‘I was really excited to meet up with you...’ The words hung in the air with an expectant ‘but’. Maybe I should have read the writing on the wall. They were there from the beginning.
It’s that modern romance, man, the kind that starts with two rights. We got to talking during a dreary February in Budapest, a city known for arresting architecture, stag dos, and eastern Europe’s most blatant political swindler. I’d come with dreams of writing and soaking in thermal baths, the idea stemming from a Wes Anderson flick that actually had nothing to do with Budapest itself. I’d only end up doing one of those things.
She caught my eye, and my swipe, because she was into climbing and had a rad photo of her scaling a steep sun-baked rock face with a siren’s call of sparkling emerald water in the background. That day, the sun shone brightly in the pixelated universe, you could feel the heat emanating from the screen.
We messaged back and forth and she’d speak to deeper topics, respond with thought and care. Intriguing. I’m no good at flirting, but we did a little of that too. We planned to meet at a bouldering gym for our first date.
The match moved towards the striker.
We met at UjjeroBoulder Terem, which loosely translates to ‘Finger Force’, on the south side of Buda near the Petőfi Bridge. The gym was well used, gritty without being grungy, and it held a little something more in the air. Significance? It seemed like a place you could grow in. It felt laden with memories, but not leaden. Not yet anyways.
When she arrived, she was taller than I expected, and late, which would be something I’d get used to during our relationship of ups and downs and late periods.
She came striding into the low-ceiling hovel in a grey petticoat that she tied around her waist with the built-in belt, mid-calf black leather riding boots, and a blood red scarf wrapped around her neck. If my memory were a film I’d also have wind flowing through her hair and a strident walk that clapped on the floor sending echoes through the room. All eyes on her. And a holster on her hip.
I stood up to greet her.
The climbing goes and we spoke all the while like lost souls do; about life, dreams, poetry, the call of the mountains.
It all sounded wondrous, impressive. I’d never met a woman who had climbed so extensively and she talked about these things cooly, like they were nothing special. She was smooth and smart and funny. I thought I’d hit the jackpot, and that the date was only going so-so.
It was my first time back to climbing in nearly 8 months, and she was much stronger and more technically sound. We ended with her traversing the entirety of the gym and my forearms too pumped and fingers too weak to do much but watch. I tried to follow without fawning, my eyes darting between attention to foot placement and the leggings she wore. I decided to start climbing again that day.
On the walk to the tram we were caught up in a conversation about personal values and what it means to live well. We were about to part ways, or so I thought, when she asked if I wanted to get drinks.
I had tempered my expectations about the evening, figured she was only mildly interested and that maybe we’d have a second date. I guess I wasn’t so good at reading the route that night.
She’d end up making the first move after two fröccs, a Hungarian wine spritzer. She scooted around the table to sit next to me and gave me a look that invited me to kiss her. So I did.
The match struck.
We had fallen for each other and decided to give it a go. Not without trepidation.
In a moment of blunt honesty, she’d tell before I left for Boston, ‘I was really excited to meet up with you because I knew you’d be gone in two weeks.’ She wasn’t of the mind to date, she said, but I had thrown a wrench in her plans. Let’s see where it goes.
We dated for the better part of the year. She’d teach me to lead and we parlayed that into my first and second ever climbing trips.
But sometimes imprinting is hard to shake, and her comment would run through our months of quasi-commitment. I learned to expect the unexpected on the terrain ahead, that trust in your belayer is as important as the trust you have in yourself, that a partnership needs a common goal to succeed.
My guess is you can read the writing on the wall at this point.
The funny thing is, the gym no longer exists. They shut the doors and moved on to a new venture with the hope they could make it work better.
Places hold memories, that’s what gives them significance; she’d learned to climb there and I’d gotten back into the sport because of it. Our lives danced about because of climbing, and it started at that gym.
Eventually the lights turned off and we’d never be able to go back to that place again.
Aaron took that trip. He's currently traveling, writing, and climbing through Eastern Europe.