Affection

We all crave for some form of affection. We all want somebody to accept us the way we are – to realize our faults and put that realization away in the darkest corner of their mind. We all want somebody to make us feel as if we’re enough, and not too much. If we’re too much, even this big world might explode with the effort of keeping us.

She wanted that too. She craved for passion more than I crave for ice cream at two AM. She pretended to be skeptical of affection, to not need it, but she was just fooling herself. Only people who believe in love post pictures of waterfalls and starry skies on Instagram.

 

Once, an acquaintance, someone I barely knew, came to my gig and stood lonely by the entrance. He had friends but claimed that none of them had been able to make it. He was funny and easygoing, so I liked him, even though he put gel in his hair (always a bad sign). She was there too, always supportive of my music. She sat at the table in front of the stage, humming along and smiling.

After the show, my friends suggested we’d go somewhere for a drink. I invited the guy because it seemed impolite to brush him off after he’d come to my show. She started talking to him in that cheerful, too innocent to be flirty way of hers. They stuck together the whole night. In the bar where we listened to a rock concert, during a walk through town, and while sitting in the grass in the park.

“Goodbye guys, see you later!” I called as I was leaving, but they barely answered. They were too absorbed in their own conversation. She had already forgotten his name, so he was pretending to be mad. When I saw them there that night, I realized they would soon have sex.

 

“It was so romantic,” my friend recalled. “We were standing by the river, with the moonlight shining. He grabbed the belt loops of my jeans, lifted me up to my tiptoes and kissed me.”

“I thought you didn’t do romantic. I thought you said you were taking a break from guys,” I said. We were sitting on my bed, with our legs propped up.

“I know. But he’s so cute. And we’re not in a relationship anyway.”

“What do you mean? You see each other all the time.”

“He has second thoughts because I’m so much younger. And to be honest, I’m not really in love with him either.”

“So it’s just sex.”

“It is.”

 

I’m sure that everybody gives in at some point in their lives. We just can’t deal without affection. Sometimes waiting for the somebody becomes so tiring that we settle for a somebody. And she did too. She talked about him every time we met. He was boring, or shallow, or prudish. Why did she keep on seeing him then? I always asked. Sex, she said. Or sometimes she just shrugged her shoulders.

One night I got a text, saying:

he just called us ‘friends with affection’

She thought it was funny because she thought he was too uptight to admit that they were sex buddies. At the time, I thought she was right. But now, I think that maybe he didn’t call her that just because he was conventional. Maybe it was because he knew that the reason they were keeping in touch wasn’t purely physical. He understood that they both craved for love more than anything else.

Eventually, they have stopped talking. They were unsuited despite their mutual needs, a fact they had both realized at the very start. Even the darkest corners of their minds couldn’t blind them enough for each other’s shortcomings. But now my friend, and thanks to her, I, know that the need for affection can’t be satisfied by just anyone. So I won’t just settle. And neither will she.

Roots

“Every flower stands for a person I’ve lost,” she explained, pointing to the tattooed daisies on her shoulder. We were sitting on a stained, pink couch in my brother’s living room, drinking tonic and gin. With her red hair, pierced nose, and torn up jeans, she looked like a wild child.

 

The night before, my brother and I had been sitting in folding chairs, eating pasta. My brother was studying at the film academy in Brussels and I was considering studying in the capital next year too, so he invited me to stay with him for a week. Actually, I pretty much invited myself. But we’re family, so it’s allowed.

“I just don’t want to leave my friends,” I said. We were talking about my plans and how I was still not sure whether to stay in Ghent or go someplace new.

“You’ll make new ones,” he answered. “It’s not that your friends are the only people you will ever get along with.”

“They are the first ones, though.”

“Look, tomorrow, I’ll invite my friends over, and you’ll see that it is possible to start a new friend group in college.”

 

Now we were tomorrow, and I was studying the girl’s tattoo. Next to her, sat this couple that had been together for six years. The girlfriend was flashing a cute, dimply smile, while her boyfriend was showing off the jazz guitar on his forearm. It still had the pink glow of a newly inked tattoo. Then there was the girl that took dancing lessons with my brother. Her hair was dyed black and her makeup was done in that Golden Era style.

“There is still room for more flowers,” the girl with the daisies said. “Should anyone else I know die.” I didn’t know how to react, so I smiled awkwardly.

