This piece originally appeared in Reisikirju, a collection of travel stories published in Estonian in 2014.
The Last Virgin in Switzerland
Around and around, up and down. The Ferris wheel goes up and it goes around and every time it reaches the top I look out on a sky of swirling city lights and stars, like needles of gold in the blanket of dark, with the hunchbacked, lumpy shadows of the Alps beyond, and the pale blue of the lake on the bottom of it all, like a cool tongue, licking me away out and into the distance.
I would have just preferred to take in all the sights, not like any decent camera could ever capture the infinite sparkling beauty of them, let alone two teenaged eyes, if she wasn’t sitting across from me, or should I say, sitting across from us, meaning me, my mother and father. Neither of them even notices her, well, maybe my father does, but he tends to notice every woman within a certain distance from his torso, so it’s all just wallpaper to him.
He wouldn’t go for this girl anyway. He likes them statuesque with ample powders and cosmetics and perfumes and creams and polishes. He likes them dolled up. I have followed his glare enough times. But this woman is no doll. And I can’t figure out why I should have noticed her. She’s nothing special, nothing radiant, dressed in a gray sweatshirt with short blonde hair, a slight build, breasts that would barely cup in your hands, or cup in mine.
But she has such a pleasant white face, like a maiden in a Renaissance painting, so familiar and so different, so ancient, even eerie. She’s a ghost. None of my classmates has a face like that. And then there are those round chocolate pupils. They keep drawing me in and she returns my glimpses, sometimes with curiosity, but mostly there is a look of alarm in those two Swiss German eyes. She just wanted a ride in an American-themed amusement park on a Friday night and wound up getting seated across from two American tourists and their pervert son.
How old is she? She’s got to be about 20 years old. Or maybe she’s just 18. Or 27. Who knows? The only thing I know is that I cannot in any way be with her. I have no money. I have no place of my own. I can’t even drive. I’m not even 15 years old. I have a man’s impulses, a man’s looks, but lack the credit cards, the experience, that good humored yet intense and shark-like gaze my father affects when he is served by a pretty waitress. Besides, if this woman across from me was to actually do something intimate, perhaps be as bold as to hold one of my hands, I just might pee in my pants.
I’ve never even kissed a girl.
I would kiss her though if I could manage to get rid of my parents and lie about my age. If I could just shed my identity for the night and say I’m 19. I’m tall enough. She might believe me. But maybe my kiss would give it away. How do you even French kiss anyway? Slide your tongue in and just swirl it around? That’s what some of my older friends told me. Must be true.
But no. It’s just not going to happen. I can’t even talk to her as she is speaking in Swiss German to her friend and probably only knows some form of caveman English. I imagine our talk like this, “My name Dagmar” “You first time Zurich?” “Is very beautiful, yes?” “How long you stay?”
Two more days.
Around and around, up and down, lovesick, heat sick, sea sick on a Swiss Ferris wheel. My mother is squeezing my arm and pointing at illuminated churches and I am saying “Wow” and stealing glances to the chocolate-eyed Swiss girl, the Swiss Miss, and she is returning them. My father is counting the bills of francs in his wallet and reshuffling them and returning the wallet to his back pocket and looking at his new Swiss watch, the way the lights from the city at night catch on its silvery face. It’s not fair. Why does he get to be a man? Why does he get to be free?
Why am I stuck in this body?
I keep hoping that something will happen. Something has to happen. Maybe an earthquake or an explosion. Either will do. Then the Ferris wheel will dislodge, come off its hinges in a cloud of sparks and steam and flying cables, and roll across the old city, over the bratwurst stands and public toilets, and murky river waters, over the nose-ringed punkers and the old Hippies selling used LPs, over the souvenir shops of leiderhosen and yodeling CDs, flattening the pigs roasting over spits, rolling it all down before coming to a crashing halt somewhere between the watch shops on the Bahnhofstrasse and the Stock Exchange.
