Travelogues is a new series by cutebutsingleforareason where contributors share their stories of a life dedicated to travel. Inspired by my own solo lady adventure Euro Stories, Travelogues is a take on the art of travel writing with the use of several different and compelling voices, mediums, and formats, expanding the definition of what it truly means to free yourself from the ordinary. Be it short or long – travel has a magical way of transforming those brave enough to leave the comforts of home and explore the world abroad. I’ve invited some of the women I’ve met on the road, in addition to, local adventurers to make a densely woven narrative that will be eventually become a ‘zine.
I left soggy steps on the white linoleum floor in the kitchen making my way from the laundry room to the guest room. It took me exactly three steps to realize that my black over-the-knee socks, which fit snuggly over my H&M leggings of the same color, absorbed liquid from a quick, light step onto the sodden doormat. An artisanal rug that sat neatly outside of the rear door, a passive-aggressive reminder to wipe your feet and remove your shoes before entering the brightly-lit gourmet kitchen, as the laundry room leads to the backyard and dually functions as a mudroom. If this house did not ban wearing shoes indoors, I would not have noticed the water until it was too late, and flooded the whole house. Instead, I flooded only one room with the damage hidden behind a door.
Seattle is only a few hours drive from Portland. Shannon was game to spend a few days away from PDX to visit friends of her own, and we drove the length of Washington together, listening to The Police and TV on the Radio, a lively soundtrack to contrast the grey sky above the chorus of busy windshield wipers. A light mist hanging neatly overhead in a foggy shroud keeping a high gloss on the highway roads before us. Following the yellow brick road to the Emerald City. Singing along to Sting punctuated with passing trees covered in an impressive autumnal color palate, Evergreens, or maybe Douglas Firs filling in the mountainous landscape on either side of our journey north. Thunderous and free we fly – another adventure just miles away.
After nearly two weeks of cold and damp, I finally begin to acclimate to the weather with the help of proper attire and sturdy boots. Not a moment too soon, as it turns out, the weather gets cooler the further north one travels in this portion of America. I have always loved layering on clothing and bundling up for brisk weather, but being a Florida Native, layering is a recipe for sweat. The Pacific Northwest beckons coverage and I relish the (sweat-free) opportunity. Beyond warmth, my other concern is the past in the form of my high school friend and part of the reason I am visiting Seattle. We haven’t seen each other in a decade and have managed to keep in touch via Facebook. She’s in a good place, bought a house, and is engaged to a cool dude. Happiness is the only emotion that I was expecting and my inner monologue was excited to see my friend so secure and safe in her new life. She even invited me to stay with her for a few days. If travelling has taught me anything its that the kindness of strangers is one of the most surprising and humbling experiences to behold, especially for a solo lady adventuress. Imagine what could transpire with a long lost friend?
It became clear as I removed my shoes upon entering her gorgeous home and little pieces of white paper fell to the floor. Apparently, I left the receipt in my boot and completely forgot to remove it, until I silently watch it flutter all over her immaculately tiled foyer. I scoop down quickly to gather a million little pieces with my tail tucked tightly between my legs in embarrassment. She stood emotionless and cold, watching me, waiting for me to finish until she spoke again. My body flushed with shame.
I only remember us as friends, yet sitting across from her in a beautiful half-a-million-dollar home, careful to use the Crate and Barrel coaster, made to look like tiny slices of tree bark, and not spill fancy tea on her blindingly white shag rug. I struggled to connect with another person. After months of travel, I had no trouble talking to anyone. And this was a person I thought I knew and loved yet the connection was no longer there.
The positive buoying affect of my self-confidence began to deflate like an aging balloon. My once erect posture crumpling like an empty paper bag on her chocolate Chesterfield. As if all the good I had done in the months of therapy and work I’ve done in recovery was nothing more than a dream; a dream of normalcy and healthy self-respect vanished into the thick fog hanging in the Seattle air. Or she was a soul-sucking Dementor zapping all my goodness from the safety of her fantastic lifestyle. Either way, the details of our catching up session were not what I expected or something I care to rehash here. (Trust and believe that I’ve been torturing myself for the past three months over that conversation.) However, I will say this, with all her talk of feelings and emotion, I saw none on her flawless face, but mine was a wet, ruddy mess.
I brushed it off. We had dinner (her treat) and plans to meet for margaritas the next night. It was the past, I reasoned, that colored our strange catch-up conversation. Perhaps, I was projecting old shit onto her. The past is the past. Dead and gone. I put that weird evening aside and had a good nights sleep in her guest room/home office. Reading myself to sleep just like I did in Europe. Safe under the covers.
