I know you may think you do, but there are a thousand reasons why you don’t want my life.
Probably the worst part, the part that even I have a hard time reconciling, is that people just fucking die while you’re gone. And then that’s it. And everyone you would likely share that grief with is a million miles away.
It’s fucking crushing.
He proposed to me once.
I was fresh off a plane from Mexico City reclining in his bed like I was oft known to be, even though I knew I shouldn’t have been.
“It’s you, Miranda,” he told me, “it’s always been you.”
It wasn’t me.
But there were so many times that I wanted to be, and so many times I tried to mold myself to be her because sometimes it seemed so much easier to become someone that could be in love with him back rather than to find someone else who loved me for who I am.
But regardless, I spent ten years, maybe more, with his messages in my inbox, and mine in his.
I have, over the years, written thousands of words about him, so this doesn’t have to be too long. Every time we broke up or got back together or flew across the States to see each other is pretty methodically documented on my old blog.
I just want to tell you a few things that I’ll remember.
I’ll always remember coming home from work in San Francisco to find him sitting on my couch, despite the fact that he lived in Seattle. And when he left a few days later, I rode with him down the elevator in my building silently. “Are you sad?” he asked, without any hint of subterfuge. And I looked up into his face and saw his brow furrowed, and then I rearranged my own to match.
I’ll remember when I lived in New York and we hadn’t spoken in a year or so and it didn’t matter, because I knew that if I just texted him “I love you” that he’d call me back right away. And he did.
And then I’ll remember when he looked me in the eyes in the long dark, and told me, after ten years, that he was finally ready. That he wanted it all. Marriage. Kids. The works. But I was a year into a life I hadn’t quite yet figured out, and I knew immediately that he just didn’t fit in it.
And now here I am: living that life that I was just beginning to ideate back then. And for better or worse, I’m doing my best to reconcile all of the choices that I’ve made.
We first dated so long ago, back in 2005, and just a couple of months later I had my second going away party at the Duck. He came with his best friend, and he gifted me a tiny enamel pin: a red heart made of two clasped hands. I put it on the front pocket of my jean jacket that night, and I wore it there until that jacket got stolen in 2016.
I was so upset after I found out, and I sent a series of texts that I shouldn’t have, many of them lacking the euphemisms that they probably should. They all merely used the word “dead” rather than all the other things that people say to be nice when someone has died.
One of them didn’t mention him at all. It began, “hey, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but I’ve been really concerned for you and I hope you’re okay,” because now it feels like practically anyone could die.
I don’t know if I’m allowed to say any of this either, but here we are. Because for lack of anyone here, in Tirana, to really share this with, I have words.
And I think it’s actually a pretty shitty memorial considering how much I always prioritized words over him, but it’s all I have left.
And if I’m being honest, it’s all I ever had.
So this is the piece I promised last week.
So maybe you remember, approximately a billion years ago, I was headed to Tampa from Austin, and I missed my flight. Y’all may not know, but I rarely miss my flights – I’m generally vigilant to the point of near panic; I frequently have a hard time sleeping if I have an early plane.
But anyway, since the last time I had been to the Austin airport, they had opened a new terminal. Now I don’t know why the fuck they call this a new terminal since it’s practically an hour away from the first one, but whatever. What I’m saying here is that by the time I made it there, my flight had taken off without me.
Five minutes earlier.
I was flying some crazy budget airline, and thought there was no way I’d get on another flight at all, let alone that day. But sure enough, an extremely helpful gate agent said he could put me on a flight to Orlando that was boarding in two minutes. I had about 30 seconds to decide.
But I thought to myself: I can do this. I’ve flown into MCO, I already know which bus to take from the airport to the MegaBus station, I know there’s a bus to Tampa that leaves three hours after I get there. I can do this, with about a half an hour to spare.
So I agreed.
And when I was already on the taxiing plane, strapped into my seat, ready to fly to Florida, the captain comes on the loudspeaker and informs me, for the first time, that we’re not flying to MCO.
We were flying to SFB.
Now for those of you who don’t know, Sanford, Florida is like…and hour and a half from Orlando by a combination of Lyft and a train.
So I get off the plane, I make it to downtown Orlando. The last bus to Tampa, with three different companies, had already departed for the day. So I had to find somewhere to stay.
