Arizona: You are still alive and happy. We’re dancing to A Tribe Called Quest in your living room. It’s 2001. We’re seniors in college. You are my best friend. I’m too young and naïve to imagine either of us will ever be gone.
I can tell you have a crush on me. Sometimes I have a little crush on you, too, but I have a boyfriend. And I’m also secretly pining away for someone else—your best friend, actually—and I’m convinced he’s the one, even if he barely knows I’m alive. I can’t spend even one night with you because I’m planning to spend the rest of my life with him, so I decide we will just have to be the best of friends. You completely agree.
There’s a study abroad program at in England and you think we should go together. It’s for honor students and I’ve got terrible grades, but at your insistence I apply anyway. We’re both accepted for the summer at St. Catharine’s at the University of Cambridge. The place where Watson and Crick first met. The school where Stephen Hawking studied. We’re off to the highest-ranking academic institution in the world.
My boyfriend is upset. He’s jealous we are going away together, so he applies to the same program and also is accepted. When I tell you he’s coming to England you look visibly shaken. You turn white. Then red. You yell at me for inviting him. I feel like I just fucked up our friendship forever, but I’m not sure why. Maybe you’re annoyed I’m dating a guy who’s not all that great. Maybe you expect better from me. Or maybe it’s because you know I have the emotional maturity of a teenager and I hate to be alone.
We arrive at Stansted and rather than going directly to our campus orientation, we ditch and go see Radiohead in Oxford. When they play Fake Plastic Trees we both cry. My boyfriend pretends to mouth the words along with us so he feels like he belongs. We stay out all night. We arrive at the university late and are immediately put on probation for missing the first day of activities.
Cambridge is very different. People dress up for class. Everyone is even-tempered and polite. You and I are the only argumentative assholes who constantly raise our hands in class to disagree with the teacher. We get in at least five fights with our professors the first week. They are flabbergasted and maybe even a little annoyed with our outspokenness, but we secretly like them a lot.
It rains a lot. Almost every day. I nearly slip off the seat every time I ride my bike to your dorm. One day after a particularly bad fight with my boyfriend I peddle through the puddles to see you. There’s a girl from class in your room and you look like you’re both already in love. It’s actually nice to see you happy and comfortable with her. You say you always feel a bit sad and awkward even though you’re outwardly outgoing and confident. Just like me. To wallow in my self-created sadness , I walk my bike home in the rain.
No matter how hard we try, we can’t find any English food we like and end up eating Indian food almost every day. Eventually we’re craving American food so badly we think we see a Chili’s in the distance. It’s not a mirage; there actually is a Chili’s hidden behind a shopping center on East Road. We run towards it singing “America the Beautiful.” I order endless refills of Diet Coke. You order the entire appetizer menu. I still have the photograph I took of you eating chicken wings. Your favorite food.
It was so much fun being an ugly American with you.
That night we drink cider at the Red Lion. My boyfriend and I are in another terrible fight. You and I have already planned to go backpacking and see the rest of Europe after our program ends; you tell me I have to ditch my douchebag boyfriend before we go. I tell you I can’t do that. You reveal that you invited other people to backpack with us anyway, so it won’t just be the three of us. I’m relieved.
A few nights later my boyfriend accuses me of flirting with a girl who is in our program. I run to your dorm to tell you that he is jealous of an imaginary relationship I’m having with a woman, but you’re too busy with that same girl of from class. Later that night the girl he accused me of flirting with sees me crying in the courtyard and invites me to her room. I fall asleep in her arms. I start to wonder if I’m lesbian. I don’t tell you about this.
We’re on holiday in Edinburgh and we like it there. We take a tour bus to the Isle of Skye and see an American hair band named Sex play at a hostel. On the way back our driver pulls over and tells us to get off the bus for a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a memory while doing something illegal. We’re standing in front of Loch Ness. It’s pouring rain but we strip off our clothes and jump in the water. Except that I don’t really take off my clothes because I’m embarrassed about being fat, so I just sort of wade in thigh deep instead of swimming. At dinner we try haggis. The waiter tells us it’s a vegetarian dish and we believe him. Idiots.
Classes end and so does our college experience. They hold a special graduation ceremony just for the two of us. They let us get drunk and run on the lawn to celebrate. At Cambridge you don’t even walk—let alone run—on the carefully groomed lawns. It’s actually a school rule. You must stay off the grass.
We did it. We graduated from university. We feel like adults which is ridiculous because we act like such babies.
