Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway (Part I)

“I Want You Tonight!” is stitched into the back of a young blonde kid’s one-piece jumpsuit with Uncle Sam pointing in his typically accusatory way underneath. The kid has on red shoes to match as well as highway-cruising Ray-Ban glasses with gold and purple tints in the lenses. His blonde hair is parted down both sides of his forehead. He looks like he just hopped out of an F-1 race car after winning first place and lapping the other racers: too cool to care. But that’s not it.

This kid, 17 pushing 18, holds onto the railing as he rides the DART train through the outer limits of Bergen, Norway, with a blonde cutie probing him with her eyes from the other end of the train car. I’m sitting there close by, eyeing this kid right there with her, trying to figure him out. Already, this place seems to be the land of peculiarities, and the kid standing there overly stoic seems to be the encapsulation of this fact—a microcosm of the strangeness that I’ve already witnessed and the coming oddities of the next few days. 

From the lack of any currency exchange stands in the airport to the apparent illegality of selling non-alcoholic beverages in stores, this wooded land has already proven to be a place of hushed giggles we outsiders are unable to hear and inside jokes we aren’t allowed to understand.

Eventually, I pull my attention away from the kid and look out the window at the lakes moving by. The train glides so smoothly over the earth that it doesn’t feel like it’s moving at all; instead, the land outside stretches itself back and turns against the poles as we let the wheels underneath our feet do the rolling. There’s a ten-foot-tall plastic rabbit standing on its hind legs and facing the train tracks, holding a sign that passes by too quickly for me to read.

The lakes disappear behind gradual hills that ride right up alongside the train tracks. These hills grow into bigger hills, then into mountains with red pines and spruce trees—so powerful in their presence and sharpened at the tips that they appear to be the spiked fence posts of some hellish gate. These aren’t the spindly arthritic trees I’m used to seeing in the states; these ones were uprooted from the pages of storybook imagery and replanted in this little seaside city on the West Coast of Norway, specifically for my own pleasure of viewing them.

The train passes through a tunnel with a single strand of neon lighting strung along the wall in a heartbeat pattern. It flatlines at the end of the tunnel, leaving about four seconds of dead air before we emerge into bright skylight again. We’re starting to see the first signs of the city in the shapes of resort buildings and private homes. The buildings have a crystalline quality to them, lacking any blemish, any proof of being exposed to natural, real-world elements, almost like they have been encased in glass all this time. Past the buildings, great mountains rise up with more homes lining their faces; big black kites fly out of them and an inherent feeling of comfort is built into them.

Dam, practically my right-hand man on this trip, leans across the aisle and whispers to me, “It’s so clean here!” And he’s right. Even when we slow down to transit speed in the commercial district, where the streets are obliged to bear the marks of human presence and all our grimy habits, I see no sign of use or physical contact. This appears to be a city just off the production line, never before opened. This is no Dublin, Brussels or Edinburgh—each of which, even though they all possess their own uniquely enduring qualities, are plagued with the typical metropolitan European ailments of poverty and pollution.

But this place, Bergen, Norway, and Scandinavia as a whole, I dare say, has stuck itself out of the continent, choosing to do things their own way, like the eccentric and unorthodox mountain dwellers of New England and the Rockies, who willfully live insular lives away from the mental violence of consumerist urban centers. Yes, peace is the word I hear ringing in my head. Peace and harmony.

Dam and I get off the train with our backpacks full of clothes thrown together and cheap, labelless vodka we bought at the airport for one of the nights to come. Now that we’re walking through it, the city takes on a completely different look than it appeared from inside the train. The cracks in the walls and the grime oozing from the sidewalk begin to show up.

We have to cross underground through an intersection of halls, darkened with no artificial light, which contain used needles that litter the ground; a ghost-like sensation crawls over my skin.

For some reason, this seems like the place where illegal dog fights would be held, each mutt tearing out the necks of the other. After the Gallian breeds had done their masters’ biddings, the hooded men of the sidelines would disperse into the night, leaving behind mounds of gore from the animals they pitted against each other.

We make our way above ground again and continue along our way. The buildings we pass take on a more Eastern Bloc appearance—seemingly constructed out of random slabs of concrete and thin sheets of steel. On the opposite side of the street, stretching about thirty meters along the building walls in graffiti, a young woman swims among white tablets and water droplets, eventually melting into water herself. Getting closer to our Airbnb, a homeless man towering two meters high mumbles loudly at two women passing him, making them laugh. The man notices us coming toward him. He looks directly into my eyes, stands straight up and salutes me with a booming, “Sir!” as we pass him by.

