The Long Road to Scotland

I ran into him again. The old man with a lifetime of injuries, my future self if I didn’t take care of myself. And like the last time, he told me another tale from his past. One that I would likely never forget, as it was just one more example of what he was capable of, given his commitment to love, to finding the right person. He still hasn’t, but it’s not for want of trying.

“Remember that snowstorm in Chicago? Before snowpacolypse and snowmageddon and the nightmare that was last year’s winter in Chicago. It was back in 1997. Or maybe 98?”

Of course I remembered. He had been in a really bad three-car accident on a wet, cold, miserable evening in January driving in a blizzard. All three cars were totaled. By some miracle, all three came out of it with not even a scratch. It was one of the first times in his life he thought of death.

“I woke up one morning soon after that, realizing I had had enough. I wasn’t happy; and knew there was so much more out there. I resigned from my job. And within days, I had left the country. Chicago to Amsterdam.”

Sounds like the start to an epic trip, I thought to myself.

“When I arrived that morning, I convinced myself that I needed to see her – my art school girlfriend.”

Who? (And why did Stone Temple Pilots just pop into my head?)

“A couple years prior, I met a girl through a group of friends; and instantly fell for her. She was from Ireland, lived in Scotland and was about to spend the summer studying at Chicago’s Art Institute. We became inseparable. I could close my eyes, and I’d hear her singing in my head, that beautiful Irish accent lilting in the air as she spoke. However, as much time as we spent, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her how I really felt.”

You? You tell everyone how you feel!!

“I was different then, didn’t think I was worth it. Most of the time, for some reason, I didn’t think I’d see my 30th birthday. So, anyways, I left the country. I was on my way to Amsterdam to visit my cousin. He lived in the heart of the city; and I’d never been. I’d heard so much about it; and it was so different from my existence back then. One the way there, something happened. I changed my mind.”

What do you mean?

“I needed to see her – my art school girlfriend. It’d been a couple years since I’d seen her. So when I arrived in Amsterdam around 5 AM, I called her from a pay phone, but only received her answering machine. And I told her I was on my way; and that I would call her at each stop to tell her of my progress.”

You decided just like that, mid-flight, that you were going to Scotland?

“My future was undecided. I could do anything that I wanted. I was young. And yes, I decided mid-flight that I was going to Scotland. I really wanted to see her.”

What were you going to say?

“I didn’t know at the time… I wasn’t much for planning in those days… And so I went to the ticket counter at Schiphol and bought a ticket to London. From Heathrow, I called her again to let her know where I was, again receiving her answering machine. From there, I took a bus to Stansted Airport, and purchased another ticket to Glasgow. Leaving another message for her, I was really excited. I was young and I was filled with happiness and I thought I was in love, even if I never told her. I landed in Glasgow, so excited. Hailing a cab, I went right up to the building that housed her flat. Rang the bell to no answer. Asking a gentleman passing by, I asked where the nearest pub was; luck would have it that it was just a couple blocks away. It was only 6 PM by this time, and I figured she was still at the studio.”

Did she meet you at the pub?

“I saddled up to the bar. I can see it all in my head even now, so many years later. Lucy, the bartender, pointed me to the phone, where I left a another message for my art school girlfriend. Her answering machine had become my best friend. And then had a couple pints while Lucy heard my story. She thought it was quite romantic. Just twenty hours prior, I was in Chicago and I had no idea I’d be in Glasgow, Scotland. Now that’s spontaneity!”

Um, ok, well, did you two meet up?

“The hands of the clock were moving, and before I realized it, it was 10 PM. Lucy already knew what I would not accept. She introduced me to three of her friends who were sitting on the other end of the bar – Scot, Derek and one of their girlfriends – Charlie. They were professional skiers and visited the ski slopes of Colorado frequently. We became fast friends. They asked me what I did for a living. I’ll never forget this.”

Forget what?

“I have a general rule when I’m traveling that I’m never myself.”

What does that even mean?

“I told them I’m a writer. And that I was traveling the world writing about the people I meet, what they care about, what they want out of life, what connects us all. They were pretty amazed; and asked if I was famous. Without missing a beat, I told them I’ve been on the NY Times best seller list; and that my writing has often been compared to Hemingway.”

You don’t know how to write!?!?! I didn’t even know if you knew how to read.

“Funny. Anyways, we had a great time. And just like all great times, before we knew it, it was midnight. And I just realized I didn’t have a place to stay. As luck would have it, Derek was also a concierge at a hotel. He offered me the room on the top floor at the Victorian House in Central Glasgow, on one condition.”

One condition?

“He’d grant me the room if I would come back out to hang out with them. They were partying in Glasgow that night. And so I did. I walked to the hotel, showered, and met them back out. At the end of the night, I offered my thanks to Scot, and asked him why he and his friends had been so kind to me.

He professed, ‘When you are done with your travels and when you are writing about Glasgow, tell the world that we are good people. That we are kind people. And that we like to have fun!’

I felt a little pang of guilt, but then again, maybe today is the day I make good on that promise. You can tell the world.”

Did you ever see her? Your art school girlfriend?

“I spent some more time in Glasgow, then another few days in Edinburgh before going back to Amsterdam to hang with my cousin. When I finally came home, I found a message waiting for me on my answering machine, a beautiful Irish voice sang ‘Oh my dear, you idiot! I have been here in New York, exhibiting my art. I so wish we could have met!’ and that was it.

“I never did see her again. Every so often, I do think of her and wonder what became of her.”

Man, that’s sad.

“Yes, in a way it was. But I learned a lot. You cannot bottle up feelings. If you love someone, you need to tell her. Cos until that happens, it’s not love. It’s actually selfish. It’s cowardly. And it has no chance of ever being real. I told myself that if I ever felt again, that I would share those feelings. I would put myself out there. No matter what the consequences.”

So what happened?

“That’s a story for another day.”

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