The next day, I awoke with a scratchy throat and felt the beginnings of a cold, and yet I was ready for the day. My first day alone in Seattle and I had things to see and do. I hit a drugstore on my way downtown for Dayquil, cough drops, and chugged some O.J. Potential cold be damned! After a long cold day exploring Seattle, I met my high school friend in Capital Hill for drinks. I drank many margaritas and chips. However, I failed to sit at the bar where the drinks were 2-4-1 with half-priced appetizers instead seated in the dining room (a mistake I was unaware I was making a the time). When she arrived, she chastised me for this. I kept drinking. Her fiancé joined us. I drank some more. They made out. Good for them. I kept drinking and now, texting Shannon for an escape plan. I politely excused myself and paid my half of the bill (nearly $80 – a mistake I truly paid for with interest). I met with Shannon and her crew across town. I drank some more. I think you get the point: I was drowning my hurt and shame with alcohol. I never made it back to her house that night. I slept on a couch in Georgetown.
Remember that scene in (500) Days of Summer where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character has a vision of how he perceives the evening will go, brilliantly accompanied with a spilt screen, displaying the actual reality of the situation? He thought that he was invited to a dinner party as Zooey Deschanel’s character’s date, but he was severely mistaken, and the celebration is for her recent engagement to her new boyfriend.
That is how I spent my first two days in Seattle, thinking that, as a recent traveller with endless confidence under my belt, I would have a firm grasp on the woman I am and not waver, fully aware that when you are lucky enough to keep childhood friendships going this long that when you make good and visit them, all will turn out for the best. After all, my Portland visit brought me closer to someone whom I had known for only a fraction of the time and driving up together, Shannon and I, still enjoy each other’s company. My high school friend and I would continue on, even better than ever as adult friends. Reminiscing, forgiving, and laughing with abandon and that ultimately, we kept in touch for a reason other than our past.
Unfortunately, my expectations did not meet up with reality. I was dead wrong. Like, really, really wrong. I never saw it coming at all, just like the Regina Spektor song “Hero” playing in the background of the above clip. Evidently, I failed to learn the most basic lesson of travel: expect the unexpected.
My inability to bounce back once more from a brutal encounter with my high school friend illuminated the fear I was secretly harboring: nothing had changed between us. We are older now, wiser and better dressers than our punk adolescent selves, sure, but we were still the same people. I’m the Fuck-up and she’s the Prodigy. This was underlined and bold, now. People don’t change only your view of them changes. It is clear that I was putting unrealistic expectations on my former high school friend. I projected happiness prior to our initial meeting because I want her life. To me, her life is everything I want. New city, new house, fiancé, and a great job – to me, that is happiness. That is the stuff that drips with joy and satisfaction. The recipe for a real grown-up life is squarely in her hands and she is not the better for it. She is smug instead of grateful.
A black sock plugged up the sink, by which, the washer drains. The second load of laundry produced the overflow. The entire floor of the laundry room submerged an inch or so of water with pieces of paper floating gently on the surface. Funnily enough, a sodden black sock notified me of the flood and put a severe crimp in my departure plans. (Perhaps, one should not cross a black sock!) I didn’t ask my high school friend to use her washer/dryer and was, now, paying for it with a mini waterfall. As if, the universe wanted to make damn sure our friendship was over. I removed my wet clothes from the washer and placed them in an extra bag I kept with me for miscellaneous purposes.
Travel Tip: Never underestimate the usefulness of a spare plastic bag.
In fact, I was in the process of packing and leaving her key behind when she texted me, questioning my whereabouts and the estimated time of my departure. Just then the front door flew open, a strong gust of wind whirling the scarves hanging in the foyer with a delicate flutter, and then nothing, as the gust disappeared like a ghost. The door remaining ajar, leaving me alone in a haunted house with only the deafening silence and my throbbing heart – the outside world as witness – uninvited.
I gathering all my belongings and left a note about the wet rug. I walked the four-minutes to the bus stop and took two buses to Fremont. My blood pulsing nervously through my body, in near shock, my body pushed adrenaline in fight or flight mode. As the miles quickly began to separate me from the scene of the crime, the guilt began to build, and I knew that what I did was cowardly. Clutching all my bags, one heavy with wet clothes; I knew that there was no going back. There was nothing I could do to fix this. In my mind, it was a no-win. I suppose that I could have called her. I could have confessed and not ignore her text that came later that evening. But I was too ashamed and I knew what I did was wrong. Not just from the flood, but from the entire visit with my former high school friend. I should have known better. I should have been alone. Alone is what protects me from others. Instead, this incident closed the book on that part of my life, exiting in haste and exquisite assholery, as I’m wont to do. I am the fuck-up. What else could be expected from me?
About the author: Jennifer Trumbull is the woman behind cutebutsingleforareason.com and started this blog as an outlet for my own writing while working on an academic career.