies we offer to the universe can so quickly radiate inside of us, writing the next chapter of our story before we’ve even had a chance to get past the first page.
After Harman boarded the train to Zurich, I found myself just kind of drifting around with my camera in my hand. I didn’t know anybody, our Aussie roommate at the hostel, Kristee, who, much like the bartender in Nice, was oblivious to my existence, had left early in the day to go sailing with some Swiss men whom she’d met the day before, and I had nothing to do except sit around with my own thoughts — and some incredible Swiss chocolate which, while actually a bit difficult to hunt down in the maze that is Lucerne, is absolutely worth the global hype. And this was the moment that I began to understand one of the most important lessons from the entire trip. You can run off to any country or city, with anyone by your side, with any intention at all. You leave without a trace or without warning. But you cannot run away from yourself.
While traveling absolutely opens your eyes to a world you have never seen before, it also delivers a frightening sense of clarity within yourself. I’ll be the first to admit that both back then and today, I’m not very good at being alone. This, I know, is coming from the person who once wrote that he wished to have a thousand homes, never overstaying his welcome in any particular place. Maybe the most interesting stories are always the most confusing and contradictory. But I digress. Once the sun began to set I realized that I didn’t ‘feel’ like I had just walked around Lucerne for the day; it was like I blinked and suddenly it was 7 p.m. For as beautiful as the city is, for as alluring are the restaurants and bars and boutiques, another lesson to keep in mind is just how important rest is, traveling or not. Exhaustion is a dangerous drug.
I went back to Coop for a few assorted baked goods and a carton of white wine for dinner, which actually was pretty comparable to Italy’s vino prices. When I got back to the Lion Lodge, I sat in the common room at one of the only tables that was positioned next to an outlet, charged my camera batteries, and took out my Moleskine. The wine didn’t last long. Throughout about five pages of rambling, what I wrote most was that its shame we all miss out on so much by trying not to miss out on anything at all. We could all so quickly become nothing more than a tourist in our own lives, passing in and passing through. I was also surprised to find just who came to mind when half the world away. Souls to the North, souls to the East, souls that were certainly not longing after me.
I began to miss everything and everyone, memories that weren’t even mine to hold onto. I was terrified to think of who I was going to become (or try to become) when I got back home. Maybe I would miss my flight in Paris and just hang out on the other side of the world for a bit longer, but then I began to wonder what made anyone dream of living a life built entirely out of uncertainty and instability, much like those of lifelong hostel workers around the globe. Did I have what it took to do that? And did I want to? Did that desire make you ‘one of the crazy ones,’ and if it did, was that such a bad thing? And what the hell was I actually going to do with myself if I didn’t skip my flight and was back en route to Cleveland? But as I’ve come to learn in my brief time on earth, sometimes life leaves you with more questions than answers. It was about 10 p.m. local time and was still thundering outside. Plus, the wine was gone and I realized that sometimes there just isn’t anything left to say, so I packed up and waited for Harman to get back.
Stepping out into the world makes you realize who you were all along, or at least who you want to be. It unsettles you, can unhinge you, but ultimately brings you closer to the truest version of yourself than you’d ever been before. That, in itself, is scary. It reveals things about yourself that you both have overcome and things that you still need to learn to embrace or throw away. Even the most ambitious of travelers can have nights when they feel a shattering sense of loneliness, of separation. Nights when distance becomes so much more than a word. After all, I’m not from here, can be an isolating phrase to repeat to others and yourself. So many people are just looking for a place to finally be from, after all. For all my melancholy that night, before I finished writing I left one final question unanswered. Did the wheels of the universe always spin you exactly in the direction you needed to be facing, forward or backwards or somewhere in-between?
I can’t remember when Harman got back but eventually, we both found ourselves in that all-too-familiar morning-packing-panic before our FlixBus showed up. When we got to the depot it was raining again and we took shelter underneath a covered motorcycle rack with the rest of the crowd waiting for the pickup.
The bus, itself, was incredibly empty that morning, and Harman and I both had an immense amount of space to sprawl out. It would be about an hour to Zurich where Harman would head to the airport and I’d switch bus routes, this time bound for Frankfurt. The entire ride north, neither of us said much to each other. We were both exhausted, yes, but I don’t think either of us could admit out loud that the trip was over, the trip we’d spent half of a year planning. When we pulled into the depot in Zurich, I walked with Harman as far as I could to the tram that would bring him to the airport before turning around to sit in a Starbucks for some free WiFi before the transfer. We gave each other a bro-mantic hug, said, I love you, brother, and wished each other safe travels. Again, sometimes there just isn’t anything left to say.
Suddenly I found myself alone for a week in Europe. And this was the part of my trip I actively avoided telling my mom about until I was overseas and safely out of her reach.