Germany, Iceland, Denver, Boulder – 30
What magic there once was in Europe seems lost to me forever. Even Iceland is gray, miserable and suffocating. Physically, I’m depressed and grimy. My laptop was stolen in Amsterdam, but that happened a week ago, and I quickly moved passed it. An expensive mistake on my part, that’s all it seems like now. Instead, the malaise is a spread of realization. The time to play, and be happy, has passed. Now it’s seriousness in life, career, and the care for those around me. However, Europe had seemed to escape these symptoms of growing older.
But now, practicality has made short work of the memories I had of Prague, Madrid, Istanbul, Berlin, and the other dozen or so cities I used to “know”. Europe has become a place like any other. My pulse doesn’t quicken with anticipation when the plane lands. Instead, I think of how long it will be until I can fall asleep in an uncomfortable bed.
No single factor is to blame. Working in Prague brought me joy. But the thought of taking a job in Germany is suffocating. I’ve spent too long being the boss, even if a middling one. I have a taste for it now. So I’m trapped in a situation with more closing doors than opening ones. And for the first time ever, both age and circumstances, have turned against me. And then there’s that guilt, the guilt about being happy that I’ve carried with me ever since I was little. If I did manage to kick it for part of my 20s, then today it’s back in full effect. I feel it in every action, and the repercussions those actions have upon the people in my life.
On the plane, everyone is covered in blankets and sleeping, even though it’s early where we came from. I fill out an immigration form, and visualize the small international terminal of the Denver airport: a scarcity of passport control stands, two baggage carousels, and a waiting area with Russians huddled outside, watching for their arrivals.
How did I end up back in this city? I left college, and Denver, behind with Clorox still on my hands from cleaning at 4 am. I drove 12 hours to a new life in Chicago, and never missed it here. College was brutal, beautiful, and monumental. But Denver was never home. Now I consider spending the rest of my life 30 minutes away, in Boulder, which I used to detest. I’ve become docile, and I find this place comfortable and pleasant.
I dream of made up memories.
I’m in a pretentious bakery and delicatessen, and become furious because they tore down the restaurant that was there before. They ask me to leave. I sit outside and remember detailed scenes: taking girls on dates here, calling lost loves from the tables. I feel as if I’ve lost a part of my youth. And as I wake up, I realize that all the elaborate and detailed memories have never existed.
My eyes are always bloodshot. I don’t know if it’s the computer screen, the dry air, the restless sleep, but they never have the clear quality they used to. Maybe it’s another effect of age? But I refuse to buy that yet.
At least the days are distracting. I work late and read HP Lovecraft, Poe, and Bierce to fall asleep. When I spend time with friends, we watch movies and regurgitate the Economist. All things designed to distract. Because I know what will come out if I don’t keep busy.
When I wake up on the plane, I think we’re in the middle of think clouds. As I come to, I realize they’re not clouds, but that the ground is completely lost in opaque snow. It reminds me exactly of the opening to a short story I had written nearly a decade ago called, Coming Home. Except that had taken place in Minnesota in the dead of winter, and this is Denver. It had been 60 degrees when I flew out 3 days ago.
Somehow despite the complete blanket and continuing snow, it’s the most on-time flight I’ve had in years.
If someone could freeze this moment: 30 years old, standing in an HM with blaring music, a sweatshirt in one hand that’s 10 years too young for me, and a latte in the other, it might be the definition of a mid-life crisis.
It’s not a question of how I got here; even if the years are muddy, the days are very clear. I’ve become what I wanted to be, and if I’m being honest with myself I expected it to feel like this when I got here. But there’s much less quiet dignity in loneliness, and instead just a general dullness and confusion. I would say things have become less bright, but my eyes have taken on a new sensitivity that has me wearing sunglasses all the time.
The girl at the counter stares me in the eyes when I check out. Young, very young, and light blue. I’m unsure how to feel. I’m unsure what the eye contact means. I don’t even have an idea of what I look like in her eyes.
