personal · so that happened

Falling Half in Love with Strangers

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I love being able to express myself in writing.

It feels more accurate somehow than speaking words. Talking for me can sometimes feel like playing tennis with a colander; I mean, it’s possible, I can do it, but it’s not ideal. The ball goes over the net, but just about. It goes where I want it to go… more or less. I can’t be sure it’ll hit it’s mark, but I can hope. Later, I’ll go home and think about how I could have done it some other, better way.

Writing is different.

Writing is a tennis racket. When I’m writing, I have the time to think about what I’m trying to say, and then mentally flip through millions of words looking for the one that slots into my sentence like that Tetris block you’ve been waiting five minutes for; the one that gives you a combo and wipes the screen clean. Finding the right word feels satisfying, and I’m always on the lookout for new words to add to my vocabulary. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve probably noticed this already (like with Hygge and Sonder). I collect words.

Sometimes I find myself reaching into other languages for words that describe feelings or situations that there’s no term for in English. I’m bilingual – Spanish/English – and there are times when I can feel a Spanish word trying to force itself into an English sentence because there’s no English equivalent.

… And yet, even with two entire languages to pick words from (and a smattering of others), I still sometimes find myself searching for a word that doesn’t exist.

I am on the lookout for a particular word.

I want a word for the feeling I get when I connect with a total stranger for a few minutes or hours, and then never see them again. It’s an ability to suddenly feel profound, intense affection for someone I don’t know. It’s not physical attraction, necessarily. It can happen with men or women. It is a non-discriminatory feeling that happens without warning, without rhyme or reason. I want a word that explains how I can feel instantly and powerfully attached to somebody and then, in a perverse way, almost hope never to see them again.

Is there a word for that?

There are a handful of people I’ve met over the years who I still think about from time to time, because even if I only spent a few hours with them, in those hours I was invested. I wanted to know everything about them. I fell a little bit platonically in love with them and their stranger-ness. I felt something that I don’t have a word for, and I hate that. I felt a nameless, wordless bond.

If you’re thinking, ‘Quinn, what are you on about?‘ … here’s an early example.

About half a lifetime ago I was in Vienna, Austria, with barely any German and friends who had succumbed to sickness. I wandered out into the city by myself, and walked the cobbled streets alone with only a crumpled paper map for orientation. These were the days before smartphones, and everything was just a little more complicated. In the square behind a large cathedral, I pulled out my map and tried to trace my finger down the streets I had walked earlier. A voice interrupted my thoughts in harsh German and I turned to find a long line of horse and carriages parked along the kerb. One of the carriage drivers, dressed smartly in a black felt hat and waistcoat, was observing me with amusement.

“Lost?” He asked.

I nodded and trotted towards him. After all, if anyone knew the streets of Vienna it had to be the carriage drivers. He nodded his head at the padded bench beside him and helped me up into the driver’s seat. Up close I realised he was young, with bright blue eyes and a friendly, shy smile. He had a small gold hoop in one ear. I was alone and bored and lost, so I flattened the map against my thighs with the palms of my hands and explained in broken German where I had come from and what I was doing there. I told him I had no plans for the evening, and was just looking for landmarks to visit that wouldn’t require too much walking.

He nodded as I spoke, and pointed out a few different landmarks. Every few minutes a carriage would depart from the front of the line and our carriage would jostle as he coaxed his horses forward.

And then it happened. That wordless, nameless thing.

There is an entirely regular level of healthy interest that we as humans have in each other. When you meet someone for the first time, often there are a number of things you want to know about the person. A lot of adult conversations start with “What do you do?” or “Where do you live?” or “How do you know Martin/Julia/Alex/Sam?”

The wordless, nameless thing I feel skips the superficial curiosities of that regular level of interest. I lock onto people. My curiosity spontaneously mutates from a lukewarm, detached interest to a many-tendrilled absorption in the person in front of me. Once this happens, my curiosity extends into private, hidden corners; darkest secrets and earliest memories and family histories and relationships and hobbies.  I want to know what they do to feel better when they’re feeling low. I want to know their favourite food. I want to know when they last cried, and why. I want to know how they get on with their siblings (if they have any), whether they like to dance or prefer to sit by the bar, what age they realised the truth about Santa Claus, and how. I want to know what drives them, and I want to know what led to their presence next to me in that particular moment, out of the 7 billion other people in the world.

