A Travellerspoint blog

Day Twelve & Thirteen – The Fat Lady sings.

Berlin to Zaniemyśl via Poznan

I awoke with the sun and smiled for the last time at the silver pole dancer pole in the middle of my room. I thanked Katharina, the most wonderful host, for having me, and she said she wanted to know how my day turned out. I had shared the reason for my trip to Europe, and that today I was driving back to Poland to see Urszula. It was surreal hearing it out loud. The downstairs journey to the car with my belongings was much easier than all of those climbs. I remember the sticky note on the doorbell on level three that was in German. Contextually it said the doorbell is Kaput please knock.

I had a three-hour drive to Poznan first, where I wanted to return to where I had worked in 2000 and buy a packet of Marlboro cigarettes from the local sklep where I practised my first Polish. I wanted to watch the Andy Tram go past and fill in some of the scenery my memory had erased. The other location was the old town centre, Stary Rynek, where I remembered the white umbrellas, restaurants, and bars lining the large square, which contained an old church bombed by the Germans in WW2 in 1945 and restored years later. The plan was to meet Urszula after this at 4 p.m. at a location in Zaniemyśl. She had changed every single plan we had made, would she change this one at the last minute as well?

The drive from Germany to Poland is only marked by the language change to the street signs. Before the war, the border I was crossing was all part of Germany, so the architecture and houses wouldn't change for at least another hour of driving. Polish houses in the country are two-story and large, well insulated after living for seven years in a 1920s bungalow in Wellington, New Zealand, it felt criminal that so many Kiwis freeze the proverbial bums off in cold houses that would better suit being built in Fiji. Road conditions were good, and I had the soundtrack on that I’d thought about playing for this moment. The only thing that wasn’t in gear was my brain.

I have found the Kia Sportage an excellent SUV to drive, but unfortunately, not as good as my VW T-Cross I have in Melbourne, and this was mainly because my VW has a mode called active follow. So I can cruise in traffic that is changing speed and not have to ever touch the pedals. The other thing was I have no idea what my car is like to drive at 190kph, but the SUV resembled driving Wal Blagrove’s power boat out on the Manukau Harbour. The road narrows to two-lane country roads, especially when you switch the toll roads off in the GPS navigation settings. I would highly recommend travelling Europe with Google, as its murdering of foreign place names is always funny, and when you have started in a major city. Your destination is another major city, you can only wonder, when you are driving on an unsealed road with chickens running out across it, how this was the “best route” without tolls.

I’d reached this section of longish straights and got behind an eighteen-wheeler truck with a trailer. I turned the dial in Kia to SPORT mode as the engine signalled it was ready to go. With the road ahead clear as far as I could see, I put my foot down on the loud pedal, indicated and pulled out to pass. About halfway along the side of this extended truck, a pair of headlights appeared ahead. I had misjudged the underlation of the road, and I’m generally good at calculating gaps between moving objects. I had to brake like all hell or see if the KIA had anything left in acceleration. I decided the later and realised then that this may be where my Europe trip ends. In a road accident on the day, we were supposed to meet.

The headlights were now flashing me, and it was an approaching Mercedes that my brain couldn’t fathom how it had gained so much real estate between us in only a couple of seconds. He was flying! I guess the Mercedes and the truck braked just enough to allow me what I will call the narrowest of escapes in all of my road-passing history. Did my life flash before my eyes? Did I have any last regrets or something profound to say about a life punctuated with an airbag? A strange thing happened. I remember the universal and international hand signal the German driver held up hard against his windscreen. I remember the truck flashing me from behind as well. Did I feel shocked, scared, or like I had just escaped death? Nothing. I felt calm. At peace. It was as if this moment was a counter to all of the other feelings and emotions I had carried since 2000.

I received a text message from Urszula. I considered it might be to cancel everything now I had arrived in Poznan, and yes, the plan had changed., again. Urszula had attended a funeral in Poznan, and we now found ourselves in the same city. She asked to meet, leave my car in a 15-minute parking space with all my belongings in it and accompany her to pick up her daughter. I declined the offer and said I was okay with the original plan. Why? What’s the problem? What’s wrong with our meeting? I said to myself because you don’t control me. Nor this moment. Urszula was miffed by my actions, just like she was when I went to her hometown, Zielona Gora, without her. "Were you planning on seeing Europe and going to these places of joint significance without me?" After she had cancelled the whole trip in the first place. I’m all good with our plan I reinforced, to which I received a woman’s “fine.”

