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This story has been left untold for four months.
I wasn’t sure if I’d live to tell it. Or rather, if I told it, if I’d live.
Clearly, I have.
I said goodbye to Andrea in Sofia, Bulgaria on September 14. It was Day One of my solo backpacking experience. I was excited, and I was terrified. This was long before the themes of climbing, crossing bridges, taking pictures of brides and drawing lines on my map made me feel like I knew what I was doing.
On September 15, I took a train to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. I arrived at my hostel at 4:30p.m. A sign on the front gate said “back in 15 minutes” but the gate was open anyway. A woman sitting at the table by the front door said the guy who works at the reception had gone to the store but would be back shortly. She told me to feel free to join her at the table. I did.
The conversation starts with discussion about Steve the Saz (if you don’t know by now about the giant string instrument I carried on my back for a month, you must).
She’s very nice, probably in her mid-late fifties from El Centro, California. Originally from Ohio, once lived in Boston. She’s been traveling for six months – a month in Turkey, one in Bulgaria, another in Georgia. She talks about how she settles into a routine everywhere she goes, a life.
What you quickly realize while backpacking – if you’re going to be somewhere for a day, or two, or three – you can’t take three days before opening up to someone if you want a buddy during your stay. I made many friends along the way who I’d only know for three days, but we’d know everything about each other’s backgrounds and latest fears, worries, homesickness.
You take chances being open, because it’d be awfully lonely otherwise.
We’ve talked for over 20 minutes now. I’ve pulled out my iPad to hit send on the Strings and Magic posts I’d written on the train. She asks what I’m doing and I explain. She asks me to show her a sample. I showed her and she called my writing endearing.
She asks me if people follow it and I say yes. At the time, I had eight e-mail subscribers, plus anyone who clicked through on Facebook.
“What if a million people wanted to subscribe? Would you charge?”
I told her I couldn’t charge on WordPress, but I guess a million people could subscribe if they wanted.
“But your website would send out a million emails every time you post?”
Yes, I guess it would.
She tells me how well my website organizes all my “files.”
She asks if she can subscribe to it, because she’d love to see what I do.
Well, that is after all the point of this blog. If I didn’t share, what would be the point?
Not seconds after I typed her email in the little subscribe box did the conversation turn.
“You know, I have quite the following myself. Not nearly as fancy as you, not as creative. But I write and have about seven million followers.”
What??? Let’s talk about you.
“Oh, yes, mostly just factual things. But it gets read. It’s really quite exciting. I bet if I shared your stuff, you’d get published overnight. I made someone a lot of money that way in Bulgaria. Do you want to see my writing?”
Yes, yes please. I’m wondering if Day Two of my trip, I’d met some eccentric hermit famous author. Earlier in the day, I’d met a man in the process of getting a movie in production. He’d asked me my preference between Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt.
So, to find her writing.
She directs me to Yahoo. Yahoo mail. Signs into her email.
Then tells me she sends herself an email and seven million people read it.
Red alert sirens are going off in my head.
She asks, “What time is it in NY? 10:30? You should see an uptick in hits on the blog almost immediately. Probably even some comments!”
“I hope nothing happens because of it.” (what) “My subscription. If anything does, just remove me.” (what do you mean) “Oh, nothing. It’ll be fine. I’ve been doing mine for seven years. Except the early years of files are gone. The government has them.”
“…I used to be sort of a revolutionary figure back in the States.”
Laughter and fear tremors shoot through my body. I’m scanning my posts to make sure there’s no explicit detail of where I’m staying or where my family lives. The mob just subscribed to my blog.
It is finally time to check in to the hostel. The guy directs me to the “American” bunk.
I’m sleeping above this woman.
I call a friend – tell him everything BUT this story in case she overhears me – then remain sitting in the room next to mine charging the iPad. She walks in and asks, “Anything yet?”
Twenty minutes later, still in the other room, I hear this whisper. Sharp, piercing, almost angry sounding.
It’s her. And anyone who knows Harry Potter, it sounds like Parseltongue.
Except I make out a single line. “All… I’m… Saying… Is take… Off… Her pants.”
I lean back, out of sight. Password protect my iPad.
She leaves. I take a nap.
She returns. “It’s tough out there.” (Oh yeah?) “Yes. They are out tonight.”
Should I be scared?
“Yes, maybe a little. It runs very deep.”
An hour later, this group of sweet little Belgian girls crowd around me. “She’s pretty weird, isn’t she?” I look in the doorway. She’s standing in a shirt and her underwear, staring outside.
“We don’t feel safe, do you?” I say with all of us here, we’re probably fine.
That night, this woman snored louder than anyone I’d ever heard in my life. Worse, she moaned.
Throughout the next few days, she would continue to ask. “Anything yet?”
And there never was. No mass amount of hits, no comments. “Anything yet?”
She kept asking me if I had posted. I had. She said she hadn’t received it. I said you must have never confirmed the subscription, check your e-mail! I’d remove her subscription as soon as I left Plovdiv, that I knew. She said no, I must have done it wrong.
It was Day Three of my solo adventure when she came back to the hostel with three pairs of bright orange shoes. She asked me if I needed a pair. I said probably not, but being polite I took a look.
“If you want them, they’re only ten lev.”
Okay, if the second to last thing I needed was a bright orange pair of sneakers, the last thing I needed was to buy them from her.
I offended her. “That’s a very reasonable price.”
She then played Russian music loudly while I was trying to take a nap, so I e-mailed friends instead.
“Top bunk. Can’t nap. She’s playing music. She actually falls asleep for three minutes at a time, keeps waking up and saying ‘How long did I sleep?’ then goes back to sleep. We’re on round five.
What a way to start the trip.
A few days later, I’d run into Tristan again. We’d met in Sofia in early September, before Andrea and I had gone to Belgrade. Now, we were in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, trading stories about the last few weeks.
He’d met Miriam, too. I told him my fear of her forever being able to find my blog through her e-mail. Forever.
And then he pulled out his phone. She’d made him look at her writing (a mismash of random facts, only twice a month at most), too.
It might have been wrong of us, but Yahoo had never kicked him out of her e-mail. With two clicks, he deleted all traces of me from her e-mail, and then we logged out.
Seven million people could read it. Lots of posts and comments.
Yeah right. My blog went back to being its little unknown self.
… or did it?
Two weeks later, my blog was Freshly Pressed for the first time. Again two months later.