It’s difficult not to look back at times in your life and wonder at the serendipity.
Not long after someone you loved declared, “You will never find the person you are looking for. Someone who will just give up everything, quit their life, and travel around with you. Who will let you have everything on just your terms, always–because you only do what you want to do, regardless of what somebody else might want. That person doesn’t exist.”
She might have been onto something. After all, it was a pretty tall order.
When you met Katie, you thought she was going to be just another client. Even when you crossed the professional line into “rebound relationship,” your expectations weren’t high. But she was fine company, dynamite in the sack, sweet and eager.
“So, Katie…” you said one day on a lunchtime walk in San Francisco’s financial district. “I’ve dated–” (and been dumped by) “–a lot of women before you. And seeing that I am so much older than you are–” (four years, to be exact) “–with like 20% more life experience than you have, what can you do to really WOW me?”
She took a moment to consider her words carefully. “Well… I can juggle. I can solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than two minutes. And I will never be mean to you.”
You mouthed an “oooooohhh” in fascination. Legitimate fascination. Imagine being with someone who is never mean to you!
Later you explained to her that you found her very nice, and while you were not the slightest bit opposed to a relationship with her, she needed to hear your terms: “I will do what I want to do. I expect you to do exactly the same. And I will always support you as long as what you do doesn’t interfere with what I want to do. If it might, then we have to talk about it.” You explained your wiring and motivations for this. “I am planning to go to South America in September. This was my goal when I moved here. Meeting you doesn’t change that.” And you didn’t expect her to change anything in her life for you. “All I need is for you to keep my feelings safe in a little box, and I’ll do the same. Don’t hurt me. And don’t do shit like shake the box. Okay? Don’t shake the box!”
Is that so difficult?
It isn’t. Katie didn’t shake the box. She set it gently on her shelf and considered your terms for a couple of months–mulled over what they meant, long term, and what freedoms they offered her. What unthinkable freedoms…
Meanwhile, you were interviewing weirdos and whackjobs for the position of “Maria’s South America Travel Partner.” These interviews included:
- an over-the-phone hour-long chat with some guy from Brooklyn who declared he had the “street smarts,” but sounded dumber than a sack of hammers.
- a young man that looked like some version of Jesus who was very smelly, underfed, and hopelessly idealistic.
- a pleasant fellow named Turner who’d been lifestyle traveling for several years, but whom you found, quite frankly, to be too sweet and innocent for the job.
Just after your birthday, on a trip to Seattle, Katie dropped the bomb: “What if I quit my job and traveled the world with you?” It was only a couple of months into the relationship…
You’d never once attempted to convince her to do so. She had 30,000 dollars in student loans, for crying out loud! She’d been off your list of possibilities before the two of you had even been an item. But such things didn’t matter. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
Okay, okay! It wasn’t South America. Katie gave you one condition: she would drop everything and be your travel partner if it meant traveling in Europe.
Take a deep breath. Europe for a third time?
Fine. On one of your own conditions: that after Europe, you would go to India, and then S.E. Asia. See, the last time you had attempted to go to that part of the world, you flaked. You had applied for a visa and everything, but you knew deep down in your heart that you were not mentally or emotionally (barely even financially) prepared for it. At least with Katie along for the ride, you would have someone to keep you company, hold your hand, help you through bouts of inevitable food poisoning, watch your bag when you needed to go to the toilet, help prepare food, handle navigation, and more. Two heads is better than one.
But first, Katie had to be tested. She had some very big shoes to fill. Your travel partners before her had both been fearsome women–Alexis, who could handle the most rugged conditions of all time; and Manon, whose unyielding enthusiasm for parties and people never left you with an idle moment. Each of them had the power to move you onward when all you wanted to do was sit and recover.
“Come on! We have to walk all the way to the top of this hill and get a picture of this monument. We’re only going to be here once!” That was Alexis’ spirit.
“I really like these guys. Come on! Let’s go out and have a drink with them.” Two days later… you would remember those words being Manon’s.
Katie was a different traveler all together. Katie was a house cat.
Don’t misunderstand. Katie kicked ass. She did all the things. But constant travel was always a challenge. It might have been the rain, or the cold, of the waiting… it might have been the men, the leering eyes, or the feelings of exposure. The bag was too cumbersome, too targeting. Having to be always happy and confident and on her best behavior in front of strangers, exhausting.
In short, traveling for Katie was difficult. To be fair, she had to endure in 12 months what you’d been doing for over four years already. The skills you’d honed, the experience, the know-how… the understanding of idleness, traffic flows, rain, snow, wind, sweat, exhaustion… you knew what to expect. She didn’t–and she had enrolled in Advanced Placement Travel, taught by Maria.
“Congratulations, Katie,” you said. “By the end of this trip, there is officially nothing left on the bucket list. You’ve done it.”
In twelve months, for less than $2,500:
- Hitchhiked 8,000 kilometers
- Traveled in 14 countries
- Walked 800 kilometers in a row
- Slept in a truck with a truck driver
- Went to a festival and got obliterated
- Hiked/camped in the snow
- Rode on a camel
- Went swimming in a waterfall
- Took a boat ride
- Rode on a ferry, a train, a bus, a semi-truck, and every kind of car
- Woke up in a strange place without clothes more than once
- Sobbed her eyes out
- Laughed her head off
- Camped behind a truck stop
- Amassed numerous awesome facebook photos
- Got unbelievably sick
- Projectile-vomited off a bridge
- Cleaned up rat shit
- Restored a house, built a shed, tiled a floor, operated a digger, poured concrete, chopped down a tree
- Ate reindeer meat
- Ate all the things!
