This is an excerpt from an essay written by Diana Ostrom in Chloe Caldwell’s 12-Month Essay Collection Generator
In the morning, after yoga and Icelandic crêpes, my guide, Brynjar, and I go for a hike up the rough gray slump of a mountain above the hotel: It is not the season for heli-skiing, they tell me, which is fine, because I cannot ski at all, and would not know what to do if a helicopter were involved. Do they jump from the helicopters? Is that the point?
I am wearing a pair of hiking boots on loan from the Barn, the hotel’s recreation shed. They don’t fit, precisely, so I am slip-sliding on the mossy rocks, and I can see him recalculate our route, and shorten it, like a stuttering GPS. You don’t understand, I want to say. It’s these stupid boots. I once walked across the Sossusvlei salt pan and did not even break my stride.
“How do you say your name?” I say.
“Brynjar,” he says. “But everyone calls me Bryn.”
That’s my dog’s name, I want to say.
“I have a dog,” I say instead, “and sometimes I kiss him a lot.”
“I had a dog like that,” he says.
The night before, when I had arrived at the hotel—I had forgotten its name, and retrieved it by Googling most expensive hotel iceland from a gas station—with tears running down my face, the result of driving for five hours from the largest waterfall by volume in Europe without bothering to change from contacts into my glasses. I am weeping, but I believe in a sexy way, in the way I always thought having allergies sounded powerful and exotic. “I’m allergic,” I told Brandon Apgar, the king of the fifth grade, referring to hamburgers, pollen, bees, whatever: I am so cool that my body rejects this.
I had arrived at the most expensive hotel in Iceland with a plastic 7-11 bag of Snickers and Pringles and an $11 orange, like a receptionist gifted one free night at the hotel for having won the special prize at the staff Christmas party and worried how much dinner will cost. I have been to many, many dinners with many, many guides in many, many places, and I normally feel bad for both of us, searching out shared connections, sharing our best and most appealing stories, like Mike Tyson once gave me $100 or a few years ago I drove from London to Mongolia. This, though, is different, Brynjar (he will not be Bryn until tomorrow) is different: He is not just a heli-skiing guide but an artist (watercolor and pencil) and as a child he lived on 103rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue while his dad taught at Columbia. He spent last summer in the Atlas Mountains. He is, perhaps, my kind of person, which is to say, not the sort too terribly tied down to a particular place. You learn many things when you travel for a living but the most important is this one: First, to as quickly as possible recognize someone of interest, then to lay the groundwork so that he is not left here, in Iceland, but propelled into some other orbit. It is like catching an ember in a campfire and nurturing it, mothering it into a flame, into something that takes on its own life, burns from its own power. My last boyfriend was my Airbnb host. I cannot imagine anymore what it would be like to have an office crush, someone you might see every day for months—years—on end.
I cannot see, and so the evening is experienced in literal soft focus, as though I have applied a candlelight filter to my brain. “This feels like a date,” he says at one point. But there is only so much time. When it is time to get into my Fiat Panda and drive five hours back to Reykjavik, I think he is on the edge of being someone who might fly to Paris for the weekend, but also possibly not as thrilled as I am to have met a Person With Potential, or maybe as skilled in or as motivated to grab onto that. After I return my borrowed hiking boots to the Barn, I am following him closely out the door when he turns back, for reasons unknown, and I am about to hug him when I realize that (a) I am not at all sure what he is doing with his body and (b) he is not American—hugs are not the lingua franca here—so I duck and maneuver myself around him, which in the end was the right decision because it turns out he has forgotten his wooly hat on a chair.
It’s a long shot. Three months later—the critical moment—I am back in Iceland and I text him to see if he wants to get a drink, but he is in Colorado, at the hotel’s HQ for their annual jamboree.
Twenty-four months later, he is holding a newborn on Instagram. “Do you think that’s his kid?” I ask my friends back home, and we agree that it must be. I am reminded again of what I have experienced as an inverse relationship, with people and places: When places change, people don’t; when people change, places don’t. It is hard to evolve when you’re on the move—since I went to Iceland I have been to Bulgaria and Lithuania, Sweden and Romania, and other places, too. It is only grabbing at the roots of things, as you are running toward the next place, learning to grab at the right things, and seeing what stays in your fist.
Diana Ostrom writes about places and people and traveling between them in her debut collection of essays, Faraway Places. You can find her writing about travel here and subscribe to her newsletter here.