I came unstuck in time again and reappeared 20 years later pawing the glass on some Argentinian steakhouse window in the Red Light district with a bull’s head in the window convinced I’d been there before. Two days in Amsterdam alone, to unwind. Got my hair cut before I left by a girl from Dresden who couldn’t speak English and me, not much German — shared what we thought of Berlin and no idea what either of us said. Got on the side of the train sitting backwards and watched the village in reverse pulling out with all my memories of where we’d been, a life somewhere else, jagged as a piece of glass or the outline of a mountain range that gets that way from years of friction and plates pushing, all the things we don’t understand. Woke on my last day with my watch still on and the room in disarray, coasters with handwritten notes and Dutch characters, names of records and clubs, crude maps with towns in Slovakia we should see, none of it making any sense. Rather than flashing before my eyes it seems my life’s been stuttering, keeps getting caught on the same things that want to come out but can’t.
What I intended to be a night cap turned out to be much more in a Belgian bar around the corner playing Canned Heat. After a time, they started inviting me outside for cigarettes, the bartender and his friend, and as we stood there on the street the dialogue took on a more intimate flare and it felt like we were friends, just like that.
But after 24 hours I had to return to my room for an afternoon lie-down and some quiet, from the roar of the carry-on luggage wheels grating the stones, the beeping sounds the traffic lights made, the scrape of the trams lurching in and out, the mad compression of bikes, cigarettes, houses, and people with Viking blood tall as the architecture jammed together and leaning, everything close to the edge of collapse: after all the Belgian beers and prostitutes and everyone locking or unlocking their bikes, unlocking phones, talking to mics and peddling with no hands: how it feels like everyone’s high and moving in swarms through the streets and their sickness and how the largest of trucks can squeeze into the smallest of spaces and still no one dies — after all of it to just sit in the quiet of my room and remember who I was before I got here and why it was so important for me to get away.
I got a seat at the bar in the middle of things with my people throwing peanut shells on the floor, serving beers in impossibly small glasses and shaving foam off the heads into the ditch — the bartender leaves his cigarette burning on a ledge outside and squints through the doorway at us like the character from Despicable Me, has that same knobby head with big eyes and limbs like he could tear you to pieces if he wanted, breaks two glasses behind the bar but doesn’t sweep it up so when he walks around the side and makes a crunching sound you can’t tell if it’s the peanut shells or the glass that’s breaking. And I realize it’s probably a gay bar now, like I’ve just noticed it looking around: the candelabras, the happy looking easter bunnies in papier mache — the fact that when I leave they’re playing Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, and it feels like everyone’s staring at me.
Learning about Brussels in a Dutch coffee shop people-watching, trying to make out what they mean on the flat screen with images of bodies under sheets on stretchers, soldiers in scarves and camouflage, feels very far away and very close. Sitting by a coin operated machine that sells rolling papers and grinders, drinking tea. Getting stuck in some pocket of town with pop-up Döner shops, the beauty shots of the meat in the windows make it look like it’s sweating.
Maybe it’s true, we are who we are not because of the things we have, but the things we lost. I just thought if we let go of time it might let go of us.