If that sounds extremely intense… I realise that. Don’t worry, I don’t interrogate people like I’m trying to solve a crime. I do gently question them though. Max, my friendly carriage driver, told me about how carriage-driving was a family tradition. He told me about the routes he usually took. He told me about how long he had been doing the job, and his worst experience with a passenger. He told me about his horses and his family. He pointed out his favourite spot in Vienna and his favourite coffee shop. We talked for about 45 minutes, and then a middle-aged French couple approached him for a carriage ride and I realised we had reached the top of the queue. Blushing, I stammered an apology and stood to jump down, but Max shook his head and gently motioned for me to stay seated.

“You come?”

I had just watched money change hands and realised that a carriage ride cost about €80. As a broke teenager, I had absolutely no discretionary funds for carriage rides around the city. I told Max as much, and he shrugged.

“You are not passenger. You are co-driver.”

The carriage ride was about 45 minutes of magic. I had never been on a horse-drawn carriage before, but compared to the paying customers I definitely felt like I got the best seat in the house. Sitting up high on the driver’s bench with Max telling me about the landmarks and explaining their history, Vienna looked different. The evening sun threw a golden filter over the intricately carved stonework on the buildings. I glanced over my shoulder at the French couple; the woman’s head was nestled into the man’s shoulder, and the two of them were smiling at nothing in particular. I could see how Vienna might easily be as romantic as Paris.

In between landmarks I slid in more personal questions. I asked about Max’s parents, his ambitions, what he did in his free time. He gruffly answered every question, with a shy smile every now and then to show he didn’t begrudge me my curiosity. Every so often he would mutter a question of his own, his low voice hard to hear over the sound of trotting hooves.

By the time we circled back around to the church, night was falling. The streets were clearing, and some of the other carriage drivers were disappearing in the dusk as they turned in for the night. I hopped down from the carriage, checking my watch.

“I guess it’s time for you to go home,” I said, gesturing at the carriages trundling away.

“Ja.”

“Okay. Well. Vielen Dank Max. That was… amazing.”

Max accepted my thanks with a sharp nod.

“Where do you go now?” My curiosity again. “Where do the horses sleep?”

“Other side of river” he said, gesturing with his arm. “Over…”

I opened up my map again and he studied it for a moment before pointing at an area of Vienna I had never visited.

“You come?”

I looked up to find him looking at me with an inscrutable expression.

I looked down at the map. The area he was pointing to was pretty far away. How would I get home? Nobody knew where I was. Then again, I had no other plans, and I was stuck in this nameless, wordless feeling with Max, Austrian stranger.

I looked up at him with a smile. “Sure!”

He held out a hand and helped me back up into the carriage.

I pried further into his life on the carriage-ride to wherever we were going. He told me about his last girlfriend and how long they had been together and how it had ended. He told me about the food that brought back childhood memories for him, and how he had spent his birthday. At one point, clattering over cobblestones on a dimly lit, empty street, he nudged my thigh with his hand.

“What?”

“You want?”

His hand opened slightly, offering me the reins.

“Me? I can’t! Max, I’ll crash your carriage.”

He nodded insistently and put the reins in my hands.

“You feel?”

I did feel. There was a tension on the reins, a sort of pushing, pulling, rhythmic motion. It immediately gave me a feeling of both pure joy and total calm. I gripped the leather tight and felt focus and control wash over me. He let me drive the carriage down the streets of the city, guiding my hands when we needed to turn, or tugging when we needed to slow down. Eventually we reached our destination, and he slowed the horses to a stop and jumped down to lead them through a large door between townhouses.

I felt my eyes widen as we passed under the stone arch and through time straight into the 1800’s. A small stone courtyard paved in cobblestones housed four stables with glossy emerald wooden doors. Lit by half a dozen warm yellow lamps, I watched as a cat yawned and sat up on a hay bale to greet us. I hopped down, completely enchanted, as Max parked the carriage and led the horses to their stables. I gazed up at the baroque townhouses flanking the little courtyard, my mouth hanging open. When Max tapped my elbow to get my attention, I was startled back to the present.

“I come back. I shower.” He said, running his fingers along the brim of his black felt hat.

“Okay.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, Max, go have your shower.”

“After, drinks?”

“Sure.”

He disappeared, undoing the buttons of his waistcoat as he went. I spun around and sat down on a hay bale to pet the cat. Fifteen minutes later a man emerged from a building to my right.

