“Sheena, you’re not going to Europe alone. Only weirdos go on vacation alone,” my sister said. We were in my mom’s kitchen under the fan, trying to cool off from the obnoxious July heat.
I stopped sipping my tea. “I think you’re forgetting something. I am weird.”
“Oh,” she chuckled. “Right.”
I’d never traveled overseas alone before. But at 25, my twenties had nothing to show for themselves but zero relationships and six or seven-ish flings with fuckboys (I’d stopped counting after the fifth.)
I needed to go find myself, or whatever it is people who vacation solo in foreign countries do. Unlike my more decisive friends, I couldn’t keep a guy for the life of me, and I needed to figure out why. Was it something about me? My journey would have to give me answers.
Three weeks later, I found myself at a shared AirBnB in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. It was just as beautiful as I’d imagined it would be: the people were humble and the chocolate, delectable. If you drove just 30 minutes in any direction, you’d find hip nightlife or quaint countryside.
Mount Neiderhorn was two trains and a bus ride away, and I was gonna hike that bad boy, “Eat, Pray, Love” style. I don’t what I was trying to prove to myself, really. Maybe that I was indeed a “strong, independent woman,” like my last bang buddy once told me I was in an East Village bar.
When the tram dropped me to the foot of the mountain, I didn’t anticipate how lonely I’d feel. Not to mention, local rangers strongly advised against hiking alone. But I was in the best shape of my life – eh, physically, anyway – and I was going to finish what I’d started. The tenacity of my twenties would have to be the thing that outshone all the almost-relationships I’d wished I could erase.
I began to walk. Despite there being a path for hikers, all the signs were in Swiss-German, so if you strayed off the path, you were basically screwed. Being the insatiably curious little devil that I am, I did just that.
A thin barbed wire caught my eye, and I wandered over and found three cows grazing in a contained area behind the wire. Something came over me (perhaps the desire to feel the adrenaline rush I often get from hanging with a fuckboy) and I stepped over the wire.
My adventurous move didn’t make the cows very happy. One of them stopped eating grass, kicked back its heels and began to charge towards me. And just like that, on my “self-discovery” journey, I found myself running away from a disgruntled animal. Sure enough, adrenaline took over; I unlatched my backpack from my back and shielded my front with it, then crawled under the wire and made my escape.
(In those very long 30 seconds, I absolutely could’ve died. It was both the most thrilled (and the most helpless) I’d ever felt. I imagine the scene would’ve unfolded much differently had I been there with a man).
I composed myself and walked some more. About halfway up the mountain, I heard a holler and looked down the path to find a group of kids waving at me. I waved back at them, and before I could find a chance to holler back, they’d started running towards me, their backpacks bouncing up and down.
“What’s your name?” they asked in unison.
“Sheena!” I said.
“Why are you alone?”
I didn’t have an answer prepared, so I just shrugged.
Through their broken English, they told me they were students at a middle school not too far away. I regaled them with stories about my extravagant (albeit lonely) New York life: the PG version of how I was a paid writer that lived in her own apartment and had lots of sex with lots of guys that didn’t deserve her.
I don’t know if they were intrigued by me, felt sorry for me or a little bit of both, but they walked with me for two hours up that mountain, leaving me with just one final hour to myself.
The air grew brisker. People slowly left the path. But sure enough, I eventually made it to the top, which boasted a view of a crystalline-blue river between two mountains.
It was breathtaking. I was so proud of myself that my eyes began to tear up.
I turned to my left.
I turned to my right.
I wanted to tell someone, anyone, about how I evaded near-death just to make it up there.
But there was no one to tell. The moment was so special to me, more special than most of the special moments in my life, that without anyone to share it with, it almost didn’t feel real.
At the top of Mount Neiderhorn, it suddenly occurred to me that even the most “strong, independent woman” of all the women in the world needs to feel loved.
It was like everything I’d learned about life and love up until that point was just a hoax. I thought “strong, independent women” didn’t need no man. Did my being overcome with loneliness make me weak and dependent, or just… human?
(Maybe they tell you the top of a mountain is where you’ll find yourself because you don’t realize how lonely you really are until you’re exhausted, dehydrated and being accompanied by a group of middle schoolers on a mercy walk.)
I posted a selfie on Instagram to quell the loneliness.
Switzerland taught me that “independent” doesn’t necessarily mean “alone;” it just means “strong-willed.” So after years of trying to be strong and independent, and alone and lonely, I’ve accepted my desire for unconditional romantic love: no more fuckboys. From now on, the hunt for a real partner begins – and that, I’ve decided, doesn’t make me any less independent.
Love, though, comes in many forms. So until I find a partner, a group of foreigners falling in love with me on a mountain will just have to do.