“A second time never hurt anyone.”
It was 4 am and hot as hell outside. In front of me sat an empty bottle of red wine and a 6ft 2, shirtless, tan god of a German man leaned back and stroking his fingers through his long hair. And yes, I said man (we’ll call him Joe)– nothing my 19 year old eyes had ever imagined getting the pleasure of seeing. We sat at the picnic table on the front porch of his bungalow right off a small lake in Budapest, simply staring at one another with purple lips and the words – “we don’t even know each other” – strewn across our foreheads.
Joe finally broke the silence that had proceeded hours of laughter and witty conversation by saying, “well I guess you won.” I wanted to smile, but I was sure my teeth had turned bright purple. So instead, I settled on a subtle half smile without showing teeth. To this day I am almost certain I looked like an idiot…
I replied back to him and said, “I guess so.”
In that moment, he took my hand and stood me up. He walked me off the front steps of his bungalow and walked me down a dirt road towards the lake. Two things ran through my mind on that short walk– either a) so this is what happens right before you get raped and murdered, huh?, and b) my friends are never going to believe this.
It was a fairy tale.
We crept through some bushes and immediately started walking down a dirt hill covered in tree roots towards a secluded entrance of the lake. When we managed to get through the trees, the sun started to peak itself out from behind the other side of the lake. There was a thick sheet of white fog lying as a blanket over the lake. It was thick enough to reflect the tiny sunrise beams off of it and into my eyes. Just before I could get the sun out of my eyes and take in just how breathtaking this view truly was – Joe started undressing.
When I had bet Joe earlier in the night that I could drink my bottle of wine before him, little did I know that he would actually keep his end of the bet and go skinny dipping – let alone that I could actually win the bet. So there he was. My real life, very own, Michelangelo’s David diving into the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen.
We swam until the sun was fully set above our heads, and our friends finally came and found us. I ran back up to the bungalow with Joe, and we were giggling like seventh graders that just got caught kissing behind the bleachers. I dried off, threw my clothes back on, and got in the passenger seat of my cousin’s (we’ll call her Judith) baby blue Suzuki to head home.
On the ride home we turned on the only CD she had in English, Sublime’s Greatest Hits. I had been in Hungary for three weeks at this point, and we must have listened to the nine songs on that CD a thousand times. There were only nine songs on the CD, but we listened to ten every time it played. We listened to ten because we immediately repeated “Santeria” every time it finished. Judith always laughed as I played it for a second time. She didn’t seem to understand the concept of once just not being enough. I turned to Judith as she was exhaling the smoke of her cigarette. It drifted out of the window so gracefully, and I watched it until I couldn’t anymore. I didn’t (still don’t) smoke, but I asked her if I could have one. I lit up the cigarette as Bradley Nowell sang, “what I really wanna know my baby, what I really wanna say I can’t define.”
We were going over the Margit Bridge on our way from Budpa to Pest when I realized I would probably never see Joe again. I inhaled the cigarette again out of desperation.
The song continued, “what I really wanna say is there’s just one, way back, and I’l make it.” We were coming off the bridge when I realized also, that I didn’t want to see him again.
I’m sure everyone in his or her life has encountered someone else who has studied or traveled abroad. They’re that person that uses the words, incredible, fabulous, indescribable, magical, unforgettable, amazing, breathtaking, life changing, all in a matter of two minutes. They’re that person that you consider to be, for lack of a better word, an asshole. They’re that person that drives you nuts because all they talk about is how much they want to go back.
I realized going down that bridge with wet hair and clothes that I was going to be one of those people.
There are moments when you are in a foreign country that you wish could happen over and over and over again, but the harsh reality is that they won’t. I quickly learned from that night that if there is one thing Europeans don’t do that we do back here in the US is that they don’t “over do” things; they know when something is just enough. They know that a few glasses of wine at dinner is plenty, that a small plate of spaghetti is enough to satisfy their hunger before the actual meal, and that just a few kisses to strangers never hurt anyone.
Joe was 28 when I met him. We sat at that picnic table, drunk off of summertime and cheap wine, knowing that it was going to be just that. We were two totally different people, with totally different lives. He had said just enough, made me laugh just enough, flirted just enough, kissed me just enough, and saying goodbye once was just enough.
I didn’t understand the concept of knowing when you should pursue something a second time and when you should just sit back and let things happen. I had always been that girl that would ask the boy to school dances, would eat a second piece of cake, and would just have to go on my favorite roller coaster two times in a row each time. That car ride home after my night with Joe made me realize that sometimes just once is enough. It made me realize that when you are abroad, when you are exploring not just the world but the possibilities of where you see yourself in your life, once sometimes has to be enough. Sometimes there’s not enough time when you have the rest of your life to have seconds– seconds that will matter when you have tasted a little bit of everything else.
Those people you meet that have spent a significant time abroad understand this concept. Sure, they might have met their very own Joe and have fallen madly in love, and are getting married. However, they have also had moments, experiences that are simply impossible to experience twice. It isn’t like going to Disney for the second time and riding Splash Mountain again like you did last summer. It isn’t a ride that does the same motion and has the ups and downs at the same time. I must have walked over the Ponte Vecchio in Florence a couple hundred times while I lived there, but every time I walked over it, it was different. When I walked over it the last time before I came home, I knew the next time I would walk over it, it wouldn’t be the same either.
We all hate that person who studied abroad or who has spent time abroad because we can’t understand them. We can’t understand because we didn’t meet the people they met and we probably never will. We weren’t in the cab with them when they left their wallet behind and were broke in Paris (guilty). We can’t have those specific experiences because they are all so different. The part where you fall on Splash Mountain into a terrifying, heart dropping yet thrilling unknown isn’t like “falling” in love while being abroad. It happens at unexpected and strange times – quite the contrary of anything predictable. I’m that person you’ll hate until you experience it yourself. Then, when you do, we can explain the unexplainable together. We can explain to each other how desperately we want seconds of something we can’t have.
It had been a month since I returned from my summer in Budapest when I was applying for financial aid on my computer (just about as back to reality as you could get). I was just about to close my computer when I got a notification for a friend request from Joe.
My heart jumped for joy.
I ran to my car, lit up a cigarette and listened to “Santeria” as I drove around aimlessly on cloud nine. As the song came to end with, “my soul will have to wait,” I realized that so will mine. For now, however, for the sake of my night with Joe, and in honor of the brilliant bastard who created Facebook, a second time never hurt anyone so I pressed the back button on my stereo and “Santeria” began again.
Erica Balogh is a junior at Florida State University studying English and psychology. Erica has traveled all over Europe with Budapest being among her top favorite cities. According to her close friend, she looks good in the color white and rocks a middle part. For more tales of her travels, follow her blog at http://ericakbalogh.wordpress.com/.