On our last trip, I carried my notebook across the Atlantic Ocean, through customs, on three planes and a bus, one rental car, a ferry, and too many trains to count. It's a small, brown leather notebook I purchased in New Orleans years ago. I believe it was on our honeymoon.
One day, I decided this was going to be the notebook I wrote in when we traveled. In my mind, this was going to be the safekeeper of our adventures, a record of the things we said on our long talks and the music we danced to late at night. Over the years this notebook has acquired a bunch of stories and scribbles; I wrote in it while you were napping in our little medieval Airbnb in Cortona, and after that bluegrass jam at The Station Inn in Nashville, Tennessee. I love that it's seen so many places, that it knows the taste of hot chicken and the sounds of screaming street vendors in Mexico City (¡gaaaaaaaaaas!).
When we left for Germany, I had recently started a writing challenge. It was to last 30 days, and the basic gist of it was: Write. Every. Day.
I was in it. It felt good to write for me for the first time in months. I didn't really care what I wrote about-- whether it was fiction or not, short little paragraphs or 10-page rants. My fingers thanked me as I wrote and typed. It was a relief, a big old sigh.
Then something happened. A loss, a shock, and an immense sadness took over me. It seemed like nothing could ever go on as usual.
And then we left, on this vacation we'd been planning for months. I told myself I was going to take these two weeks and write about our time there-- about the food and the culture and the people we met along the way. Should I try to be a travel writer for the next two weeks? I asked myself, half-jokingly. I thought that would help with the challenge and the grief, make it easier to fill 30 days worth of writing with the deep, meaningful thoughts one thinks when leaving the everyday routine. Maybe I'd have something smart to say! Maybe I'd discover great truths, like Joan Didion, and this notebook would become my South and West.
Or something like that.
The truth is my deep, meaningful thoughts trailed somewhere in the Englischer Garten and the blue waters of Bodensee. Instead, I held on tight to you and my best friend on that ferry, knowing that it was almost absurd how magical it was, us being there together.
I thought of my notebook as we walked the streets of Prague on my birthday, a little tipsy after a few gin cocktails. I turned to it late at night when we returned to our rooms, overheated in that 96 degree weather. We kept the windows open and I could hear you talking, your voices carried into the bedroom while I wrote. Sometimes it was a few pages, others just short notes and observations, which made me feel guilty as hell. But I revisited my notebook each night, after guzzling ice cold Pilsners and riding on the packed metro. It felt good to spread out those photos of us, and the post cards we collected throughout our trip-- but my notes ended up being about the silly jokes you made and the songs we wrote in the car, and some stories Sylvia shared with me while you slept. I filled my pages with you and her. And sometimes, more than I wanted to admit, I filled it with thoughts of friends back home-- of the one I lost and all the ones who mourn him, too.
We've been back for a week now, and I've been struggling with finishing the challenge. I am late, of course, by a couple of days. But I figured I'd stick with it 'til day 30, even though it will really be 32 (or is it 33?). But the words haven't flowed as naturally ever since we returned to Texas. I find myself going back to this notebook and leafing through its pages, rereading stories of us. I'm thinking maybe that's my great truth-- I know, so cheesy. But you know I love cheese.
And I would kill for some of Sylvia's cold pasta tonight.