Years ago, when I was around 40, I was convinced that I was supposed to go to Vienna. It wasn’t an idle thought about a place it might be fun to visit, but more like a compelling need. I believed that there was something there I was supposed to find.
This was before search engines on the internet, and I had only a vague idea about what Vienna would look like, but this vision of where I needed to go was quite concrete. There would be a bridge in the city, and right where the bridge met the street, there would be steps down, and on those steps something waited for me.
I wasn’t at all clear on what it was. Maybe someone I would meet, maybe an object I would find, maybe a flash of insight I would have. I just needed to go, and I would find out.
My then-husband and I were traveling in Europe frequently by that point, and since I was in charge of planning our trips, I could have made Vienna a focal point, but somehow I never did.
Just in the last few years I have been able to tease out a few threads of the tangled, matted mess of our relationship, and I think I know now why I kept this need to go to Vienna a secret. I wasn’t supposed to go with him. What was supposed to happen couldn’t, while the energy of travel was so taken up with his demands, his shallowness, his whims.
So we never went. And in the decades after the divorce, I never went either.
A few months ago I began my most ambitious solo travel adventure, seven weeks on public transportation through the Adriatic and across Europe to Barcelona to catch the ship I am currently on. The itinerary was fluid. I changed my mind often about where I wanted to go, and many evenings I spent poring over maps. Towards the end, as I always do, I started thinking about where I would go when I next had the opportunity to travel. Budapest, maybe? Bucharest? What’s in Slovakia? Macedonia?
But never Vienna. I never even considered including it.
Recently my former fixation on Vienna came to mind. What was that about? Why, if there was something so important there, had I simply forgotten about going to find it?
And then I realized that it was never really about Vienna at all. I was in a marriage of unequals, in which I was being gaslit, taken advantage of, and regularly betrayed. I was not ready to acknowledge this. I loved him. He was lively and fun. Our combined income was high enough to buy our way out of having to work on the serious, fundamental differences between us. Travel was the ultimate symbol of our “success.”
I get it now. I didn’t want to go to Vienna with him because going there was really about him. I needed to escape, and I wasn’t ready. Eventually I went to that bridge. I found what I was supposed to find— the will to cross it, the courage to leave. I just did it in my own head without going to Vienna at all.