“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure makes the rest of you lonely.”-Charlie Brown

Disclaimer: The chapters are meant to be read in order for better understanding, but with that said, each chapter can also be read on its own.

Try to think back to life before Facebook.  Do you remember when MySpace was popular?  Remember Tom and how you had to rank your top eight friends?

Ok good, now think back to when you were first filling out your MySpace profile.  It made you choose your relationship status, which would be displayed on your page for the entire world to see.  Everyone was given six choices, you could either pick: single, in a relationship, engaged, married, it’s complicated or in an open relationship.

Well, that fifth choice sums up Hayma and I.

I’m desperate to see her.  I’m staring at my computer screen so intensely that I might just burn a hole through it. I’ve been in the habit of searching for flights to Amsterdam at least twice a day. A search which usually ends with me closing my browser with an agonizing sigh.  Last week I even bought a new t-shirt and this special anti-acne face scrub in Toronto because I was so close to flying there and I wanted to make sure I looked my best when I saw her. But of course, I never bought the ticket so here I sit again.

But today is different.  Today, I’ve made that choice that I’m actually going to do it.  I’ve got to do it.  I’ve got to see her.

The flight’s a red-eye and leaves later tonight, which would give me just enough time to drive to Dulles airport from my hotel in Virginia Beach.  I’ve already entered in all my credit card information and the flight to Amsterdam is all but booked.

I just have to click on two tiny words in the bottom right hand corner of my computer screen: confirm purchase.

The only thing that’s holding me back is my dream.  My big fat stupid dream.  I’ve never been so mad at it before; this whole thing about trying to make it around the world without using an airplane has never been so frustrating. Sure its sucked at times, like when I had to spend a week freezing on Trans Siberian railroad during the middle of winter or the month I spent on that depressing cargo ship this past summer, but its never chewed me up inside quite like this.

I’d do anything to see Hayma, but if I fly to see her then my dream ends there and all the hard work I’ve put into it is for not.

I guess I should rewind a bit.  Hayma and I have been texting ever since I got off the cargo ship in Oakland four months ago, but I haven’t brought it up until now because well, it’s complicated.  Like really, really complicated.

As soon as I connected to the Wi-Fi in the Port of Oakland, I reached out to her and she reached back tenfold.  It felt so good to have her back in my life again and every time we text it feels like my heart’s going to explode.  It’s like I can feel her head on my chest and my hands in her hair every time my phone buzzes.  Our conversations are deep, like we are not separated by a vast ocean at all.

But we’ve seemed to settle on this awful heart-wrenching cycle lately.  We’ll incessantly text for a few weeks and we’ll get pretty close with one another, then suddenly she’ll think better of the idea and pull the rug out from under us.  She’ll back away seemingly out of the blue and then beg me not to contact her anymore, which destroys me every time.

Then a week will go by and either I’ll miss her or she’ll miss me so much that we’ll begin the whole cycle all over again.

I’m not pointing fingers here, but she’s always the one who pulls away and ends things, never me.  I must admit, it is maddening, but because I’m so incredibly head over heels for her it almost doesn’t matter.  I’ll take anything I can get from her even if it leads to bigger and bigger heartbreak every time we text.  Inevitably somewhere in the middle of that cycle the yearning to hold her in my actual arms gets so deep that I’ll start looking up flights to Amsterdam.

I also always check the prices for her to fly to the United States, which she always graciously turns down.  She isn’t working right now and money is tight for her, but she’s so stubborn that she won’t let me pay for her flight either. Plus, since she lives at home she wouldn’t know what to tell her mother if she just suddenly up and left for the United States for a week or two.  There would be too many questions and too many holes in her story.  Like how did she get the money for such a grandiose trip?  The answer could never be, “from this random man that you’ve never heard me talk about that I met in Australia.”

America Ninja Warrior obstacle course.

Her mother’s expectation is that she does not embark on an intimate relationship with any man, not just me, before marriage.  Then add the fact that I’m not Muslim into the mix, which would surely come up in that conversation as well, and we’re looking at more obstacles than the American Ninja Warrior course.

And so this will always be the square peg in the round hole of our love story.

But love conquers all, right?  Isn’t that a thing?  I mean, it’s said to move mountains and it wouldn’t be a cliché if it wasn’t true, right?

