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voicemails left for friends


I was fumbling with the headphones for the audio tour at Westminster Abbey when I looked up and saw someone I’d gone to high school with. 4,781 miles from home and there they were just a few meters away. Can you even believe it? I tried to remember their name or what classes we’d had together or if we’d ever had a conversation. I avoided them and quickly walked to the next room. After I left the Abbey I walked around for a bit and found them on Facebook. It turns out they’ve been posting about their time in London for a few days now. They’ve just gotten married and this is their honeymoon. Every comment on every post expresses admiration for them. For their new marriage and this glorious honeymoon. For the rest of their lives spent together. I spent a long time on their Facebook, swiping through the wedding and honeymoon pictures, and feeling pity for myself. It’s just after seven and the sun’s still high. I’ve been thinking about your suggestion to visit Convent Garden or Camden Market but I’m so tired of hurried tourists and so I think I’ll find something to eat. It’s probably early morning where you are and so you’re most likely asleep but I needed to tell you about the surprise of seeing someone from home. I just have this strong urge to share. 


Like a voyeur or a spectator, I watch my own life from somewhere else. In crowded bars where I’m buzzed on cheap drinks and hidden beneath the white clouds of cigarette smoke or in the presence of diplomats who wear expensive tailored suits and hold multiple phones in their hands or while on long drives through the countryside at dusk I experience the sensation that this all cannot possibly be real. There’re parts of me so far gone and so disconnected from what is happening. Have you felt this before? Do these sensations of fleetingness resonate within you too? During this first week in Bucharest I’ve convinced myself that the greatest joy is the freedom found within the compounds in which I reside. Every day is planned. All I do is wake up. Herded like a sheep through the streets of wherever I am and in whatever state of mind. Most students abroad would seek the opposite: the wish to be as free as birds or a fixture of a small child’s imagination. I want to be nurtured and protected. To rest firmly in whatever all of this is. 


The greatest surprise has been Moldova. I could talk about it forever but I won’t bore you. I had no idea what to expect or to prepare for. Moldova is a small country, the poorest in Europe, and a former part of the USSR, once known as Moldavian SSR. It’s a strip of land, really, between Romania and Ukraine. The final frontier between what is and what is not Europe; between who is and who is not European. We took a day trip from Chisinau, the capital in the south, to Soroca, a town along the border with Ukraine in the north. Our Moldovan guide had planned the entire day for us. The distance traveled was more than half of the entire country and yet it only took two hours by van. The golden fields and shallow winding rivers and thick warm air trick you into believing this might not be real because you’ve never known of Moldova. Not in the way that you’d known to point to France or Germany or Italy while your fingers traced a spinning blue and green globe. People do not dream of Moldova. No. And yet, here you are, in Moldova’s palms or at the center of its heart or wrapped in its arms. Warm, relaxed, nurtured, stuffed. We ate lunch in a small village where a kitten played with our swinging feet. The village survives off of tourism because there are a few churches and viewpoints that surround the area. In Soroca, we arrived at a viewpoint that overlooks the Dniester River, which also acts as the border between the two countries. There were golden fields for as far as the eye could see on both sides of the border. There was a small idyllic village could be seen on the Ukrainian side, like a world inside of a snow globe that is so miniature and perfect. I thought of winter then. Even in winter there is life. We explored a fortress, climbing to the top only to find a couple having sex. Back in Chisinau, we walked along the uneven sidewalks in the dark in search of sweets and dinner and drinks, laughing each time one of us tripped over the rubble. 


33,771 Ukrainian Jews were killed in a large ravine in Kyiv, Soviet Ukraine between September 29 and 30, 1941 by the Nazis. Soviet prisoners of war, Roma, communists, and nationalists were also killed. The true toll will never be known but it’s assumed to be upwards of 150,000 people. This site is known as the Babi Yar and it’s located to the west of the Dnieper River on land that’s in the middle of the city. A place so ambiguous it passes for a large park. There are paved trails and thousands of trees and people pass not paying mind to the memorials and dogs bark and you can hear the honking of horns. What’s left of the actual ravine is now very small and mostly filled and overgrown with brush. There was a mudslide in the spring of 1961 that filled a large portion of the cratered land. The following year the mud and debris were levelled and thousands of trees were planted. The cool wind blew so hard at Babi Yar. The type of wind that bites at your exposed skin and keeps you from taking a deep breath. We stood near the ravine and our professor said a Jewish prayer in Hebrew. We all looked in every which direction except for at him. I stared into the ravine thinking of, well, you know. How had I not known about this? Did you know about this? 


I’m at Gare du Nord on the verge of tears. I keep thinking about everything I wanted to do here. Everything you’d suggested I do. I didn’t have enough time it seems. I’m still learning to prioritize. Paris in mid-September is bearable. The summer holiday is almost over and the tourists have almost all returned home. The horrid heat has gone away. It sometimes rains, like it did yesterday and this morning. I walked through the small streets and watched as Parisians smoked cigarettes, wore striped shirts, and donned black and red berets. This made me laugh so hard to myself. I type into the Notes app: The French do wear a lot of stripes. I sat alone in an open-air restaurant and listened to a middle-aged couple from Toronto speak in pretentious Ontarian accents to a couple from the West Indies about the trials of being. I found myself agreeing with much of what they discussed. I became familiar with the metro and pretended to not speak English when a few tourists assumed I may be a local and asked which stop to get off at. I ate at McDonald’s because it is cheap and I am idle and was reminded that McDonald’s, a symbol of America, always tastes better outside of America. I even sat along the Seine barefoot at dusk, eating gelato, and pulled my legs to my chest each time a boat tour passed and the wake splashed up towards me or when a rat ran by on the brick. And I walked. I walked so far, I found myself lost somewhere. It took a long time to find my way back and my phone was dying but I’d never felt more secure in my own misery. But as I was saying, I’m at the train station now. I got here so early that the attendant printed me a ticket for the earlier train and it’s just begun boarding. I love you. I’ll again on the other side.


I’ve been welcomed back to the Isles by a misty rain. I opened the door to my dorm room and there was an American lesbian couple on a bottom bunk cuddled together eating candies and watching videos on their phones. They seemed happy to see me, asked where I was from, asked who I was. Chatty Americans. I miss home. It turns out that they’re from Seattle and so we talked about that. I’ve gone for a walk. It’s still misting and it’s dark but I was just so warm in the dorm. I’m wearing only a short-sleeve shirt. I can see the steam rising from my wet arms. There’s a small shop around the corner close to the tube station. A soda sounds good. I leave in the morning for home. I’ll be back to work the day after tomorrow. Life will return back to what it is. I can’t help but feel that this is just a blip of time and that it might all be so meaningless. I’ll let you go now. Talk soon, okay? 

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