“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand this growth, it would look like complete destruction.”-Cynthia Occelli
I slump against the wall of my Ugandan hotel room, and everything goes blurry. My ear is pressed against the phone hard enough to hurt, hoping that will bring her broken voice closer to mine, but all I get is static, like I’m listening to a sandstorm.
A long moment – then her voice cuts through:
“I want to thank you for everything, I will never forget the time we spent together in Africa.”
My throat is tight with grief and I can barely get a response out – but the words aren’t there, either. I have no answers to give. I can’t fix this.
We stand there, listening, as the howling silence widens and deepens between us.
Another time, another place. The beginning of the end.
Zanzibar’s crystal-clear waters are lapping outside our bungalow. The sun is setting in a blaze of colors I’ve never seen before, and in theory we should be the happiest people on the planet. We’ve been traveling through Africa together for three months and we’ve been invited to stay at this all inclusive five star honeymoon resort for free, but instead of enjoying it we are stuck inside and left staring into a computer screen.
Her credit card is on her lap and with tears in her eyes says, “Europe is too expensive. There is no way I’m going back to America! I’ve never been to South America, but this isn’t a time to be exploring the world. I need to find a cheap flight to a safe place where my heart can heal.”
I know she wants me to reach over and shut the computer. She wants me to pull her in close and tell her that “we” are going to be okay, but I just can’t and I don’t know why.
Instead I just sit there behind the walls I’ve built up around myself, and ache with responsibility for everything that went wrong.
Our love for one another has always been there. That was never a doubt. But somehow my feelings got lost in the woods and by the time I started to find them it was too late. We’ve had long talks about it in just about every hotel room we stayed in and we racked our brains for ways to make it work. Her conclusion is that what I’m doing as far as writing, filming and photographing needs my complete attention and a deep solitude in order for it to flourish. She thinks she is getting in the way of me tapping into my deepest, most creative work. Maybe she’s right – but at this point I don’t actually know what to think. This is why I’ve been so distant. Hunting for answers.
I hesitate to look over at her again because I know what I’ll see. I’ll see everything I’ve ever wanted right there in front of me and all I’ll have to do is reach out a little further for it, but I know I won’t be able to – and I don’t think I’ll ever actually know why.
As we both stare blankly into the endlessness of the internet none of that really matters now because she doesn’t know where to go or what to do next. And neither do I. Neither of us can stop this unraveling.
I watch in agony as she narrows down her choices to Thailand or Nepal. It’s hard – no, impossible – to imagine that there will never be another long bus ride with my favorite person in the world, that I will never again shuffle into the seat beside her and see her smiling back through the hardships Africa imposes on everyone. That we probably won’t head down another dusty road together with our torn and tattered luggage to a destination that most of the world doesn’t even know exists.
She looks at me through her tears and settles on Bangkok because the flight and the cost of living there is the cheapest. As she punches in her credit card information my heart folds in on itself.
There is a medicine ball in my throat and I want to stop her but I can’t. I force myself to nod along in agreement when she reminds me of tentative plan we’ve made to try again once I get to Europe, but her booking this flight has a certain finality to it. Our future feels like it’s closing down, that our window of opportunity for something truly special is shutting forever.
She cuts through the silence and I feel the suffering in her voice when she asks me how my writing has been going.
I tell her it’s no easier and that I’m no more creative now that she’s gone.
I ask her if she still cares about me, and what comes back is what makes this so hard because I know it’s true, “I care very much for you – I care in a way that will prove itself over and over again throughout the course of our knowing each other in this lifetime and perhaps the next.”
It’s an incredible thing to hear when someone says and means that they will care for you for lifetimes, truly.
But I can’t dwell on that too much because now we’re both tackling bigger problems. She has no money and no job and I’m not making any, which means that we are both living off my savings. She’s conserving my savings by staying at a flea-infested five-dollars-a-night Bangkok hostel, in a room so small that she has to sleep with her backpack on her bed. She’s tells me she’s down to eating only one meal a day, which she thinks is the reason why she’s getting sick.
When I realize that I can’t be there for her like she’s been there for me – that’s the moment my heart feels like it completely falls out of my chest. Every time I’ve fallen down she’s been the one to pick me up. And now I can’t reciprocate.
Her determination to fight for her dreams and not to go back to America and live amongst the masses like everyone else is admirable – but when I hear the conditions she’s living in, it hurts. She deserves better. She is one of the good souls in this crazy mixed up world, the kind of person that if you gave her a dollar she would give it to someone else more in need. But if anyone’s worthy of the golden ticket for overcoming a life filled with abnormally hard hardships, believe me, it’s her.
She whispers into the phone one last time. It’s the saddest, softest teary goodbye. My eyes well up. This isn’t, no, don’t, I can’t.
* Click. * She’s gone.
I lie down on the cool tile floor in my room and look up at the popcorn ceiling, and nothing feels possible. Nothing at all.