Our building sits along the south river with its lead-colored current glistening in the setting sun. We linger outside the building for a while until a young lad hard-turns to the curb in a pickup truck. He steps out, slightly hippy looking with his frizzy hair, and introduces himself as the room owner, already holding out the key. We help him bring up an extra mattress from the flatbed of his truck for our French friend Victor, the quietest and mousiest of us three, who won’t arrive for another hour or so. From now until Victor gets here, we just unpack our things and wait around, taking in our pad, which is surprisingly well furnished for the price we paid.

Dam takes a shower while I sit in the kitchen, looking at the mountains and trees rising up behind the buildings across the street and thinking about why we’re here: Nina, Eva and Hanne, three Norwegian friends we made back in Dublin and have spent countless hours with, have been back in Bergen for about a month now to finish their studies. After this month, they will be done with school and become professionals in the medical field, starting down the path to the rest of their lives.

But a few of us have found time between finals back in Ireland to fly in and visit them, see the Scandinavian land and perhaps see life through their eyes and language. I don’t know, sitting there in the kitchen, how much of an ending to something this trip is, but I try not to think about this aspect of it all too much. The sweet should be experienced before the bitter.

Victor arrives close to dinner time, and the three of us head out. Just down the street is a steep slope leading up to a highway bridge that arches at the middle, making the cars coming up the highway ahead look like they simply rise out of the road before us. The Seven Mountains bordering the city have a toasted brown look to them in the sun, like a photochrom in mid-development, and we stop for a moment to look at them. The trees look fur-like on the mountains. The river runs underneath the bridge and widens out to the Port, where the water continues winding through hills and bay areas a few kilometers or so into the North Sea. A perpendicular black shadow wraps around the entire city.

We continue across the bridge and exit down a little concrete outlook tower with a spiral staircase. At ground level, on one of the walls, there’s something that confirms that Bergen, indeed, does have the plight of other seedy cities, and that my initial impression was just that, an impression: “You’re all gonna be nuked in the end, and pretty soon it’s coming. Thank you society for fucking me up the ass and getting rich off it.” Of course, there’s a response underneath, the above in blue and the below in red: “Maybe you are sad.”

Not sure what any of it means, who wrote either or when we’re getting nuked, but I don’t hang around long enough to ponder it. We exit the tower, and now we’re in a neighborhood of wartime capacity, whose natural condition is under foreign occupation. Lights shake above the street on thin wires. Several balconies have pre-Nazi swastika designs in their metal. A blue 1940s school bus—with, what’s that, the Hell’s Angels insignia?—lumbers down the street, rounds a corner and disappears.

All the streets end in “Gate” and we get lost in this gridded neighborhood, knowing the number of their building but failing to find it. The numbers skip right over it. Does that number even exist? For ten minutes we search for it, and before one of us blows a gasket, there’s Eva standing in the middle of the street two blocks away from us, hailing us over. A little pang goes off inside me when I see her, a feeling that floods right to my head.

The good feelings, the happy memories, the empty weeks culminating in this moment of reconnection all set in. There she is. This is the start. I can even feel my own face slacken as I try to palliate my excitement to see her.

We all embrace her and are led down the street to a building without a number, or, in actuality, a number without a door (so we weren’t going crazy!). A fairly roomy flat, shared between Eva, Nina, and two other roommates, one from Portugal, who’s helping Nina prepare the ingredients for burritos, and another girl from Greece, who’s out at the moment and I only see once during our entire stay here as she passes fleetingly in and out of the flat.

I’m struck dumb at this moment, taking off my boots and standing in the main room in my socks—my insistence to lend a hand being shot down—and realizing the here-and-nowness of the situation: I am here, right now. I was in Dublin, now I’m here. The wait is over, and now I don’t know what to do with myself. Dam and Victor’s pleas to help have been shunned in good nature as well, so now Dam has his body sprawled across the length of their couch and Victor sits stiffly in one of the chairs at the dinner table.

“So,” Nina calls from the kitchen, “are we partying tonight or what?”

The three of us look at each other, not sure who should answer the question or who even has an answer. None of us know; our plan is to follow the girls’ lead the whole way through our stay. But Eva, also in the kitchen, answers her in a normal-leveled voice, and I realize Nina only shouted to key us in on what they’re planning for later. But, with their back-and-forth persisting from the other room, I can’t make it out too well. I decide to leave our plans to their fate. I’ll go in blind and see how I come out.