I’m guilty of being an overly idealistic thinker.  Deep down I believe that one day it won’t matter that I’m not a Muslim.  I believe that our love will overpower our avalanche of obstacles and not only will I go to Amsterdam and sweep Hayma off her feet, but her mother, her brothers, her sisters, and all her friends too.  I’ll be so kind and charming and sincere that surely it won’t matter that I’m not a Muslim once they see how well I treat her.  I always fantasize that by the end of my trip to Amsterdam that they’ll all be begging for me to stay.

But I’m sure that even if I did fly there that I wouldn’t get to meet them anyway.  The whole thing would have to be done in secret.

I guess there is some good news though.  By the time each cycle ends we’ve inched a little closer, revealed another layer of our complicated selves to one another.  We are smack dab in the middle of a purple patch right now, and our yearning for one another crept up to an all time high earlier this morning when she begged me to fly there for a long weekend and I texted back, Ok, I’ll do it!, followed by the airplane emoji, the Dutch flag emoji and the smiling emoji.

I move my mouse down until its tiny white arrow is hovering over the words, confirm purchase.

I run both my hands through my hair and I replay the scene in Melbourne where I looked so deeply into her eyes. Then I begin to convince myself to complete the purchase.

It’s just a short 4-day trip to The Netherlands anyway and I’d be right back in the United States before I knew it, before anyone knew it.  I wouldn’t post any pictures online from Amsterdam and I wouldn’t even text Justin about it or tell my parents next time we FaceTimed.  No one would ever know if I flew there and we could keep the whole thing a secret.  Only Hayma and I would ever know and then I could just continue on traveling around the world once I got back as if nothing ever happened.

But even if someone did find out, isn’t that like the most romantic thing ever, to give up my dream for love?

I mean maybe love is just meant to be complicated, and that’s actually what makes it great.  I’ve never once been in love when it was not completely complicated from the word go, but maybe that’s me.  Maybe as my mother likes to remind me of, that I’m the difficult one.  In this instance it’s true.  The only thing stopping me from flying there is me. Who else falls madly in love with someone, but then can’t fly to see the person under any circumstances?  Well actually, I shouldn’t have asked that because of course Hayma is the only other one.  See what I mean, it’s complicated.

Virginia Beach.

The hardest thing for me to deal with though is that just when that window of hope seems to finally be wedged open all the way, she slams it shut.  I hate to talk about her like this, but ever since she finished up her own travels, she’s been struggling a bit.  After her time in Thailand she flew back to Amsterdam and had to face some of the difficult and personal decisions she was struggling to make and had left behind, they were practically waiting for her on her doorstep.

And while she was happy to have returned home and more equipped than ever to take on the decisions she was making it only added distance to our already long distance love affair.

I think that’s one of the most understated parts of traveling is that once you board your flight, hit the beach, or jump in the back of a tuk tuk on the other side of the world your problems back at home suddenly don’t feel quite as real. And while she wasn’t trying to escape the decisions she was in the midst of making I do think it’s taken her some time to get re-acclimated to them.  The issues and decisions she’s facing are nothing new to her, she’s been weighing them for years, but her travels have perhaps brought them to a head.

It’s hard to come back from a three-month trip abroad and return to the life you left behind.

My situation was much different, but I can still relate.  I myself had a hard time returning to the life after my first three-month trip abroad five years ago.  The beauty of traveling is that it exposed me to so many new sights, sounds and smells.  New people brought new ideas and new ideas brought new ways of thinking, but when I returned home after having been exposed to another side of myself, and looked around, I quickly realize that its only me that has changed.  Everyone else had remained the same, which suddenly felt stale and stagnant and it was hard to re-acclimate myself to it all.

I remember how lifted I had felt after that trip and then how hard it was to come back to my old life.  I had taken the three-month leave of absence with the intention of returning to work once I got back to Miami, but when I was set to start back to work again the company had decided to move on and let me go.  Instead of being upset and frustrated about it, I was ecstatic because I couldn’t imagine going back to that god-awful job having just seen the world.  My mind was exploding with new ideas and thoughts about what my life should look like and none of those new thoughts and ideas included anything remotely similar to my old soul-crushing routine.

