I’d seen the picture before while thumbing through the delicate, crumbling photo albums that lined the shelves in the breakfast room. The sepia lives of my grandparents were arranged behind brittle cellophane on yellowing pages, their eyes shadowed slits in the sunlight, their glasses full, their hair present and perfect.

Ewart, Trieste, 1948. It was scrawled on the back in fountain pen by his flickering hand. He is pictured in a sergeant’s uniform, leaning against a wall, one hand in his pocket and the other at his side in the same loose fist that he’d carried next to him his whole life – a small detail of his being that I had always noticed but never thought about. It was part of the minutiae that I associated with my grandparents – the lingering smell of noxious chemicals in the garage or the whispering tick of the small clock on the mantelpiece or the lichen on the stones of the terrace.

He was twenty years old in the picture and still, somehow, my grandfather. His fist at his side, his smile poised between witticisms.

We’d been sitting on the pier for hours, drinking out of small plastic cups and playing instruments while a large group of Afghan refugees watched intently and said little. Federica and Nathan looked at the picture on my phone and immediately identified the place as Piazza Goldoni. Nicola, a squat young woodworker, who had taken an unfortunate and canine liking to me in the hour since we’d met, offered to take me there on his motorbike. In spite of the looming certainty that I’d spend some time deflecting wayward affection, roaring through empty streets on a motorcycle in pursuit of family honor seemed like the Italian thing to do.

I tore the helmet off and ran to the staircase that overlooked Piazza Goldoni. It was as though I was sleepwalking, like I’d been guided there by some undercurrent, and when I reached the wall on which he’d leaned 68 years earlier I was somewhere else entirely. I was running towards him at Gatwick Airport. I was unsticking my legs from the gray leather seat of his Saab on the way to Cornwall. I was being renamed Felicity Jane or being accused through his grin of being a tornado – inside jokes that he waited all year to revisit. I was watching him drink beer or tea and never anything else. I was laughing while my grandmother continued the tradition of admonishing him for shooting squirrels from the bathroom window. There were hundreds of them but they weren’t complete memories. They came one after the other, in quick succession, in no particular order. It was an upwelling and then a deluge.

When he stood there in 1948, he had ahead of him an entire lifetime of decisions that, in the benign and magical nature of fate, had brought me there. It was as if I’d arrived on a Möbius strip – a straight line that connects the past and the present, twisting undetected along the way.


Above Granada

Freshly picked olives stain your fingertips magenta, and I was so like a child picking one and crushing it and smelling but not tasting it. I was warned that it would be bitter, but I’d been told that about the oranges on the trees that line the streets of Seville and I ate one anyway and I enjoyed it.

That was in Granada, on an arid mountainside above cave-homes occupied by Gypsies and hippies and their untamed dogs. My hangover had faded to a dull murmur and we were zig-zagging up the mountain past an old olive orchard in a valley. It dawned on me that I’d only ever fished olives out of jars and nibbled them off of toothpicks after martinis and more recently, eaten them out of little dishes alongside wine, feeling rude about spitting out half-masticated pits.

I wanted an excuse to stop and breathe and turn around and look at the rocky valley we’d climbed up from and when I turned around to see where we’d come from, I saw the olives. I stepped off the path carefully, because it descended steeply down a gravelly embankment. I pulled the olive branch towards me and plucked it off and my first impulse was to squeeze it between my thumb and forefinger. It bled such a beautiful hue and I imagined Andalucian women centuries ago staining their lips and linens with it.

We got to the top of the mountain, where there was a radio tower, a sofa without cushions, a scattering of broken tiles, and the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains sawing into the clouds in the distance. We kept walking along a road and when we found a military base, we realized we had gone the wrong way; we were supposed to end up at the ruins of a church but we were being barked at by bloodthirsty German Shepherds and we saw boots pacing under the gate to the compound. The guards told how to get back to the trail but we took a shortcut and scaled down a rocky hillside.

