Secret Notes and London Folk
by Phillip Wenturine
You see the movie Wild on the list of movies on the tiny airplane screen, and simultaneously you find that there’s a footrest as well, and you squee!
You want this trip to be like Wild. A modern day Eat, Pray, Love. You want to find yourself again.
You take a sigh of relief as the pre-departure beverage cart is coming around. You feel slightly embarrassed about your manic freak-outs earlier now that the world is still functioning as planned.
What if the plane is canceled?
My flight to France last year was pushed back an entire day.
I hate American Airlines—Why did I fly them?
Oh, my gosh. I’m four hours early. Why did get here so early?
And then my five-hour layover in Miami.
Ah, the Miami flight is 30 minutes delayed. I’ll miss my taxi in London.
I won’t get to Arturo’s before he goes to work.
Can they make up time in the air? I’m sure they can.
Calling Dad: Can they make up time in the air?
Sure they can. Don’t worry.
So it won’t be a problem?
I’m not answering your neurotic questions again.
But are you sure? Dad? Hello?
You come back to reality as the beverage cart approaches you. You tell the attendant you’ll have the wine, and ask how much? He says, it’s complimentary, and notices your face widen at the sound of free wine. He says to wave him down when you need a top off. After he leaves, the cute guy from earlier walks on to the plane, and winks at you before sitting down a few rows ahead.
You think, maybe you’ll join the mile-high club today.
You tell all of this to your friend Gamble, from back home, via text before the plane takes off. She asks, why do you always think about boys? You tell her not to act like she’s any different. He was sitting across from you in the waiting area by the gate. You tried to rest back in your seat, casually dropping your shades from your head to your eyes—even though you were indoors, because you thought shades indoors would make you look like someone important, someone trying to be unnoticed, but noticeable by default. He, too, had shades on, and was on his cell phone. He was looking in your general direction, so you kept shifting in your seat to catch his attention; in hindsight it probably looked like you were trying to itch your ass. When they called for passengers, he came up to you in the boarding line and eavesdropped on your seat assignment. He spoke—14K? Ah, so close. I’m in 11K. Too bad we aren’t neighbors—winked and walked off. So naturally you wrote him a note after finishing round one of wine.
You got the good seat! I got stuck next to an older gentleman who could use some deodorant… It was good sharing the brief line with you! Add me on Facebook while you’re in London.
He looks at it, tucks in into his book, then also fumbles for a movie on the touch screen.
You wonder if he will also choose Wild.
Why didn’t he look backward after getting the note?
What if he thinks this is creepy?
Why can’t I sit next to him? Maybe the guy next to him will switch if I ask…
Instead I’m next to an old man and his even older body odor.
I miss Ethan.
Why did Ethan lie and tell me we would remain best friends?
He said the breakup wasn’t my fault.
No, it wasn’t my fault.
I want to go on an adventure like in Wild.
You chug three more wines, toss back a Xanax, and drift off as you venture down your own trail to eat, pray, love, and whatever the fuck else happens along the way to finding yourself again.
You wake up on the plane with an hour or so left before landing. You’re groggy; empty wine bottles are stashed in the seat back packet in from of you. The elderly man next to you is missing, but the lingering scent of his musk is not.
You stealthily hop up and stow away your laptop in your backpack overhead, also grabbing the to-go Febreeze you got in case your clothes began to smell between washes on your travels. It was an impulse buy, as it was cute and only 99 cents. Who knew it would be so handy?
As you close the overhead compartment, seat 11K walks past, nudges you, says thanks for the note, winks, and returns to his seat.
You grin. Perhaps you do still have game.
After the taxi drops you off at Arturo’s, you then go upstairs; Arturo welcome you with a kiss on each cheek and shows you around. It’s a cute, cozy, little flat.
You decide between a hot chocolate and a latte, and you choose hot chocolate, and he brews it for you, and you both smoke cigarettes while they brew. He asked if you smoke, and you said sometimes, which is really never, and he said perfect, and so naturally you smoked.
You then sip hot chocolate and smoke and he changes out your SIM card so you can keep in touch with him while out in London. Perhaps he didn’t want to lose his new American toy, that he met in a Portuguese club last year, never thinking he’d actually call after all this time.
You suck face with him, his tongue somehow ending up in your mouth, but you don’t mind. Although you wondered how many tongues this happened and how often.
You say goodbye, as he’s off to work, and then you Snapchat the cute apartment. You look in all the closets. You take a shower. It’s a weird, half-walled shower with a plastic frame rather than curtain, and you wonder how water doesn’t go everywhere.