I found a hostel on Booking.com for one night, and booked a bus to Tampa for 11 am the next morning.
I mean, it sucked because I was missing a day in Tampa with my friends, but it was otherwise okay.
Until I got to the “hostel.”
It was basically just someone’s house, and there was no one to check me in at all. I sat in the living room for a while waiting, and then I called Booking.com. And then I learned what is still to this day the greatest travel hack I have ever learned: when you book a place to sleep through literally any reputable booking site and it turns out they can’t accommodate you, they will relocate you at no extra charge.
And even better, especially if you’re me and you’re pissed at the original property that you booked, they will often actually charge them for it.
Anyway, a few hours later I was tucked into a king-sized bed in a suite in Winter Park. They even paid for my Lyft there.
You see, virtually anyone can list on Booking.com these days. Honestly, it’s a pain in the ass, because I’d rather just pay than show up to a property that doesn’t exist or is in someway illegitimate, but it’s nice to know that this backup exists. I’ve done this exact thing a few more times: Once in Tulum, Atlanta, and my favorite time, in Tokyo when I ended up in a 22nd floor suite looking out over Shinjuku. All because the hostel I booked, and had already paid for, was unavailable.
And it just happened to me again.
So with the whole “all my cards are expired” situation, coupled with whatever the fuck is going on with the goddamned US Postal Service, I ended up in this period between the last day I could use my cards and them arriving overseas. That’s all squared away now, they’re arriving on Thursday inshallah, but in the meantime, I had one day in Istanbul to withdraw as much money as possible before they lapsed.
Because I only had a certain amount of cash to use until my cards come, I found a place in Pristina that I could pay for, in advance, with my PayPal account.
Except that I messaged them five times in the few days before my flight, and they never answered.
And then I called them. Like 10 times. No answer.
So I called the booking company. This time I booked it on an Expedia site, namely Hotels.com, but this shit works the same way no matter where you book, as long as it’s legit.
I actually wasn’t even trying to get a free hotel room, I was trying to get them to simply pull another number for the original, shitty property I booked and fucking call them to make sure it actually existed. And when we all realized it didn’t, I asked for a credit for the amount I paid so I could book another property at my own expense.
It was gonna cost me like $200.
It was actually their own incompetence that landed me in a $300 a night suite in Pristina; they could have just kicked me back the $20 or whatever that I had spent, not kept me on the phone for six hours, and I would have gone happily on my way.
But apparently that’s against their “policy,” and this stupid-ass policy cost them $600.
But here’s the thing.
I was arriving in Pristina after midnight. I wouldn’t have cell service, and since commuter planes over here frequently don’t have outlets, there was a good chance my phone would be dead by the time I arrived anyway.
And quite frankly, surviving this pandemic has been enough, and I’m generally in no mood for a fucking middle-of-the-night adventure in a country I’ve never been to when it’s already past curfew.
And like, yeah. It worked out this time. But what if I hadn’t tried to schedule an airport shuttle with the property? What if I hadn’t found out that this property is actually closed before I arrived?
See this, THIS, is the fucking problem. Booking sites don’t give a shit how their customers are impacted as long as they’re still making money, so they keep listing these shitty properties even after people have already complained that they’ve been raped there, or mistreated, or even after they’ve been informed that it doesn’t actually exist. The more properties they have on their sites, the more variety it appears that they have, the more revenue they collect.
If this is not yet clear: I am saying that they don’t give a shit about you.
And they should, because people using them are at disproportionate advantages.
Like, sure. If I was a white guy booking at, say, that hostel in Skopje that had a serial rapist as a manager for six fucking months, then yeah. I would never find that out, likely have a good experience there, and be merrily on my way without any problems at all. I’d probably even leave a good review.
But not everyone is a white guy.
Not everyone is even a guy.
And when the number of people who don’t have a problem outweigh the number of people who do, which is assuredly the case, these sites continue to list dangerous properties simply because they can.
And, as I mentioned before, because they truly do not give a fuck.
And none of us have a lot of recourse out here.
Unless these sites start to feel it. Financially.
See, because I rebooked my property before I arrived, the booking site had to pay for it themselves. They didn’t charge the other property for my stay, but rather had to pay this five-star hotel, out of pocket, for some dirty, poor nomad to stay there (me.)
And hey, if you really want my review on the hotel? The sheets were excellent. My bathroom was practically solid marble.