“Hey!” he shouted, and I looked up, startled.

How would I explain my presence? Was I even allowed to be here? I looked around for Max.

“Hey,” he said again, and stopped in front of me. My eyes slid over this man’s body, from his leather boots, past his ripped jeans, over his white and red motorcycle jacket. A red motorcycle helmet dangled from his hand, and he had very pale blonde hair cropped short. He had a cowlick at the front. I stared at his face, frozen in panic.

Then I saw the gold hoop earring. It was Max.

I started laughing.

Out of his work clothes, he looked like a completely different person. He looked much younger. I realised he was only a couple of years older than I was. Without the hat, his blue eyes looked impossibly big and it was much easier to read his expression. He was pink from his shower, and he flushed and rolled his eyes when I explained, through gasps of relieved laughter, that I hadn’t recognised him.

The rest of the night was idyllic. He refused to let me on his motorbike because he only had one helmet, but we walked together to an open-air bar by the river and sat at a picnic table drinking and laughing and asking each other questions until the night wound down and I realised I needed to get home. He offered to walk me, but I declined the offer. The whole evening I had been suspended in a bubble with Max, and now I felt like I was holding a pin, ready to burst it and step out into the real world again.

We walked to the bridge, and he took my hands with an earnest expression. He said that he always had breakfast in the corner cafe near the cathedral on Wednesdays. He said if I wanted to find him, I knew where he would be. He told me he hoped to see me again. Then he kissed me on the cheek and squeezed my hands before turning and walking away, motorcycle helmet swinging at his side.

I didn’t go to the cafe on Wednesday. Although part of me wanted to see Max again, a larger part of me felt that we had spent a perfect evening together, and that was enough. I had half fallen in love with a total stranger over the course of a few hours. I had learned so much about him. I knew more about Max than I knew about some of my friends.

I never saw him again.

Every once in a while, I wonder what Max is doing. I wonder if he still draws in his spare time. I wonder if he still drives the same carriage through the streets of Vienna, and whether that coffee shop is still there on that corner. I wonder if he still has a small gold hoop in his ear. I wonder if he has a family now, and whether he remembers an evening spent talking about life with a stranger from Ireland, who was lost and bored and open to the possibility of being kidnapped. I hope Max is well. I hope he is happy. I hope that his life has been untouched by tragedy.

A few memorable hours spent with a total stranger, and I still care about their wellbeing years later. I still send good wishes their way when I think of them, for whatever those are worth.

There really should be a word for that.

470 thoughts on “Falling Half in Love with Strangers

  1. The story was just magical. Great read….
    and the word you are searching for is Magic. Because this reality with the light of illusion is just magic…..

    Like

      1. I used to think that before talking to my therapist! You see, I ‘m married with 2 kids and I thought that there was something wrong with me! My therapist said that people like us are born appreciative of the good in everything and everyone! And that we are : CLEVER! 😁

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe… although I feel true infatuation would have had me sitting at that cafe come Wednesday morning! A sort of temporary infatuation, maybe…

      Like

  2. Wow! I admit that I’m a bit of a romantic, but your story, Quinn, almost brought me to tears twice. I’ve haven’t read something so moving in years! You are amazing! You have an incredible gift! Thank you for sharing it. BTW… As a man, I can assure you, Max remembers and still thinks about this night just as vividly and fondly as you have described it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Lane (only getting to these comments now!) – I wonder if he does. I wonder if he even remembers it. It’s strange how two people can experience the same situation very differently…