Halfway down we found a tree that had a white linen cloth attached with barbed wire to a branch. The cloth was a single piece of fabric but it had white thread cross-stitched through the middle and a picture of a woman stapled to it. It was stapled violently; heavy-duty staples criss-crossed at the top two corners. She was pictured on a white background in the style of a passport photo, but there was something deeply solemn and haunting in her expressionless face. There were no flowers or crosses or remembrances or connotations of death and love. It was clinical in it’s simplicity and deeply unsettling.

We got down the mountain and wandered again through tiny cobbled streets between tiny whitewashed buildings.

Seething pity

Depending on how you look at it, human life is either the culmination of a miraculous cascade of coincidences going back billions of years or a routine biological process that couldn’t coax the eyes of God from the Daily Mail. But every so often, a person elbows his or her way into your life uninvited and leaves you with the impression that they were shot from their mother’s hospital gown as if from a cannon towards a pit filled with old Gatorade bottles and dismembered toilets. They manage to embody every single loathsome trait a human can possess, ranging from irritating to dire, without actually being evil.

I’d managed to drive around Atlanta for 40+ hours a week for more than a year before I got into an accident. I had dozens of near-misses but always avoided impact due to impressive reflexes and spatial reasoning skills that allowed me to maneuver my trusty two-ton projectile with the finesse of a seamstress. But I couldn’t beat the odds. I was sitting in traffic on the way to work one afternoon, driving down an avenue known for car break-ins and muggings, and saw from the corner of my eye a young man peering through the windows of a car parked on a side street. I craned my neck to get a better look, still rolling merrily along at a modest speed of between 8 and 12 miles per hour. And I bumped the car ahead of me.

The first thing that alerted me to the stupidity of the person I’d just hit was that she didn’t immediately pull off to the side so that others could pass. She just sat there, blocking traffic, while I began judging her based on her ostentatious license plate frame and absurdly dark tint (you develop these kind of prejudices when you drive for a living). I got out of the car to tell her to move out of the lane of traffic, and she obliged. She got out of the car and said, through her gold teeth, “Should I call the cops or will you?”

Having seen that there was absolutely no visible damage whatsoever on my car, and a few small paint stratches and a miniscule crack on her back bumper, I told her that it wasn’t necessary, that we could exchange insurance information and phone numbers and deal with it through our insurance companies. “No, mm-mm,” she said. “Imma call the cops.” I repeated that that was unnecessary as there was no dispute that I was at fault. “Why you don’t want me to call the cops?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “They’re obviously going to write me a ticket that I can’t afford. I’m more than willing to pay for the damage via insurance, but I really cannot afford a ticket on top of that. And we’re going to be waiting for at least half an hour for the cop to get here since it’s rush hour and we both have places to be.”

She put the phone up to her ear, which was drooping with the weight of her enormous hoop earrings, and called 9-1-1. On her third fumbling attempt to read the street sign to give to the dispatcher, my inner dialogue began spewing obscenities as I realized that she was completely illiterate. I read the sign for her, slowly enunciating each of the three syllables in the least condescending way that I could manage.

While we waited for the cop, I was approached by a couple of people asking why she was calling the cops.  One of them was kind enough to offer his legal advice.”I’d a-been gone twenty minutes ago if I was you girl! What a bitch!”

“I wish I could, but I don’t need a hit and run on my record. What a bitch indeed,” I said.

The cop was jolly, asked all the usual questions (nimbly and auctioneer-like), and handed me my ticket with the court date that was three days after I was due to fly away forever. When it was all dealt with, I again apologized to the woman, completely and sincerely, offering no excuses and again admitting humbly that it was all my fault. “Mmmmhmm. Sorry you gonna be late.” Another daisy chain of obscenities coiled up in my throat.

A week later, I got a call from the insurance agent who was sorting out the claim. She took my statement, and when she told me that the other party was claiming an injury, I completely boiled over. She was having back pain, apparently, a condition which I suggested was a result of her carrying around an ass that could only be described as planetary. The insurance agent assured me that I had nothing to worry about, that they see this kind of thing all the time, and that based on the pictures I sent of the almost entirely undamaged vehicles, nothing would become of it.