Platters are brought out, and we all sit and eat. There’s talk of the countryside, driving up the coast to see the Northern Lights and Eva’s disdain for Oslo. Us guys don’t have much to report; like I said before, the last few weeks have been empty, written off the books. We’ve neglected studying for finals, instead wandering the Dublin streets in undefined directions to try to squeeze the last bit of substance out of the urban corridors before we all go home. Our real homes.

The Norwegians made their move, but we still have ours. I don’t think it’s just me contemplating the end of this trip already because some of us keep our talk to a minimum, as if conversation itself is what causes time to pass and not the intrinsic property of time itself. But, make as much or little talk as we want, our flight time out of Norway remains the same.

One of the girls asks when Petra, another friend of ours, this one from the till plains of Ohio and with a light country accent to fit, is supposed to arrive. None of us guys know for sure; some vague time tomorrow morning, we think. “No worries,” they say, “you don’t exactly have to make a couch.” I wonder if that’s a roundabout way of saying that Petra will be relegated to living room accommodations for sleeping.

After we eat, the girls go change into their “night out” clothes before we set off on foot. Darkness now. The lights hanging above the middle of the streets still sway mildly, swinging the building walls in and out of shadow ominously. I get to talking to Eva about life, the cosmos and what it all means, and then finally, I ask where we’re going. She says the home of “a guy.”

“A guy you’re seeing?”

“Well, yes. Well, sort of. Yes. Not really.”

So it’s one of those things. I don’t pretend to understand it, nor do I probe any further. A party’s there, she assures. Good people, good craic. A good night. I’m okay with this.

Everyone except Hanne, who has to be in a different city tonight, and Petra, not yet in, is all here and kicking. So, wherever I find myself, I’m sure it will be a good place. The place I find myself being led into is a large first floor apartment on the other side of the neighborhood, just bordering the river bank. I get shown into a palatial room with about twenty people, who have beers and joints in their hands, already seated around tables. I conclude, after taking a broad look at the people in this room, that all Norwegian men are giants and all Norwegian women are beautiful (and also giants).

A fair man in business casual attire, slightly older than myself, stands up and shakes all our hands—two firm pumps, just how you do it. This is “the guy”: Anders, whose posture when he sits back down implies a deep self-possession, a sweeping influence over the room. This room, however, is too crowded to sit or stand in comfortably, so I funnel toward the kitchen area with Dam and lean up against a counter, surveying the place. Dam immediately falls into a conversation with a girl who’s taller than he is, both of them knocking back drinks as they talk. I’m comfortable hanging out by that counter. I’m one who tends to hang back and ingest the environment rather than add to it.

Two guys, both behemoths of men, practically twice my height, wander my way and say their greetings. “We heard you’re a friend of Eva’s,” the slightly taller (and hairier) one says. “Well, whoever’s a friend of Eva’s is a friend of Anders. And whoever’s a friend of Anders is definitely a friend of ours.” Then he goes to the fridge and fetches me a can of some Scandinavian beer I’ve never heard of, and the three of us hold up our cans and clink them in masculine bonding.

They deduce from my accentless accent that I’m from America. When I confirm this, they start asking questions about what it’s like there, but not in an incessant, pick-my-brain-apart way. They already know quite a bit about the states, so we start off by having semi-intelligent conversations about economics, international politics and the homeless problem in first world countries (“Did you know there are more vacant homes in America than there are homeless people?”).

As we keep crushing cans and getting more and more intoxicated, I realize my words are losing traction. The two guys are still listening, but they are too far gone at this point to carry any weight with their sentences or retain much of what I’m saying. I can see it in their eyes. I know none of it really matters anymore. I’m talking to nighttime people. Not even in one ear to go out the other.

But, I see the Norwegians in the other room chatting and having a good time. There’s an unparticular wholesomeness floating around my head, a vapory gas I try to see and cup between my hands. It’s impossible to grab onto it, but I know it’s still there, close by, and I’m comforted by this because the feelings of everyone around me seem genuine enough. I suppose life is good, this drunken life.

Anders calls everyone out of the kitchen and outside onto the street. No commotion, no confusion, just follow Anders. Many of the people within the house head off into the night—couples and whole gangs of swaggering, drunken men whooping! to the darkness above and around them. Anders leads our little pack, with Eva right by his side, out of the neighborhood and onto a street that curls past the shadow-shapes of the girls’ University. Total blackness within the buildings, and a clock tower that reigns over us all. As the road straightens out, I see the life pulsating from the city center, just down a little cobblestone slope, and beyond it, the tiny specks of house lights rise up like they do in San Francisco.

