Miss Mallory Meredith's Misinterpretations and Follies (Obscenities Included!)

The morning started a bit later than I wished, mostly because the night before, I had run into Sergo-Roberto. Roger and I had been getting ready to eat when, suddenly, there he was.

I was beyond ecstatic.

I invited him to the table, along with the two people he had in tow, Amoury and Katherine. Katherine was the Kiwi who is also going the distance to St. Jacques. Amoury was a new gentleman who had a specific amount of time to do his walk or else he’d miss his flight to his next destination. He would be doing something of 40km daily for four days, I think. While I am in awe at such a feat, I am not jealous. That hardly leaves room for enjoying the atmosphere, rushing to your destination. Also, I’d probably break a leg.

Kath later said she imagined Amoury running along the trail like Legolas in Lord of the Rings, dodging people and pole jumping across problematic areas.

So, we ended up eating dinner together, talking, making jokes, and generally enjoying ourselves. I was laughing so much, there was a point I almost cried.

It had turned out that the three Frenchmen had assumed I’d died (not really, but, you know) and were in the town behind us, stopping for the night. Ludovic (I have a name besides Jesus!) had decided to keep going on the trail, but he’d stayed in the town because he was hungry. Once again, timing had twisted around our meeting again.

As we ate, the question of me liking video games came up, because I can’t not bring up video game references no matter how hard I try. Just as I was  talking about Legend of Zelda, someone spoke up at a different table, a young man, saying, “Nintendo 64 has the best one o’ them.”

This got him an invite to our table.

The evening sobered up quickly as we found out our new friend, Christopher, from Winchester, was on the trail just before he was going to join the fighters against ISIS.

Questions upon questions ensued. Mostly because he told us he was joining because he was recruited via a recruiters Facebook page. It became nerve-wrecking for me to hear this happening. I always get nervous about war in general. Death. That makes me nervous.

Chrissy, the nickname he jokingly gave us and I ran with it, was very passionate about this decision. He had obviously done his research as he was able to answer all of our questions–except whether or not the recruiter was actually recruiting for the right side or not. There is no way you can really tell on the internet. And it was all by Facebook message.

Yet, he was willing to die for this cause. It is hard to argue with someone who knows their direction and has made such a personal decision.

At the end of our meal, I stood up and made him hug me. I told him to be careful. To stay safe. I felt more upset about the subject than I felt I should, but I’d seen far too many young males join the army because they didn’t fully understand what it all entailed. They went for justice and glory. There was one kid I met who said he wanted to join the army because of games like Call of Duty. He felt connected and wanted to do it in real life.

War is very different from a video game.

Christopher obviously wasn’t going to be changing his mind. He had maybe one more month before he finished the Camino (he was going backwards and was far past where MY midpoint is) to think about what the next part of his life was going to be. I could only hope that he did what his heart was actually telling him rather than what he thought he should be doing.

I went to bed knowing I’d be seeing another friendly face at some point the next day. It made me feel better about knowing some kid joining a group of people without any soldier experience.

The next morning was quiet. I was sad to let such a fancy hostel go, but I knew I’d be seeing many others eventually. Roger and I split pretty fast, partly because he has a faster pace than I, but partly because I sometimes like to have the mornings to myself. Wake up with the nature, if that makes sense. I sing a bit, get myself ready for people, and take the time to get into a good rhythm. I saw that it was going to rain, so I put on the necessary gear to protect everything on my pack. About an hour later, it was raining, and I’d run into Roger, Sergo, and Katherine.

We took to a stride, Sergo and I in the front with Roger and Kath in the back.

The laughter started immediately.

Sergo and I had a grand ol’ time. Most of our joking is playing off of each other in sarcasm, but we also started talking about what we did in life, and how satisfied we were in our home roles.

Sergo works at a cultural center, more specifically in the music department. He talked about holding concerts, meeting with the musicians… He used to sing frequently, opera being his favorite. He missed it so much, he started an A Capella group for people to come together and they’d have a concert of sorts. When he needed to disband due to funding, there was protest and the HR department said they’d cover expenses.

I loved listening to Sergo talk. He had many stories, some of which were his own, others that were from the history books or songs.