Ironically, I’m sitting in a bar, when for the first time in a week my mind comes into focus. I look at my fingers. The cuticles have been chewed off. On the fingers are cuts that have reopened and bled through the Band-Aids. My clothes are noticeably stained with what I think is coffee. My lips are broken, and I can feel the bags under my eyes. I run my hand through my hair, it, at least, feels kept.
I’m two drinks, into the first drinks, I’ve had this week. I wonder what the rest will feel like. I can’t place the events of the past week. There are some moments: resting my head against a medicine cabinet, the public urinal between speaking engagements. But most of what I’m left with is a feeling- complete exhaustion.
I remember at that moment that my daughter has the flu, and I feel guilt. Guilt for where I am now, and guilt for how little I’ve been there for her.
I try not to cry when I’m saying goodbye to my daughter. It tastes like blood in my mouth.
I’m at a hole in the wall coffee shop on Blake Street in Downtown Denver. There are two sharply dressed Europeans, with small carry on bags for a flight. They move between English and what I think is Russian. I realize that I still miss Europe, and it seems strange that two people sitting at an espresso bar would bring that out in me.
My mind quickly goes to thoughts of ex-girlfriends. Nothing sordid, in most cases it’s a struggle to even try and remember their faces. I think more of the locations, the music, the smells and sometimes the touch of sleeping next to someone in an oddly shaped bed. There’s not much left for me there, but it’s good for these rare moments where I find myself with nothing to concentrate on.
She used to hate my apartment; she called it the ivory tower, which is sort of apt. The thought of that never depressed me until recently. Now, I can only return late at night, when the Denver skyline looks beautiful, and hides the shit tan, red, sand, rock, gray, dirt, brown, mixed with whatever the fuck garish color palette they used in the 70’s, during the city’s previous boom.
Nothing in New York is ever as it seems to me. I doubt I will ever love this city, because the fanatical love that most people have for it makes the task overwhelming. I’ll never know it as well as everyone else; it will never reveal its secrets to me. Yet, I come here, and a little of the onion is peeled off every time. It’s a softer city than I ever knew it to be. People live in such close proximity that everyone is always in a mild state of annoyance, yet most people are willing and open to making connections with others. It’s unlike Minneapolis today, or the Denver of my college years.
This bar has taken a turn for the worst. It was a nice bar when we entered, nicer than the average Chicago bar, and seedier than the average Manhattan bar. But the night’s descended into orderly nothingness. Is this what it means to be waspy? Is this white trash? People pair off into disgusting twosomes. Someone in the group next to me keeps screaming the word ‘goy’. As I reach for my drink, a couple falls on top of me. An indistinguishable hand traces its path up my jeans. Did I ever like this shit? And if I did, what the fuck is wrong with me now? I’m fully aware that the problem could be me. Everyone is descending into hell, and it’s stupid to assume I’m the odd one out.
Out of the blue, an old girlfriend from Prague calls me. She was always very happy. And again, she tells me that she’s happy. But she doesn’t sound happy. She only mentions that she feels older, that she’s looking at new jobs, that she moved to apartment by a large lake. Berlin would be a tough city to get older in.
She’s going on a holiday to New York, and invites me to come join her. I tell her I will. I don’t really have much else to say. It seems like ground that’s been tread many times before. There were so many years when I would have loved to have had that call. I thought about that call every day, sometimes every hour. And then when it finally comes, you’re not sure why, and there’s nothing left to feel. Afterwards I eat a sandwich, and then go to a friend’s birthday party. It isn’t until late the next day that I even remember that the call happened.
I leave my grandmother’s house in Fort Collins. As I leave, the conversation ends with my family discussing if she should move to assisted living. I’m the only who appears to feel strongly that she should stay in her home. It’s not an old house, or the one from my childhood, but she keeps it immaculate, and it’s comfortable, and it’s close to the church where she volunteers.
There’s a hole in me that seems to be growing larger. I haven’t unconditionally loved anyone for a very long time, but now it’s returned in the form of my daughter. However, it’s not fair to put something so important onto someone so young. So it ends up pouring into work, into friends, and it’s just like learning to walk, or to speak, or some other skill that’s needed to exist. You’re trying to learn how to survive, by learning how to live without them.
Also published on Medium.