And that’s about it. I fucking hate staying at these soulless, “fancy” places.
But regardless, the more it costs when these sites have to rebook a property, the more they will actually consider vetting the properties they list more carefully.
So what I’m telling you is that if you want to do something to decrease the amount of danger that women face when booking properties abroad, you can do this on purpose.
Do you want to stay in a five-star hotel for free and help decrease the rates of sexual assault simultaneously? You can!
Just look for some sus-ass property on one of these sites, and pay for it in advance. Trust me: you’ll find one. Once you know what to look for, you’ll start to realize how many dupes these sites list. You have to pick one that actually doesn’t exist. Call them, email them, whatever to double-check.
Then book it. Be sure you pay in advance.
Then, a day before your trip or after you arrive, just call the booking company and tell them the property can’t accommodate you.
And you’ll be relaxing in your suite in no time.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s a fucking hassle. I have never wanted to have to be relocated, I’d always prefer to just get off a plane and into my bed without all this fucking nonsense. But if enough of us put this pressure on enough of these sites, financially, it will actually be better for us in the long run.
Now look – these are multi-million dollar companies. Expedia is a multi-billion dollar company. I think.
But – and I’m speculating, here – if even 100 additional people exploited this loophole in a month, I bet you it would trigger an entirely new department, one that audits and vets the goddamned properties that they advertise on their fucking site before women traveling alone even have to deal with them in the first place.
So. If you’ve ever wanted a free hotel room, here’s your chance. I’ve done it five times.
How may can you rack up?
I know y’all wanted to hear about something else this week (because I promised it,) but something came up.
The last time I saw FNOG, he did a double-take after he noticed me, as if to say: is that really Miranda? What is she doing here? And then he broke into a wide smile, and wrapped me up in a hug.
And I never even worked for him.
I was just a customer, but he treated me exactly like one of his other misfits: he waited patiently, without judgement, for me to make good with my life. Though he always hated it whenever I was living in Texas.
He died when I was alone in Johannesburg.
All of my feeds were filled with heartfelt, impromptu eulogies, and because I didn’t have anything more important to add than had already been said, I wrote nothing. And instead I cried alone in my cement-floored loft.
But back then, though I didn’t yet know everything that would happen, I felt like coming back to the states was an inevitability. And so I steeled myself with the idea that, when I could, I’d return one day and pay my little, dumb respects at the bar and restaurant that he owned. The very same next-door-duo that captured so much of my life. That epitomized whatever I had in my hometown from about 14 until the last time I was there, in 2018, when I had just turned 38.
And now. Well.
Now it doesn’t look like any of us know exactly what’s going to happen, just like how we all felt when the pandemic started.
About half of folks are saying that it’s over. Another Seattle institution will be closing its doors, for good, tonight.
The other half says it’ll reopen in 3-6 months.
I’m not really sure, but everyone I’ve ever loved who worked there all seem to agree that this is it: Labor Day. This is the day it will close for good.
While I am sitting in Albania.
When I saw the first post I texted Ben. “Is Beth’s closing?!” I wrote, frantic, because unlike some of the other important milestones in the history of that cafe and bar (Rice’s last day, Jackie’s last day, Naomi’s last day, and yes, even Voldemort’s last day) I knew I was too far away to fly there on a dime.
“Fuck,” he said. Because the prospect of them being gone is more than any of us want to bear this year.
There’s a ton of stuff I could tell you.
I could tell you how we had our prom dinner there. I could tell you about my 21st birthday that I spent there drinking imperials of Hoegaarden. I could tell you about my four going away parties or the 12-egg omelette I ate exactly one time.
I could tell you more about FNOG, too, but honestly, what he did for everyone else was so much more remarkable than anything he ever did for me. He knew I was on a path, and he never interceded much. But goddamnit if he didn’t welcome me to a barstool every-single-fucking-time I came back.
It all seems like a blur now – especially all those years between 2004 and 2016 when you could barely drag me from that place, even though I was rarely in town.
I have a few friends from school still left in that town, but most of them – like, the vast majority – I met at that goddamned diner and bar. And for someone like me who has nothing to come “home” to, it feels terrifying to know that like…I really have nothing to come home to.
