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Excerpt: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding

Read the prologue from Kristin Newman’s hilarious memoir about mastering the art of the “vacationship”

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What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman (Three Rivers Press)

Prologue: “I’ll Have the House Special”

I am not a slut in the United States of America. I have rarely had a fewer-than-four-night stand in the Land of the Free. I don’t kiss married men or guys I work with, I don’t text people pictures of my genitalia, I don’t go home with boys I meet in bars before they have at least purchased me a couple of meals, I’ve never shown my boobs for beads. I do not sleep with more than one person at a time, and, sometimes, no more than one per year. In America.

But I really love to travel.

Now, having sex with foreigners is not the only whorish thing I do: I also write sitcoms. For the last fourteen years I’ve written for shows like That ’70s Show, How I Met Your Mother, Chuck, The Neighbors, and shows you’ve never heard of that nonetheless afford me two over-the-top lucky things: the money to buy plane tickets and the time off to travel. What this means about my life is that I spend about nine months a year in a room full of, mostly, poorly dressed men, telling dick jokes and overeating and, sometimes, sitting on the floor with Demi Moore, Ash- ton Kutcher, and a chimpanzee (before all three found the age difference insurmountable). In the writers’ room, we talk a million miles a minute, tearing each other apart for sport and, often, out of love. Sometimes someone makes me cry, and I pretend I’m doing a “bit” where I “run out of the room to cry” even though what I’m really doing is running out of the room to cry. If I’m lucky enough to be fully employed, I get about nine months of this and then a three-month hiatus—unpaid time off from this weird non- corporate grind.
Most days, the writers’ room feels like I’m at the most entertaining dinner party in the world. Other times, it feels like I’m at the meanest, longest one. I keep both versions in perspective with my real life’s work—running away from home to someplace wonderful. And then, sometimes, having sex there.

Throughout most of my twenties and thirties, in the hiatus months (or years) between shows, I spent between a few weeks and a few months a year traveling. When money was tight, I took road trips with a tent, and when it wasn’t, I got on a plane and went as far as I could, to places like China and New Zealand, Jordan and Brazil. To Tibet and Argentina and Australia and most of Europe. To Israel and Colombia and Russia and Iceland. In the beginning, I took these trips with girlfriends, but soon my girls started marrying boys, and then they started making new little girls and boys, and so then I started taking the trips alone. Some of these girls would eventually come back around after a divorce for a trip or two, but then leave me again when they got married for the second time before I’d man- aged to do it for the first. (When I complained to my friend Hope that she had lapped me in the marriage department, she replied, “I’m not sure the goal is to do it as often as possible.” I love her.)

Anyway, everyone around me was engaged in a lot of engaging, marrying, and breeding while I remained reso- lutely terrified of doing any of it. I did want to have a family someday . . . it was just that “someday” never seemed to feel like “today.” I wanted love, but I also wanted freedom and adventure, and those two desires fought like angry obese sumo wrestlers in the dojo of my soul. That wrestling match threatened to body-slam me into a veritable Bridget-Jonesian-sad-girl singlehood, which I was resolutely against, both personally and as an archetype. And so to ward that off, I kept moving.

Pretty early on in my travel career I discovered two vital things. First, that I’m someone a little different on the road, and that vacation from being my home self feels like a great sleep after a long day. Second, that you can have both love and freedom when you fall in love with an exotic local in an exotic locale, since there is a return ticket next to the bed that you by law will eventually have to use. These sweet, sexy, epic little vacationships became part of my identity—I was The Girl with the Great International Romance Stories at dinner parties, and around the writers’ room table. And I began to need my trips like other people need religion.

But my mom will be pleased to hear that my addiction to sexy people in sexy places really grew out of a nonsexual obsession: I love to do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. That means always getting the specialty of the house. That means smoking cigarettes I don’t smoke at the perfect corner café for hours at a time in Paris, and stripping naked for group hot-tubbing with people you don’t want to see naked in Big Sur. It means rid- ing short, fuzzy horses that will throw me onto the arctic tundra in Iceland, or getting beaten with hot, wet branches by old naked women in stifling banyas in Moscow. When these moments happen, I get absurdly happy, like the kind of happy other people report experiencing during the birth of their children. And getting romanced by a Brazilian in Brazil, or a Cretan in Crete . . . this, to me, just happens to be the gold medal in the Do the Thing You’re Supposed to Do Olympics.