You then head off to the train station; it’s a 30-minute train to downtown London, and surprisingly you don’t get lost.
You go see the London Eye, House of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Jubilee Bridge—the one from Harry Potter that they somehow digitally contorted in the 7th film. You also saw a few museums, Picadilly Circus, as well as SoHo, the Gay District of London. Arturo told you to get a drink there and you jokingly told him all the boys would try to take you home. He then called you a slut and you said only if he was lucky.
You walked and walked: nearly seven hours of walking.
And you wanted to be back home with Arturo—fucking—but your train ticket didn’t depart until seven, and you had time to kill, and your feet ached, so you napped on the lawn in front of the Eye while a guitarist strummed and the sun sat on your face.
“Sometimes I think sitting on trains, if you catch me at the border I’ve got visas in my name…”
The M.I.A. song pops in your head. Ironically, this is exactly what you are doing. Bronze tipped roofs whiz by, the sun reflecting off the shingles at times, and at other times in the shade your face reflects in the glass pane.
You’re thinking on this train back home to Woking, the small town outside of London.
You’re thinking why didn’t you have sex last night? Arturo bought you dinner, encouraged you to guzzle down wine, you cuddled up while he tickled your feet (that fetish of his), and then he grazed your inner thigh… But you both liked it.
He asked for a massage, and you obliged, even touching his ass, and he giggled. He then kissed you and tickled you some more. Clothes came off (boxers stayed), and the lotion came out, and he giggled. You touched his dick and he asked why are you doing that? Then you both stopped and slept.
You think, what the fuck is wrong with gay people?
Gay people are always wanting to have sex. If it’s anything gay people seem not to want, it’s commitment. That’s what ended you and Ethan. He wanted sex. Sex with others than just you.
You awoke this morning, and he tickled you some more, bent you around (mind that you were wearing those sexy, tight, pink Calvin Klein briefs), and simulated sex, and then did not take off the briefs and have actual sex with you, and went off to work.
You think, what the fuck is wrong with gay people?
So you jacked off and went about your day.
You got off the train in London and grabbed a chocolate croissant and a latte and had breakfast on the Thames River cruise. The breeze was nice, as was the coffee. Caffeine and carbs never felt better.
You got off and walked around the London Bridge. It was nice to be alone, to do something without considering others for a change. To realize considering your own self wasn’t a selfish option at all.
Arturo told you he would take you to the Queen’s castle once you got home.
Once there, he buys you both a bag of chips and some whisky drinks as you walk around the grounds. They were herby and refreshing. He offers you a smoke, and although you don’t smoke, now you sort of smoke, so you accept.
You post photos of your surroundings so people back home can see how happy your façade is. You hope that it will one day stop being a façade and that this will be your life.
Ironic, really, that your European tour guide is a guy you barely know, that you’re first stop to wandering the continent is with some guy who may have tried to get you drunk and take advantage of you in a club last summer. Some guy who drunkenly mentioned if you ever needed an escape to London, to send a message. Surely he didn’t think you’d ever actually hit him up.
You never pictured yourself in such a position to hit him up.
You went out for dinner and drinks with Arturo and his friend Rita after she messaged about wanting to meet the “new American boy.” Perhaps this side of the ocean was better for you. At least here you were wanted by complete strangers.
You smoked a lot of cigarettes even though you don’t like cigarettes and you wonder if that’s just how it works in Europe, that everyone ends up smoking cigarettes. You can’t remember the last time you saw someone without a handful of cigarettes.
You drank a lot of wine, but you like drinking wine, and lots of it.
On the way home Arturo played Macklemore’s song, “Same Love” and asked if you’d heard it. This reminded you of when Ethan first mentioned he loved you. He wrote you a note that you still keep to this day tucked inside a copy of Catcher in the Rye.
I was listening to Macklemore’s Same Love today, babe, and I was thinking I used to wish I had someone to keep me warm at night, that made me care if people knew I liked guys, and I would wish it so bad it hurt. And now I have you and I love you so much that it hurts.
Arturo mentioned that unless he has someone in his life, someone important, why put his family through the pain of realizing he will never marry a woman, most likely never have children. That they should be happy with him, that society should be happy with him.
You agree. Straight people never have to come out, you tell him, so why should we? Straight people identify as people, never having to say they are a straight doctor or a straight artist, they are just doctors and artists.
You came out with a purpose, hiding that detail until that purpose. Not really hiding, per se, just not bringing it up, for you were still always who you were without bringing up who was in your bed. Ethan was that purpose.
