Sometimes I hear people talking about their elderly beloved, and how “sharp” they “still are.” The qualifications tend to be a combination of having a great grasp on vocabulary, and the ability to conduct a lively (read: interesting) conversation with other participants in spoken format. Given those parameters, I suppose that I’m suffering from early onset dementia. I frequently struggle with capturing just the simplest words out loud, and immediately tire of in-person conversation, even with those closest to me. I suppose it must be cognitive dissonance that keeps the same friends who declare their elderly to be “losing it” from deciding that I’ve joined those numbers. Are they not listening to me? Are they giving me leeway? Are we all speaking our own languages and just pretending to ourselves that someone else knows the words?
That being said, I started to write this blog to capture the fact that tonight I’ve been visited by the ghost of Annas past. I frequently find myself mentally visiting specific locations that I’ve visited in my younger days – bars, bathrooms, particular shop windows, settings at specific times of day – at the spur of a moment. I feel like a time traveler when I do this. It’s SO sudden, it could give you whiplash. It’s not the same as something reminding you of a place. It’s like being at Applebee’s, enjoying a margarita at the bar, then suddenly looking up to realize you’re at the beach in Cabo three years ago. Realistically, you can see that you’re still here at Applebee’s, but the memory from that trip long ago is so very strong that you’re almost there for a moment. You’re a time traveler. I’m definitely good at that sort of time travel. There’s a reason that I can so clearly recall my days on the Camino. My brain is not so good at the here and now, but my long term memory is incredibly sharp, and for reasons I still don’t quite understand, every now and then I get pulled back to a place that I once loved, in a way that’s solid and violent and sad and good and true. I don’t know if that’s normal or not, but I’m happy about it. In the here and now, I tend to live on my own frequency. Sometimes I find other people to explore the here with me, but normally I’m pretty much living here alone and trying not to get too sad about it. When I go back in time, I can slow things down and re-interpret the moments. I can be in the presence of people I love, at the times I most enjoyed sharing with them.
Anyway, this all goes to say that I know I’ve visited some places tonight in passing, but the last two were specific to old birthdays, and also quite enjoyable. For a split second I was drunk on the dance floor of a club in Vienna, about a mile’s walk from K’s apartment. It was my birthday at midnight, which means it’s my birthday now. The band has gone home, the lights have come on, the staff is cleaning up, and the rest of the crowd is dwindling away. It is way too late, and we’re still here. She’s angry about something, in that funny belligerent way that she has, the one that lets me know it’s totally OK (even though she’s SO DEADLY SERIOUS). She’s a part of me, and I know how to counteract this, and I do (but that’s a story in itself, and it ends with me under a bench and with us missing a flight to Berlin).
The next memory is also in Vienna, also with K. It’s my birthday again, but another year. It’s always my birthday in Vienna. Or maybe it’s always Vienna on my birthday? Maybe that’s the smarter way to play this rotten old world. Anyway, it’s Vienna, it’s my birthday, and it’s the second time that I’m at The Prater. I visited the park on my first time in Vienna, but never managed to ride The Reisenrad. This time around, I do. It’s terrifying. I’m surprised, for no good reason. It’s creaky and old – it’s the oldest operating Ferris wheel in the world, after all. The cars swing more than any I’ve ever encountered (and I’ve rode many – I love Ferris wheels, and make a habit of riding them in every city I visit, around the world). It’s a quiet night as we head to the park. We go to a museum about the Ferris wheel. We ride the wheel in question. We leave, but we’ve just missed the tram. To pass the time, we go to a bar across the street. It’s cold out, a quiet Sunday night. We are the only two in the bar, getting our beers, and we end up sitting on the patio alone. There aren’t even tables and chairs out there anymore. It is awkward in that comfortable way, the way that tells me I am fine there, and only uncomfortable because the other person is not feeling great about being there. K wants to get home and get ready to work in the morning. I’ll fly out pretty early.
I can’t remember how the night ended, but I know this was the same trip that I dropped a vegetarische sandwich and caught it in mid-air, like a drunken ninja. I know that there was a Billa AND a Bipa within a block of the apartment. I know that I slept too much of the morning, and ate too much sonnenblumenbrot every single day. K’s bed was broken, and her couch was magically a futon and some sort of treasure chest for blanket storage. I had just started dating Dan, and I remember our online conversation as having a film of darkness to it. Is it just my memory playing tricks, or was I already disenchanted? Or maybe I was disenchanted but believed that was the norm? In looking around, I can see this potentially being true. I have seen too much of my friends and their relationships, and I know that I approached that with a learned pragmatism. I set myself up for that one.
But now I am tired. I can’t remember the other places my mind pulled me tonight, but they were weirdly OK. A street corner in Chelsea at 2am – nothing special, just a hug from a man I admired but didn’t yet know enough to call a friend. An elevator in Gold Coast, a few months after Katrina, feeling ashamed but used to it. The basement of a palace in Astorga.
I’m writing with one eye closed. I think that means I should call it a night.