I love that I am but one of millions of single girls hit- ting the road by themselves these days. A hateful little ex- boyfriend once said that a house full of cats used to be the sign of a terminally single woman, but now it’s a house full of souvenirs acquired on foreign adventures. He said it derogatorily: Look at all of this tragic overcompensating in the form of tribal masks and rain sticks. But I say that plane tick- ets replacing cats might be the best evidence of women’s progress as a gender. I’m damn proud of us.
Also, since I have both a cat and a lot of foreign souve- nirs, I broke up with that dude and went on a really great trip.

“Drugs Make You a Better Person”
Los Angeles International → Paris Charles de Gaulle → Amsterdam Schiphol
Departing: March 24, 2000

The first time I blew off steam internationally was not born of carpe diem. It was born of deep despair.
I was twenty-six, and I traveled to Europe with my childhood friend Hope on a “girls’ trip” in the wake of a breakup with my first and most consequential love, Vito. (This is obviously not his name. I let him name himself, though, so, for our purposes, I had a six-year relation- ship with a man named Vito.) I handled the heartbreak like many twenty-six-year-olds handled big breakups at the beginning of the third millennium: I pierced my belly button, got a Meg Ryan–circa–French Kiss–style bleach job and haircut, and went to Amsterdam.

First, a little more on the man behind the body-reclaiming piercing: Vito and I met our freshman year of college, had a close friendship sprinkled with drunken make-outs and missed connections for two years, then fi- nally fell madly in love in the way it turns out you only fall in love when you’re twenty and doing it for the first time. (It took me fifteen years of unsuccessfully chasing that first high to understand that. Slow learner.)

We fell in love in the early nineties, and so Vito and I thought a lot of Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder movies were about us. (Also Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy movies. Vito had a goatee and hated The Man, so basically any- thing with Ethan Hawke.) After graduation, we laughed at our friends who went straight to work at ad agencies and consulting firms, and instead backpacked around Eu- rope for the summer, then spent a dreamy fall, winter, and spring working and skiing in Vail, Colorado. In Vail, we sublet a room from two racist brothers who talked a lot about their Scottish ancestry, and who were trying to be- come “alpine models.”

“You just gotta be a rad skier and be super good- looking, and I really think my skiing’s there this year,” the younger racist explained.
After Vail, Vito got into grad school at UC Santa Bar- bara, and I moved to L.A. to try to write for television. It turned out that meant spending eighty hours a week driv- ing around town with carloads of film and fetching cof- fee for writers. It meant squeezing in time to work on my own writing, only to have a male writer notice and say, “Awwww, you’re writing something? That’s so cute!” It meant spending lunch hours giving a high-level writer ideas for his script that he jotted down word for word, get- ting more hopeful and proud with each “Great idea!” he gave me, and then being told over the check, “Someday you’re going to make a great producer’s wife.” It meant pitching jokes in a writers’ room and hearing, “Aw, isn’t she pretty?” before being told to pitch it again while doing jumping jacks or, perhaps, sitting on the showrunner’s lap.

It meant always, always laughing all of it off.

Anyway, while I navigated the world of Hollywood, Vito moved to jasmine-scented Santa Barbara to learn how to surf, and became a part-time forest ranger and environ- mental studies grad student who couldn’t wrap his head around ever living in Los Angeles, where TV writers have to live. For the next three years we commuted the hundred miles between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara to see each other, and I tried to think of something else to do with my life. I racked my brain—it certainly wasn’t like long hours of drudgery and sexual harassment were so satisfying that they seemed worth losing the love of my life over. But, de- spite the massive motivation to come up with an alternate life plan, I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do. And, eventually, I realized that meant something.