This is where our backpacking adventure begins. We arrive in Amsterdam and the staff at our hostel tells us to go to Vondelpark. We get really stoned in a coffee shop then go sit in the park for hours, but we’re so high that we’re in the wrong park. At night, once I’m shitfaced, we go to the red light district and I become hysterical when I see all the young women sitting in windows. I yell at the prostitutes telling them they should just move to Scottsdale and get a sugar daddy instead of being hookers. I’m drunk and thus believe my suggestion is a viable alternative to being a prostitute. I think at some point a guy with a knife robs us but I don’t remember.
Before we board the train to Paris you buy a huge hunk of Gouda that stinks up the entire sleeping compartment. I tell you I hate you. Why are you so annoying?
We get stopped in Belgium and the passport inspectors pull you off the train. I get scared and start trying to bribe the police but they push away the money and release you. We continue on to Paris, but you and I are starting to fight about everything, which is probably awkward for the rest of the small group traveling with us now. We argue over who should hold the map, where we are going to eat, what attractions we should see. The thing you hate the most is my giant backpack. My pack is so big you nickname it “the behemoth.” You become enraged when my boyfriend offers to carry it for me. You tell him he shouldn’t carry my bag and it’s my fault that I packed like an idiot. My feelings are hurt. By the time we get to the Louvre I’m so sick of arguing that I skip the museum and go back to the hotel and cry. I try to unload items in my bag to make it lighter but I don’t part with anything easily, so I decide to keep it heavy and struggle.
I love Rome. Rome is loud and modern but also ancient. Pieces of the city literally crumble and fall off into your hands if you touch a wall the wrong way. The pickpocket situation is bad but we decide to play a game. We dangle money out of our pockets to see who will have the bills stolen off our bodies first. We play this game for hours and nobody steals our money. We’re crushed. We cheer ourselves up by jumping in the Trevi Fountain.
We go to Vatican City and I refuse to purchase the paper pants they make ladies wear to cover our legs in order to gain entry to the church. My defiance pisses you off. We’re headed to Greece so I buy a bikini in the train station. We leave to board a ferry from Brindisi.
We walk into the Pink Palace in Corfu. We’re told we can’t check in unless we drink shots of pink ouzo and put on togas. We decide to stay in Greece as long as we can.
Every morning we walk down to the water. I lay naked on a raft all day and just float around the Ionian Sea. One day we take a boat ride to the tallest cliff in Corfu and plan to jump off together, holding hands. At the last second, I change my mind. I tell you I’ll jump later. I watch you leap while I sit in the boat ashamed that I chickened out. Just like that day at Loch Ness. A group of Portuguese girls on our boat are crying because it’s their last day on the Island. We decide to make it our last day too.
When we get to shore two Israeli soldiers on holiday tell us the United States will be attacked by Muslim terrorists within 30 days. All the Americans get mad at them for saying this but you are I aren’t angry. We’re scared because we believe them.
Leaving Greece is one of the hardest things I have to do because it also means leaving behind college, youth. It also means leaving you. I start to feel guilty that I ever let my boyfriend come along in the first place. I wish we had time to travel together, just the two of us. I want to travel the rest of the world with you forever. I’m an emotional wreck and you’re a really good friend. I tell you I have to take care of some stuff at home in the States and I’ll fly right back to meet you in Prague.
It’s two weeks later on a Tuesday and I wake up to my boyfriend shaking me out of bed, hysterically screaming. I run to the living room just in time to watch the second tower fall. The Israeli soldiers were right.
I’m worried about you because you’re a US citizen traveling alone in Europe. I write an email telling you to sew a Canadian Flag patch onto your backpack but I delete those words and instead write that I’ll meet you in Germany on October 1.
It’s now October. I broke up with my boyfriend to be with that guy I was in love with. Your best friend. I’ll have to meet up with you later, maybe in Norway or Spain.
Minnesota, South Dakota, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco
Are names of places I’ve seen you for a hot second since Europe.
A lot has happened since the last time we talked. I’ve fallen in and out of love and moved from city to city. I think about you and that period of my life all the time. I’m extremely lonely without our friends. I’d hop on a plane and meet you anywhere right now and hate that I can’t. You’re long gone and I can’t travel to where you are. As usual, you went first and I’m still floating on the raft, aimless, promising to meet you a little bit later.
Image via Shutterstock.
Flygirl is Jezebel’s new travel blog dedicated to adventures big and small, tips and tricks for navigation, and exploring the world at large. Have a story or an idea? We’re always taking submissions; email us with “Flygirl” AND your topic in the subject line. No pitches in the comments, please.