After a drinking game, we headed out to Madame Moustache – a jazz club at walking distance. The tattooed boyfriend brought his harmonica. While he played, the girl with the black hair made up lyrics. “It’s raining. I hope we’ll get there soon. But we won’t stay long. Tomorrow we have to go to school.” When we got there, we were all soaking wet. All the girls had to wring out their hair. But then they just rushed to the dance floor.

Later that night, my brother tried to teach me salsa but failed miserably. We danced, drank beer, danced some more, and a bit later, we all went home. Exhausted, I collapsed on my brother’s couch and fell asleep.

 

In the morning, I woke up and realized that I was feeling too comfortable. I loved my friends. But I realized that I wanted what my brother had too. I wanted excitement and not knowing exactly what I’d be doing that night. I wanted to feel in extremes. To cry harder and laugh louder. To dance salsa and sing on the streets. And maybe Ghent wasn’t the place. Maybe I felt too rooted there to ever truly feel free. And even though I will always come back, I can’t stay. Because being home feels so good that I might never leave again. And there’s a whole world out there to see.

Making Friends in Liverpool

“I can see someone who is dying to burst out of herself,” he texted me yesterday. Half a year later, I still can’t believe we became so close.

It was almost midnight when my mom and I arrived in Liverpool. Even though I had a GPS, my mom and I kept fighting over what street to take. After an exhaustive search, we finally arrived at our Airbnb.

The guy who welcomed us was a typical hipster in his forties – he had a long beard and when using the bathroom, I noticed all kinds of oils he used to groom it. He made us tea with milk and invited us into the living room. While we were nestling in on his couch, he started telling us about himself – how he used to be a cop but was now a nurse, how his dog died a couple of years ago and he missed it terribly, and how he was gay. My mother and I were taken aback by his openness and friendliness, but when we went to sleep, we weren’t fighting anymore. It was all good.

The next day was spent doing the usual touristic sightseeing. England is freakishly expensive, so we had lunch at McDonald’s. When we came back, we were tired and just wanted to sleep. Before going to bed, I went to the living room to say goodnight to our host.

He sat on the couch with a glass of red wine and a vape pen. “Come sit with me,” he said. And I did. He poured me a glass of wine and started talking. First, he told me about how it wouldn’t work out with his boyfriend. Then he told me about all his previous relationships. He told me everything – from love to sex to detachment. He asked me about my love life and I told him about Prague. We sat there together until two AM, talking as if it was all we had ever done. My mother was asleep, so she wasn’t aware of the start of this new friendship.

The evening after, my mother and I were talking to him and he showed us his CD collection. He had albums of Mumford and Sons, The Killers, Fleet Foxes, and all things good in the world. When my mom had gone to bed, we drank wine and listened to all our favorites. He introduced me to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Jesus Jones. We didn’t talk much that night. We didn’t really have to.

We spent all our nights like this – talking and listening to music. On our last night, I discovered his guilty pleasures – one of them being Vanessa Carlton. Before going to bed, we sang along to A Thousand Miles. It was the perfect goodbye.

We stayed in touch. When he wants to get something off his chest, I’m always there, and he does the same for me. When I told him I was feeling lost, he understood what I meant. He said I reminded him of Sarah from Labyrinth and that he was like Ludo, the big hairy idiot who could summon rocks to protect his friends. He texted me: “Remember, fair maiden, should you ever need us.”

Self-Love

I remember how I came back after those four days. I was a different person. So much happier, so much more confident, so much more myself. To be honest, I thought that feeling would never go away. It was as deeply rooted in me as my love for you. But somehow, in losing you, I also lost myself. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around.

When I have one of those weak moments – thinking whether I should let you know I’m still alive – I check your Instagram or scroll through your pictures on Facebook. We live in an age when missing someone becomes an obsession. And you are mine. But I can’t possibly take you seriously – your meditation, your journaling… It all seems so fake, as if you want to be inspirational. But if I go back to August, I remember that you were.

Without you, loving myself is harder. Because even though I have read Huffington Post’s articles about how you should love yourself no matter what, I keep wanting to have you to reassure me that it’s the right thing to do. I have one of your quotes written in capital letters in my diary: “Never change. You are amazing.” And it doesn’t mean that much, but you were the first person to ever tell me that (besides my parents, and aren’t they supposed to do that)?