So Vito and I spent our early twenties planning our retirement. Really. There was no version of the next thirty years that enabled us to both get the lives we wanted and be together, so we just skipped to the part on which we agreed: retiring on an avocado ranch in wine country with a lot of Saint Bernards somewhere around 2035.

But ignoring the reality of the here and now didn’t last, and that’s when the relationship, as Vito said, “became about talking about the relationship.” We went to couples’ counseling at twenty-four, weeping to what must have been a highly amused therapist about our enormous troubles.

“I just don’t picture myself as the type of person who lives in L.A. Plus, it kills me how much fossil fuel we’re burning by driving back and forth every week,” my tor- tured environmentalist would say to the therapist and me.
“Do we seriously have to add fossil fuels to our list of problems?!” I would wail.

“I’m just saying, it really bothers me.”

The therapist would pause. “So…you spend three nights a week together, and Kristin lives in Santa Barbara full-time for three months in the spring,” she would say, trying to paint us the ridiculous picture she was seeing. “That would work fine for some people. Do you think there is something about identifying this as a ‘problem’ that is working for you?”

We scoffed at this. But, years later, I would realize it was the truest thing any therapist has ever said to me. Col- oring Vito as ultimately unavailable, all six years that he spent telling me he wanted to be with me forever, worked for me. It made it easy as pie to be 100 percent sure about him. I would learn from many subsequent available men that that is probably how Vito and I lasted six years.

But I wouldn’t learn that for a long time. And hence we have this book.

The struggle finally broke us, and Vito and I ended it all one day after Y2K didn’t happen in Santa Barbara. We wept and hugged and said we’d love each other forever, and then he put me on a train to Los Angeles, and I spent the entire ride back crying, knowing that he was The One and that no one would ever understand or love me the way he had ever again. I hoped that he was racing along the road next to me in his car, and would be waiting for me at the train station in the Burbank night. But I got off the train, and the station was empty.

A couple of months later, a girls’ trip presented itself.

Hope and I met on the first day of eighth grade, when we were both new kids at the same school, and so huddled together for warmth in the chilly waters of junior high. We stayed friends when I went to Northwestern, to go to football games and gain a lot of beer and pizza weight, and she went to the University of Oregon, to ride her bike in the rain and lose a lot of drug weight. By the end of college, it looked like I had eaten her. Hope, however, could always keep a lot of balls in the air, so still managed to spend a semester studying abroad in Ecuador, and graduated with a double major in business and Spanish in four years, while some of her fellow college buddies ended up living in boxes in San Francisco. By twenty-six she had grown into an ad- venturous, sporty, constantly cheerful woman who worked hard and played hard, so when she invited me to tag along on a business trip to Amsterdam for some girl fun she said I desperately needed, it was easy to say yes.

After four years of assistant work on a variety of television shows, I had just been offered my first writing job, on That ’70s Show, beginning the following June. That mir- acle meant there was a date on the horizon when I could start to pay off my credit cards. (Four years of assistant pay had led to debt caused by splurges on things like socks and groceries.) So I bought a plane ticket—girl fun, here I come! Then Hope invited her boyfriend to come along.

“You don’t mind, right?”

I minded. Feeling like I’d be a third wheel, I tried to bow out, which is when Hope’s boyfriend decided to fix it all by inviting his best friend.

“Oh, God, not Mike!” Hope and I both protested.

But Mike, a very sweet, short drug addict and high school dropout with blue hair, pink skin, rodent-like eyes, and a prison record, was in.
“Ahhhh, sounds pretty cozy,” Mike’s friends would say to me knowingly. “I think Mike’s about to help you get over your breakup!”
“Mm,” I’d reply, as Hope peeked at me apologetically over her adult beverage.

We started our trip in Paris, where Mike provided us with scintillating commentary during our cultural tour of the city’s landmarks, like Notre Dame:
“So this place is so famous they named a school after it!” . . . and the Louvre: “What’s the Louvre?” . . . and European ambulances:
“They sound different!” We were all piled into one room in an ancient, crumbling hotel on a little park on the Seine, directly across from Notre Dame. At like thirty dollars a night, with a view of the cathedral, it had to be the crummiest hotel in the best location in the world, and I had stayed there four years earlier on my postcollege summer trip with Vito. The place sang with memories of my first trip to Europe with my first love, and so my mood was not particularly en rose.

