On Destruction

When I was in college, I often had fleeting compulsions to take the train all the way to the airport instead of getting off downtown. I’d have only a pittance in my account and the things I’d walked out the door with, and I would buy a ticket to the farthest place that I could afford.

I would be squashed into cattle class, and my neighbor, smelling like a $9 Bud Light, would ask me the usual probing questions about the nature of my journey. And I would say “I don’t know, I just bought this ticket an hour ago.” And they might try to get me to confess that I was running away from something – shitty parents, an abusive boyfriend, the law. Maybe I was off my Lithium. I would insist that I just didn’t feel like going to class.

“So you’re going to Albequerque instead?”

“Why, what’s wrong with Albequerque?”

Sometimes I’d be driving. Sometimes I would get on the highway and I’d dream of sailing past my exit on cruise control for miles and miles. I would end up in Maine, or somewhere folksy enough that people would invite me back to their home for hot apple cider. Their home would have smoke perpetually slinking out of the chimney and panes frosted in perfect half moons. They would live in a Thomas Kinkade painting. They would ask me probing questions about the nature of my journey. And I would insist that no, I just didn’t feel like going to the grocery store.

“So you’re going to Quebec instead?”

“Why, what’s wrong with Quebec?”

And they would wonder what possessed me to leave that day, why I’d chosen the place I did. Because taking off and leaving, with only a haphazard plan, is terrifying. I’ve woken up every day for the past 23 years and had some semblance of a plan laid out for me. I would be in school, then university, then I would get a job. I did all of these things. I rode the ebbs and flows of classrooms and lecture halls and post-college purgatory. But now I have an end date. A date that I chose simply because it would creep up too soon and not-soon-enough.

For a year, I’ve been mulling over possible destinations. I was deadset on a jaunt around Southeast Asia for months. But I decided that going wasn’t enough. The great adventure is to start over.

I’d been delaying the purchase of my one-way ticket for months. One day I woke up and stared at the ceiling for a long, long time. Twenty-seven seconds after I picked up my laptop, I was in the process of buying the cheapest plane ticket there was, which also happened to be, by some miracle, the flight that I’ve taken dozens of times from Hartsfield to Heathrow, which was at such an alarmingly steep discount that I double and triple checked that I hadn’t just been scammed.

A few days later, I was in contact with a family in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, about being an au pair, and I’ve been absolutely recoiling at the thought of having to conjugate a phonebook of French verbs since. But if I’m going to be so fucking continental, I might as well learn French well enough that I can construct a self in that language. Rather than scrambling for the few words I can pick out on the fast-flickering tongue of a foreign language, I might finally respond with a complete thought instead of watching the other party sigh and bark his or her rudimentary English at me.

The day that I bought my ticket, I was driving past some godforsaken construction site which had a quote massively displayed on the fence surrounding it. The quote, by Pablo Picasso, and appropriated by this contracting firm, read “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”

The word “destruction” has a sinister mouthfeel, but the quote resonated with me nonetheless. I had one of those selfish moments where it seemed like it was “a sign,” and I had to ask myself what it is I’m destroying.

I think it’s the tether. It’s the umbilical cord that keeps me close to home, close to what I know and feel cozy in. It is where I am surrounded by that which nourishes me without me even noticing, growing but being confined to the pod I am nestled in; now it feels as though there’s some other force that wants to leave me nascent and wailing on the doorstep of somewhere else.

Stuttgart

The train had been stationary for twenty minutes when a burly uniformed German fought his way through the drunken crowds of costumed youth. An apparently claustrophobic young girl stood hyperventilating at the cracked window as her friend fanned her with one hand and took metronomic swigs of Franziskaner with the other.

The train was completely packed to the brim with jolly liederhosen’d men and braided women in dirndls. They had been pouring beer down their gullets since daybreak, and at this point in the early afternoon were raving drunk. The puny train bathrooms were unable to keep up with the demands that such debauchery places on the bladder, and the stench of beer, piss, and sweat began to permeate the sweltering train cabins.

Still, the collective attitude was rather jovial as most people found the situation to be one of cartoonish adventure rather than utter disaster. It wasn’t long before German pragmatism took the reins.

It was only a 3-foot jump to the tracks from the train doors, which had been forcibly opened despite the roars of the aforementioned uniformed official, and a pair of striking young German men offered their hands to the masses as they poured out of the doors onto the gravel.

As we waited to be shepherded by a chain of similarly chivalrous volunteers down the steep embankment, a commotion began down at the fence which stood between us and the beer festival. A chant spread among the throngs – “Reißen die Mauer! REIßEN! DIE! MAUER! Tear down the wall!” With the enthusiastic brawn that one would expect from a group of German men in traditional dress, the chain-link fence was destroyed, and the refugees poured into the waiting arms of freedom.