There’s even a few websites dedicated to this sort of thing.  When I went to a travel blog convention looking for answers after that three-month trip abroad there was a group of girls passing out business cards that said “Reentry” on them, with their website printed on the back.  The term “reentry” seemed a bit excessive.  It’s not like we’re astronauts re-entering earth’s atmosphere, but I can tell you from first hand experience how hard it can be to “reenter” your old life when all your ideas about it have changed.

I’m actually worried about how I’ll cope myself when my journey ends and I decide to return to Miami one day. Forget how much my mind has expanded over the course of my travels, just the fact that I won’t be moving on a bus, boat or a train every few days will be a major adjustment.  But the reason that I bring all this up is that she’s fighting with herself.  Each day is an internal war and she can’t quite figure her new self out just yet, and because of that she can’t figure us out.

It’s so hard to take that next step in life if you don’t even know where the staircase even is.  I think that’s the crux of the problem is that she’s lost like so many of us.  She has a bigger purpose than putting her head down and grinding through the typical work week like her grad school peers, but she can’t quite suss out what that purpose is yet.  I keep trying to tell her that the discomfort she’s dealing with is really a blessing because it’s there reminding her that there’s something bigger for her out there and that all she’s got to do is tap into it.

In all honesty, I’d be more worried if that feeling wasn’t there.  But with all that said, from my own personal experience, tapping into it is the hardest phase to be in.  The answers seem like they’ll never come no matter what you do and it’s excruciating.  It’s like trying to grab a greased watermelon.  Just when you think you have it, it slides out of your hands.

Sometimes you just need to roll up your sleeves and fight those demons alone, which is why I’m trying to give her the space and time to do so.

The scary part for me is the more she pushes me away the more it makes me want her.  Even during the times when we are not speaking I still feel like my love for her grows.

I’ve always known she’s the one for me and that we are destined to be together and I’ve known that ever since I was in that empty elevator way back in Perth.

Decisions…

Jerry McGuire famously said the line; you complete me, and mimed it with his hands as he pointed to Dorothy Boyd (the love of his life).  But I’ve always looked at love the opposite way, in that it takes two complete people to come together and compliment one another’s completeness.  This means that no one person should complete the other, because that seems to lend itself to problems down the road.  However, I’ve started to question my theory lately because of how I desperately want to see her. I’m willing for each of us to be the other’s missing puzzle piece even if that is actually unhealthy.

I set my right hand back on top of the mouse and realize that even though we are an ocean apart that only a single centimeter separates us.  All I have to do is simply press into the right click button until it clicks.  I run my index finger back and forth over the mouse’s smooth plastic coating while I beat myself up over the decision.

Every muscle in my body tenses.  I pull up the only picture I have of the two of us on my phone.  We took it the second before she left the café in Melbourne.  We look so happy and my heart melts.

I’m not hesitating because of the price, even though it’s overpriced and something I haven’t budgeted for.  That’s the last thing I’m concerned about.  I’d spend all of my money just for one minute with her and I truly mean that. The only thing that’s causing me consternation is my dream.  My dream has been the only thing these past few years that’s always been there for me.  It’s been right by my side day in and day out and it’s picked me up when I’ve been down and propelled me forward when I didn’t have the strength to do so on my own.  It’s a living breathing organism inside me now and it has a mind and a work ethic all of its own.  It’s unwilling to compromise and it’s not suited for short cuts.  I know that the second I buy this flight that it will shrivel up and die inside me, so of course it’s putting up one hell of a fight just like it always does.

I ask my dream, “Why can’t I have it all?”

It doesn’t answer, but I already know the answer.  I know that if I fly to Amsterdam that my dream won’t be waiting for me at baggage claim when I get back.  The flame inside will have been extinguished and I know that it won’t let me pretend to just keep traveling around the world like nothing ever happened.  And that the next time the road gets bumpy and the next great challenge appears that it won’t be there to keep pushing me like it’s been.

I know that if I go to Amsterdam that I will have betrayed its trust and that if I pull out now, then there’s no coming back.

I ask it one more question before I make my decision, “Why does it have to be one or the other, why can’t I have the dream and the girl?”

My dream flares up inside me and as sure as day follows night it reminds me that one day I will.

The room is silent as I click my browser closed.  It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

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