I couldn’t find where I worked in Dabrowskeigo Street and texted Urszula to send me its location. She text it had all gone and changed. It no longer existed the way I remembered it. The beautiful stone building I lived in on the 3rd floor had been replaced with modern apartments. It was a residential area. No trams. No sklep (shop). No going back to that time in 2000. I had lunch at the Stary Rynek and found a florist so I could buy flowers. They felt unnecessary. We have all waited for this moment, and it keeps getting extended in my writing. You know this feeling. That special moment is tarnished with changing plans and time. Like being told, Christmas will now be held on January the 6th. It’s not got the same feeling or excitement, but rather a double dose of whoopee-friggan do.

I reached the rural location in Zaniemyśl and parked in the short driveway behind the automated gate. Urszula was inside this large two-story house with its guesthouse out the back. Her daughter had decided to stay another night with friends, so it would be just Urszula and I, meeting. She made me wait at the gate like a CEO makes you wait in his reception for fifteen minutes after the booked appointment to let you know who is in charge of this situation. I used the time to relax and breathe. The gates finally opened, and I pulled into a double garage carport behind the house. I got out of my car and heard the house door open.

A woman much larger than the photos I’d been sent shuffled toward the car. Her hair was unkempt and oranged from too much home colouring. I didn’t care what Urszula looked like, as we have all changed in 23 years. The thing was the attitude of this moment. She smiled at me with those crystal blue eyes that had zapped me in 2000. I put my arms around her and thought at that moment that I would burst into tears. I didn’t. It felt awkward. I tried to break the feeling and moment by making a joke. “I told you I’d come back,” I said, referring to our last conversation in Poznan airport in 2000. What stared back at me wasn’t the dream, fantasy, or the moment we had all been waiting for. It was the harsh reality that what I had been deluding myself for all that time was false. This could have been the moment when we lit the fuse. Where we just held each other in the surreal moment. No, it was awful.

I was going to write everything that happened over the next few days. I will paraphrase the next couple of days. I was saddened by how Urszula was in such a funk and state and seemed to be oblivious of the reality of it. No effort, make up, profusely sweating, fragrant like a council bin worker, rather than someone who had prepared like I had for this moment. Everything about me was a problem from the moment I entered the house.

This gorgeous house in the country with modern everything inside was dishevelled. A metaphor for where Urszula was at in life. Excuse the mess and all and come as you are, but to have done absolutely zero in advance. Two dogs and a cat were inside, and remains of their mud skid marks on the white tiled floors. It would have been a schmick house when all dolled up, but this was boarding on squalor. For three weeks, she had lived here with her daughter and had not cleaned a single plate, pot or dish. Everything was piled on the sink and stunk. I was banned from entering the kitchen, so couldn’t unpack the food I’d brought.

Removing your shoes in European houses is custom, so I got reprimanded for having mine on. Are you serious? Remove my shoes and clean the floor with my socks? I was given the choice of the couch or the guesthouse to sleep in. I said the couch would be fine, as I didn’t travel all this way to spend time in a separate dwelling not connected to the main house.

Everything was a problem. And no matter what I said, it was twisted into the negative, and the kindling and paper stacked and ready to light for a stupid fight about nothing. My music was a problem, so please turn that off. My hat was a problem. “Do you always wear your hat inside?” I replied, I do. “What are you trying to do, hide from me?” I thought it would be a nice Segway to have her take it off and mess up my grey hair in something playful. No, this was someone who was struggling with my very presence. Breathe. "You smell funny" she continued. I know I have had women cross an entire Pub to ask me what cologne I was wearing, but now wasn't the time to share what I thought. "I like more earthy tones," to which I thought 'Eau de dung heap perhaps?' I had brought some 0% alcohol drinks that were delicious, and it being late in the afternoon, I opened one to get the response, “Oh, I see you are still an alcoholic.” As Urszula lay upon one of the couches and chain smoked her electronic cigarettes, she also thought it would be good to remind me that I wasn't able to smoke inside, as he daughter was allergic to it. Okay then. For someone who didn’t drink alcohol, she had beers in the fridge, to which it was okay to help myself, as she had been drinking a few of them. There was no way I was getting drunk with the person before me. I felt sad and helpless for her situation. I felt angry at how everything was my problem and fault as she ranted about how oblivious she was to the situation and mess she was sitting in. It had nothing to do with her.
“So is being in the same room as me like you imagined?”
I was hoping she couldn’t read my face at this moment. “It’s not like in the fairytale,” I replied, “but it’s wonderful to be here, seeing you after all this time.”
“What did you want to talk about?”
“What’s for dinner?” I replied sarcastically. “What would you like to talk about?”
Let’s paraphrase the choices for conversation. “I have been playing games on my phone, listening to pop music in the car, texting Adam, a man she is having an affair with in Zielona Gora, Korean Pop dramas and soap operas on TV, and her mounting health issues.”
“How about why you didn’t meet me at the airport like we had planned?”
“Andy, it's perfectly okay to cancel plans when the other person is abusive.”
The next part of the conversation was her unprofessional diagnosis of me being an alcoholic. I said “you’re not qualified to make such a diagnosis, and it’s totally disrespectful towards a guest, who has just arrived here.”
“You’re right she said, I don’t respect men.”
“And what of the mightiest of all loves? Where did this go?”
“Oh well it’s clear to me Andy, you would need to undertake years of mental therapy to be with a woman like me, and know how to treat her properly.”
I let the second disrespectful statement slide, because I agreed I would possibly need years of mental therapy just to get over the moment of meeting her like this. The dream and fantasy ended. Sit with that Andy. I felt like the biggest idiot on the planet. I had placed this woman on an untouchable pedestal for 23 years, and she had affected every single relationship I’d had since. Because I kept leaving the light on, and that precious space beside me, empty, no woman had shared in my love because she was always in the way of this, through my own fantasy and design. Positively in this moment, I realised I loved a great deal. I had carried this love and protected it no matter what, within me. I felt saddened I hadn’t been free to share love like this with another. This moment of freedom needed its own moment. And that was about to come in the form of a visit that Urszula suggested to a castle.

