To live in Europe for as long as I did, which was just reaching three years’ at the time I had moved to Prague, I would settle in one country for a few months to a year and find some job in the black like a service industry job or room cleaning. Sometimes I would get lucky and get hired on at an American military base. The U.S. bases were great for finding housing and for earning American dollars.
After Stuttgart, Marco and I separated because I met someone that knew about a job in Amsterdam where you could work without a visa. Marco, who was very close to his family, gave me his parents’ number in case I ever needed to reach him. That was how we kept in touch. I’d call his mom and his mom would exchange information and then I’d either meet him somewhere or follow his advice on a good place to find work. There was a circuit of information where a traveler could find a job. Marco went back to the bases often as there was always work, and the American dollar was strong, and could stretch longer in certain countries.
There are many different types of trekkers you can meet when you are traveling. There are those who are students living abroad; vacationers; trust-funders; and those who once had made a lot of money and travel on their nest eggs while looking for meaning in life. There are those who are traveling on their nest egg while looking for sex, drugs, and the 24-hour party. There are the ones who have been relocated with their job, and there’s the expats, the ones who were relocated and refused to go back to their home country. Many of these travelers manage to find work on their mother country’s income or they make equivalent wages. They find others like them, and they build up a community. Some marry a local, have children, and spend the rest of their lives in their new country. They’re like characters I’ve read about in a Hemingway novel or any number of books about the traveler and the expat. They were exciting because they were living abroad, but somehow still stable, somehow still capable of creating a somewhat “normal” life in a foreign setting. This was not me and rarely did I meet people like this.
The people I knew spent all their money just getting to some new country, and then they all worked illegally until they managed to find some way to get legal or they got caught or ran out of money, and then begged someone to help them get back home where they could work till they could save and return or go to a new country. Lot’s of times this kind of travel was not appreciated by the parental units because it was reckless- without money everything’s reckless and if you’re not making money or building on your future- meaning making money- then what’s the point. You’re wasting your life with all that there aimless travel. That’s the message. But, sometimes, life isn’t about making money, and home doesn’t ever feel like home. “You’re traveling shoes are bad for you”, someone once said. Why? I had asked in return because my ‘stay put shoes’ were too small and they had been causing me pain. For the travelers with money and security it was okay to travel. Their lives were an adventure, but for me traveling was some kind of failure some act of perpetual immaturity- and this- this idea caused me to lock myself into closets and cry because somehow I had managed to fail so miserably at life while simultaneously sobbing on the floor of a house older than my own country under a gothic castle while people outside spoke a different language and refused to pick up their dog shit. To me, there was some irony in that, except for the dog shit part.
“Muthufucker. I hate bein’ broke.” Marco was flipping through the crowns in his wallet as we walked toward a park in Žižkov. Marco had been living abroad off and on for nearly eight years. I didn’t know much about his American life except that he was born in Oakland and grew up as a teen in Baltimore where his mother still lived. I never knew why he left in the first place. There may not have been a reason other than the desire to travel. He had never talked much about his past, but no one ever really did. It wasn’t important; it was the past. There was nothing to hide it just was. Marco believed that the past was about as blind as the future, and you can’t change any of it anyway so why linger. There is nothing quite as beautiful as this moment right now, he’d say. I agreed with him in theory, I’d just had a harder time living it. My past and future were always nagging me about milestones, asking when I was going to get to any of them.
We stood in a line at a garden restaurant in a park a few blocks from our apartment. The air was cool and crisp. It was still spring and it was soft, comfortable and relaxed, but summer and its humidity were not far off. A white cloth canopy sheltered most of the tables from the sun. The only built area was the bar and the kitchen. A quickly moving beer line extended out and beyond a short metal gate that surrounded the perimeter of the restaurant.
“So my eighteen-year-olds were the ones who came with me to the train station to meet you. But. You. Were. Not. There.” Said Marco.
“I know.” I said. “You told me.”
“They were so disappointed. Some of them even cried.” He said.
“A couple of them tried to throw themselves in front of the train.”
“Please.” I said, turning away from him.
“But I begged them to stop.” He began to raise his voice and moved as if he were jumping in front of someone.
People in the restaurant looked at Marco.
“I said, ‘No! No, children! It ain’t worth it. You got to live I tell ya! Live yor life!’” He threw his body around reenacting a scene of someone lying on the tracks.
“One lost his leg. There was blood everywhere. People cryin’. I took his hand and I said, ‘Tell me chil’, tell me one thing — one thing you want me to tell her.’”
“The line’s moving.” I said.
“And he coughed.” Marco coughed pressing his hand to his chest. “There was some bloods comes out.” Marco wiped daintily at the corner of his mouth. “I said, ‘hey let me clean that up fer ye’. Then he coughed again, and said, ‘tell…that…bitch… I… I will always…cough cough..uerrhgh. Ereghhhh. Ahhhh.’” He made exaggerated choking sounds with his hand around his throat and his other hand up toward the sky. “God?” He started chuckling at himself, a deep hearty chuckle.
I smiled at him.
“I gotta pee.” He said. “You get the beers.” He started to walk away.
“Wait!” I called to him. “Wait. I don’t know how to order a beer.”
“Just say dva pivo prosím.” Then he rushed off in the direction of the toilets.
I practiced the phrase under my breath. I strained to listen to the way people spoke so I could try to copy the accent. It was difficult, though; there were so many people talking all at once. I knew that as soon as I spoke the world would stop and everyone would look at me unless I was able to fool them with my accent. I needed to make them think I was Czech. I didn’t want to stand out. I didn’t know how they felt about Americans here. During my time in Europe I never did have a problem because I was from the States. No matter how many times you’d hear ‘oh, they’ll hate you because you are American,’ I’d never experienced that. Not even in France. Most of the time I’d get, ‘oh you American? What’do you think about Monica Lewinsky and your President Clinton?’ Is it so important?’ Or, I’d get, ‘You American? You want to get married? To me?’ Yet, no matter how many friendly greetings I’d encountered I’d still feel nervous the first time I’d have to speak in a public setting. I’d think, okay, what’s happening in the news right now? Is America up to something bad? Are we popular or unpopular in politics right now? Most of the time I didn’t know what was going on because I wasn’t there, and I couldn’t read the local papers because I didn’t know the language, and I rarely had internet access. I always felt bad when I didn’t know the language of the country I was visiting. I couldn’t believe Marco left me at this moment. It was about to be a disaster.