Fifty thousand dollars. That is how much she and her personal injury lawyer are demanding. Two thousand dollars to cover the chiropractor, the other $48,000 for “pain and suffering” following a “violent collision.” I will here reiterate that I was going no more than 12 miles per hour at the moment of impact, as evidenced by the (almost) complete lack of damage to either vehicle.  The personal injury lawyer, Sheryl L Burke, is featured on in a small essay detailing a client’s experience with her questionably legal ambulance-chasing legal practice.

It’s easy to caricaturize the plaintiff as a beast of a woman with a moral compass ever skewed towards her own selfishly litigous whims. It’s easy to lambast her as the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with America – an illiterate porcine bully. A professional victim with a tendency toward conspicuous consumption. A complete liar who uses bottom-of-the-barrel lawyers to swindle people out of their hard-earned money. It’s easy because it’s a totally fair description – at any turn, the woman could have chosen the path of least resistance – forgiveness, compromise, empathy. But she chose instead to victimize me and inconvenience everyone involved involved in this pathetically minor case – the cop, the court system, the insurance company – for the sake of what she perceives as “free money.”

When I was little, my brother ate a cookie that had been given to me. Seething with anger, I appealed to my mother to make him give me back the cookie. “We can’t get it back Emily. It’s already in his tummy.” My face contorted further into a tantrum.

Cut open his tummy and give it back!”

My mother explained through her laughter that we could not perform major surgery on my sibling to remedy this adorable injustice.

I can’t in good conscience hold this woman responsible for being a terrible person. I have to assume that the she didn’t have the kind of parents who taught her the value of choosing her battles. I have to assume that she grew up in an environment of aggression. I have to assume that her mother didn’t instill in her a love for humility. Or books. Or vegetables.

Hostel snobbery

I’m staying at a chain hostel (my mistake) infested by the worst possible population of tourists. A cross-section:

1. Middle aged American woman with a voice like raked gravel from centuries of smoking spends five minutes trying in vain to plug in the microwave to make tea (that’s not how you make tea!) but can’t figure out the alien plug. I finally cave in and help her after watching her struggle for a while because I’m a terrible human. This is the last straw for her. “Why would they unplug the microwave? I’m honestly really disappointed in this city, I can’t wait to go home [Reno?]. I have a disability and none of the subways have elevators. This place isn’t what I thought it would be.” In her defense, I have often wondered how those with disabilities and strollers manage to navigate this alleged socialist paradise.

2. Australian girl commiserates with the aforementioned woman’s Paris Syndrome. She has practically been in tears to her brother over Skype for the past 45 minutes because her iPhone got stolen by a pickpocket on the Metro. I feel bad for her, she seems really sweet, but you know – rule number one of traveling is don’t get pickpocketed.

3. There was just a parade of three dozen 17-year-old American girls struggling to wrestle their enormous suitcases down the stairs and into lockers. I would bet money that every one of them brought along a blow dryer and six pairs of shoes (all of which have been savaged by puddles and cobblestones and subsequently whined about to their team mom chaperone).

4. Northface-clad boatshoe bros walk into what is called the “chill out room.” “Let’s check out the chill out room. Seems pretty chill man.” Yes, but is it as chill as the chill room at Kappa Sig, man? Is it as chill as your parents’ lake house, brah? Is it as chill as Panama City Spring Break ’08, dude? No, because you got a DUI on a bicycle. Your Dad made you mow the lawn all summer as punishment. Not chill, dude. That was not chill. EUROTRIP BRAH!

5. Some West African guy just walked into this room and assaulted all everyone with cologne. Drakkar Noir Bucket Challenge? The room is no longer chill. Man.

6. Hungover Australian girl has “heaps” of money but can’t access any of it and is going to London today. Good luck with that…

Yes, I am being hypercritical. I haven’t slept in 24 hours, fourteen of which have been spent on a bus, and I just want to take a shower and go to bed but I can’t check in for another two hours. The weather is crappy (i.e. not Barcelona) and this hostel, located in a sterile suburb of Paris, is a purgatorial joke between a Days Inn and a Youth Center. I will definitely not be tempted to join the festivities in the basement “nightclub” tonight. I’m going to go smash my head through the speaker that is vomiting out James Blunt right now.