You told me that I would remember the songs we listened to. Sometimes I cry when I hear I Will Wait by Mumford and Sons. But lately, I started wondering who I’m crying for –  you or me. You also said that only I could make myself happy. But the things you said always made me feel better. But maybe it was not you. Maybe it was the loving and being loved.

In Search of Purpose

Everything that I do, I do in search of some hidden purpose in life. I don’t believe in God, or so I tell myself because I was raised on a diet of science and humanism. But I believe in purpose. That’s why I try to learn as much as I can, that’s why I try new things. To find my purpose.

I have always hated chaos. Even though Eve Ensler, my hero and inspiration, tells everybody to embrace insecurity, I have always feared and even despised it. Because when I don’t know what to expect on a Wednesday night or a Monday morning, I feel shivers running down my spine. I don’t plan everything out and I don’t live according to some crazy schedule, but I like to know that I’m being a productive person doing useful things. Like everybody else, I have days off, when I find myself binge-watching Orange Is the New Black, eating heaps of ice cream, or not getting my eight hours of sleep. But in the end, I always go back to my usual state of mind.

This way of living had worked well for me over the past few years. But these last six months, I noticed that the shivers stopped going away – even when I did know what I was doing on the said Wednesday evening or Monday morning. They disappeared sometimes – when I was with friends, or in sunny weather. But eventually, they always caught up with me.

I know why. It’s because I’m in my senior year. My search for purpose has now extended itself to college, and consequently, a job, or even a career. Although I have some rough idea of what I am going to do, I also have absolutely no clue of how to get there. I’m insecure, and I am not embracing my insecurity at all.

Maybe the shivers would have gone away, had I not hated chaos. But the problem is, there is no way escaping it. We are all chaos, and I had ignored that fact for years. I want to be so many things that I don’t know where to look for answers anymore. And now I’m not only talking about careers.

Sometimes I wonder whether that search of purpose is a good idea. I figured out that I will probably never find it. But habits die hard. So I can’t stop looking.

My Own Teacher

I have recently started working two jobs. My first job I have had for quite a while – cleaning rooms at a hostel, run only by women. But now I have a second one – doing the dishes at a bistro, run only by men. The difference between the two workplaces is almost enough to make me laugh. And cry.

The women I work with at the hostel have only recently started opening up to me. Even though they’re friendly and never shy away from a conversation, I have never had a heart-to-heart with any of them. To be fair, that’s not unreasonable, seeing how they’re also my superiors. When I make a mistake, they will be the ones to tell me I was wrong. And it’s always a bit awkward to tell friends that they have fucked up. I understand why they want to keep the distance.

On my first day at the bistro, however, keeping the distance was not an option.

 

I came into an almost empty restaurant. It was only five PM, too early for the usual Friday night crowds. I was standing in the middle of the room, looking a bit lost because the staff was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, a guy in his twenties called down to me from the floor up.

“I’m coming!” he shouted.

After I introduced myself, he ushered me to a dressing room and gave me a t-shirt with no further explanation. The t-shirt was white with blue stripes, carrying out the French theme of the bistro. When I started changing, a young man walked in. He quickly started undressing, and although I tried not to look, I couldn’t help but notice his tattoo. While putting on his uniform, he started telling me about himself. Where he lived, what he did, etc. The distance and the order I was so used to at the hostel, was gone. Everything here felt chaotic but familiar.

 

Just as I started getting used to this new place, my male coworkers left me alone in a small, damp room to do the dishes. However much I love privacy, that was a place I would rather not be in by myself. It felt as if I was missing out on all the fun. I heard the French chansons playing at the bar, my new colleagues poking fun at each other in the kitchen, and the conversation of the customers. And there I was, wiping off hot wine glasses on my own.

Each time I carried the clean dishes to the kitchen, I was greeted by Michael Jackson songs and laughter. “Do you only have one CD?” I asked after hearing Heal the World for the third time.

“Don’t you like it?” the guy with the tattoo asked. He was the chef.

“I do, but a bit of change wouldn’t hurt.”

“What music do you listen to?”

“I like indie. And jazz.”

“Well, we wouldn’t be able to stay awake here listening to jazz. Don’t get me wrong, I like jazz too. But Michael Jackson drowns out that French music perfectly.” To me, Jacques Dutronc playing at the bar sounded wonderful, but they were all sick and tired of hearing the same songs all the time.