I’m in Tirana right now. I thought Istanbul was home, but here I am, only two days in feeling happier and more stable than I have in weeks. And yeah, there’s so much I want to see, especially between here and Trieste and Odessa, roughly, but also? Maybe this is the place I dig in a little. I don’t know.
Home for me hasn’t been a place for a long time. It’s more like an idea, or a person, or something that inspires a specific kind of nostalgia.
But when everywhere is being stripped of all of those things, what’s left?
A photo on the internet. A memory suspended in your mind’s eye. A bar at the end of the universe.
And me, out here, wishing for a way to have all of it. All at once.
I posited a while ago that traveling in the Balkans is like a Kibbutz, because you see the same people everywhere, and you’re required to make these extreme bonds with people in order to survive the constant barrage of anti-vaxxers, rapists, and (mostly American) violent men. A couple times while I was there I gave it another name, but it became very clear how accurate it was after I was gone.
A kind of hindsight is 20/20 type of thing.
Because as soon as I got to Georgia and messaged my pals back in the Balkans, the notion of it being like a rollercoaster came into vivid clarity.
‘Cause you see, while you’re on it, it feels normal. After a while you’re steeled to the extreme highs and lows, the exhilarating bonds you engender and the literally terrifying encounters. And within it you find a few pockets of peace and beauty that you covet beyond anything else.
And then a dude gets murdered.
But for real, the highs are so goddamn high that, trust me, you’ll miss them when you leave.
Or maybe you won’t. But I did.
“It’s weird to be off the Balkans rollercoaster,” I texted Nalini in my inaugural hours in Tbilisi. And it was. There was, suddenly, no one chasing me anymore: gone was the feeling of constantly looking over your shoulder, worried about what terrible man was going to check in next.
But also gone was the female camaraderie, the sisters that I had made, the friends that kept me sane.
And the next few months were, at times fine, and at other times felt like my life was deteriorating into something unrecognizable, and I wondered who I was without these women.
So I bought a plane ticket.
I leave on Friday.
As always, it’s been real as hell, Istanbul. Thanks again.
Lovage’s birthday was yesterday! And interestingly, a few days before that was a day I like to call our “Friendaversary,” or a year since we met right here in Istanbul.
If you’ve spoken to me at all recently, I’m sure I’ve regaled you with an account of the [increasing?] homesickness/nostalgia/whathaveyou that has been assuredly on the scene, but a weird side-affect of this is that, in my head, all of my circles of friends are melting together.
Like, I’m having wild fantasies about hanging out with my friends in Portland at a bar in Chicago, and taking my friends in Seattle to a party in Miami. You get the gist.
But I also, sometimes, think about these people joining me out here. But even in my fantasies, they just can’t hang.
Like, I’m telling you that I can’t even imagine these people being able to operate like I do out here in the wide world.
Except for Callie. I know she can, because I met her in Prague.
But Callie aside, there’s this weird thing that feels even more insidious than an obsessive fantasy, and that’s wondering, constantly, if I can go back.
I mean, I can go back. I can physically purchase a plane ticket and ride across the Atlantic back to the United States. But I’ve been wondering: when I do, who will I be?
Will I still be content to hang out at the same places? To have the same conversations? Will my old haunts feel like an old friend, or a new prison?
And if I can’t reacclimatize to existing properly back in the States, where the fuck do I go? And after spending two years flying somewhat aimlessly around the world, why am I so concerned with belonging?
I missed so much over there, and though I feel like I kept tabs with things stateside on the internet, there just has to be so much that I just don’t get. The pandemic stateside and my pandemic were completely different: over here we were dodging rapists and dragging our bags around the Balkans and chasing vaccines from country to country.
And over there they were marching in the streets, waiting on stimulus checks, and dying in droves.
And now our touchstones for this time, meaning the ones we have honed out here and the ones folks have stateside, are completely different. And when I really think about going back and having those first few conversations, they sound something like:
“Hey, where have you been?”
Around? I mean. Okay. That’s not untrue, that’s where I’ve been, but putting a year or three into words, particularly the last few years, seems impossible to me. And I have no idea how I’ll manage.
And it’s crazy because the longer I wait to return, the harder it will be to string all those sentences together, but I keep putting it off like I have something to do or prove or gain before I go. As if I need to have something concrete to say.
And what I’m telling you is that while I once believed I belonged anywhere, I’m beginning to feel like I belong nowhere.