The Australian girl has holed herself up in her bunk with the curtain closed all day because she is scared to go out after getting her phone stolen. She’s young and it’s her first time traveling alone and now she has Paris Syndrome, a super chill Australian version, mind you, but it has rendered her incapacitated. I tried to be encouraging and invited her to go for a walk around the city but exactly 8 seconds later she shut the curtain. I think that constitutes a “no.”

I wasn’t able to nap today so I came downstairs to scout things out. Did you ever go to one of those multi-million dollar megachurches with entire wings devoted to making Christianity hip for Generation Y? With basketball courts and sparkly couches and huge auditoriums where budding bassists (who would be smoking pot in the gazebo within the year) would play edgy renditions of bible camp songs? Me too, once.

That’s what it’s like, except there’s no Pastor [insert monosyllabic first name here] to calm everybody down when they reach a certain prepubescent decibel level. I wandered around with my iPad and found a group of nerds working on a project in the corner. You can always count on a small group of studious French kids to completely ignore you. I feel good about my lunch table this year.

Under normal circumstances I would have a drink right now, because at hostels made for people who are off the daddy dole, shitty beer is almost always available for a euro or two behind the desk. But here they’ve professionally printed real menus (in impact font, lending to air of manufactured PG edginess) and I am not going to sacrifice 8 euros for a weak mojito made by a guy from Missouri. No, there is no refrigerator so I can’t go and get my own booze and bring it back here, and if I did I would probably have a camp counselor type tell me I’m not allowed to skirt around the price gouging. Furthermore, my blood filtration system suffered considerably in Barcelona and I feel good about having dried out the past couple of days, as does my wallet.

I’m going to go to bed in an hour or two and wake up bright and early tomorrow and go to Bruges with Marie as fast as humanly possible. If I have to wake up and yell at some Uggbooted exchange students about keeping the noise level down, I will go get a counselor and they’ll go to the isolation bunk for the rest of Session 7.


Tilene, the cat, wears a sooty coat and perches daintily on the chair pushed under the table. She occupies two square feet of this apartment, if you include her litter box, and shares it with one other non-human – a dismembered mannequin – and three humans. Six if you count the Chinese family living in the other half of the apartment. We never see them but smell the unmistakable odor of dirty dogs (live, not cooked) and of cigarette smoke that’s already stale by the time it reaches us.

I finally arrived at Arnaud’s after a long and brutal (though cheap) journey from London – a cab ride to the station, a fast train to Victoria, a walk to the bus station, an eight hour Megabus ride during which I was positively gassed by the stench of a hippie with infuriatingly kind eyes, and a sweltering Metro ride across Paris during rush hour.

Once I got settled at Arnaud’s, I joined the roommates for dinner at a little place near Montmartre. After a steady march of subpar sandwiches, I absolutely swooned over my meal. I’ve never been one to describe food because those people are generally insufferable, but those succulent morsels of duck served upon a bed of roquette tossed in a spicy peanut vinaigrette! That red vegetable curry and wild rice! And the wine! I was seeing God.

And then I was seeing a young, able-bodied Middle-Eastern man who was perfectly capable of working an honest job slip through the open doorway and snatch a man’s briefcase from right behind him. A move so brazen as to be reckless – three different people, myself included, yelled some form of “catch that thief” and he was swiftly apprehended by a gang that included representatives of each table. Fraternité! When the man was chased down, he threw down the briefcase and said “oh look I don’t have it anymore, it wasn’t me,” an excuse that was just so pathetically childlike as to eek out a tiny sliver of pity for the degenerate scum, even though he makes a job of ruining entire weeks of other peoples’ lives with desperate acts of selfishness.

After recovering from a very mild hangover the next day, I went to a museum of medical oddities that Arnaud had told me about that was located on the campus of a medical school. The museum housed two dozen glass cases brimming with pickled people parts from the 18th and 19th century. It was completely grotesque; not exactly informative and thus pornographic in that it elicited a purely visceral response and not much else.

Like any good American, I found a Starbucks and took advantage of the free WiFi. I listened to a couple of completely obnoxious South Africans bark their order in English at the barista before critiquing the Pumpkin Spice Latté rather unpoetically, and remembering loudly their exploits in Mykonos, and finally wondering how on earth the girl would spend the remaining 800 euros that her mummy had given her. I felt the kind of vicarious shame that you feel for people who steamroll their way through life without a single fleeting moment of self-awareness.

