I don’t think I slept for twenty four hours; the excitement bubbled inside me, refusing to simmer and and eventually dissolve until the plane had landed and I had found her. As usual, I found myself rushing to the gate because I apparently enjoy a challenge and the thrill of nearly missing a flight. Fortunately, I made it with twenty minutes to spare. For the first time, I wondered what I was to do with this extra time I was not accustomed to having.
Even more surprising was having an entire row to myself. This wasn’t the first time that it happened, but I did not take full advantage of it during my first trip to Ireland( more on that later) and so happily decided to stretch out, curling my feet under me while stacking my jacket on top of the pillows which in turn were stacked on top of the armrest. Still, sleep eluded me; the excitement erupted, the boiling flow of lava burning me, making me dance, dance, dance around the liquid flames licking my toes. I have never been to Amsterdam and I hadn’t planned to, namely because I’m not too fond of cities. Or drugs. Or the red light district. A Christmas gift of a scratch out map of the world served as an incentive, however the biggest incentive was to visit a friend who I never expected to be a friend.
” What is their name?” they ask eagerly, their leg bouncing up and down as the excitement spreads and supercharges their already overcharged body. I can see the light glistening in their eyes and I smile.
” Now if I told you, that would be cheating.” It’s true; there is only so much I can tell before it won’t be their decision anymore. Then they will blindly follow my path without understanding the potential costs of doing so.
” Oh come on! That’s not fair!” they throw the pen down and cross their arms, indignant.
I laugh, loud and obnoxious, disturbing the quiet meal of the couple dining beside us. “Fine, I’ll give you a name. The name is Blond, James Blond.”
” Really? Why are you calling her that?”
” Because if looks could kill, you’d be dead in two seconds. At least, that was my first impression which led me to avoid her for as long as possible. Fortunately, the avoidance plan crumbled like a cookie and I discovered, eventually, she is not quite the killer she appears to be.”
” Do I get to meet her? Where is James Blond now?”
I deflect the question, swatting the fly away and telling myself to keep writing.
Before I had even taken off, I received specific instructions on what to do when I landed. I was to find the bus counter, purchase a ticket, go outside and find the stop numbers 18 and 19. Then I would get off at agfjfkgkenjuwbckj- I honestly cannot remember the name and if I did this would be how I pronounce it since I fail miserably at languages, including English- or scratch that, there was construction so I would get off at gfhfbdnsmkmfkj and walk until I saw the crystal clear windows bearing a silver sign chiseled with the words of her company. It seemed simple enough; a script was exactly what I needed, especially in bustling cities where the concentration of people skyrockets astronomically and I have to worry about getting hit by a bus, a tram, a car, and a bike. But there was a small detail omitted, a detail that would reinforce that I should never take a bus ever again. Apparently I was supposed to swipe the ticket not only when I got on but when I got off as well. Because my ticket failed to scan the first time and I definitely didn’t scan it the second, I stole a free ride from the good people of Amsterdam. Whoops.
As I walked down the street, careful to avoid the red lane reserved for bikers, a calmness came to my door and settled in unexpectedly. Usually I welcome it more remotely, away from towering buildings and bustling streets full of intimidating passerbys. Yet I held it, embracing the surprising gift while I took in the canals and boat houses resting behind the cafes and businesses.
” That’s why when you go and pick up a book, go beyond the cover. Read the first few sentences and then decide whether to take it with you or put it back. It won’t be perfect, however, so maybe go beyond the first few pages to determine whether its worth keeping by your side.” Both our meals finally arrive and we sniff the air, the crisp chicken wafting through our noses and producing a slight drool.
” So was the book worth keeping?” they ask as they unraveling the plastic binding holding the napkins and silverware together.
” Oh yes, much to my surprise. Although I’ve been holding onto this one book for some time now,” I bite my tongue. There is so much I could say, but it would derail me. I want to tell them that one day you’ll find a connection and it will scare you because you think it’s a dream, it could never be real, and yet it will stay with you, a bomb that will break down the thick wall you’ve spent years building. Where one connection fails, another will pop up, although usually hidden among the musky shelves that no one bothers looking through.
” How did you find the book?” Wow, I forgot how persistent I could be.
” By not looking at the ones on display and realizing that there are more good parts to the story than bad. Now shut up and eat. Oh and don’t forget to continue to write.”
They scowl, but the first bite of the chicken loosens them and they slump back into their chair.
I had to wait for James Blond to finish her work so after giving her my bag, which was a strange sensation as I guard my belongings, my likes and dislikes, my secrets, with an iron door that cannot be breached so when I gave it up I allowed the door to be open. Although to be fair, I’ve been opening the door for her for some tell, the spell cast making me do so. I wander around the stadium, the small park where I contemplate the decision of getting run over by bicyclists or attacked by a swarm of geese( ultimately I choose the bicyclists), and into the neighborhood that sits on the water and I can stare at the house boats. Supposedly parties are thrown often but they were quiet, blaming the dreary winty and its coldness for keeping them inside. Not for the first time a vision grew up from an unexplored corner where I sat and ate and lived on a houseboat. I smiled and tucked it away with me as I finally walked back and rejoined Blond, James Blond.
