“Te voy a esperar cada dia hasta que estoy viejito,” he tells me as he bends his knees and hunches down, demonstrating the passage of time. I smile and wrap my arms around him, pulling him close. We kiss and our noses bump, as he laughs his smile lights up the moonless night. In a few short hours I’ll be leaving the sleepy beach town where he lives and where we’ve just met. I’ll be traveling to another town and leaving him behind.
This is one of the casualties of traveling. First kisses and first impressions that sear themselves in my memory, mere glimpses into a world of possibilities. I’ve been collecting moments like these as I wander the globe, holding on to them tightly, well-worn and tattered images of faces and places I may never see again.
“The best translation between two tongues is the kiss.”
The ephemeral nature of travel forces me to rely heavily on these first impressions, these polaroid snapshots of my life on the road. Each time I arrive in a new city I find myself tentatively looking the streets up and down, getting a sense of the energy, taking in the smells, and reacting to what I see. Whatever happens during my stay, the experiences I have within the first few hours of arriving are always the most vivid and memorable.
I can recall overheard conversations on the train in Paris, feel the numbness in my arms as I walked in the rain up and down the San Francisco hills, I can still remember the way Mexican streets smell of spices and earth.
No matter how objective I try to be, it’s hard not to let these first impressions become the entire narrative to my story, the only images I keep with me in my suitcase heart. I’ve built my life around these firsts, giving them more credit than they deserve, making hasty decisions and not looking back.
I’ve let passionate kisses and flattery take too much precedence, I’ve become enamored with cities I’ve only seen in the summertime. I’ve fallen in love with strangers, moved to cities far away from home, and not given enough second chances.
In the past I’ve been frightened of second and third and fourth impressions. When people and places turn out to be less than I first imagined I’ve run away, burning the photos and erasing the memories I can’t change, holding tightly to those polaroid images of firsts. I’ve preferred to believe one extreme or another- that New York is full of rude, snobby natives, that everyone who lives in Italy is always happy and sunny.
I’ve categorized people as either good or bad and never given strangers more than one night to prove their love. I’ve built elaborate sandcastles of first kisses and first impressions and never had the courage to return to see the affects of time and a change in the weather.
“So I’m leaving for Paris, don’t you try to find out where I am.”
As I start to change the way I travel and the way I date, I’ve realized that firsts aren’t enough anymore. I want to see Paris in the dead of winter, I want to have first kisses that lead to second, and third, and fourth kisses with the same person for years to come. I want to travel more slowly, I want to stay in one place long enough to be disappointed without walking away.
First impressions love goodbyes and love to be right all the time, sentiments I’ve grown tired of relying on so heavily. They are fleeting shape shifters; too many have tasted of cigarettes and alcohol, speaking of a cowardly lust that usually leads to regret or heartbreak or both.
Still, I can’t help basing some of my decisions on firsts. The nature of traveling demands I do so. Some of these first impressions have led to amazing experiences based on the sparkle in his eyes and the way he said “Bonjour,” or the way a city came alive with singing and dancing in the streets in the summertime.
Sometimes you have to follow a hunch and change your plans based on a feeling, an impression of who or what might be. Though incomplete, these firsts are just as real and true as the remaining pieces to the puzzle. But I’m learning to accept them for what they are-kisses and polaroids that may need a change in the weather and a little more time to fully develop.