My quest to have a non-monogamous connection with a girl led me from the weddings of Baltimore to the fairy-tale castles and theatres and bridges of Prague.
It led me specifically to a public square beneath a dark Gothic church. At 11:30 a.m. on July 1st, I attempted to kiss a girl named Maja (pronounced: "Maya").
But, would she let me?
A month before I tried to kiss her, she'd asked me by e-mail: "Won't you be coming through Prague???"
Home in the States, I was planning at this time to fly straight to Rome, then onward to Ethiopia.
But, Maja was sort of a magical person for me. We'd grown close via e-mail in 2012, when I was traveling in West Africa and she in Australia and New Zealand. We'd written often about meditation, self-acceptance, freedom.
I wrote that I'd love to come to Prague, if for example she had two weeks free so we could play and laugh together. She quickly responded, ending her e-mail with: "Justin ... will be nice to see you in Prague." I took this to mean I should come.
She was excited for my arrival. She found a place for me to stay, with one of her friends.
Nevertheless, a lot of people would say I was stupid for going out of my way to visit a girl I couldn't stay with ... and who had a boyfriend.
Three days before I tried to kiss her, I'd felt terrible.
My place to stay with her friend had fallen through. I was staying in the vacant apartment of a friend of mine. Maja was busy. I had no phone nor computer and couldn't contact anyone.
I realized, "Only visit people when you can stay with them." - J.Breen philosophy
I walked through the lonely town to the vegetarian restaurant where Maja worked. She greeted me happily. I sat and ordered tzatziki with toast. Maja informed me there'd be no room for me to travel with her tomorrow, to see her group's Afro-dance performance. I wasn't surprised.
I said I had to leave Prague. She said, she was going to have a week of vacation beginning in three days. But ...
... she could see the big city was wearing me out.
We said good-bye. Maja hoped to see me again.
Four days before I tried to kiss her, I'd arrived by plane.
I went to her restaurant, where I saw a short tan girl with tasteful tattoos and short, dyed red hair. Was this Maja? She smiled warmly. Yes it was!
One thing I liked about short girls was that they often seemed so energetic. Maybe it seemed this way because they exerted so much energy just to look way up at me?
Maja was especially energetic. She always had some place to go, she never sat still. This evening, she led me to her apartment for some spicy "kim-chi" vegetables, and then across town to a park. Once we found her friends there, she performed acrobatic yoga with them and balanced on a "slack-line" rope.
We talked about everything. And then we talked about her boyfriend. I knew that she often "plakala" (cried) while with him and that she'd nearly moved out of his apartment.
Now, she said he often used words to push her down. And they hadn't been intimate together for a long time. If it were up to her, she'd look for romance elsewhere; but, her boyfriend believed strictly in monogamy.
Other than that conversation, we spent a very pleasant evening together. Maja happily remembered the letter - complete with drawings of myself snorkeling - I'd once sent her. For a moment, we stood beside the tramway with our arms around each other, amidst the golden lights and darkness of Prague.
Two days after I tried to kiss Maja, we woke up - one of us outside, the other inside - a cottage upon a pine hill in the western Czech Republic. We weren't really talking to each other at this point. At least, I was upset.
Maja dressed in bright colors, as usual, and we hitchhiked back to Prague. We arrived, and sweet Maja spoke excitedly about all the nice people we'd met. Her cheekbones were reddened in such a way it seemed they'd captured the sun's brightness and were reflecting it back to people.
This time, we said good-bye for real. She repeated, "I hope I'll see you again." And I did, too.
But, had we had a connection? I hadn't watched her African dancing, we hadn't listened to my favorite African music together, and we hadn't danced together.
Or maybe I was just asking too much?
The day after I tried to kiss Maja, we hitchhiked to Karlovy Vary together.
In this town west of Prague, two rows of buildings sat on opposite sides of a river and riverside plaza which waved through town. These five-story buildings clung to cliffs of pine-forest mountains that loomed overhead. The ivory white of these buildings, with their tall windows and proud ledges, seemed royal. Maja said the site for this town had been chosen when people saw a stag deer leap off a cliff and then get up off the ground, unhurt.
It was her hometown. She led me to a Buddhist, vegetarian tea-shop she used to hang out in; we ate delicious baba ghanoush and an olive couscous. She told me her teenage years had been an intolerable time for her. She hadn't gotten along with her older brother and father. And she still looked like a kid, while her female class-mates had matured physically.