Because of my dark cloud, and the fact that I hadn’t kissed anyone besides my ex in six years, the idea of a “palate-cleansing hookup” was oft suggested by my travel companions.

“A sex sorbet!” Hope clarified. “What’s sorbet?” Mike asked. It made me feel like Vito and I were breaking up all
over again to even picture such a thing, but sex sorbets did always seem to make people feel better in movies. So I put on a little ditty one night, and we headed out to find some fun.

We found a lot to drink. And a big, hot Australian bar- tender who invited us back to his friend’s groovy, velvet- filled apartment, late at night, for what turned out to be an extraordinary amount of hash. Things were looking good for the bartender and me as I threw back drinks at the rate you do when you are trying to flirt for the first time in six years . . . And then I don’t remember anything else besides waking up the next morning in our little room on the Seine.

“The bartender helped us carry you down the four flights of stairs,” Hope told me. “He was very sweet.”

So, my palate was still not cleansed. It tasted like wine and bile, in fact. But the trip was not over.

After a few days with Hope and the boys, I decided to spend a little extra time in Paris, and sent them on to Amsterdam without me. Because I needed a break from Mike, but also because I wanted to be the girl who hung out alone in Paris. You see, over the years, Vito and I had fought many times over conversations like this one:
“I want to go to Hawaii for my spring break,” he might say.
“I have to work that week,” I’d reply.
“Okay, I guess I’ll just go on my own,” Vito would decide.

And then he would.

Now, 2013 Kristin would find this to be a completely reasonable thing to do. 2013 Kristin would do exactly the same thing, and would love that she was with a guy who could head off on a solo adventure as well as she could. But, boy, did 1998 Kristin feel differently. I had no urge to go on trips without Vito. I wanted to spend every spare minute with him. I would drive as fast as I could up to Santa Barbara to see him the first moment I could, refusing to stop even when I needed to pee and my car was running on gas fumes. Vito, on the other hand, was closer to where I am today—thrilled when I could come along on adventures, but excited about going alone, too.

Which made me furious. I wanted to be the girl who could have fun alone in Paris. It scared me a little, but I remembered the lesson my mom taught me at age seven in a swimming pool in Hawaii. I was a shy little girl and an only child, so on vacations I was usually playing alone, too afraid to go up to the happy groups of kids and introduce myself. Finally, on one vacation, my mom asked me which I’d rather have: a vacation with no friends, or one scary moment. So I gathered up all of my courage, and swam over to the kids, and there was one scary moment . . . and then I had friends for the first time on vacation. After that, one scary moment became something I was always willing to have in exchange for the possible payoff. I became a girl who knew how to take a deep breath, suck it up, and walk into any room by herself.

So I took a deep breath, put my three travel companions on the train to Amsterdam, and settled into my first time alone in a foreign city.

It didn’t go all that well.

I kept getting on the train in the wrong direction, and finding myself in restaurants without a book. (It’s almost impossible to have a meal alone without something to read. Try it. It’s terrible.) There is no time or place in Paris where a woman is safe from unwanted advances from a Frenchman. I was constantly followed by creepy men in the streets, and a man in a turtleneck (harmless, but ick) approached me in a park at ten in the morning, and asked if I wanted to become his lover. I was nervous and lonely, and wrote Vito postcards from cafés we had visited together, furious that I was nervous and lonely. Vito would have had a great time in Paris alone for two days. I needed to figure my shit out.

And that was how I found myself walking by the bar where the cute Australian bartender worked. I had never gone into a bar by myself before, but I decided to “drop in” for a drink. Oh my God, I was just walking by and here’s your bar! Paris is such a small town! The Australian was very sweet, and laughed off my poor reaction to the hash the night before, and poured me a beer. And then another one. And then even one more. I just kept sitting there, feeling awkward but needing a win, and not knowing where else I could find one.