He doesn’t have control of your thoughts. You’re supposed to eat, pray, love—not cry, exhale, and whine. You’re supposed to be free like in Wild, which you suggest to Arturo to watch again with you before bed. Later, in bed, you finally mustered up the courage to ask why he hadn’t yet tried to have sex with you.
You laid there quietly, and he asked why so quiet, and you said um, and he said um what, and you said well you only thought he was making out with you and sensually touching your legs up to your crotch because he wanted sex, and he was letting you stay for free so you thought you had to have sex, but you also wanted sex, and you felt awkward.
You said you didn’t want him feeling uncomfortable in his own bed. He said he did want to fuck you, and multiple times, but that you talked a lot (story of my life) and he does, too, and after talking he felt a friend vibe.
You remember more about your time when you met, back in Lisbon. How he helped you and your friends get a table at that restaurant, how he helped you get home safe, despite his antics at the club. How he’s the reason you were able to come to London.
Arturo is a great friend.
There’s not always something wrong with gay people.
That night you just slept. The next morning he showered and went to work, and you were off to Stonehenge. Arturo helped you set it up. Today was reclaiming back an adventure Ethan stole from you. You were supposed to go over New Years to Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, and to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. You did Paris already, and perhaps one day you would venture to Amsterdam. But today, this moment, Stonehenge: it was all about you.
There’s something about stones. They’re so permanent. Yet while they are complete, they are broken. They have the potential to keep breaking. But they may never break. And if they do break, they’re not really broken, just separate stones. Special and in the middle of nowhere.
You saw yourself in these stones. This moment was a gift to yourself.
You walk up to the stones, taking pictures, but then putting away your phone, just taking in the moment. Sometimes there’s peace in doing things alone.
Something about these stones gave you a new energy. They were mysterious, but they remained. Who knows how they got here, but they had purpose.
You put another check on your bucket list. Eventually you’ll find someone else to share it with.
You have Arturo drop you off at the airport the next morning, and you say see you later, knowing that it won’t really be a goodbye, that he will visit you one day, on the less exotic sands of Florida, but on your sand no less. Having time to kill before your plane to your next adventure departs, you walk across the street to a café.
You just sit there, being. You try not to think, like in yoga. Just ignore any thoughts, as they will always be there when ready, and push away anything but being. You’re thankful for whatever it took to get you here, to this tiny café on a Saturday morning in a continent that is not yours, but is becoming yours, and you’re all alone, and for the first time ever, you wouldn’t change a damn thing.
A man comes up with his dog, leaving him at the table next to you, and goes inside to order a café. The dog just stares at you. You stare back. The man comes back, and he too stares at you. He asks if you’re British, to which you say no, but realizing in this moment you can reinvent your future, be whomever you wanted to be.
He tells you he’s from Zimbabwe, that he’s never been to America. You jokingly tell him he isn’t missing much. At that moment, two girls walked up and into the café, both in skimpy clothing, one with her nipple hanging out. After the door closed behind them, two boys at another table whistled and laughed with each other, exchanging a fist pound. He told me what a crass character some of these young blokes could be. When the girls came back out, though, he did the same, then winked at you.
You weren’t sure how you felt about this man. But he offered to buy you coffee, and he had a nice dog, so you judged him as all right. You were learning not to be so quick in your assumptions of people. He told you he wanted to see society in thirty years, that he’s scared for it, but it won’t matter, that he’ll die along with the shitty reality television that he watches every afternoon after he stops here every morning for his café. You asked him, every morning? Every morning, he said. After my wife passed, I just started taking in these dogs that I would see homeless around my neighborhood. No one should be homeless, he said. You now understood why the dog was so well behaved and hesitant to leave. Routine, he said. I like my routine. Morning walk. Morning coffee. Swim. Television. Sleep. It’s peaceful. Here and there I like to read. You told him you didn’t read too much, but that you liked to write. He told you that he would read any words you wrote, and I told him anyone I bumped into over coffee was fair game for a character, and he laughed, saying paint him young.
You made a comment that he looked young, that he could make it another thirty years. He lit a cigarette before responding that he wouldn’t continue to abuse himself for much longer, that life is only life when it is fun, and he’s had fun. You couldn’t help thinking of who would take care of his dogs after he passed.
But you knew this moment would pass, and you, too, would have to pass back across the street to catch the plane. From London to Lisbon to France to wherever else your feet decided to prance, and you made a promise to yourself to make it fun, forever to make it worth it.