City Break

When I immersed myself into the barrel-shaped wooden hot tub at the B&B overlooking the Carpathian Mountains I didn’t expect to ever get out. A friend recommended the secluded place embraced by medieval oak forests roaming with the highest number of brown bears in Europe. She said I needed to disconnect, a ‘city break,’ as they say here lately. My hometown has never been a city, but people still want to get away from the German-owned car-parts factories employing most of them and the metallic playgrounds peppered with crow droppings year-round. Coming back every year to my natal town is a city break in itself, away from ten million strangers and five good friends. I don’t need this city break. But I go anyway, because you listen to your friends, they mean well, and I do look dreadful, after a long-coming divorce and a long winter of self-pity.

Spring in these snow-peaked parts is just an extension of winter in the plains where I drove from in my automatic second-hand 2008 Golf GT Sport with over 200,000 km on board, mostly gained on by the previous owner. As I drive up on dirt roads, serpentines, and mudded uphill uncharted dead ends, I cannot remove an image from my mind, or is it on the windshield? Two bodies entangled on the back seat just a few hours before I set off on these foggy roads.

We’ve been having a ceremonial dinner every time I was in town for the past twenty years. Sometimes we’d drink, dance, and end up in someone’s backyard or basement sounding in the night with fiddlers’ songs. This time I was unsure and easily flattered. We drank a bottle of wine made from red grapes, a Dacian varietal, then he walked me home. He didn’t want to come up. Excess was never my thing, but the moon was full. It was different from all those nights when we were teenagers and spent long hours in a complicit silence in his childhood bedroom.

Did it happen or was I imagining it? Ciubăr, borrowed from Bulgarian, is the name for hot tubs in this part of the country. It’s a wooden barrel filled with hot water, and someone threw in a bottle of lavender oil. The old traditions of wood carvers and the new aromatherapy inclinations of entrepreneurs joining a global tourism consciousness. A city break, my friend said, is also about shutting off your brain. She meant my critical side that comes out at most annoying moments. I could be naked in here. There’s no other soul or body checked in. The bears are still hibernating. The hot tub is large in its roundness. I can stretch and float looking up at the fresh oak roof. The silence here is disconcerting. No sirens, no honks, no drunken ballades. Someone had thought about rainy days, they built a roof over the tub, shiny and yellow not like the dull, brown UNESCO Church steeple nearby. I brought a bottle of wine – my rainy-day provisions. Should I be drinking alcohol in a hot tub, I wonder. I am at an age when statistically I don’t yet have to worry about dying. Or so I tell myself.

As dark thoughts start to emerge, I reach for my phone. Maybe I should text him, in case last night happened. The bubbles are trying to get through knots in my back. The lavender hues are diminishing as my nose gets adjusted to them and to the pine whiffs brought from the mountains. Pine, the species of post-destruction. I wish I knew which mushrooms are comestible. A wet and fecund earth smell induces these musings. I text him a photo of the view, mountains covered in snow, woods evergreen with never-shedding youth. When we first started dating, in our late teens, cell phones were only in movies that we didn’t watch since we were making out in his bedroom. He replies with a ‘beautiful’ comment. Disappointing, then another message comes. He wishes he could be here with me. He allowed himself a cliche, such generosity. I’m reading too much into it. I put the phone away.

I soak, no bears come. The silence deepens as the sun sets. Curiosity places my pruney fingers on the phone again. I forgot to switch my emergency contact at my Manhattan doctor’s office. My ex-husband received a notification for my upcoming surgery. He wants to know what’s wrong. He lost that right when he pushed me into a viscous darkness of self-doubt and self-loathing. My automatic car’s backseat did not require emergency contacts. Did it really happen? I turn off my phone. I also wish I was here with myself. Why did I insist on an automatic? Changing gears and using both feet keeps you in the moment. Back home I don’t have a car. It’d be impossible to park. I have a bike. I walk. I overpay the subway. I lose my way. Here I take city breaks from a place where almost everyone knows me. He wishes he was here. I turn my phone back on.

It is unacceptable to forget to change your emergency contact on your doctor’s forms. I’m seeking attention. I’m manipulating, I’m dramatic, I’m the problem. I sink deeper in the warm bubbling waters. They remind me of the last few years of unbreathable, fully grabbing immobility of a life that is not yours. There are no bears. Night is coming. An automatic light comes on. I float no more and the bubbles must have been on a timer. It’s not cold. I don’t shiver. Wrinkled fingers soak further, eyes close, lips whisper, did it really happen? The oak survived ruthless kings and bloodthirsty invaders to soak middle-aged women and put up with lavender infused timed bubbles. Here’s that critical mind my friend sent on a city break. Can’t tell if it keeps me afloat or sinks me deeper. It just is, on the backseat of an automatic second-hand car.