The best thing about Sergo was that we would have a discussion, and then he would drift ahead, just as I’d begin to want to think deeper on a thought that had crept into my head during the conversation.

By lunch, the rain had gone from a slight drizzle to what you see in a rain forest, minus the thunder and lightning. Which was very weird for me, considering it is Minnesota’s specialty to make things a bit more dangerous than needed via the weather. Luckily, we were able to take refuge just as it started to pour at a random house that was also for pilgrims to eat at. I warmed myself by drinking tea and eating the cheese and sausage I’d purchased in town the night before. Slowly, the people who were behind us made their way to the eatery. Katherine and Roger caught up with us, a bit more soaked than the last we’d seen them.

When the rain went away, I scuttled to leave so I wouldn’t be caught in the mountain again if it were to rain. Kath said that the path had turned into a river by the time she’d gotten up to where we were. I didn’t want to have that experience.

Sergo caught up within a half an hour (seriously, I cannot express enough how the people around me are so much more suited for trekking), and he began to tell me tragic love stories to pass the time. At lunch, Sergo had joked about us making a musical since we hated them so much, but we created the first song in the afternoon. It was about a blind princess who wrote a song after losing something in the wind. I told Sergo the love of her life would find it, but he would be deaf. He sang the rest of our diddy very quickly. They died in the end.

Of course.

Our ending city was one of my most favorite places. As soon as I entered, the river caught my eye. I had to spend some time at the edge playing my uke. Sergo found a lovely gite that was not only on the river, but had the best view in the city. The accommodations were better than the last place I’d been at, smelling of wood and warmth that reminded me of home. I was as happy as little lamb frolicking in the fields.

After my shower, I told Sergo I’d be out and about. He’d mentioned there was the weekly market that night, which would be a good place to eat and see the locals. I kept my promise to be by the river and stayed for maybe an hour or more, watching some people fly fish, listening to the dogs in the park, and practicing not being nervous to play my uke in public. When I started to get hungry, I made my way to the market, which is not at all what I expected.

Entertainers were dressed up in medieval attire. The market spaces for food were more like vendor spots for food trucks. Wine, cheese, and meat were everywhere.

Since I couldn’t understand all of the words on the signs, I did a lot of standing around to see how they were making things. I bought some fried fish type of thing, which was only okay. I then bought an ice cream cone, which was phenomenal. I also bought a cookie to eat later.

As I wandered out of the market area, which I thought was more of a festival, I found a spot on the river stare at the houses that were lucky enough to have porches over the water.

“Finding you in this town is very easy,” Sergo said as he joined me on the river bank.

I was wearing all blue, from shirt and jacket to my blue camo pants. He was wearing a soft sweater with jeans and scarf. I was a sore thumb. And I was tired of wearing the same two outfits. I envied all who had brought another outfit for relaxing in.

He was hungry, so we went back to the festival to see what he would fancy. I was glad because the entertainers had started playing their music, which was a mixture of drums, bagpipes, and the clarinets people use to bring snakes out of baskets. They were a happy bunch, and I couldn’t help but think of The Laughing Hearts. They would have not only fit right in, but the crowd would have been hanging on their every word.

Well, maybe not if it were all in English.

I wanted to be on the bridge before we went to bed because once I got into my pack in the morning, I wouldn’t really be able to enjoy it while crossing over. We meandered over after Sergo had eaten, and it turned out to be the best decision. The sun was setting, and the colors were magnificent, simply mesmerizing. Pinks, reds, oranges, and even some green/blue by the end. Any time one of us would turn our heads to say something and look back, it would be different.

“Here, let me take your picture,” he said, stepping back. A sudden terror took over me and I shook my head. “Oh, why not? Come on!”

I can’t explain the feelings that rushed over me at that moment for some reason. Later, I would think it had something to do with the beauty of the sunset and how much I hate having serious pictures of me taken. But I knew at that moment that I didn’t want to be looked at in that light. I could tell the shift in my mood had caused some confusion, but I didn’t go any further than saying I just didn’t want to be in a picture. I wasn’t sure what was bothering me so much.

We spent the next fifteen minutes looking up and taking pictures of the sky instead.

When we’d gotten our fill and were leaning on the side of the bridge, I looked down and said, “Oh, look! Is that an otter?” I wasn’t sure if Europe got otters like we did.