I’m already a little drunk, so I sway to a song that isn’t playing while we walk. On the main street down below, we stop so Anders and a few others can talk over where we should go next. All the while, I hop and swing along a soldier monument to my own internal drum beat, my vision slightly blurred, the colors of other young people passing and laughing. Everything’s hmm-hmm-hmm-ho-hum-hum in my head. I can make out the thin smiles on people’s faces, and this makes me smile too, at them, with them.

Anders gathers us all back together and leads us to a corner-club with the same bulked up bouncer guarding the front, the same tinted lights swirling past the entrance. Inside, there’s the same music playing everywhere, the same dancers, the same faces—All clubs are the same everywhere. I stand with a bunch of other floating heads, friends of friends of friends, from this place or that, talking about cultural differences and the same old business. Most of it brushes over me from the alcohol. I make sure to smile so people know I’m having a good time.

But I am. I’m at a good place at a good time. That’s just it. There are people who shake my hand and tell me their life stories,  and I will never see them again. That’s okay. Such is so, and so is life.

Dam finds me and ushers me outside. His eyes are glossy and he’s tipping from side to side. He says he’s not feeling well, so I walk him back without saying goodbye to anyone. We just leave. I hold him by the arm and guide him far from the road should he trip and stumble into oncoming traffic. I’ve sobered up instantly, and my only concern now is getting him home safe. Dam goes on about how I’m the best guy he’s ever met, he can’t believe it, all this praise, all this love, and all the while I can’t tell if the true self is revealed in a drunken stupor or if you’re not the same person at all.

I walk him back up the general slant of the city we descended before, but now I don’t know how to get back across the river. We come up to this barren street that stretches horizontally along a wall with some small walking tunnels cutting through it. Out from one of these tunnels, a teenage girl appears—dyed hair, skimpy sort of clothing—and approaches us, already talking in mid-sentence, rambling really, and joins us as we continue walking. I’m not sure what she’s about. She looks at me like, “There are things you don’t know about me.” Dam casts me his own look that says, “Who is this woman?”

Then, out from one of the tunnels, another teenage girl jumps out at us, “Boo!” and the two girls start laughing. I’m not really amused. Pretty quickly, they realize how weak and unbalanced Dam is, and once I see the concern in their eyes, their smiles shrinking into tight lips, I ask them which way the bridge is. They go as far as leading us through one of the tunnels and down some back roads to where the interchange turns onto the bridge. We bid them goodnight, one of the girls telling us, “Be safe, enjoy life!” as I lead Dam away.

Once inside our apartment, Dam falls right into bed. I get him some water and place it beside him. He moans something into his pillow before I walk out. I have the only key to our place, so I wait outside our rooms, sitting on the floor, for Victor to message me when he’s coming back. For a while, Dam moans from behind his closed door, “I love you! I love you!” And then silence. Asleep, I hope. The hardwood floor becomes comfortable. I drink my own water. It tastes like water. Yes, I think, this is indeed water. I don’t know why I think that, but I do. That’s what I think about. The watery taste of water, and how this is how all these things normally begin.

I’m so tired by the time Victor finally messages me that my body just stumbles its way down the stairs to the front entrance to let him in. I’m in neutral gear. My memory operates in five-minute fragments before resetting. He tells me the Norwegians went back to their place. He asks if I’m drunk too, and I say something like, “No, just minerally deficient.”

Victor asks, “Is he dead?” without much concern as we climb the stairs back to our room. I say something about Schrodinger’s cat, which seems to satisfy him.

We enter our room where Victor shakes his head and tssk-tssks at Dam’s door. “Not surprising,” he says. Then he looks at me with authority in his eyes, not a word spoken, commanding me to go to sleep while he takes control of the situation. Fine by me. I fall hard into bed, a full-body tremor quickly rupturing through me from the neck down. A few more minor spasms later and I feel completely pure. Whatever dark sentiment I might have had within me is now gone. There’s peace in my mind. I fall asleep in this tranquility, even though I suspect that calmness is the preliminary state to a more active storm that will probably play itself out in the morning.


This is part 1 of a 4-part series. Read Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway Part II 

6 followers

I'm an accounting major, as well as Head Editor of the Ellipsis Literary Magazine, at Binghamton University. Telling captivating stories has always been my passion, and I'm always searching for ways to grow as a writer. I still don't know too much about this thing called "Life," but I have come to find that it is short, yet sweet, and while life may seem like a bitch sometimes, you should kiss her anyway.