I’d heard enough, so I walked around the Jardin du Luxembourg, then walked 3 miles back to Arnaud’s apartment. I didn’t really want to contend with the Métro at 5:30 and I was in no rush at all, so I walked and walked that day. As Arnaud had to begin a 24 hour shift at the hospital the next day, his roommate Matteo showed me some nice bars in Belleville when I got back.

Fortunately it’s too expensive to spend a lot of time at Paris bars so I didn’t suffer too terribly, financially or otherwise. I’ve been nickel-and-diming since I’ve gotten here – with the exception of the first meal (which was worth spending an entire shift’s tips on), I’ve been living scrupulously. London has been bleeding me every step of the way though.

I spent the next afternoon at a gorgeous park on the edge of Paris, Bois de Vincennes. It was perfectly idyllic – wooden rowboats gliding on a placid lake, peacocks sashaying through fallen leaves, and the frustrated bellsongs of cyclists trying to part the seas of joggers and strollers. I felt like I was in that painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. It was just like that, minus the hoop skirts.

That night I went to a party hosted by one of Matteo’s friends from architecture school. The place was in Chateau Rouge, a neighborhood inhabited mainly by African immigrants and prostitutes. The party was decidedly more diverse and I felt the full crisis of my linguistic shortcomings – conversation was conducted in French, Italian, Spanish, and English, and it wasn’t until the alcohol began flowing that English was settled upon as the language in which we would conduct all official business. This was after a hilarious Polish guy showed up with a bottle of vodka. We sang Happy Birthday and played Circle of Death, during which I contributed significantly to the general intoxication level by making it a drinkable offense to speak Italian.

Yesterday was painful, but I managed to scrape together enough brain cells to put together a trip to Barcelona. I’m flying out of Beauvais-Tillé tomorrow morning at 8:55, which presents a logistical nightmare as it’s an hour north of Paris and the bus leaves from the other side of the city and the Métro doesn’t open until 6am. Cécile, Arnaud’s other roommate, put me in touch with her friend who lives near the bus station in Porte Maillot, so I will stay there tonight and leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow. This is a completely brutal itinerary, but I’ll be in Barcelona by noon tomorrow.

Permutations of my high school reunion


I will show up to my high school reunion dressed like an Artisan Series KitchenAid Stand Mixer in Pistachio. My pedicure will peep out of kitten heels and I will be lightly strangled by a small scarf tied at my throat. My bangs will hover over my forehead light like a cirrus cloud and they wouldn’t hide the beginnings of a permanent furrow even if there was one. I will be so slender as to render my curves pert. I will be punctuated on either side by a pair of pearls that would be called understated if they weren’t a foil to the cluster of diamonds scattering light from my finger around the stem of my wine glass.

I will talk at length about my children named Cooper and Ella and Braden and Avery and we will compare notes about spacing and cosleeping and breastfeeding. We will talk about our breeding habits like gardeners discussing fertilizer. I will mention offhandedly that my husband is an actuary since I know you were wondering but too polite to ask, and I will bookend this piece of information with lamentations about the long hours he works, how he doesn’t get home until after the kids are in bed most nights, and you will notice my wedding band tap-tap-tapping the stem of my empty wine glass.


I’m going to show up to my high school reunion dressed like a big fake nail. I will have shimmering cheeks like the iridescent sheen on a piece of deli meat and my eyeballs will have false lashes like roman helmets. I will be perched on stilettos and I will be the color of terracotta. I will have a boyfriend, a babydaddy, and a 4 year old, and you will know them intimately by the time I’ve finished my fourth sour apple martini. I will bum a cigarette from a girl I hated in high school even though I quit when I got pregnant but this is a special occasion.

We’ll smoke by the dumpster and I’ll forgive her for that time she blew my boyfriend on Spring Break in Panama City when I was passed out on the balcony. I think I still have the airbrushed trucker hat from that trip. All seven of us are depicted as rudimentary stick figures in bikinis. I think I have a precancerous mole on my back from that trip as well but I haven’t seen the doctor because the tanning salon doesn’t offer medical insurance. God, we were so drunk.


