To Cad, who learns languages even if he’ll never use them again
A few characters: my travel companion and second mother, Joyce; a big-hearted badass named Jess; sweet Riley who gave me money for my last cab ride; and a blond British boy named Caderyn
The night after the last night of the field school we were all a part of, the five of us were together. We lost Joyce to a quiet night at the Ramada later followed by Riley, who decided to stay at his hostel and get some much-needed rest.
After a night of convenience store beers, bad dancing, and talking about life and love, we said an emotional farewell to Jess. It was 2 am, and Caderyn and I had just bopped to Rock Lobster all the way back to his hostel. We sat in the lavender hallway and I gave him a set of travel icons from home. I laughed louder than I should’ve at 2 am, and we cared less than we should’ve.
(Which, now that I’m writing this, might actually be a dangerous trend for the two of us. See a later installation for the sleepy Romanian man who found us on his balcony holding our sides and crying from laughing. I’m sure I’ll regret typing this later, but it actually was a magical day I guess? So, good job, Neil Breen.)
We made our way outside, and walked until we spotted a cab. Caderyn said a few sentences in Bulgarian to the driver, arranging for me to be taken to the Ramada across town.
Now, I want to note that he didn’t know Bulgarian before the trip began. In every interaction with a native speaker, he would ask for a word repeated and make a note of it in his phone. We both had short term plans in Bulgaria, and language learning seemed to me more effort than it was worth. But not to Caderyn, who took time to learn the Bulgarian words for all the different pieces of silverware once at dinner.
A good, long hug was exchanged, future meeting plans were restated, and then my new friend waved and watched as I drove off. It was simple exchange, but here I am back home in Kentucky, still thinking about it.
I haven’t travelled a lot. If I do, it’s brief enough to get back for my Tuesday morning geo class or comfy enough to not need new people to talk with. However, my travels in Bulgaria were neither close to home nor packed with pals. I was with my lovely Joyce, but, even then, I was low on energy and lower on familiarity. I don't think I was expecting to make such good friends.
Yet, here, buckling in as the driver ushered me past the sleepy streetlights of Sofia, I felt truly loved. Not for my talents or opinions or convenient proximity, but just for who I was, away from my home, worn out, and willing to be a fool on the dance floor.
Since then, I’ve still been trying to figure out how me and Caderyn clicked so well. It wasn’t that we had a shared home country, shared politics, or even shared hobbies. It wasn’t anything I normally use to measure the likelihood of connecting with someone.
When I want to make friends, I throw out things about myself and wait for reactions. When I hear something I don’t like, it’s easiest to file it away as a funny story to text my sister, and move on. Especially if I won't be with a group of people very long, it’s much safer this way.
So, how did we become friends?
I think it was how Cad’s overflow of excitement accidentally arranged a full group showing of my documentary that I was entirely unprepared for. It was his genuine desire to hear the conchs in the churches we visited used for liturgical singing and how he saw me wiping my eyes at Rila Monastery and gave me a votive candle he bought. It was that time he accidentally said y’all, turned red from embarrassment, and protested as I wrapped him in a huge proud Kentucky hug. He was all in for this friendship without thought of gain or longevity. There was no calculation of harvest yet he was planting and watering with abandon. We became friends because he's the kind of person who wanted to learn the language even if he would only use it for a few weeks.
That’s the kind of friend Jesus was, and that’s the kind of friend I want to be.
So, here’s to Caderyn and how he taught me to be a better friend.
Thanks for just wanting to know about the people around you, to hear their loves and experiences. Thank you for your ability to brush off false assumptions and hear dissenting opinions without needing to prove them wrong. Thanks for wanting to love the music I love.
And, as I said before getting in the cab that night in Sofia, thanks for being my friend.
If you were here, I’m sure you’d say what you said then:
“Are you kidding? You know it’s so mutual, right?”
Because, then, like always, you never made it about yourself.
Abby Potter is a photojournalism student based in Bowling Green, Ky.
Keep up with my visual and written journalism endeavors here!