At the end of the night, the bartender closed down the bar, and put me in a cab. Strike.

So, feeling like a bit of a failure, but proud of myself for trying, I got on a train going in the right direction and went to Amsterdam.
It turned out that while Mike might not have been the ideal travel companion for a cultural tour of Paris, he was just the ticket in Amsterdam. You know how beautiful it is to watch someone in his element? LeBron James playing basketball, Pavarotti singing, Ryan Gosling breathing? Taking Mike from Paris to Amsterdam was like watching an elephant seal flopping around on the sand, dragging its monstrous, awkward body inch by painful inch across the land until it reaches the sea, slips into the water . . . and glides off in one majestic swoosh, jumping and diving gracefully effortlessly.

We had been in our first bar in Amsterdam for thirty seconds when Mike pointed at someone in the back, and said:
“That guy.”

Was Mike taller than he had been in Paris? I found my- self thinking. He made a beeline through the thousands of people who had not caught his eye, up to a thin, average- looking, twentysomething dude we came to know as Peter the Dutch Drug Dealer. Peter the Dutch Drug Dealer gave us a napkin on which was written a list of bars and clubs where he could be found at various hours of the day. All twenty-four hours were accounted for, so apparently his wares were good enough to eliminate the need for sleep. He had a friend with him, a black prostitute named Victoria, who was wearing a dress of a length such that passersby could see her three labia hoops dangle when she walked. Later in the week we watched Victoria climb onto a table at a club, insert her ring-clad fingers into the mysterious place from whence those hoops dangled, and then remove her fingers . . . now stripped of jewelry. I believe this happened at around eight on a Tuesday morning.

But back to less seedy topics—drugs. After a moment of discussion, Peter the Dutch Drug Dealer handed Mike a little baggie of treats, which we spent the next week watching Mike smoke, or swallow, or snort. Then, after watching to see how our human guinea pig would react, we would make our decisions about whether or not to follow.

Now, I was twenty-six, but before this trip, my experiences with drugs had been limited to a rare sleep-inducing joint, and one crazy day of mushrooms at Northwestern where I raced armadillos and learned what love was. One of my dad’s best pieces of parenting advice had been very simple: wait. He didn’t tell me to abstain from sex and drugs forever, which I’m sure would have made me try everything immediately. He just told me to take a beat, watch my friends try things out, learn what to do and what not to do based on their mistakes and triumphs, and then try out what I was going to try.

Without consciously deciding to, I took that advice to heart in many elements of my life: just wait. With marriage and children, but also with drugs and men. I was a social drinker, but had skipped the normal youthful drug experimentation in which most of my single friends had participated. I had a boyfriend. Vito and I cooked dinner, and went to farmer’s markets, and, when we were feeling crazy, made fondue. We had visited Amsterdam during our postcollege summer of backpacking, but had mostly indulged in handfuls of Dutch pancakes that you could get to go in adorably wrapped tin-foil packages. Sure, we had smoked a little pot, but usually during the day, while riding bikes along the dykes, or dangling our feet into what we thought was the North Sea (it wasn’t) and singing “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” more times than sober people might have. We hadn’t immersed ourselves in the dark underbelly of Amsterdam.

But now I had a friend named Peter the Dutch Drug Dealer.

Hope, her boyfriend, Blue-Haired Mike, and I had planned on staying in Amsterdam for three days, before heading out to see the outrageous colour of Holland’s spring tulip fields on our way to the Hague, where we would learn about international tribunals. Instead, we got stuck in Amsterdam for a long, dark week, in a world where we saw the sun for about forty-five minutes per day, usually in the late morning, during the journey from the back door of a club to our blackout-curtained hotel room. Mothers would be bicycling their children across the charming bridges of Amsterdam on their way to school when we were dragging ourselves home, shaky and exhausted and hours from being able to sleep.

I should be clear that, throughout this revelry, I was still in deep, dark, brokenhearted pain. Even Mike was irritated with the amount I was talking about the loss of my first love, and his body should have been drugged past the ability to feel irritation (or surgery). But even he grew weary of how much I needed to talk about whether I had done the right thing a few weeks earlier, when I turned down my very first marriage proposal.