“I’ve heard you’re a singer-songwriter,” another guy said that had just come in. “I am too. Maybe we could write some songs together.” He was short and had a black ponytail. I knew his girlfriend.

“Sure. What kind of music do you write?” I asked.

“Mainly blues, that kind of thing,” he answered.

“Oh, I barely know any blues chords.”

“That’s cool, I can teach you,” he said and then announced, addressing the tattoo/Michael Jackson guy: “Did you hear that? We’re both songwriters!”

 

From now on, every time I came down, the boys would start singing some pop song, just to work on my nerves. It ranged from Let Her Go to A Thousand Miles. Sometimes, they started dancing too. I laughed a lot, though sometimes I just laughed because I didn’t want to seem cold. But then I noticed something.

Whatever I was doing, they would inevitably tell me how to do it. All of them. If I was washing a cup, they’d want to show me how to wash it. If I was squeezing lime juice, they would all tell me how to do it faster. No matter what I was doing, I was doing it wrong. But it was okay because it was my first day and they would help me out.

Until I realized there was nothing to help me out with. I was making mistakes, for sure, but their help was not always needed, let alone wanted. They were just very eager to teach. “Has anyone shown Erika how to clear the tables yet?” “Has anyone told Erika how to switch off the dishwasher?” “Does Erika know where to put the plates?”

In How Should a Person Be?, Sheila Heti said something that now rang true to me. They were a bunch of men trying to teach me something.

I enjoyed my evening, but at the same time, I left feeling drained.

 

The next day, I went to work at the hostel. And for the first time, I knew to appreciate the distance between me and the other women working there. Because it was peaceful, and it was calm. And when I came home from work, nobody had tried to teach me. I was still my own teacher.

My Week of Walking

My Week of Walking

I usually cycle to school, although it’s only 3 km away. It’s the fastest and the cheapest way. But lately, my bike started breaking down a bit too often. Last week, I was forty minutes late because my brakes stopped working. I almost ran over a kid, so I decided to leave my bike and walk the rest of the way.

Unfortunately, going to the bicycle repairman is just like going to the dentist. You know you have to, but you always find better things to do. So, at the beginning of this week, my bike was still out of order.

When I woke up on Monday morning, I found out that I had already missed my bus. Since there was no other way to get to school, I had to go on foot. I left the house way too late, so instead of walking like a normal person, I had to racewalk.

While walking, I was noticing much more than I did when I was cycling. For example, I saw all the cyclists, whose bikes still worked, catching up with me. I saw the time on all the apothecary crosses indicating that I had to walk faster. But I also saw the churches in the center of Ghent, illuminated by the morning glow. And I felt the chilly, January wind pumping the blood to my cheeks. In the evening, I walked back home again.

I know that for some people, changing their routine in this way wouldn’t have been that big a change. But for me, it was. I love trying new things, but these new things must have a purpose. The way I spend my time must be useful. And walking kind of took away the time to do some of these useful things. The half hour I had to sacrifice prevented me from reading the extra 25 pages of a book, or writing those 300 words, or studying German. That’s why I started to doubt. Maybe next evening, I had to take a bus. And then I realized how much we care about productivity, more than about the quality of life, more than about health. I threw my doubts aside and decided that, from this week on, I would walk everywhere. At least until my bike got fixed.

 

The enjoyment didn’t come easily. I tried walking as fast as I could to lose as little time as possible. At the end, I just ended up exhausted. I also felt kind of laughable because I suddenly remembered my dream of hiking to Santiago de Compostela and realized that to get there, I would have to walk much more than I did.

But I was starting to let go. On Tuesday, I didn’t force myself to finish reading a book. To me, reading is not only a way of relaxing. Throughout the years, it had also become an obligation because I firmly believed that it made me smarter. But on Tuesday, I allowed myself to watch Harry Potter instead. On Wednesday, I allowed myself not to write. And on Thursday, I didn’t make my homework. Although maybe that one doesn’t say much. I rarely do.

I became less productive. But I also noticed that I felt calmer and not on the verge of hysterics, as I usually do. When I did get to reading, or writing, or studying, I was more concentrated and enthusiastic. Instead of counting the hours, I started appreciating them. Meanwhile, I kept walking.

 

Today is Sunday, which means it’s been precisely one week of walking everywhere. My dad fixed my bike, so I didn’t have to go to the bicycle repairman. But I think I will keep walking to school anyway. And in the summer, I might hike to Santiago de Compostela.