On this day, we went for a swim; and strong stomach muscles protruded on her petite body. I tried again to kiss her.
I'd just told her about Citlali. When I'd been working with kindergarteners in Michigan recently, Citlali was this little Hispanic girl who kept crawling onto my lap when I was trying to teach. I kept pushing her off. I left this job and didn't see Citlali for months, but once I did it brought back the warmest feelings. I told Maja I believed we really liked, deep down, those people who sought affection from us - even though we might not give it back, though we pushed them away. "Be like Citlali." - J.Breen philosophy
But, Maja turned her head away from me. It was normal, she said, for her to turn away when someone tried to kiss her.
As we hiked through forest back to town, I pieced together what I knew about her:
1. She was always hurrying somewhere.
2. She preferred her "spiky" haircut to long hair.
3. Her lower lip was pierced, with slightly obtrusive metal balls above and below it.
4. She disliked dresses, preferring to wear baggy yoga pants.
I guessed correctly that she didn't really enjoy lengthy kissing sessions. I figured she'd say about them, "What's the point?" - and she said I was absolutely right.
I realized that, if I could offer Maja anything, it would be an appreciation for the calming aspects of romance I craved so much: kissing, dancing closely, sitting together in an embrace.
Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
We were among some of her friends that evening, when Manu Chao's "Que Horas Son?" came on and I asked her to dance. In fact, I insisted. Her friends urged her to accept my offer. But, she simply wouldn't. I returned to my seat, humiliated. Defeated.
A friend of hers, who owned the cottage where we'd sleep, came over to our silent table. This friendly guy asked me, what had I learned during my travels? I told him about my ideas for the "Romantic Revolution": no sex; no monogamy; every girl kisses every guy.
I spoke passionately. A kiss is acceptance; not kissing, rejection.
Minutes after I tried to kiss Maja the first time, she removed her sun-glasses to reveal soft brown eyes.
"You're the reason I came here," I said.
While that was true, I said she was under no pressure to make time for me. "Oh? That changes things," she said. This lack of pressure probably allowed her to feel comfortable inviting me to Karlovy Vary.
"Say, 'I like you, and I have no expectations." - J.Breen philosophy
I also said, "I liked you the first time I saw you." It seemed that hearing this made her happy.
Two years before I tried to kiss Maja, I'd spent a night in Prague visiting a friend named Kristyna. This friend took me indoor rock-climbing.
There, Maja appeared. Her hard back muscles flexed like a wild, African animal's as she stretched and climbed. I liked her, but figured she'd talk to one of the humongously muscled guys hanging off the ceiling, not me.
Nevertheless, we found a common ground: we'd both been to Africa this year. I gave this friendly girl my website. She e-mailed me. And we began our correspondence, writing only in super-technical Czech until Maja's English improved in Australia.
In the evening after I tried to kiss her, I was once again staying with Kristyna.
She was shocked to hear that Maja and her boyfriend were never intimate together. We suspected maybe she was with him just because he had Australian citizenship.
Meanwhile, cute Kristyna was dating an Italian guy. She'd recently fallen in love with Italian food, and she spoke of traveling to Italy. Such a trip would be cheaper with this new guy, because they'd have places to stay and would only have to pay for tickets.
"Oops!" she said. "Maybe I'm doing the same thing."
On the day before I tried to kiss Maja, I'd been worn out and scheduled to leave Prague.
I couldn't bring myself to leave, though. It would've meant my trip here had been a total failure. "I can't accept any more failures." - J.Breen philosophy
I had to see her again, and let her know how I felt. But, I couldn't just tell her. That would be boring.
Minutes before I tried to kiss Maja, I met and exchanged words with her boyfriend. He left.
In the sun, she curled up on a plaza bench. I sat facing her. I asked if she and her boyfriend had been romantic together since I'd last talked to her. She said, no. "It's so boring to just lie in bed."
I asked if her boyfriend accepted her. She said, "No." But, they were working on it. I asked if she accepted herself. She said, "Sometimes."
A moment passed.
The second I tried to kiss Maja, she - to my surprise - let me.
I tasted her moist, blood-red lips that wanted to love.
She spoke about my kiss attempt with the voice of a younger sister who felt accepted, and therefore took nothing seriously. "Yeah," she said.
Thanks to Jirka; and Jakub for rides!
Much thanks to Tony & Britt; Lucka & Emma; Strndy & Maike; Kristyna; and Mara for places to stay!