Want to start sharing your mind and have your voice heard?

Join our community of awesome contributing writers and start publishing now.

LEARN MORE


ENGAGE IN THE CONVERSATION

Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway (Part I)

“I Want You Tonight!” is stitched into the back of a young blonde kid’s one-piece jumpsuit with Uncle Sam pointing in his typically accusatory way underneath. The kid has on red shoes to match as well as highway-cruising Ray-Ban glasses with gold and purple tints in the lenses. His blonde hair is parted down both sides of his forehead. He looks like he just hopped out of an F-1 race car after winning first place and lapping the other racers: too cool to care. But that’s not it.

This kid, 17 pushing 18, holds onto the railing as he rides the DART train through the outer limits of Bergen, Norway, with a blonde cutie probing him with her eyes from the other end of the train car. I’m sitting there close by, eyeing this kid right there with her, trying to figure him out. Already, this place seems to be the land of peculiarities, and the kid standing there overly stoic seems to be the encapsulation of this fact—a microcosm of the strangeness that I’ve already witnessed and the coming oddities of the next few days. 

From the lack of any currency exchange stands in the airport to the apparent illegality of selling non-alcoholic beverages in stores, this wooded land has already proven to be a place of hushed giggles we outsiders are unable to hear and inside jokes we aren’t allowed to understand.

Eventually, I pull my attention away from the kid and look out the window at the lakes moving by. The train glides so smoothly over the earth that it doesn’t feel like it’s moving at all; instead, the land outside stretches itself back and turns against the poles as we let the wheels underneath our feet do the rolling. There’s a ten-foot-tall plastic rabbit standing on its hind legs and facing the train tracks, holding a sign that passes by too quickly for me to read.

The lakes disappear behind gradual hills that ride right up alongside the train tracks. These hills grow into bigger hills, then into mountains with red pines and spruce trees—so powerful in their presence and sharpened at the tips that they appear to be the spiked fence posts of some hellish gate. These aren’t the spindly arthritic trees I’m used to seeing in the states; these ones were uprooted from the pages of storybook imagery and replanted in this little seaside city on the West Coast of Norway, specifically for my own pleasure of viewing them.

The train passes through a tunnel with a single strand of neon lighting strung along the wall in a heartbeat pattern. It flatlines at the end of the tunnel, leaving about four seconds of dead air before we emerge into bright skylight again. We’re starting to see the first signs of the city in the shapes of resort buildings and private homes. The buildings have a crystalline quality to them, lacking any blemish, any proof of being exposed to natural, real-world elements, almost like they have been encased in glass all this time. Past the buildings, great mountains rise up with more homes lining their faces; big black kites fly out of them and an inherent feeling of comfort is built into them.

Dam, practically my right-hand man on this trip, leans across the aisle and whispers to me, “It’s so clean here!” And he’s right. Even when we slow down to transit speed in the commercial district, where the streets are obliged to bear the marks of human presence and all our grimy habits, I see no sign of use or physical contact. This appears to be a city just off the production line, never before opened. This is no Dublin, Brussels or Edinburgh—each of which, even though they all possess their own uniquely enduring qualities, are plagued with the typical metropolitan European ailments of poverty and pollution.

But this place, Bergen, Norway, and Scandinavia as a whole, I dare say, has stuck itself out of the continent, choosing to do things their own way, like the eccentric and unorthodox mountain dwellers of New England and the Rockies, who willfully live insular lives away from the mental violence of consumerist urban centers. Yes, peace is the word I hear ringing in my head. Peace and harmony.

Dam and I get off the train with our backpacks full of clothes thrown together and cheap, labelless vodka we bought at the airport for one of the nights to come. Now that we’re walking through it, the city takes on a completely different look than it appeared from inside the train. The cracks in the walls and the grime oozing from the sidewalk begin to show up.

We have to cross underground through an intersection of halls, darkened with no artificial light, which contain used needles that litter the ground; a ghost-like sensation crawls over my skin.

For some reason, this seems like the place where illegal dog fights would be held, each mutt tearing out the necks of the other. After the Gallian breeds had done their masters’ biddings, the hooded men of the sidelines would disperse into the night, leaving behind mounds of gore from the animals they pitted against each other.

We make our way above ground again and continue along our way. The buildings we pass take on a more Eastern Bloc appearance—seemingly constructed out of random slabs of concrete and thin sheets of steel. On the opposite side of the street, stretching about thirty meters along the building walls in graffiti, a young woman swims among white tablets and water droplets, eventually melting into water herself. Getting closer to our Airbnb, a homeless man towering two meters high mumbles loudly at two women passing him, making them laugh. The man notices us coming toward him. He looks directly into my eyes, stands straight up and salutes me with a booming, “Sir!” as we pass him by.