Unlike some of my previous trips, I didn’t come here with some kind of plan, even though I was asked plenty what I wanted to do. Honestly, it didn’t matter. Whatever we did was great because I was spending the time with someone who felt right and who felt warm, like the snug blanket I was graciously given and not the one in which I nearly froze in my sleep. Any moment where a shred of ourselves was revealed, exposed to a light which we weren’t accustomed to being under, was a moment worth more than the typical tourist itinerary, although we made sure to indulge in those too if only to view and experience as much as the city as possible.
” There wasn’t a bad moment, although like I said no book is completely perfect. I’d be lying if I said my feathers weren’t ruffled at least once. And sure, you can blame part of it on the chaotic sleep schedule which sent my energy shooting up and down. But there was this gorgeous bookstore brimming with books shelved on every inch, every corner of the walls, even the staircase. Yet the sight of all those books amassed into a room larger than what the outside would indicate made me despair. My dream, which flickers on and off, striking and disappearing like a bolt of lightning, was to write a book.”
” Do you ever do it?” A piece a chicken sticks to their face.
” Have you seen my name yet?” I say wryfully.
There was another moment while we strolled through the massive park and stopped at a beautiful teahouse, its blue roof beaming in a strip of sunlight that finally made itself available, where I folded into myself, fumbling with words and unable to keep up with James Blond’s fast pace. But she waited, giving me exactly what I needed without reprimanding or pressuring. Eventually we moved on, stealing away but not too far away so we could get lost in our own thoughts and explore the museum in the way which we knew how.
I could have explored the museum endlessly, my mind subverting from reality as it raced through the labyrinth of art and history, but I didn’t, leaving at the right time to catch the live musicians performing a tasteful rendition of a song that has been lost to me. But I can still hear the sweetness as we watched before grabbing french fries with a new sauce I’ve come to enjoy. My taste buds battle against the flood of new food and the tides of familiar, yet I welcome the occasional push to swim through the whirling whirlpools a grab onto something that turns out to be quite enjoyable.
” This part is important. I need you to write ‘Thank you, James Blond’.”
” Do you think they’ll see it?”
I shrug. ” Who knows? But this is for you to hang onto, remember?”
There once was a boy Who wasn't a boy Nor was he a girl either He laid in between And often did not want to be seen As they monster they so often called him. "Look at the freak!" "Go drown in a creek!" He ran and he ran and he ran so far Until he reached a ladder that climbed Towards the sky Up and up he went Until he reached a ledge to rest energy Well spent. From up in the clouds He can see far below The rivers, the mountains, The horses running wildly, A girl in a red dress Whose brown curls are such a mess "Look at the freak!" "Go drown in a creek!" They laugh and she cries And she runs and hides. The boy who wasn't a boy Nor was he a girl either Calls the girl from his in between And the girl runs to it, Runs to the ladder that climbs Towards the sky Up and up she goes And rests with the boy after energy Well spent. He smiles and points to the valleys below The rivers, the mountains, The horses running wildly And she smiles too At the beauty seen From those who are both in between.
We spent the days wandering, exploring the market, in which the stroopwafels in all their syrup sent divinity shooting up my spine, and purchasing superb watercolors that truly captured the unique charm of the city. Once the day was over we went back to the flat, stopping of course at the supermarket which was more fun than it sounds and I wish I could find a reason but there was none. Perhaps there doesn’t have to be.
” You don’t need to make a list and check off all the places you must see. Sometimes, the simplest things, such as sitting on the counter drinking apple juice and wine while the night dropped its curtain over the sky or binge watching Friends while eating some dutch chocolate is satisfying enough. Actually it’s more than satisfying because it produces a feeling sweeter than all the apple juices and stroopwafels combined.”
They look at me with empty eyes and I know they don’t know the feeling I mean. A woman once told me, or should I say troll- she had wide buck teeth and an oozing pimple over scaly green skin, or at least that is what she actually looked like beneath a mask of fake smiles and hollow assurances- that I didn’t know what friendship was; that it should be easy to call someone up, crash on their couch, and do the things everyone does but I make it difficult. It is difficult when I’ve spent so much time inside my own world that I don’t know what it is like to be out in the other one. My curiosities seem childish or simple to them but they are novel to me. On the opposite end what seems childish or simple to me is novel to them.
” So is there a chance I’ll meet someone special?” their words are muffled by the stuff cheeks filled with chicken. They chew and chew, savory the flavor before moving on to the side of mash potatoes.
” Maybe,” I play coy with them, once again trying to tell but not reveal. ” And maybe there are others. Some that surprise you while others disappoint. Remember not every shirt is meant to be worn long and not every book is meant to be kept.”
” But how do I know?”
” You don’t. And that’s scary. But it’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.”
We sit in silence, chewing and sipping on chocolate milk. Above us, static filters in and out, a jackhammer to our ears, until it settles and a familiar sound rings out. I smile, the image pushing up, up, up through a funnel and into the main viewing room. A skull and crossbone sticker. Wind pouring through an open sunroof. The radio turned up . Yes, there would be more of this, and not just with her. There would be others.