When I open my eyes, sunlight is filtering through the greasy window above my head. I take a breath, and immediately regret opening my mouth. The air is thick and heavy with the sleep of fourteen people crammed into an attic room. I gag and slide down the ladder past Anthony’s gaping snores. My feet hit the floor with a dull thud, but no one stirs. Only I’ve broken the spell, and even though my watch says it’s only ten minutes past five, I know I won’t be able to fall back asleep. I feel disgusting.
The shower tiles are slippery with layers of soap scum and the water runs cold until I’m almost ready to get out. I pause for a few seconds in the lukewarm trickle, hoping it will continue to heat up, but I know I’m asking too much. I shut it off quickly and get dressed before I’m fully dry. Breakfast isn’t served until seven, so I creep through the silent halls of the hostel in my socks, dangling my shoes from my fingertips until I reach the front door. Once outside, the sun is painfully bright. I pause at the corner, realizing I didn’t leave a message for any of the boys, but shrug and continue walking. Doubtful they’ll wake and notice my absence. They aren’t the type to worry anyway.
I’m standing below the Dublin spire before I realize that I have no idea where to go at five thirty in the morning. There’s no section in the Lonely Planet for early mornings, and I doubt I’m up for anything more than a cup of coffee anyways. I walk down to the river and cross the bridge over the swirling brown water. There’s a bench; I sit.
Dublin looks much different without all the people crawling through it, without the noise of cars and buses and tourists screaming take my picture. Even the seagulls have disappeared, and the streets are ghostly empty, lined by metal frontings and barred shutters. I lean back against the bench, which smells slightly of urine, and close my eyes. Try to imagine that I’m in one of the greatest and most historic cities in Europe. Envision great writers, musicians, and politicians making their way through the filthy streets, uplifting and creating with every step. It doesn’t work. Even in the silence and morning sunlight, I hate Dublin.
I’d pictured Dublin as a tangled maze of brick houses, pints of Guinness, and fiddle music. So far my favorite thing about Dublin is the McDonald’s, which contains a semi-clean restroom and chicken nuggets, the only food I can afford after seven weeks of traipsing through the British Isles.
Seven weeks. I stop, sit up, open my eyes, count backwards. We left Boston on May 11th, the day after my statistics final kicked my ass in one last battle for my senior year grades. Me, Anthony, Will, and Octavius, four friends bound by late night college adventures and a lust for world travel. We’ll go to England, we decided over winter break, passing a joint round in circles while the snow fell from the darkening sky. We threw in Ireland at the last moment, extending the trip by a week and buying cheap AerLingus tickets. I think back to that moment and shake my head, half-wanting to laugh, but mostly wanting to cry. Six weeks in England. One week in Scotland. One week in Ireland. Seven weeks without a period. My heart drops past my ribcage, past my knees, and hits the spit-stained sidewalk below my Converse. Fuck fuck fuck. I count again, faster, to occupy my mind for ten more seconds while the rest of me freaks out.
What I wouldn’t give for a woman in my life right now. “Why you want to go on a trip with three boys is beyond me,” my mom said multiple times when I told her of my plans. I knew it was pointless to explain to her that they were my best friends, that I had felt more comfortable with them in the four years since I’d left high school than I ever had picking out prom dresses or gossping with my childhood girl friends. I wasn’t a lesbian and I wasn’t a tomboy. I was just me, and I liked hanging out with them just as much as they liked hanging out with me. They could be crude, yes, and insensitive, but they wouldn’t ask annoying questions or ask me to tell them how they looked, honestly. I’d never questioned my company until this very moment. I’m alone on a bench 3,000 miles from home.
I want to call my mom. I want to call Planned Parenthood. I want to call the last girl I was ever close to, Annie Jansen, a Dutch girl who lived on my hall sophomore year. We accidentally got drunk one night while studying for Sociology and ended up calling each and every one of her ex-boyfriends via Skype at three in the morning. It was the silliest night of my life and I paid for it with a killer hangover all through my exam. I want her to be sitting next to me right now. I want her to listen while I go back over the last seven weeks and wait with me for a drug store to open while I bite down every nail.