- Got sexually harassed
- Hiked sand dunes, mountains, and fjords
- Got invited in to strangers’ homes for the night, while hitchhiking
- Learned a new language
- Swallowed her pride
And so much more!
But it was an exhausting ride. The two of you were very weary near the end of 12 months. You were out of energy, and so was she. And while previous travel partners were good at motivating you onward, none of them had spent so much time in transit with you as Katie had. By the end, the two of you were too enabling of weariness. A bit like Lesbian Bed Death–only it was Lesbian Road Death… all you wanted to do was stay inside and cuddle.
It was somethere in the middle of July, in… Lithuania… pretty much one full year after your travels began, where things took a turn. On that day, the sky opened as it had never opened before, slamming Kaunas with rain. Katie wouldn’t budge from the couch. You ventured out for a soggy two-hour run. When you returned, she was filled with angst. You could feel her breaking point.
“You want to go home early?” you asked.
She burst into tears. That was that. Later that night, in the privacy of your guest room, listening to the uber kinky and somewhat violent sounds of your hosts having sex (someone was definitely getting strangled), you said to her, “Listen, Katie… I want you to consider. Just consider! Consider for a moment the possibility of going home early. Of maybe not going to India. I think you should start talking to your friends and mentally explore the idea. See what they think.”
It was a bold move. You thought to yourself that perhaps if you offered her an out, the sheer relief of it, the knowledge that she could stop any time she wanted to, would be enough respite from the present–enough to re-charge her mental and spiritual batteries–and then she would come back to you with some fully-charged enthusiasm for The East.
She seized the opportunity so fast, it made your jaw drop. Within 72 hours, she’d purchased her ticket back to The United States and had a full itinerary planned for herself.
“First, I am going to fly to Baltimore. Stay with my family. Then NYC. Then Texas.” And then! And then! And then!
It wasn’t that Katie hated traveling. Not at all. But she needed to define her own trip and do the things she wanted to do. She wanted to stay in one place longer, party, celebrate, go crazy, and feel safe. You, on the other hand, wanted to struggle, to toil, to sweat, and to suffer.
You understood completely, and seeing the relief her decision brought her made you feel very right about the decision to break up the travel partnership.
“Oh my god! Is everything all right between the two of you?” her mother, father, brother, friend, co-worker–whoever–would ask.
It was a fair question. After all, how many couples ever have to explain that a decision to part ways isn’t a breakup?
“I can only imagine how hard it is, being with someone 24 hours a day for pretty much over a year,” someone would speculate.
“No, no! Everything is fine,” Katie assured them. “That’s not it at all.”
Your last fight was in March and it had lasted one hour. (It was a fight you started on The Camino and lost, and then settled with a binge on ham, fruit salad, and wine). In your entire relationship, you have bickered exactly two times.
“We’re getting along fine. We just want different things. This whole thing was actually her suggestion,” Katie explained.
I will do what I want to do. I expect you to do exactly the same. And I will always support you as long as what you do doesn’t interfere with what I want to do.
She wanted to go home. You wanted to go to India. Was there a problem? No. Simple.
What surprised you more than the notion of going to India alone was that you were actually excited to do so. Something deep within you had shifted, and you felt several years of baggage, of control mechanisms, of fear, of resistance, of loneliness… fall away like autumn leaves. It happened over a handful of days.
It is hard to explain. The lightening process. One moment your soul feels weighed down by a load of perceived needs. And then suddenly, you just don’t care. Like, at all.
So what if you get sick? So what if you don’t have stuff? So what if you are lonely? So what if you don’t feel like writing or sharing? So what if you might feel like quitting early? So what?
You cut your hair. It felt too heavy, too much, too cumbersome. You cut out the need to be socially cooperative–quit drinking, quit sugar, quit meat. Quit it all. You cut your desire to keep things; gear be damned! It’s just stuff. It’s just money. You can always get more. You cut away your fears and expectations. Cut away so much that you nearly spontaneously lost three kilos.
The decision to go separate ways was lightening. Applicable whenever it suited you.
In Amsterdam, after 24 hours of intense Gay Pride partying–including more than 6 hours at a gay rave, sweating your brains out, legitimately fearing that you might need medical attention, wondering if any of those shirtless, hard-bodied, sex-a-holics might notice you–while you nursed a glass of orange juice at a posh hotel in some unknown suburb, squinting like a vampire in the sunlight, Katie bounced in her chair like a happy puppy, “I think I might go with these guys back into the city… I kind of want to go by myself. No offence.” The others at the table looked between the two of you in surprise. “Bringing Maria to a party is like carrying an anchor.”
You took no offence. It was true.
You felt jealous for a moment. Just a moment. Jealous of her energy, her ability to continue partying like a young twenty-something while you were on the brink of 30. But you didn’t have an ounce of desire to go back to the parties–perhaps because when you party, you party much harder than she does, so you tell yourself. You hugged her goodbye and left her in the care of a couple of Dutch queers and caught the next train back to your host’s flat in Utrecht, where you happily downed documentaries on alternative cancer therapies and chased them with a good night’s sleep. Katie came crashing into the bedroom a day later, still standing, full of awesome stories and unbelievable adventures.
But they weren’t the stories you wanted any more.
Things change. Heck, change is the only guarantee. If you don’t learn how to go with the flow, surf the waves, row through the wake, or whatever… you’re gonna have a bad time.
Your plans have changed more times than you can count. But isn’t that just life? Katie, sweet Katie! How you’re going to miss her! But that’s just part of life. Roll forward and meet in the future.