Our building sits along the south river with its lead-colored current glistening in the setting sun. We linger outside the building for a while until a young lad hard-turns to the curb in a pickup truck. He steps out, slightly hippy looking with his frizzy hair, and introduces himself as the room owner, already holding out the key. We help him bring up an extra mattress from the flatbed of his truck for our French friend Victor, the quietest and mousiest of us three, who won’t arrive for another hour or so. From now until Victor gets here, we just unpack our things and wait around, taking in our pad, which is surprisingly well furnished for the price we paid.

Dam takes a shower while I sit in the kitchen, looking at the mountains and trees rising up behind the buildings across the street and thinking about why we’re here: Nina, Eva and Hanne, three Norwegian friends we made back in Dublin and have spent countless hours with, have been back in Bergen for about a month now to finish their studies. After this month, they will be done with school and become professionals in the medical field, starting down the path to the rest of their lives.

But a few of us have found time between finals back in Ireland to fly in and visit them, see the Scandinavian land and perhaps see life through their eyes and language. I don’t know, sitting there in the kitchen, how much of an ending to something this trip is, but I try not to think about this aspect of it all too much. The sweet should be experienced before the bitter.

Victor arrives close to dinner time, and the three of us head out. Just down the street is a steep slope leading up to a highway bridge that arches at the middle, making the cars coming up the highway ahead look like they simply rise out of the road before us. The Seven Mountains bordering the city have a toasted brown look to them in the sun, like a photochrom in mid-development, and we stop for a moment to look at them. The trees look fur-like on the mountains. The river runs underneath the bridge and widens out to the Port, where the water continues winding through hills and bay areas a few kilometers or so into the North Sea. A perpendicular black shadow wraps around the entire city.

We continue across the bridge and exit down a little concrete outlook tower with a spiral staircase. At ground level, on one of the walls, there’s something that confirms that Bergen, indeed, does have the plight of other seedy cities, and that my initial impression was just that, an impression: “You’re all gonna be nuked in the end, and pretty soon it’s coming. Thank you society for fucking me up the ass and getting rich off it.” Of course, there’s a response underneath, the above in blue and the below in red: “Maybe you are sad.”

Not sure what any of it means, who wrote either or when we’re getting nuked, but I don’t hang around long enough to ponder it. We exit the tower, and now we’re in a neighborhood of wartime capacity, whose natural condition is under foreign occupation. Lights shake above the street on thin wires. Several balconies have pre-Nazi swastika designs in their metal. A blue 1940s school bus—with, what’s that, the Hell’s Angels insignia?—lumbers down the street, rounds a corner and disappears.

All the streets end in “Gate” and we get lost in this gridded neighborhood, knowing the number of their building but failing to find it. The numbers skip right over it. Does that number even exist? For ten minutes we search for it, and before one of us blows a gasket, there’s Eva standing in the middle of the street two blocks away from us, hailing us over. A little pang goes off inside me when I see her, a feeling that floods right to my head.

The good feelings, the happy memories, the empty weeks culminating in this moment of reconnection all set in. There she is. This is the start. I can even feel my own face slacken as I try to palliate my excitement to see her.

We all embrace her and are led down the street to a building without a number, or, in actuality, a number without a door (so we weren’t going crazy!). A fairly roomy flat, shared between Eva, Nina, and two other roommates, one from Portugal, who’s helping Nina prepare the ingredients for burritos, and another girl from Greece, who’s out at the moment and I only see once during our entire stay here as she passes fleetingly in and out of the flat.

I’m struck dumb at this moment, taking off my boots and standing in the main room in my socks—my insistence to lend a hand being shot down—and realizing the here-and-nowness of the situation: I am here, right now. I was in Dublin, now I’m here. The wait is over, and now I don’t know what to do with myself. Dam and Victor’s pleas to help have been shunned in good nature as well, so now Dam has his body sprawled across the length of their couch and Victor sits stiffly in one of the chairs at the dinner table.

“So,” Nina calls from the kitchen, “are we partying tonight or what?”

The three of us look at each other, not sure who should answer the question or who even has an answer. None of us know; our plan is to follow the girls’ lead the whole way through our stay. But Eva, also in the kitchen, answers her in a normal-leveled voice, and I realize Nina only shouted to key us in on what they’re planning for later. But, with their back-and-forth persisting from the other room, I can’t make it out too well. I decide to leave our plans to their fate. I’ll go in blind and see how I come out.