I’m going to show up to my high school reunion dressed like a gluten-free carrot cake. I’m going to wear this great little wrap dress I found on Etsy, and the cool thing is it’s made by former child prostitutes in Bangladesh but you’d never know looking at it, such intricate beadwork! It’s amazing what children are capable of when they have the opportunity to self-actualize.

No thank you, I’m not drinking right now – I’m doing a cleanse to lose some of this baby wei- oh, you’re too sweet, chasing around two toddlers while swaddling a newborn is a hell of a good- yeah number three, he’ll be seven weeks tomorrow! We were trying for a girl but I just knew right away it would be another little man, you just feel these things, don’t you? There’s still plenty of time – God gives you hundreds of thousands of eggs for a reason, right?!


I will show up to my high school reunion dressed like a stock portfolio. I will wear a look of exhaustion and a Birkin bag. My ring finger will be conspicuously naked and some girl I never liked will ask anyway. I thought of asking my assistant as my plus-one to avoid this but that was before we went to Oslo on business, and he and I agreed the next morning that what happened certainly constituted “hierarchical misconduct,” a term so vague and politically correct that it could only have been dreamed up by a silver-haired Republican who only shows up at stockholder meetings.

I will make a snide remark about the organic cotton cloth diapers you won’t shut up about, and I will immediately regret it. You will fake laugh but regret approaching me at all. The first time you got alcohol poisoning was in my parents’ house and you left a trail of vomit from the suede couch to the potted plant to the hot tub. I was a complete bitch about it, which I still feel bad about because two weeks later I threw up all over our mutual friend’s guest room only moments after losing my virginity.


I will show up to my high school reunion dressed like a bathroom stall covered in inspirational graffiti. I will wear winged eyeliner and a severe haircut and I will reconnect with girls I was friends with in middle school and stopped talking to when I stopped talking to God. I will gulp down three PBRs while the class president starts talking about success from behind a podium and this will cure the hangover from last night’s bender.

I will meet the wife of the guy I waited on last month at the restaurant that he’s only patronized with his mistress and I will singlehandedly unravel his marriage. I will coach her through a breakdown by holding her hair back and repeating a useless mantra about positivity. At some point I will find a way to compare their marriage, about which I know nothing, to a can of sardines in my grandmother’s pantry that expired in 2002, and she will look at me, with red-rimmed eyes, in total disbelief.

End Times

I love a good doomsday scenario,
But I prefer mine served
On a bed of cooled lava
And drizzled in sulphuric rain.

I want to see a meteor crash
Violently into the horizon.
I want weeds to take over.

Highways of kudzu,
Parking lots of new forest,
Radioactive cesspools of oceans.

Boiling rivers,
Buckling pavement,
Brimstone faucets.

I have considered Christians
Shooting through ceiling tiles
And doe-eyed virgins ascending to
Islamic bedrooms.

I’ve envisioned angels directing traffic,
Lines of grown men waiting in line
To sit on God’s lap on a cumulus cloud.
It doesn’t appeal to me.

I’d much prefer to drop dead in good company.
Bash my head on the bathroom wall
When the shockwave hits.
Go when everybody else does.


Our cabbie barked the tongue of the ancients on his cell phone as we left the airport. Something felt off as soon as we landed – it wasn’t Europe anymore. It wasn’t Western.

The landscape looked Californian (“looks and feels like California, but with more debt,” I’d jokedand the air had the same golden quality about it. Our hostel was up an ancient cobbled corridor with crumbling hovels and stray dogs. The dogs and cats had learned to use crosswalks to avoid getting hit by cars. Darwinian. They still smelled like shit.

Much of it was built during the brief communist regime back in the 1970’s. It was clinical brutalism piled high over ancient walls and crumbling ruins. The paint on the buildings had been vibrant once, but by the time we got there eons later the walls blended into the cobblestones. You could see the Mediterranean in the distance.

The moment we got to our hostel ( we were greeted with frappés and escorted up to a gorgeous Ikea catalogue room. There was a 1,700 year-old wall in the backyard and you could see (past the tangles of alarmingly improvised power lines) down the hill to the Mediterranean sea.