The proposal came six weeks after Vito and I broke up, and one week after I checked his voicemail (I know) and heard a message from a girl who turned out to be a fresh- man student he had just started fucking. I was heartbroken and lonelier than I’d ever been in my life when Vito showed up on my doorstep with roses and asked me to marry him.

A few years earlier, in a panic about the many bikini- clad undergrads with whom a UC Santa Barbara grad student spends his time, I had broken down and read Vito’s journal. (I know.) In it he said that, in two years, after he got his master’s degree, he was going to propose to me. Great news, right? No stories of deflowering teenaged surfer girls! Sadly, I did not see it that way.

Despite how desperately I loved him, I panicked. To me, marriage was an ending, not a beginning. A stone on my chest. A giving-up, a decision to walk away from an interesting life for one just like everyone else’s. Much more “ever after” than “happily.” Why did it feel that way? Well . . . I’ll get to that later.

After reading Vito’s journal, I made sure to mention to him early and often that marriage was not for me. I talked about how I wanted to spend my life with him, since a life without him felt like a life without my favourite limb. I said that I wanted to someday waaaaaaay down the line have kids, but that marriage was for other people. Conventional people. People who overpaid for T-shirts when babies were starving, people who worried about whether or not their artwork matched their sofas. People who had to put some weird legal stamp on something we already had.
“Why do people need to put some weird legal stamp on something we already have?” Vito eventually started saying, too.

So when he proposed six weeks after our breakup, I knew he didn’t actually want to be married to me and liv- ing in Los Angeles—he just wanted to jump in his car, drive too fast to get to me like at the end of a movie, and alleviate our suffering. (And make up for sleeping with his freshman student.) But the problem had never been our commitment to each other—it was the fact that we wanted to live different lives. So I said no, and he didn’t seem surprised or particularly upset.

“Consider it a standing offer!” he said cheerfully, before getting back into his car.

And then he drove back to Santa Barbara, and soon went back to the nineteen-year-old student whom he had started seeing about five minutes after we broke up. Meanwhile, I spent a few months in both a metaphorical and literal fetal position, and wondered, like so many ex- girlfriends of forest rangers before me, if I would ever be able to use the tent he gave me for Valentine’s Day again.

I was really sad about it all. And that’s why one night in Amsterdam, Mike gave me Ecstasy.

That’s not really true. Mike gave me Ecstasy because the four of us could barely stand each other. Hope was mad at her boyfriend for going to a sex show without her. (The tip-off was the ten fingernail scratch marks down his chest. Audience participation. The boys were subsequently kicked out of Hope’s free hotel room.) Mike was mad at me be- cause Hope’s boyfriend tattled that I stayed behind in Paris because I wanted a break from Mike’s asinine questions. Hope’s boyfriend was mad at me for being a snob about his friend. I was mad at Hope for being a crying, angry mess all as a result of bringing two stupid boys on our girl trip. And we had another week to go.

“We need a chemical bridge back to friendship,” Mike reasoned.

And, because the subject was drugs, he was right. Damn, look at that seal swim! So we all thought for a moment about how little we wanted to spend another week with the people around us, and then reached for the bag of pills. Several months later, Mike admitted that he had found this bag of pills on the floor of the biggest coffee shop in Amsterdam, the place at the top of the Let’s Go Europe list of big, college-kid drug bars. And that he wasn’t absolutely sure that what was inside the bag was Ecstasy, and not, say, the kind of poison that isn’t really, really fun. It wasn’t that other kind of poison. It was really fun. So much fun! We all loved each other again! Amsterdam wasn’t sad and dirty, it was filled with light and joy! Hope’s boyfriend and I shared a transcendent dance moment to “Bésame Mucho,” our bodies attracting an audience with a perfect merengue I still think about. I saw Mike’s sweet heart for all of its sweet sweetness, and my judgmental nature dropped away as I floated out of my judgmentally judging skin, finally understanding that drugs make you a better person. Hope and I cried on each other out of joy for our lifelong friendship. And, somewhere in some bar in Amsterdam, we met Fiona, the twenty-year-old doughy British girl on crutches who wanted to make out with me. So I grew up just a couple of years before the generations of girls who all kiss other girls and like it. When I was in college, Katy Perry was a toddler in a romper and knee socks, decades away from being a grown woman in a romper and knee socks. A social scientist might argue that the girl-on-girl trend started with rave culture…and Ecstasy. Which is an argument that can certainly be sup- ported by my very first experience with raves and Ecstasy. Now, if taking pills and then having one’s first lesbian experience with a crippled British girl isn’t the thing to do in Amsterdam, I just don’t know what is. I’d never been hit on by a woman before, probably because I’d never beamed love in all directions simultaneously before. But that night Fiona (like everyone) got hit in the face with a big handful of Kristin love, and so zeroed in.