Platters are brought out, and we all sit and eat. There’s talk of the countryside, driving up the coast to see the Northern Lights and Eva’s disdain for Oslo. Us guys don’t have much to report; like I said before, the last few weeks have been empty, written off the books. We’ve neglected studying for finals, instead wandering the Dublin streets in undefined directions to try to squeeze the last bit of substance out of the urban corridors before we all go home. Our real homes.

The Norwegians made their move, but we still have ours. I don’t think it’s just me contemplating the end of this trip already because some of us keep our talk to a minimum, as if conversation itself is what causes time to pass and not the intrinsic property of time itself. But, make as much or little talk as we want, our flight time out of Norway remains the same.

One of the girls asks when Petra, another friend of ours, this one from the till plains of Ohio and with a light country accent to fit, is supposed to arrive. None of us guys know for sure; some vague time tomorrow morning, we think. “No worries,” they say, “you don’t exactly have to make a couch.” I wonder if that’s a roundabout way of saying that Petra will be relegated to living room accommodations for sleeping.

After we eat, the girls go change into their “night out” clothes before we set off on foot. Darkness now. The lights hanging above the middle of the streets still sway mildly, swinging the building walls in and out of shadow ominously. I get to talking to Eva about life, the cosmos and what it all means, and then finally, I ask where we’re going. She says the home of “a guy.”

“A guy you’re seeing?”

“Well, yes. Well, sort of. Yes. Not really.”

So it’s one of those things. I don’t pretend to understand it, nor do I probe any further. A party’s there, she assures. Good people, good craic. A good night. I’m okay with this.

Everyone except Hanne, who has to be in a different city tonight, and Petra, not yet in, is all here and kicking. So, wherever I find myself, I’m sure it will be a good place. The place I find myself being led into is a large first floor apartment on the other side of the neighborhood, just bordering the river bank. I get shown into a palatial room with about twenty people, who have beers and joints in their hands, already seated around tables. I conclude, after taking a broad look at the people in this room, that all Norwegian men are giants and all Norwegian women are beautiful (and also giants).

A fair man in business casual attire, slightly older than myself, stands up and shakes all our hands—two firm pumps, just how you do it. This is “the guy”: Anders, whose posture when he sits back down implies a deep self-possession, a sweeping influence over the room. This room, however, is too crowded to sit or stand in comfortably, so I funnel toward the kitchen area with Dam and lean up against a counter, surveying the place. Dam immediately falls into a conversation with a girl who’s taller than he is, both of them knocking back drinks as they talk. I’m comfortable hanging out by that counter. I’m one who tends to hang back and ingest the environment rather than add to it.

Two guys, both behemoths of men, practically twice my height, wander my way and say their greetings. “We heard you’re a friend of Eva’s,” the slightly taller (and hairier) one says. “Well, whoever’s a friend of Eva’s is a friend of Anders. And whoever’s a friend of Anders is definitely a friend of ours.” Then he goes to the fridge and fetches me a can of some Scandinavian beer I’ve never heard of, and the three of us hold up our cans and clink them in masculine bonding.

They deduce from my accentless accent that I’m from America. When I confirm this, they start asking questions about what it’s like there, but not in an incessant, pick-my-brain-apart way. They already know quite a bit about the states, so we start off by having semi-intelligent conversations about economics, international politics and the homeless problem in first world countries (“Did you know there are more vacant homes in America than there are homeless people?”).

As we keep crushing cans and getting more and more intoxicated, I realize my words are losing traction. The two guys are still listening, but they are too far gone at this point to carry any weight with their sentences or retain much of what I’m saying. I can see it in their eyes. I know none of it really matters anymore. I’m talking to nighttime people. Not even in one ear to go out the other.

But, I see the Norwegians in the other room chatting and having a good time. There’s an unparticular wholesomeness floating around my head, a vapory gas I try to see and cup between my hands. It’s impossible to grab onto it, but I know it’s still there, close by, and I’m comforted by this because the feelings of everyone around me seem genuine enough. I suppose life is good, this drunken life.

Anders calls everyone out of the kitchen and outside onto the street. No commotion, no confusion, just follow Anders. Many of the people within the house head off into the night—couples and whole gangs of swaggering, drunken men whooping! to the darkness above and around them. Anders leads our little pack, with Eva right by his side, out of the neighborhood and onto a street that curls past the shadow-shapes of the girls’ University. Total blackness within the buildings, and a clock tower that reigns over us all. As the road straightens out, I see the life pulsating from the city center, just down a little cobblestone slope, and beyond it, the tiny specks of house lights rise up like they do in San Francisco.