We went to a cafe down the road and had a Greek feast under grapevines for a hilariously manageable 8€.

I tried my damnedest to ignore the fact that my body was rebelling with a severe head cold and I ventured into the city anyway with a group of travelers we’d met at the hostel. We found a hookah bar, and the staff lavished us with more than we’d asked and more than we were expected to pay for – tapas with everything, free hookahs, cheap drinks, and barbed corrections when we were overheard speaking of Istanbul rather than Constantinople.

I wanted so badly to join the rest of the party on the booze cruise around the bay, on which my good friend John would, by the end of the night, sacrifice his nipple on a bathroom fixture. But my body needed to lay supine, and while the rest of the Mediterranean was sipping in the first of the night’s libations, I found myself staring at the pine slats of the upper bunk, my phone snuggled between them and broadcasting the absurd Red Bull leap from the stratosphere.

I practically waterboarded myself with free tea and my health seemed to be on the upswing the next day. John was considerably worse off, having only just begun the arduous trek to relative sobriety at around noon, by which time we were amidst 4th century ruins – the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda. The ruins demarcated the beginning of organized religion. Commissioned by the Roman Emperor Galerius to celebrate some bloody victory, it was used first as a polytheist temple, then converted to a Christian church by order of Constantine the Great himself, seized by the Ottomans in 1590 and turned into a mosque, then finally restored to a Christian church in 1912.

In spite of these crises of faith, and withstanding the tremors of the Earth, the fossils of ancient empires lived in stark contrast alongside the pathetic constructs of modern Greece. The communist-era buildings looked like they’d been conceived in a cubist fever dream and constructed out of recycled milk cartons. These architectural abortions sat just steps away from the masonry and marble that housed our embryonic civilization.

And there was the haze of the financial crisis hovering over everything. The emblems of the Golden Dawn Party (a fascist fringe group that was growing at an alarming rate) littered the city and the hammer and sickle were everpresent. Every block was half vacant with shuttered storefronts stippled with graffiti, much of it political, and all of it left in aimless posterity by disgruntled millennials – a demographic of which almost half suffer unemployment.

The whole place was built up over the ruins of an almost mythical antiquity and was just nipping at the heels of modernity. It was as though everything had been stuck fifteen years in the past – dated color schemes, advertising done entirely in WordArt, gaudy printed tile. Sometimes I would walk into a store and feel like I was in a Florida tourist trap in the late 90s.

One afternoon we banded together with a group from the hostel in search of a family-owned restaurant that had been highly recommended in the tourist literature. We walked up the street on which it was alleged to have been and found nothing. Not a trace of this restaurant; no silhouette of signage, not even a ghostly storefront. No ruins. Just the unrecognizable skeleton of something great. Deflated promise.

Growing Pains

Sometimes my aching legs would keep me up at night. I’d tiptoe into my parents’ room and wake up my mom and she would say that they were growing pains. My bones were stretching out, inching me by the nanometer towards the countertops, the cupboards, the top shelf of the pantry. One day the step stool was put away and retired into obsolescence. One summer I could wind the grandfather clock without my grandfather lifting me. I could watch PG-13 movies in which sex is merely alluded to by two beautiful people bathed in white light laying motionless on top of one another. I was trusted alone with an apple and paring knife.

All I wanted was to fall asleep but my shins were soaking up all the milk I’d had with dinner and it didn’t matter how much I kicked or stretched or shook them, they were going to propel me towards adolescence as fast as they damn well could.

When I reached teenhood, the growing pains came in the form of crippling angst punctuated by moments of paralyzing humiliation. The trick was to maintain an air of blasé resignation while silently reliving every excruciating vignette from the past five years on a loop in my memory. I learned to feign confidence and in time that feigned confidence became real.

The growing pains of my young adult life are investments. All the stresses I’ve dealt with for the past couple of months – scrimping and saving; paying off debts; moving out; purging myself of most of my things; packing and repacking; saying heart-wrenching goodbyes to my family, my boyfriend, my friends, my dog, my beloved city – it’s emptied a space in me that is waiting to flood with the marrow of the rest of my life.

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.