And in the hot chaos and thundering cataclysm, I would get the chance, my only chance, to climb off the Ferris wheel and escape to the city below, mumbling something about amnesia, but really just to join in the happy free-wheeling circus of a country so free they leave pornographic magazines out in barber shops and a small yellow van delivers fresh needles to the junkies in the park and the teenagers drink beer right in the streets and then ride the trains back to the suburbs, no designated drivers needed.
Europe! Why is it so much freer than my own Land of the Free? Look at her, steal a glimpse at her, take her in, consume her raw. None of this would ever happen in America. Not me, not this woman, not the Ferris wheel or the lights. There is no magic there. Things back there are stagnant, lethargic, and dry. They are like old songs on a drug store radio. But here, here in Switzerland, in Europe, they are fluid, moving, like the cool Alpine lake waters, licking me away.
Something needs so badly to be broken, I feel. Something needs so badly to be blown up and destroyed, set on fire, purged and burned and crushed to pieces. Something, somebody, needs to be fucked, if only to sate the volcanic anguish within me. I shoot another glimpse at the girl.
Is she a virgin? Probably not. Nothing in Switzerland is virginal. Nobody blushes at anything here. Sex, love making. Whatever you call it, they have done it, and how I wish to be like them! Doing it. That’s all my friends talk about. And yet none of us have done it. We only know about doing it from looking at our older brothers’ stashes of dirty magazines, the ones way in the back of the closet.
When the ride ends, we slide off the seats and the Swiss Miss with the chocolate eyes and kissable lips brushes by me and then she disappears into the night with her friend, who is so uninteresting to me that I can’t even remember what she looks like. The Swiss Miss never looks back, but I can smell the air she displaces as she moves on by. She and her friend laugh as they walk away. What are they laughing about? That boy on the Ferris wheel? That stupid boy.
I can barely shave. There are whiskers in the oddest places. I dab the cream there and here. It’s hilarious.
“So this is what Swiss people think America is like?” my father jokes as we make our way past placards of men with cheesy blond hair and leather jackets playing saxophones and big-breasted women in red bikinis, paintings of sports cars and surfers, and hamburgers and fries.
In between them are enormous posters of American superstars like Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley, Madonna and President Bill Clinton. David Hasselhoff, too.
“You know he’s more famous here than he is back at home,” my father says, tossing his head toward the exuberant image of the Knight Rider star. “The Europeans love him.”
Maybe if you were a real man like Hasselhoff, you would have gone home with the Swiss Miss.
“He’s a famous singer,” my mother concurs. “He’s had number one hits. Can you believe it?”
I look at David Hasselhoff and the paintings of sports cars and surf boards. It doesn’t look anything like the America I know, and it doesn’t look like any place I’d ever want to go.
“I can’t believe they really think we live like that,” my mother says.
I hear them, but I am still thinking about the girl, though I’m having a harder time remembering exactly what she looks like and what she smells like. That Renaissance face. The chocolate eyes. The comforting air. It’s almost all gone. Why do they always come and go like that? It hurts.
“So, want to go get some bratwurst?” my father addresses me as we near the exit of the American theme park. It’s mostly empty. I guess America isn’t that big a draw.
“John, we have had bratwurst every night for the past week,” my mother complains. “I can’t have any more salty food. My ankles are swollen with fluid. And can you stop walking so fast?”
“I was talking to Justin,” he ignores her.
“Yeah, okay,” I say. “I like bratwurst.”
“Ein bratwurst mit sempf,” he says, smiling and running his fingers through my hair. “Und ein bier bitte. Well, ein Coca Cola for you.”
“Hey, look, we’re only going to be in Zurich for two more days, so we should make the most of it,” he puts his arm around me. “It’s been a great vacation, eh, son?”
When we got back to John F. Kennedy International Airport a few days later it was hot and humid. August. The tormenting stink of sweat, exhaust, the plastic bottles and paper bags littered up on the sides of the roads. There were so many people around me in New York and yet I felt as if I had been abandoned in a desert. Something was wrong. I went and slept in my old bed but it was different, off, amiss.
I missed Zurich. I missed Europe. And I knew in my teenage guts what would have to be done.
I would have to go back.