At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. And that has led me to remember time after time after time that I’ve been lost in the woods! This will be, at last, the final story. It’s a little different from the others. It might also be a little more alarming for readers. Just remember that I’m right here, writing this blog post. This story happened a long time ago, and I’m totally fine. Nothing terrible befell me back then, I just made some foolish choices … and — as has often happened in my life of foolish choices — I had the gift of divine intervention and people turning out to be as worthy of my trust as I believed them to be.
In the mid 80s — 1986, I think — I went to Prague. It was my second trip there. The first trip had been magical but super short, and I’d been hoping to find my way back. (Comical aside: As I prepped for my trip, one of the men I worked for asked if people in Czechoslovakia would notice me, would recognize me as not being one of them. At first, I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t a particularly jokey person, so I thought I’d clarify and asked, “You mean, other than the fact that they will all be white, and I’m … not?” If ever there was an indicator that we needed better geography and world history in our schools …)
I got to Prague. I hooked up with my old friends. I made new friends. I wandered the beautiful streets of that beautiful city. I sat in coffee shops, ate excellent ice cream, went to wine bars.
In one wine bar, a favorite spot of the new batch of friends I’d made, I met two guys whose names I no longer remember … and maybe I only knew one of their names in the first place? The guy whose name I knew got chummy really fast and spent the rest of the evening hovering too close. At the end of the night, he invited me to meet them the next day for sightseeing. That seemed harmless enough, so I agreed.
I met them at the astronomical clock, and we started walking around the Old Town. And then the guy — let’s call him Miloš, though that was definitely not his name — suggested a trip to … I don’t know, some beautiful attraction. When I agreed, we walked to the train station, not the metro, but the trains that went out of the city. That should have been the point where I demurred, the moment for me to end our encounter. Instead, I got on the train.
The whole way out, Miloš talked about his hard life as a writer and philosopher and how awful it was that his ex-girlfriend had smashed the windshield of his car and he had no idea how he’d get it fixed. The other guy — we’ll call him Honza — never said anything. He was a big, shaggy presence beside Miloš or me wherever we went.
We got off the train at Černošice. Right. Who knows where that is? Certainly not me. I mean, I can find it on a map now — it’s about five kilometers outside of Prague — but that doesn’t really help 34-years-ago me. We got off the train and started walking.
We walked and walked and walked and then walked some more. Was it pretty? Maybe. Did there seem to be any reason at all for us to have left Prague to be there? Yeah, not so much. We were well out of whatever counted for “town” in Černošice, walking through a sparsely-residential area, occasional houses carved into the forest that surrounded us. We went to a house and were let in by a guy who seemed surprised but pleased to see us. Inside, there were three more men. There was a lot of conversation in Czech, a couple of phone calls, and then Miloš said we should leave our things in the house because we were going for a walk in the forest.
I had no “things,” since I’d left my house that morning for some casual sightseeing. Miloš said I could leave my purse because I wouldn’t need it, but that seemed silly.
Now here, of course, is yet another moment when I should have extricated myself from the situation. Somehow. I was who knew where, with a growing number of men I didn’t know. I was being invited to leave my identification behind before wandering off into the forest with the unknown men. I think about this now, and I marvel at how unbelievably stupid I was as a young woman. At the time, however, I wasn’t apprehensive. I was annoyed. I had a limited number of days in Prague, and I was annoyed to be wasting one of them — no beautiful attraction, no time spent with my friends, and no end in sight for this unplanned side trip.
We set off into the forest. There was a clear path we were following, so we weren’t lost, strictly speaking. I include this story in the “into the woods” series because I was lost. I had no idea where I was or how to return to anything familiar. I didn’t speak more than a dozen words in Czech and no one other than Miloš seemed to speak English. The men with me weren’t at all lost, but I most certainly was.
At one point in our walk, we came out of the trees into a pretty field of tall grass and wildflowers. We were on the crest of a hill and below us was a beautiful ribbon of river winding through a valley. That was lovely … though no one stopped to make note of it, and it was pretty far from where we were, so it was surely not our destination. We crossed the top of the hill and went back into the trees and didn’t see the river again.
After more walking, we were suddenly at a little beer garden. There were maybe ten people — including women! — waiting for us there. We got a big table and had drinks and sausage, cheese, and bread.
It was nice enough, but I couldn’t speak to anyone, the sun was going down, and I had no idea how to get back to anywhere. I asked Miloš how long before we headed for the train, and he looked shocked. He said he thought I’d understood that we’d be staying the night. He said there were no more trains to Prague at that hour, and the house where we’d stopped was where we’d sleep.
This story took place a lot of years ago, long before I began developing my rich and healthy relationship with my anger. I was still, at that time, afraid of expressing anger. But not in that moment. I was instantly furious, and — unlike most of the times I got angry back then — it was immediately obvious to Miloš, Honza, and everyone else sitting near me that I was furious. Miloš was apologetic but kept saying it wasn’t serious, that I’d get back in the morning and not to worry about it. This didn’t do anything to blunt my rage.
It was decided that, since I wasn’t enjoying myself, we should go. We started the walk back through the now-entirely-dark forest. Two of the women came with us, which was good, as both of them had flashlights. Miloš kept trying to apologize and assure me that there was no real problem and I shouldn’t be upset. Finally, one of the women made him shut up and walked with her arm through mine the rest of the way.
We made it back to the house, and it was decided that the two women and I would share the bedroom and the men … I don’t know, they slept somewhere else.
In the morning, Miloš, Honza, and I walked to the station and got the train to Prague … and Miloš spent the whole ride asking me to give him $500 so he could fix his windshield. Ugh.
Back in the city, I walked away from them at the station and went home, furious, grubby, hungry, exhausted.
Two nights later, I saw Miloš in the wine bar. He came right up — his face a dramatic display of distress — and told me that the most awful thing had happened, that some crazy person had smashed his windshield, and he had no idea how he’d get it fixed. Could I give him $400? It wouldn’t be a problem for me, such a small amount, and he’d get it back to me someday.
I kid you not.
In the years since that crazy experience, I’ve wondered what Miloš had actually planned for that day. Was he hoping to rob me — assuming I’d have crazy amounts of money in my wallet because I’m American? Was he hoping to seduce me so I’d feel inclined to give him lots of my American money? Or was he just an idiot? I also wonder about the women who slept with me that night. What made them come back to the house with us? What had they heard or seen that made them decide to stay with me until morning? Neither of them could speak to me, but they stayed with me, and I felt comfortable with them, having them around me.
See? I came through it all unscathed. And that’s the last of my into-the-woods stories. I’m glad I’m here to tell it, and hopeful that I won’t have any (many?) future ones to add to the list!
It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!