“Or a beaver,” he replied.

“No, beavers have those larger, wider tails.” I stopped for a beat. “You know, otters hold hands when they sleep so they don’t float away from each other in the night.” I  smiled because that bit of information is always cute and deserves a smile, but Sergo was thinking.

I’m not going to say what we spoke of then because I don’t think Sergo expected to share what he did. I know I was shocked myself since we mostly spent the day teasing and laughing with moments of seriousness, but this was a different turn I didn’t expect. While respecting that moment, I will say that it turned into a talk about relationships. I didn’t think it would change as much as it did with us. But I knew what he’d told me was an intimate part of himself others may not get the pleasure of seeing.

Soon after, we went back to the hostel. It was almost 10pm. We needed to make sure we got sleep. I started to write some notes while Sergo went through his cell phone to see if he’d gotten any other messages. The internet didn’t seem to work that well at all hostels, if it even had any. He was roaming, but we hadn’t seen Katherine or Roger–we’d hoped they would have made it to the town, but we finally assumed they must have stayed in the previous town in lieu of walking another 10km or so. Sergo went to see if there was a wifi passcode in the kitchen, but when he came back, he was on the phone, speaking French. He passed the phone to me.

I gave him a questioning look, and he said, “It’s Ludovic.” Which is the name of the guy I’d been calling Jesus for the past week.

“Bonjour, this is Mallory!” I said, feeling as if my smile were going to jump off of my face.

“Mallory!” Genuine happiness from the receiving end. “We thought you had died!”

“No, no, I made it to the town that same day you did. I missed you guys by, like, thirty minutes the next day! And now I’m ahead of you.”

“I think you cheat,” he teased.

“Well, there were some taxis involved…”

We spoke for a bit, but I was too excited to properly slow my English so he could understand it all, I was too tired to even think about certain French words, and I was also using up roaming data on Sergo’s phone.

“I’m going to be walking 20km tomorrow, but 40km the day after. I want to see you.”

“I want to see you, too,” I replied, feeling a bit relieved that he had enjoyed me as much as I’d enjoyed him. There is nothing worse than thinking you have a better relationship than you actually do. Especially after only 48 hours. “But…40km?! Are you crazy?!” What was with these people leaping across these rocks and rivers and mountains?

But he was firm in what he was going to do. He wanted to catch up with Sergo and I, and bring Katherine with him.

When I handed the phone back to Sergo to help translate something, he said our goodbyes for us (he added in kisses, to which I repressed smothering him with a pillow for), then started talking to Katherine. I realized that he’d called her, but Ludovic must have caught up to Kath. I overheard Kath tell Sergo that she was going to catch up to Sergo with Lude, but he scoffed because Katherine was like me–not exactly the best in the hiking department. She was a slow hiker, and, while I was more steady, I wasn’t up to far distances.

“She’s absolutely mad,” Sergo said after he’d hung up.

“What, that she wants to push herself to see you one last time?”

“She’s not a hiker! It’s ridiculous to walk 40km just to see me.”

Sergo had repeatedly told me, over and over, how the Camino works. You see people, you meet them, and you let go if you don’t see them again. That was the cycle.

But I began to think about how much fun I’d been having in the past few days and my eventual goodbye to Sergo. I felt that same clutch as when I’d thought I’d never see the Three Frenchmen again. I didn’t like it. Not one bit.

Sergo had warned me about getting up while he was meditating in the morning, but I knew the drill since I’d met a few Buddhists in my day. So, when I woke up and saw him in front of the window, cross-legged and concentrating, I quietly went about my own business of relieving myself and brushing my teeth. The clothes I’d washed were still wet, so I sighed and wrapped them in my towel.

Once we were on the road, and I’d eaten one of his flat peaches (YES THEY EXIST AND THEY ARE DELICIOUS), I felt I could ask Sergo a question and trust for an honest answer.

“Sergo,” I said, “May I ask you a question?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“Why do you think that Lude and I are suited?”

I feel I must explain something at this point.

When I’d first met my Three Frenchmen, there had always been jokes about Ludovic and I. Henry and Xavier had said they’d send him over in the night. It was mentioned several times by many whenever I’d speak of them, this idea of Ludovic and I.