      Like

  3. Reblogged this on The Hard Mattress and commented:
    “I pried further into his life on the carriage ride to wherever we were going. He told me about his last girlfriend and how long they had been together and how it had ended. He told me about the food that brought back childhood memories for him, and how he had spent his birthday. At one point, clattering over cobblestones on a dimly lit, empty street, he nudged my thigh with his hand.
    “What?”
    “You want?”
    His hand opened slightly, offering me the reins.
    “Me? I can’t! Max, I’ll crash your carriage.”
    He nodded insistently and put the reins in my hands.”
    – Quinn
    I’m not sure what to add because Quinn described it perfectly. We all have that one or two particular strangers that we accidentally meet along the way. On our way home, idyllic thoughts over a hot train ride. Standing side-by-side, awkward turn that sends a curve of both you, and the stranger’s lips.
    ‘Hi’
    and he ‘Hi’ back.
    Refusing to break that awkward starter, ‘Guess the air-conditioners aren’t working.’
    Reluctantly he replied, ‘Yeah, sorry if I smell bad. I sweat easily.’
    Made you smile. ‘All of us you mean. We are basically packed like sardines, and its a hot night.’
    He laughed. ‘I bet! On your way home?’
    And it continues until one of you reaches our destinations. Leaps off the train, knowing that you will never see each other again. A quick goodbye is all you need.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I have no words. I’m just glad I discovered you today Quinn. The way you write… It’s phenomenal, enchanting and beautiful. I find myself standing in Vienna, watching as you and Max walk through the night air, lost in your little bubble. It’s a delight.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you! I’m glad I could transport you if only for a few minutes. It’s a special memory of mine and it’s nice to know I was able to share it, even if only in a small way!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a word needs to exist. If none exists in English or Spanish, then invent one. Use it often and everyone will learn it.
    Thank you for sharing such an exciting and vulnerable moment with us. Thank you for allowing us a peek into your beautiful soul.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This made me cry in happiness. I know EXACTLY how you feel, but I’ve never been brave enough to talk to them much.
    This story was beautiful 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You put into words what I feel and think about quite often. My job demands social interaction with new people everyday… which is a daily challenge for an introvert. Catching me off guard and sometimes surprising me with delight, I feel a similar connection to these strangers that you descibed in this post. Beautifully written, Quinn!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Quinn, thank you for writing with such emotion! I’ve traveled to different parts of the world, and have experienced similar attachment. There is something innate in the human soul that drives deep connection, even with strangers. I doubt many of us are meant to live solitary lives. These are the things that drive my wanderlust. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading it, Wishweed! I agree with you that we’re meant to connect, but the instant clicking into place is something that only happens to me once in a while. It’s always a pleasant – if slightly unsettling – surprise!

      Like

  9. This one of the best reads in a long time. I am a pathetic romantic and dreamer. This post made me love Max within the first few minutes.. Please tell me you will go meet Max one day. Maybe when you are way older,you return to Vienna and find him in that coffee shop on a Wednesday.
    I promise if I ever go to Vienna I will look out for him 🙂
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha thank you Aleena! I actually had another moment like this (where my soul seemed to click into place with somebody else’s) years after this, and this time I didn’t let it disappear in one night… I hope you have many romantic moments in your life!

      Like

  10. I love this. I know what you mean about kind of wishing that you would never see that person again, because it/they/you just wouldn’t be the same. The context of time and place is everything, especially with a chance encounter.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I LOVE this! I love especially the part where you describe why you prefer writing to talking – it’s like if you were speaking for me!! That’s EXACTLY how I feel about writing. I always miss the point when talking, especially something I really want to get right, usually gets into a completely wrong direction.. or maybe not, but I am just never sure if the ‘receiver’ got the message I was trying to deliver. With writing it’s different – as you say, with writing I have time to think and I, too, am always looking for the right words which feels extremely satisfying. Wow, such a good feeling to find I am not the only one who feels this way and there are actually ‘souls’ like me 🙂 Wonderful read altogether! Keep up the great work, I sure will be back for more!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that is EXACTLY what happens to me Monika! Verbal communication is not my strong suit, and God help me if you put me in front of a crowd! Thank you so much for reading and also for letting me know ‘There are DOZENS of us!’ as they say!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. An absolutely stunning post. I want to say I’d read a book where this was just the beginning but really, much like the evening you had with Max, it’s perfect the way it is. You have a new follower!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is me. EVERYDAY! I love just connecting with others and learning everything about them. It’s my favorite thing to do. There SHOULD be a word for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. A sort of ephemeral infatuation maybe? Similar to that of a holiday romance? Or maybe its more to do with an emotion in transit? Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this post and your writing. And now I am overthinking those odd feelings that have no defined word.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “It feels more accurate somehow than speaking words. Talking for me can sometimes feel like playing tennis with a colander; I mean, it’s possible, I can do it, but it’s not ideal.” – Never have truer words been spoken. Love it!! And a gorgeous blog post. Now I’m wondering what Max is up to…