Of course I know how it happened. Of course I know who. Will and I hooked up through the last two years of college, and while he sees this trip as a last fling for us, I’ve spent most of it simultaneously rejecting and enjoying his long overdue attention. The subtleties of our friendship are constantly mystifying, to others as well as myself, but I’ve loved Will since freshman year. I’d long hoped he’d confess he was ready for a relationship and we could finally be together, but the last few weeks have forced me to recognize that we’re going in different directions after the plane touches back down in the U.S. of A. He was accepted into the Peace Corps and I’ve been accepted to grad school in Chicago. I can’t be in love with him; I can’t be pregnant.
We were careful, always. This is 2010. But I don’t remember every night as clearly as I should, and I know he’s crawled into my bunk many nights, smelling like pints of ale and greasy chips and whatever else they sell at one a.m. in British pubs. I’ve never pushed him out or pushed him off. Even when I should have. I want to love him, not as a friend, not as late-night-drunken-sex-with-his-hand-covering-my-moans, but as something so much more than a warm body curled around mine on a cramped twin-size mattress. I want to hold his hand on subways and down the street, not hold his baby in my churning stomach. My brain won’t stop racing and I’m checking my watch every ten seconds, willing the hands to move faster. It occurs to me that even when the clock hits the hour, I have no idea where a drugstore might be, so I stand, shakily, and walk back up the street. It’s impossible to tell what businesses lie behind the metal shutters but I keep walking, my head whipping towards every sign. Now I wish there were people up and about; I feel like I’m in a horrible dream, where I’m the only one left on earth with a quickly beating heart and wobbly knees. I spot the McDonald’s, a thin-faced teenager unlocking the doors and swiping a rag across their glassy surfaces. I walk towards it, push open the door, and order two hash browns. When they come up, I ask where I can find the nearest drug store. Less than three blocks. Just walk outside, take a left, and walk away from the Spire. I dump the hash browns in the trash on my way out the door.
I ignore the woman’s knowing stare as I slide the blue box across the counter. This is another country; I’ll never see her again. Debating returning to the hostel, I turn back towards the McDonald’s and head straight for the bathroom without even looking towards my teenage guide. Let him think what he wants too. Fuck this place. I yank my panties down and slide the stick under the hot stream. Murmur a silent but futile prayer. Look at the stick and close my eyes.
Negative. I choke back a million emotions and throw the stick into the trash can. Wash my hands. Go back into the summer sunshine and walk as calmly as I can back to the drugstore. It’s still empty, and I take it as a sign and re-approach the counter. The woman’s red hair and freckles are reassuring, and her Irish accent breaks upon me before I can open my mouth.
“What’s the need, love?”
I swallow hard and exhale before I speak. “I missed a period,” I say, somewhat embarrassed. “I thought I was pregnant.”
Her face breaks into a wide smile. “Happens to the best of us. You all right now?”
I shake my head. “I just don’t know why…”
“People miss periods for lots of reasons, love,” she says. “Stress, travel, poor diet, change in habits..” She trails off and I nod.
“I’m from the U.S.,” I say, somewhat stupidly. “I just want to go home.”
She laughs. “Go home,” she says. “But first, smack him in the head for making you worry like that.”
I walk back to the hostel feeling like it’s been a year. It’s not even seven o’clock, and I doubt the boys have even rolled over since I left them sleeping. I slide my door key into the lock, pull open the door, and walk to the breakfast room. My stomach flips over as I see Will sitting by the window, the sun gleaming off his clean wet hair. He looks up as I enter. Smiles.
“Hey,” he says. “I wondered where you’d gone.” I sit down and take a bite of his toast.
“I went for a walk,” I say. “It’s a nice day.”