I never mentioned it before because, frankly, I didn’t think I’d ever see anyone from my beginning travels again. Ludovic staying on longer than he anticipated and me somehow catching up to where he was didn’t seem like an option to ever consider. Now that I had the possibility of meeting him again, I had to ask why this pairing continued to come up. And to see if I felt something as well.

He went on to explain how we have similar senses of humor, that he was authentic, that he was loyal. Sergo-Roberto said he thought I needed this in my life. “He is also very strong.”

“Strong? You think this is a requirement for me?” I raised my eyebrow in that sardonic way animators seem to love so much.

“Doesn’t every girl? But he is strong and I think you will like that.”

“Like Gaston?” He made a questioning noise. “From Beauty and the Beast.”

“Ah, no, he isn’t that. But doesn’t every girl like a strong man?” I made a ‘meh’ noise. “I really only see one problem.”

“And what is that?”

“You need somebody to be able to talk to, to discuss life with.”

“Yes,” I agreed. After spending the last day doing as such with Sergo-Roberto, this much was absolutely true. It was always true of all my relationships.

“He does not do this,” he continued. “He answers such questions with ‘I’ll tell you tomorrow’ or ‘not now’.”

“I thought that was just because of me,” I said. “I had been teasing him so much, I didn’t know that was actually his personality. Hm.”

“And do you like him?” Sergo asked.

“Like Ludovic? I don’t know. I hardly know him.”

“You don’t even have an inkling? He’s a handsome fellow.”

“Yes, he is nice to look at,” I said, giving a half-smile. “But I have had enough people in my life to know that good looks doesn’t make a relationship work. I would take humor and a love for life over beauty any day.”

“Ah.”

“Guys…tend to like me very fast,” I told Sergo. “It makes me nervous. They like me before getting to really know me. It doesn’t feel genuine without becoming friends first.”

Soon after, Sergo and I drifted to do our walk alone. I was a bit happy to do so as I’d realized I had a lot to think about. As much as I adored Sergo’s company, and I did like an old friend, I had a naggling thought I wanted to pursue.

I kept thinking about Sergo-Roberto asking to take a picture of me in front of the sunset and my insistence that he not. It was bugging me that my first thought had been that I didn’t like that he thought I was picture worthy in front of that sunset. The thought process led as downward as the path I was on.

When I was in high school, there had been a guy I’d liked who was a good friend. Everyone kept telling me that he liked me, that I should be more than friends since we’d work so well together. I kept denying any feelings because I hadn’t gotten any hints and didn’t want to mess anything up. By the time I thought I’d seen a sign and was going to let my feelings be known, he was dating someone else. I found out that during a weekend where we had gotten very close, the weekend that was my deciding factor in telling him I thought we should date, he had been dating this other girl.

In college, I, again, started liking one of the guys I was hanging out with. This went a bit faster than the last, falling asleep in each other’s arms and ultimately having people assume we were dating. It came to a point where even *I* thought we were pretty much dating anyway. I confessed I thought we should consider more.

He said he didn’t want to. He stopped being friends with me all together. And then he asked out someone else the next day.

My street cred with men has always been that by the time I feel comfortable with the idea that someone likes me, they’ve found someone else to date. Friends stayed up to forever–lovers caused everyone to go away.

I hadn’t wanted my picture taken for fear of being seen as something beautiful, stepping mine and Sergo’s relationship to some level I was now officially afraid of, even the friendship of great affection I had for Sergo, who had become something like a lost brother to me.

When the idea struck me, I began to cry. I realized how much I had been blaming myself for not keeping a romantic relationship together. That I’d come to the point where I always thought there was someone else out there better for anyone who liked me because that always seemed to be the situation in the end. It was not a pleasant thought, this mixture of self-blame in starting relationships and forever being afraid to ever be anything worth looking at in another’s eyes. I’d finally
found why I had such a hard time opening my heart past a certain point. A self sabotaging technique I’d probably subconsciously perfected.

And it was even affecting my friendships. Not just with Sergo, but with people at home as well. I’d see this expression on their face with genuine affection, and my heart would seize, would want to yank back on the reigns.