We sat together for a long time, talking as closely and intensely as only two people on hard drugs can, and I started to realize that this woman was flirting with me! And . . . was I flirting back? As I watched our nose-to-nose conversation from somewhere above and to the left of my own body, I wondered if I would have the courage to do something so dirty, so experimental, in front of people who would bring the story home with us.

Ultimately, it was the intense talking and sharing that was the undoing of Fiona. She shared with me that she had had more than thirty sexual partners in her twenty years. Since, at twenty-six, my sex number was three, this caused me to see little cartoon STDs float around her head, like pink hearts that might go pop pop pop around a cartoon character in love. And while I thought Fiona’s pierced tongue seemed like a good addition to what might be my only lesbian sex experience (lesbian sex being so tongue- reliant and all), she really was so very doughy. And that sticky, shiny, clammy sheen on her face, that wondrous thing I like to call “drug sweat” . . . that didn’t bode well for what I might find elsewhere. And there were the crutches, and the broken ankle that she couldn’t remember how she broke, which seemed unwieldy in a naked wrestling scenario (which was basically what I gathered lesbian sex was). Plus, for the rest of my life, Mike, of all people, would have a ridiculous story to tell about me. But, at the end of the night, I just felt like too many people before me had decided Fiona was The Thing to Do in the Place You’re Supposed to Do It. She was probably crippled from it.

And so Mike slept with her instead.

I put my foot down after a week of the dark side, and dragged everyone out of bed at the crack of three p.m. for some sight-seeing. We went to Anne Frank’s house, and then for pancakes (sweet). We went to the Van Gogh museum, and then for pancakes (savoury). And, one day, I forced everybody onto the train, and out to see the tulip fields.

We chugged instant train coffee and stared out the windows at the Dutch farmland, which looked like it had been coloured by a giant kindergartener. Miles of red next to miles of pink next to miles of purple next to miles of yellow. Mike’s blue hair framed by all of those colours made him look like a character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The goodwill from the drugs that had opened my mind and heart to all of humanity was still lingering, and it made me tolerant and peaceful when Mike asked stupid questions. Hope’s head was on her boyfriend’s shoulder, all forgiven there, too. In two years they would be married, and in five they would be divorced . . . because he still hadn’t grown out of raves and drugs.

I would go home feeling like I had had a real adventure, on my own, without a boyfriend. I’d learned that getting on a plane could make me feel better, and that, regardless of how it had gone, I was the kind of girl who sometimes hung out alone in Paris. The kind of girl who took Ecstasy and knew a guy named Peter the Dutch Drug Dealer and could have made out with a crippled British girl. And that was the first thing that made me feel better about the death of the life I thought I was going to live with Vito. There was a new life coming, and it was going to be as colourful as Dutch tulip fields.

In two months I would start dating my friend Trevor, who would help me get over my first heartbreak, and whose heart I would break two years later when I realized at twenty-nine that I desperately needed to be single for the first time in my life. But, in that moment, the sun was shining, and we were four friends traveling by train through Holland in the spring. I hadn’t had my international sex sorbet, and I hadn’t kissed a girl, but I had got- ten out of my heartbroken fetal position and taken a trip across an ocean. And I liked it.