I’m out of breath riding backwards on a train sitting across from an Asian student who doesn’t speak English but who does speak German. She’s working on an exam of some sort, using a pencil and block eraser and painting her words beautiful, none of which I can read. Not just because they’re upside down to me, but because they’re auf Deutsch and upside down. I recognize the language mostly because so many words have more than 20 letters. She turns her paper and starts on page six.
Castles and farms, rolling green and tilled earth are blurring by, a whirr of places I’ve never seen, visions of which have become familiar. Living in this foreign country seeded a deep appreciation for her, an expansion of love for people and place. And history and art and architecture.
I haven’t yet learned the art of traveling light God help me so I lug my aubergine suitcase past 18 trains and 18 tracks with a 20-pound pack on my back (four bags of sugar feels about right), my red purse pouched on my chest like an infant, my turquoise flight pillow clutched tight. I reach train RE 4077 and scale its two steps laboring to drag my bag with me, when a beautiful young man holding a box of spaghetti proves that chivalry isn’t dead. He speaks a little English, enough to offer help, and he hands me his box of food so he can lift my box of clothes. I confirm my train with him and he shakes his head no, but at the same time we realize he’s just not going as far as me, and that yes, he hadn’t just wasted time and effort to help the breathless American with her bag.
I had arrived on Platform 8 and my next train was on 26, supposedly a 10-minute walk with one minute to spare before departure. My heart’s pounding is slowing to a quieter rhythm, the boiling adrenaline now purring to a simmer. I inhale thanks and exhale relief. I made it with 90 seconds to spare.
It is only now I realize an earlier decision in the day has consequence now:
I bought a ticket for a regional train. Had I stuck with my intention to purchase an ICE (high speed) ticket, I would have had food service available. The miscue was made primarily due to the language barrier and my train clerk wanting to save me money. Why it has bearing now is I’m thirsty. It’s well after lunchtime and the hunger doesn’t bother me near as much as the thirst. My desire is at least partially fueled by knowing I don’t have anything to drink–it’s human nature to want what you can’t have, after all. But my mouth is dry and my lips are chapped so I’m pretty sure it’s not all in my head
And then I remember a birthday gift from my friend Suzanne.
It was a gag gift of sorts, the kind born of getting to know one another just a little bit better. Though I can’t recall the context of our conversation, I admitted I had never smoked pot. Alcohol was my drug of choice back in those oat-sowing college days. The one time I was passed a joint, I handed it off like a hot potato, sure the police were about to burst through the door, catch me with illicit drugs and cart me off to prison to do Shawshank time–fine incentive to Just Say No.
Looking back, I can’t honestly say why I didn’t try it. I’d like to think it was a faith conviction or my good-girl sensibilities…but maybe just my penchant for following rules. The drinking age was lower when I was in college so I wasn’t breaking any laws. But pot? Illegal then, and everywhere I’ve ever lived.
So when Suzanne was shopping yesterday, she saw something with my name on it and couldn’t pass it up–
THIS is the kind of gift I love–its value is in its story.
It was fun, outrageous, unexpected and anything but conventional, but mostly it’s tied to knowing me. As Suzanne quipped, “when you drink it you won’t technically be able to say you’ve never had pot anymore.” Not like this is any banner of achievement, but something about it was just…me.
Because I couldn’t carry liquids on the plane, my plan was simply to tuck it away in my suitcase when we returned home and keep it as a conversation piece until curiosity got the best of me.
Until, that it, I was on a train riding backwards and out of breath, in a foreign country where I was traveling alone and didn’t speak the language, when there wasn’t time to stop for bottled water without missing my train; when I was hot and thirsty and a tangle of nerves.
So now I’m happy to report, though I can’t still say I’ve never had pot before, I can truthfully testify in a court of law with my hand on the Bible…
I’ve never inhaled.