Words and photograph by: T.E. Cowell
Guilt is often a vicious cycle, finding its way into the most joyful of experiences, as evidenced by a trip abroad…
He wants to write a story about Amsterdam but doesn’t know where to start. When he thinks of the week-long trip he took there roughly three months ago, most of what he can conjure up are hazy images of canals, buildings, people riding bicycles, and hookers standing or sitting behind floor-to-ceiling glass doors, some rapping the windows with their knuckles in desperation. Cliches, mostly, are the things he remembers. Similar images to those found on postcards.
He thinks he shouldn’t have smoked so much in the cafes or drunk so much in the bars. Thinks he should’ve exercised more self-discipline and shown more of an interest in learning about the history of the city and its culture. Maybe then he might’ve been able to remember more than he can.
Just about every day of his trip he’d gone to a bar and a cafe. Usually first a cafe, then a bar, but not always. The cafe he favored was located on a side street so narrow that it wasn’t possible for two normal-sized people to walk down side by side. He’d buy two pre-rolled joints from the cafe and smoke the first either inside or sitting or standing directly outside. He felt cooler than he knew he was while he smoked. He felt younger and more open-minded, less critical not just of others, but of himself as well. The older he got, the more critical of things he became. He sensed this from time to time, as well as other things, but because life moved so fast he didn’t have the leisure to give it adequate thought.
After the joint he’d walk the streets of the city he knew he would forever be a tourist in. He had to be careful not to get lost while he walked around, not just because he was stoned and it was easier to get lost while stoned, but because the city proved especially disorienting to him for some reason. He thought it might’ve had to do with all the canals, though he wasn’t sure about this. More often than not, he did get lost and had to consult his smartphone to find out where he was and then redirect himself accordingly. One time he discovered he had wandered almost three miles from his hotel and, feeling too tired to walk back, had called for an Uber driver to come pick him up. The car that had picked him up had been a Tesla. The driver was bald and overweight and looked middle-eastern and drove the Tesla like his ego depended on it. He made it back to his hotel in no time at all and exchanged not a word with the Tesla driver the entire time other than the simplest of formalities.
At his hotel just after dinner, he’d smoke his second joint and then walk the streets again in search of a bar. There was one beer bar in particular that he quickly favored, situated along one of the city’s many canals. Looking at the chalkboard menu filled with the names of all the different beers offered, he felt overwhelmed by all the possibilities. There were so many beers to try, yet so little time to try them, he felt. He wanted to try them all but knew this was highly improbable if not downright impossible. He didn’t go into a bar in Amsterdam once during his stay with the intention of getting drunk, but drunk or close to it is how he always ended up. He’d have his first beer or two and, then, feeling quite good and relaxed, would remind himself that he was on vacation before ordering a third, fourth, and sometimes fifth beer. He had to remind himself constantly that he was on vacation in an effort to try not to feel guilty for overindulging in drink. He didn’t feel the guilt when he smoked the joints, or at least not as badly as when he started getting drunk.
He could’ve done most of what he’d done in Amsterdam at home, or just about, he realized now that his trip was over. He couldn’t have gone to the Van Gogh museum, but pretty much everything else he did in Amsterdam he could’ve done at home. The Van Gogh museum hadn’t done as much for him as he’d hoped it would. He’d looked at every single painting on display there, hoping to be elevated emotionally or spiritually or psychologically or metaphysically, etc. He saw some paintings he liked, or at least admired, but none seemed to elevate or inspire or pique his curiosity all that much. But what did he expect, really? He was stoned when he went in the museum and stoned when he left it. He was stoned at the airport even and remained that way for part of the flight home.
All in all, it was hard for him to enjoy himself throughout the trip because of all the guilt he felt and having to constantly remind himself that he was on vacation and thus shouldn’t feel guilty at all. He didn’t want to have to constantly remind himself that he was on vacation, of course, since every time he did so he was in turn reminded that very soon he would be flying back home to his job and apartment and the old, frustrating familiarity that awaited him there. It was a vicious cycle he was trapped in. He realized this though he couldn’t fully comprehend it. It had something to do with the fact that he worked so much at a job he didn’t particularly like. And it had something to do with the fact that he was American.