The story of the Kornic castle is fascinating. The most famous resident there was the White lady, and she arrived there in the form of a painting. It was rumoured from this painting she materialised, as a ghost, and became the castles resident. It couldn’t have been more perfect. When we reached this castle I navigated to the painting of the White Lady, after stopping to view a piano that Chopin used to play. I stood before the woman, and said, now you must return to the painting for good, never to return. imagined her retreating in a wispy white cloudy form with the odour of death, returning to the frame, and I felt a huge weight shift in me. I cried and sensed the release, euphoria and freedom of the moment. It was finally over. We were over.This fairytale didn’t have the ending it was supposed to or did it?

That night, I decided I would leave in the morning, without saying goodbye. I would drive to Prague, and leave this whole stupid farcical mess behind. The witch from Dabrowskeigo would no longer hold their spell over me, it had been smashed and buried at the castle. I packed the car and opened the automatic gate and smiled as the narrow country roads turned into highways. I felt free and the weight lifting off me with every deep calm breath. I had one last reminder of her, as I entered a closed and fast section of motorway. I had passed hundreds of signs with deer on them, so I imagined like Australia they would be a danger like kangaroos, at dawn and at dusk. So I was surprised to see a young doe, confused in the centre of the barrier as I approached at speed. I did all the things you’re not supposed to do. I swerved to change lanes, trapping the deer’s exit, as well as I sat on the horn to frighten the animal as much as possible. It turned away from it’s helpless attempts to jump the barrier, and directly towards my vehicle. I braked heavily so that the SUV’s ABS was punching and grabbing the brakes and holding the car in what had become a straight line, I watched as the doe galloped into my lane, a deer trapped by my horn and the daylight. FATHER XMAS! I yelled kids, as I watched this helpless deer hit the front of my vehicle with a loud thump. I must have been doing at least 80kph when I clipped it. I checked the rear view mirror and watched it stumble like it was on ice, and then get up and exit the highway through a tiny gap. There was no place to stop, or check if it was going to be okay.

I pulled into the next stop and checked the vehicle for damage. It was the last thing I needed. It honestly was a miracle that the car was unscathed, and not even a mark where the doe had collided with the car. No broken plastic fittings, or bumper marks. A deer was possibly dying in the forest, but I prayed it would survive this punctuation mark to the mightiest of love stories. The ghost was back in the painting, and the doe was injured and returning to the form of an old witch in the forest. This is how MY fairytale ended.

At 7.30pm at night, after I'd been gone all day, and was well settled at my accomodation in Prague some 5 hours drive away, I received a text from Urszula. It read, "I thought you said you were going to help clean up?"

The clean up would have taken a team of professionals more than a day to return it to the pristine state the house was in when Urszula had arrived there. This wasn't my life, my squalor, my mess. I had been treated with disgust, not a house guest, and definitely the antithesis of what a lover would have brought to that moment. I was supposed to have been spending the rest of my holiday with her and her daughter. I was supposed to be providing them transport back to Zielona Gora that evening. I was supposed to be empathetic and supportive of what had melted before my eyes into an uncaring awful slob of person. So I replied in text:

"Andy, it's perfectly okay to cancel plans when the other person is abusive - Urszula 2023."

For all of those who have said to me, that they told me so, I hear you, and yes you were all 100% correct. It was exactly as you said it would be and worse. I don't wish badly of anyone here. Not Urszula, and her situation she has crafted and owned for at least the past five years. She is seeking a man who is half dead, and will agree with being wrong about everything. Her day of reckoning with her own fairytale ending will come. I just had mine.

End of days Eleven and Twelve.

Posted by Andy_in_Europe 10:30 Archived in Poland

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