“Shoot, shoot, shoot…I am so screwed,” I mutter. No matter how hard I press the gas, my rental car won’t speed up. If anything, it slows down.
Something gurgles under the hood. Pipes shudder and shiver against each other. I whack the steering wheel in frustration and the car stops. Behind me, a growing crowd of German drivers honk and glare.
They are the least of my concerns. I’m much more worried about how to get to Max’s house without my car. Ah, Max: the super cute German guy I’ve been waiting to see again for months.
We met in January while traveling in Thailand. Not only was he cute, but he also loved yoga and hiking. After I booked my flight to Germany, his home, I suggested we meet for a day-hike. His offer, however, was much better, “I’ll take zee veek off. Come stay zis me!”
Every day thereafter, I turned the thought of Max over and over in my mind. I imagined us sitting cozily together by a campfire under the stars. I savored the image of us cooking a meal in his apartment. I embellished the images like an artist touching up a masterpiece. Time sped forward as I fantasized about our once-in-a-lifetime summer fling. I couldn’t wait.
If only my stupid car could! Why did it have to break down today of all days, on Corpus Christi? Every repair shop closed! Every local cab driver on holiday! Scheisse! After a two-hour wait, a cab from a neighboring town arrives and takes me to Stuttgart. At 7:00PM, I finally have a new car and am on the road again.
Pushing eighty from Stuttgart to Munich, I’m terrified. It’s pouring and thundering. But I’m determined to arrive before midnight, so I ignore the dangers and continue on. Eight hours later than planned, I finally reach a hotel in Munich where I can stay overnight. I will drive to Max’s hometown tomorrow. Before bed, I send him a message: “I’ll be at your place by tomorrow afternoon. See you soon!” I quickly shower, snuggle into bed, and fall into a deep, coma-like sleep.
After a late breakfast, I drive to Max’s beautiful hometown of Prien am Chiemsee in Bavaria. It’s an uppity, lakeside vacation town, likened best to Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard. I check my messages: Max has not replied. So, I go for a run and then check again. He still hasn’t replied, but he has seen the messages. Slow to catch on, I don’t panic. I send another text and walk to the town center for a late lunch. Somewhere between a sip of my drink and a bite of my sandwich, I see another notification that he has read and chosen to not respond to my messages.
At this point, I’m sure you can guess what happened: I, Kristen, who has a pristine record of dating very reliable people, was stood up in Germany, in a rural German town without a place to stay, a plan, or enough cell data to even search for a cheap hotel.
By the time I catch on, it’s late in the day. The sun is setting and the temperature is dropping. I need somewhere to sleep. As badly as I want to show up at Max’s door and scream, “You [beeeeeeeeep],” I don’t. I may be slow and naive, but I’m not stupid: why waste time trying to be somewhere you’re not wanted?
After running to an information center and asking for hostels (The clerk laughs and says, “Hostels in Prien am Chiemsee? You are joking, yes?”) and seriously considering sleeping in my car, I give in and ask my family for help. My Dad books me into an affordable hotel where I lock myself in my room until I’ve written a new itinerary for my last week in Germany.
With a clear plan, a roof over my head, and food in my stomach, I should be able to sleep. But, I can’t.
I’m too busy replaying every moment, searching for my mistakes. I stare at the ceiling and review every message, wondering: What did I do wrong? Did I write something offensive? Was I not friendly enough? Should I have added more smiley-faces? Of all the things I could have done differently, which one would have led to my desired result?
The clock reads 3:00 A.M. It’s time to call a professional and I choose my Dad. He says, “I know you, Kristen. You did everything right. There are a million reasons why he disappeared and I do not, for a second, believe that you are one of those reasons.” After hearing that, I fall asleep.
In the week that follows, I do what I can to bring my new, kickass itinerary to life. I drive for five hours to paraglide in front of Germany’s tallest mountain. I hike a trail in the rain until reaching the German-Austrian border. I exhaustively search for last-minute Couchsurfing hosts to cut costs along the way.
But ask me for my favorite memory and here’s what I’ll say: I’m driving on the highway in the pouring rain again. It’s thundering and lightning, just like it was when I drove from Stuttgart to Munich. This time, however, I’m deep in the Alps and following a river which is the color of a milky robin’s egg. I stop on a shoulder, unwrap a chocolate bar, and wait out the rain to the tune of Maroon 5. Relaxing into the driver’s seat for a better view of the mountains, I think to myself, “I get it now.”
Did Max ever message me again? No. He probably never will and it’s okay. I left Germany with more valuable experiences than those of any silly summer fling, which remind me today to never, ever question myself on the basis of someone else’s actions. I won’t lose my confidence like that again; never again in the face of another “Max-imum” disappointment.
Special thanks to my Dad. He booked me a hotel when he was at work and Facetimed me when I couldn’t sleep. He’s always been there for me.