I’m already a little drunk, so I sway to a song that isn’t playing while we walk. On the main street down below, we stop so Anders and a few others can talk over where we should go next. All the while, I hop and swing along a soldier monument to my own internal drum beat, my vision slightly blurred, the colors of other young people passing and laughing. Everything’s hmm-hmm-hmm-ho-hum-hum in my head. I can make out the thin smiles on people’s faces, and this makes me smile too, at them, with them.

Anders gathers us all back together and leads us to a corner-club with the same bulked up bouncer guarding the front, the same tinted lights swirling past the entrance. Inside, there’s the same music playing everywhere, the same dancers, the same faces—All clubs are the same everywhere. I stand with a bunch of other floating heads, friends of friends of friends, from this place or that, talking about cultural differences and the same old business. Most of it brushes over me from the alcohol. I make sure to smile so people know I’m having a good time.

But I am. I’m at a good place at a good time. That’s just it. There are people who shake my hand and tell me their life stories,  and I will never see them again. That’s okay. Such is so, and so is life.

Dam finds me and ushers me outside. His eyes are glossy and he’s tipping from side to side. He says he’s not feeling well, so I walk him back without saying goodbye to anyone. We just leave. I hold him by the arm and guide him far from the road should he trip and stumble into oncoming traffic. I’ve sobered up instantly, and my only concern now is getting him home safe. Dam goes on about how I’m the best guy he’s ever met, he can’t believe it, all this praise, all this love, and all the while I can’t tell if the true self is revealed in a drunken stupor or if you’re not the same person at all.

I walk him back up the general slant of the city we descended before, but now I don’t know how to get back across the river. We come up to this barren street that stretches horizontally along a wall with some small walking tunnels cutting through it. Out from one of these tunnels, a teenage girl appears—dyed hair, skimpy sort of clothing—and approaches us, already talking in mid-sentence, rambling really, and joins us as we continue walking. I’m not sure what she’s about. She looks at me like, “There are things you don’t know about me.” Dam casts me his own look that says, “Who is this woman?”

Then, out from one of the tunnels, another teenage girl jumps out at us, “Boo!” and the two girls start laughing. I’m not really amused. Pretty quickly, they realize how weak and unbalanced Dam is, and once I see the concern in their eyes, their smiles shrinking into tight lips, I ask them which way the bridge is. They go as far as leading us through one of the tunnels and down some back roads to where the interchange turns onto the bridge. We bid them goodnight, one of the girls telling us, “Be safe, enjoy life!” as I lead Dam away.

Once inside our apartment, Dam falls right into bed. I get him some water and place it beside him. He moans something into his pillow before I walk out. I have the only key to our place, so I wait outside our rooms, sitting on the floor, for Victor to message me when he’s coming back. For a while, Dam moans from behind his closed door, “I love you! I love you!” And then silence. Asleep, I hope. The hardwood floor becomes comfortable. I drink my own water. It tastes like water. Yes, I think, this is indeed water. I don’t know why I think that, but I do. That’s what I think about. The watery taste of water, and how this is how all these things normally begin.

I’m so tired by the time Victor finally messages me that my body just stumbles its way down the stairs to the front entrance to let him in. I’m in neutral gear. My memory operates in five-minute fragments before resetting. He tells me the Norwegians went back to their place. He asks if I’m drunk too, and I say something like, “No, just minerally deficient.”

Victor asks, “Is he dead?” without much concern as we climb the stairs back to our room. I say something about Schrodinger’s cat, which seems to satisfy him.

We enter our room where Victor shakes his head and tssk-tssks at Dam’s door. “Not surprising,” he says. Then he looks at me with authority in his eyes, not a word spoken, commanding me to go to sleep while he takes control of the situation. Fine by me. I fall hard into bed, a full-body tremor quickly rupturing through me from the neck down. A few more minor spasms later and I feel completely pure. Whatever dark sentiment I might have had within me is now gone. There’s peace in my mind. I fall asleep in this tranquility, even though I suspect that calmness is the preliminary state to a more active storm that will probably play itself out in the morning.


This is part 1 of a 4-part series. Read Over the Bridge: Life Goes on in Bergen, Norway Part II 
Scroll to top

Follow Us on Facebook - Stay Engaged!

Send this to a friend