Henry and I had talked about love on my second day in France. After getting to the bones of where I was at, he asked if he could give me advice. It turned out to be the advice that I seemed to always be getting, telling me over and over, as if I were purposefully squashing the notion of love with my fist before lighting it on fire: “Be open to love.”

I’d always thought this to be obvious advice. Of course you need to be open to love. I loved love. I was always receptive and open.

But I began to think about my own need to be open. Perhaps it was that every person had a different opening. Mine was that I didn’t seem open to think that someone could possibly love me as I loved them. I had to be open to my own vulnerability.

I kept walking, because if there is one thing I know how to do, it is to keep going. The walk was getting to that long point in the day, wherein I debated about getting a gite earlier rather than making it to my original destination. It was already early afternoon, but I hadn’t gotten the best sleep I could have. My sleep on the trail, despite walking so much in a day to exhaustion, seemed to come in waves of every three days. Two days of trying to get good sleep, the third of waking up after a good night’s rest. I stopped at a resting point, taking off my shoes to think when three people I’d seen on and off came up the walk: Nicole and Jean-Gabriel (married) and Celine.

I hadn’t been able to really spend too much time with them as they tended to walk long distances faster than myself, but we’d seen each other often enough to wave and make small talk when we could. I was happy to see them. I’d been walking alone since mid-morning, and the best part of having a crew of people in the afternoon is that the positive talk sweeps you away until you aren’t thinking about your feet anymore.

Jean-Gabriel was a military man. He knows of pretty much anything war related, talking about each town’s monument dedicated to the soldier’s who died in battle from the town and his experiences with American soldiers when he’d be a part of the Gulf wars.

Nicole works with children, loves them. She has a daycare center. She loved to walk and get exercise, be out in nature. She was always ready for a laugh.

Jean-Gabriel and Nicole had four children, the last just turning eighteen and starting college. They started the trek as a way to get back to knowing one another now that the children had left the house. Two wonderfully caring people, Catholics who loved the trail to experience the religious aspects of it as well.

Celine works at a job that does videos online, much like a reviewing session. She travels to areas to get an idea of how something is, and then she does a review for people who are interested. She was walking the Camino for this purpose. Probably the best job ever.

We started walking the harsh uphill trek and I was thankful to have such great people to keep trudging me along. Once again, I’d pushed my boundaries because I didn’t want to believe that I had any.

When we finally got to our resting point, Nicole and Jean-Gabriel told us to stay in their gite they’d rented as it would be a few euro cheaper for us. I joked that we were now a family, which everyone got a laugh about, so I’d tease by calling them Mama et Papa. They were sweet about it, now allowing Celine nor I to pay for the wine at dinner later because they were our parents.

When I opened my bag to get my clothes for after my shower, I was disappointed to find that they were still wet. We still had an hour before reservations, so I took my shower and left them out to dry while I stayed in my room, pantless, beneath a blanket, trying out a special massage oil Nicole had purchased for sore muscles, especially made for pilgrims on the Camino.

This was, of course, when Sergo decided to pop in from his end of the trek.

Everyone went to go visit while I debated about coming out in some sort of kilt made from the thick blankets they had lying around the cabin. I also wasn’t wearing a bra since it was wet. Plus, my feet were particularly slick from the oil I’d just used to massage my feet. I thought he’d pop back to say hello quickly so I could explain my odd behavior, but, to no avail, I was left to the slight embarrassment of showing that I wasn’t trying to be a bitch, but just in the nude via telepathy.

By the time I’d put on a jacket and wrapped a ridiculously bulky blanket around my waist, he’d left.

Later, after supper, I gave him a huge hug with apology after apology for what seemed like rude behavior. He laughed. And also called me a bitch. My new family had told him I’d been sleeping to avoid telling him I had no pants on, which, to me, had made it worse because it was as if I had been lying so I wouldn’t have to see his face or something. I was happy to clear the air, even if there was no need for it.

I’d promised to play my ukulele for everyone while on the Camino, so after Sergo got some hot cocoa, we sat down and I played some tunes. We started out with Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World, where everyone sang along. I played All You Need is Love, Hey, Jude, and then I got the pleasure of playing La Vie En Rose while everyone sang it in French.

I could feel this energy of love and connection in the room. It was so warm.

I slept soundly that night.

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