Budapest had its share of bridges. I'd leaned over one my first day there as the traffic whipped by to my left, wondering what would kill me first-- the fall or the drowning. Drowning was my worst fear, but I wondered if maybe I'd hyped it up to more than it was. Maybe drowning was like breathing in a thick fog that put you to sleep the way an anesthetic did. I adjusted my backpack and pulled up. I didn't think I could handle falling off this bridge. It was too high, and if the impact didn't kill me, I'd flounder about in the water in pain for a good twenty minutes before the water killed me. Or worse, my jump would cause a commotion and a crew of Hungarian police would drag me out of the river alive.
The sun was too damn bright that day. I'd forgotten my sunglasses and with my fair eyes, I felt as if every glance upwards was like being seared with a laser through my retina. I was squinting every five seconds, which meant I was going to get crow's feet. For some reason, I'd gotten kind of preoccupied with my appearance that summer. I'd never worn sunglasses consistently before, but now my face felt naked without them.
For the next few hours, I wandered about before stumbling upon a folk festival. There were more than two dozen Hungarian children running about with ruddy cheeks and fair wispy locks of hair falling down their little backs. Some of them were digging in the mud and exclaiming that they'd found gold. A folk singer was on a makeshift stage with no sound equipment, singing in a language too far from English and German for me to make any sense of it.
I watched with interest. This was my heritage, supposedly-- No one in my family could ever be very clear whether it was Germany, Austria, or Hungary that my grandmother's side came from, but my great-grandmother spoke fluent Hungarian and German, and was famous for her Hungarian goulash. I'd never really liked goulash, which disappointed my grandmother.
My stomach grumbled involuntarily. I was surrounded by tastes and smells of Hungary, and my body had noticed. Someone was grilling the biggest hot dog I'd ever seen, and smoke was billowing out of huge skillets filled with onions, peppers, and bits of meat. I thought about eating, then thought better of it. I hadn't eaten properly since getting to Europe, and i wasn't about to risk ruining my trip to Budapest on a giant hot dog.
I wandered for about an hour afterward, noting the different crafts I'd seen and which ones I thought would make good gifts. A leathermaker was selling riding crops and bridles-- I had no idea what I'd do with a bridle, but the crop would be good for my boyfriend-- or should I say ex-boyfriend. I wasn't sure anymore. We'd decided to take a "break" at the beginning of the summer, and had recently started talking again. Sometimes the talking felt more painful than the not talking had been. While I spent most of my time wandering across Europe alone, contemplating the pros and cons of suicide, he was out galavanting at his Ivy League college up in New Hampshire, and I'd recently discovered that he'd been sexual with a girl even though I told him that on this particular break, that kind of behavior was unacceptable.
It made me furious. It made me wish I'd fucked Sam when I'd had the chance, or, at the very least, blew him. We'd kissed only a few days after my ex and I broke up, and even though Sam wanted to, I wouldn't let him take it any further. I thought that was the respectful thing to do. The word respect had seemed to vanish from my boyfriend's vocabulary. The things he'd said to me that summer... The things he'd done, the person he'd become... I shook my head. I couldn't stand thinking about it.
I leaned against the stone wall overlooking the city. My ribs rubbed against the stone unexpectedly and I withdrew. I was growing too skinny, but at least my boyfriend-- my ex-boyfriend-- my boyfriend-- would be pleased. He'd told me the winter before I left for Europe that I was getting too fat. At the same time, I worried he'd be displeased with how flat-chested I'd become. I was still busty for a girl my size, but he'd always had an unrealistic view of how a woman should look. He seemed to think all women should look like porn stars, and he didn't believe me most of the time when I said they were mostly plastic.
I found my feet traipsing back to the hostel, where I turned on my computer-- my curse and my blessing-- and sat down to write an email.
I'm sorry, but I can't do this anymore. I thought I wanted to try, but I don't. I wish you all the best of happiness in life. I love you.
The moment I sent it, I felt my insides twist. I had to get out of that room or I'd scratch at the walls, I'd throw my laptop against the floor in defiance of what I'd just written. I shoved my key in my pocket and left, not bothering to bring a map. I didn't even know where I was going. I just had to get out before I exploded into a bloody mess onto the walls around me.
I walked for miles, tears streaming down my face. I tried to hide my sobs but it was difficult; I sat to read The Bell Jar in the park for a little while but it was impossible to be distracted. I watched and hated every single person I saw. A young family with two children were playing some kind of ball game in the park and I hated them. A woman with a fake tan and a tight top walked by, hand in hand with a man, and I hated them.
I walked along the river, weeping into my tshirt and trying to forget that I'd ever written the email. Finally I came to Isabelle (?) Island. I accidentally passed the pedestrian bridge a couple of times, but finally I found my way on. There was music playing and dozens of people were walking, some socializing, some jogging, but all seemed better off than me. I hated them, I hated myself.
I came upon a fountain that had the highest arc I'd ever seen. It was beautiful, but I felt unmoved. I wanted to be fascinated, but I couldn't. All I could think was about that email, what I'd said, what I'd done. Did I even mean it? I didn't know.
I awoke the next morning, early. I felt oddly better. I bought a chocolate croissant and walked for another four hours before going back to the folk festival. Once inside, I decided to eat a full bowl of goulash. I stomached the entire thing and actually enjoyed it. I didn't hate everyone anymore; in fact, everyone seemed relatively tolerable. Even likable. A little girl ran by with a wooden bird caller in her mouth. I watched her blow into the It again and again. Then I felt myself smile.
It was as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was me, I was myself, I existed and the world existed and if we both existed at once then maybe, somewhere, there was still hope.