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Oh yes. How lovely.
    I experienced the same thing for the first time in my life in March. A guy I met in Dubai for 4 days at a dance festival. Its been almost 7 weeks, and I still have vivid dreams of him. I refer to that s falling in love with him, but as you say – thats not quite true, nor exactly what happened: I just connected. Completely and perfectly. And then its done. And it makes me so happy and so sad at the same time.
    https://discoveringratchet.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/a-tale-of-4-days/

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t fully let go. In this day and age of social media, it’s hard. I just don’t know.
        So much happiness. It’s hard not to want to keep that always. But some things really do have expiry dates.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s always hard to know where the tipping point is of investing too much time/effort. I do think social media has made it much, much harder to let things go; how can you move on when you still have a window into their life? It’s so hard.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. So hard indeed. Yet a silver lining I’ve found is that by having that window, it stops the memories from totally fading away, and it reminds me that such connections, with their happiness, wonderment and joy, are real and possible. They aren’t a nostalgic myth. I must seek similar moments in MY every day life. Seeing his pics and face pop up in my Fbk newsfeed reminds me not to settle for anything less.

        (It just took me about 8 weeks to get to that point of healthy almost-letting go. 4 days of actual interaction vs 8 weeks of quasi-grieving the end of a short perfect chapter in my life. OYE.)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. So. Work is sending me to his country (france) in mid june. So I decided to take a few extra vacation days, and I told him that I was going to visit his city (legit has always been on my bucket list), and that I hoped we could meet up.

        Not only was he pleased, but he suggested I attend a dance festival the following weekend, where he and his dance partern would be teaching. Nimes.

        So yeah.

        My story is about to diverge from yours with Max. I did not let this one go, apparently.

        SO EXCITED.

        Like

  17. I loved this! I’m a romantic at heart and there was definitely a feeling of romance in this story. But the cautious part of me kept thinking, “Is she crazy? She’s a stranger in a strange land and he could be an axe murderer!” I’m glad to see it all turned out well 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha I was wondering if anybody would pick up on that! Yes, in hindsight it was an extremely rash series of decisions and I was lucky that Max was a gentleman and not (as you rightfully pointed out could have been the case) an axe-murderer, but at the same time there’s a lot to be said for gut instinct! I’ve written before about bad experiences with strangers so I have extricated myself from questionable moments once or twice. Not all strangers can be a Max, I suppose…

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m in love with the moment, the human connection. Maybe it’s my narcissistic need for validation. Or theirs. Either way, I relate, therefore, enjoyed the read. Basically the same thing you said about writing applies right now, though I might not have realized until me actually writing this ..my back-brain kept thinking “you like writing, maybe this is why you’re so texty” and “f that guy that called you out on that” along side “I wonder what he’s doing right now..” Focus is not my forte…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Kate Louise! Focus is not my forte either, and that’s pretty obvious in everything I do… including this blog! Where I hop from topic to topic with zero warning! It’s fine though. Just tell yourself variety is the spice of life! Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I loved this! I think it’s fascinating how some of our most memorable experiences are found in circumstances and people that are fleeting and temporary, but maybe that’s the beauty in it. Great piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. Biko, in a way I guess that could be said about life itself; what makes it beautiful is that it’s fleeting and temporary in the grand scheme of things. I guess we just have to be mindful of the fact and grateful for the good things! Thanks for reading it!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I had a very similar experience with a bassist i locked eyes with at a leann rimes concert. just a couple of hours but i fell hard. Im a forgotten memory while he tours and plays with famous artists. I almost think i connected more than he did. Sigh. Life can be cruel sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

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  22. That was so beautifully written… and a very beautiful experience. I’ve never quite had anything on the scale of that, but definitely on a smaller scale. I often find myself fascinated with people, and wanting to connect – especially if I meet them by chance. I don’t think you could have put it any better: ‘what led to their presence next to me in that particular moment, out of the 7 billion other people in the world’. That I often wonder, and I think I, too, am in love with connections from human to human – who they are, where they could lead you. I think sometimes I am too tempted to skip the dull small talk and just know them.
    But I thought this was a very lovely post, well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Hey Quinn…..your lines and the flow is simply amazing. I could literally see the entire sequence flash in front of my eyes as if I was watching a Movie. 🙂 Thank you for posting this experience of yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay! I’m glad you liked it! Ooof, scary when people you know read things you poured your heart into, especially when you know they’re readers! I feel like I passed a test by the skin of my teeth or something! Haha

      Like

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