BY: EMILY PLEASANCE
It was the summer of 2012 in Toronto, and temperatures were reaching all-time highs. The pavement was hot, the people were sticky, and everyone was minding their own business trying to cool down in Union Station while waiting for trains to arrive. The train taking me to my father’s house wasn’t coming for another 45 minutes, so I bought myself a bagel and tried to settle into boredom. Union Station was so busy that day that I had to find space between a man and his oversized purse and a businesswoman’s briefcase. Yet, sitting across the hall from me, with a bench to herself, was a woman in her late twenties. She was crying hysterically.
With her cheeks speckled red and her forehead dripping in sweat, it was no wonder the seats beside her were unoccupied. When you live in a large city, you become accustomed to people turning a blind eye, especially in a place where everyone just wants to get home. Unlike everyone else at Union Station that day, I couldn’t just sit squished between two strangers and watch this woman cry. Plus I had 45 minutes to kill. I went over.
She had spilled out her life troubles within a couple of minutes. She was a Christian woman who left her Muslim husband on their wedding day. She had married into a disapproving family, was scared of her approaching future, and now broke her lover’s heart. She sobbed next to me and wiped mucus from her upper lip while she waited for her train to arrive, which was going to take her out of the province. Maybe it was just cold feet? I wasn’t sure.
Being only eighteen at the time I offered her whatever advice I had to try and relieve some of the sadness. When I learned that she was a very superstitious woman, I saw the opportunity to create a noble lie. Using a penny from 1942 I found earlier that day, I theatrically told her the story of how it was my lucky penny and that it had always brought me good fortune. I then gave her the penny insisting she was in more need of it than myself. I watched her tuck the penny away into the sole of her shoe. She thanked me and then cried on my shoulder. This time it was tears of joy.
Sitting on the eastbound train to my father’s house, I couldn’t help but wonder what would become of the runaway bride. We were strangers and best friends for just a moment in time, and I was filled with both joy and melancholy. I was glad to have exchanged such an important moment with a stranger, and yet I was heartbroken that our story had ended. I didn’t even catch her name, and now our entire encounter remains on that bench at Union Station.
I will forever wonder whether she changed her mind and went back to her waiting lover, or if she got on that train and never looked back. I cannot choose. She will forever be doing both. I will call her Schrödinger.
Schrödinger left my mind that day at Union Station and did not return to me until years later when I was across the world sitting on a similar bench in yet another station. This time it was Victoria Station in central London, England. It was only my fifth month living abroad in Europe, and at that point, I had travelled all throughout the United Kingdom, France, Monaco, Italy, Malta and Portugal. Sitting in Victoria Station waiting for a bus that was going to take me off to my next adventure, I couldn’t help but reflect on all the people I had met during my travels and all of the people I would be leaving behind. That’s when I remembered Schrödinger.
Whether it was the little girl in Southern France I spent the day with on the beach, the group of Italians who threw a party in Venice, the grandmother in Amalfi Coast who fed me cake for breakfast, the young man in Malta I danced with until sunrise, or the Portuguese woman who welcomed me with marijuana – they were all Schrödingers. They have all shared with me brief, important moments in life, only to part ways and leave me forever.
Schrödinger’s Cat is a theory about a cat that is put into a box with unstable gun powder that has a 50 percent chance of blowing up in the next minute and a 50 percent chance of doing nothing. Before one looks in the box to see the cat’s fate, the cat remains in a superposition. It is simultaneously in two realities, both being alive and dead until someone opens the box and forces nature to collapse, choosing only one reality.
While traveling, I had met many people who I could imagine as more than just strangers. If I had more time with them, then our relationships would have bloomed. Some of them could have become my sisters, my best friends, my family, my lovers, my enemies… But without having the time to allow our relationships to grow, I will never know.
This is the bittersweetness of traveling.
The difference between Schrödinger’s cat and my Schrödingers is the option to open the box. Time is our box, and while traveling, you don’t have time. Having no time with the people I meet and no box to open, they will all forever be everything and nothing at all. They will simultaneously be a sister, a best friend, a stranger, a lover, and an enemy for the rest of our existence. No box to open, no reality to be chosen. It is the single greatest gift I have found abroad, a dynamic you will only find traveling.
Although, in the end—despite not having a box to open—I imagine that everyone chooses a reality to believe. For me, I’ve decided that the runaway bride got on a train and never looked back, the little girl in Nice would have grown up to love me as a sister, and the young man in Malta would have been a passionate, adventurous lover of mine. No box to open, nothing to tell me otherwise.