I can recall the exact moment when pen met paper; my first entry on the first page of my first journal. Since that day, many years have passed and the vast majority are well documented. I say that so you know this is no work of fiction. Every emotion, action and conversation are born of truth. Time often bends memories to fit our own narrative, but ink is the mechanism of candor. Edits for the sake of continuity are my only tools of craft. The yellowing pages of my journal guided me down forgotten corridors and dimly lit pathways of long ago recollections.
Being in love and traveling are one in the same. Both involve exploration, confronting fears, resisting preconceived notions and being brave enough to face challenges head-on. And, they also involve putting aside your ego and asking for help in your time of need. For some, these lessons come naturally. Others require a full-blown crisis.
By the start of this journey I’d lived in Costa Rica for 6 months. Enough time to have a foundation in Spanish, a job, and settling as best as I could. She had done the same in Guatemala. Our correspondence at this point was irregular and disjointed. This was pre smartphone era with the only access to internet in Costa Rica by appointment only at the local post office. I wasn’t high on her list which contributed to the lack of contact. The majority of our limited communication was her adamant refusal to heed my pleas for another chance. Looking back, I could see why one would consider traveling 2 ½ days by bus to see a woman who was done with me foolish. Especially considering she explicitly said she had other plans and had no intention of granting me an audience. As a highly logical former legal advocate who carefully weighs every possibility with an extensive set of criteria, my brain decided against the trip. My heart objected and defied my head’s decree.
“Fuck it. The worst that could happen is I die.”
A volatile cocktail of terror and excitement coursed through my body. I sat on a bus with a one way ticket from Costa Rica to Guatemala without enough money to buy the return trip back. As it was a bank holiday on pay-day in Costa Rica, I only had the cash in my pockets. My bank card only worked for that particular bank which could only be found in…Costa Rica. So even after I was paid, I would not have access to the money. Yes, waiting ensured a higher chance of a smooth trip, but delay meant second guessing and allowing self-doubt to grow. The decision was a mutiny by my heart over common sense and rational thought. A life changing moment to get on a bus with a one way ticket, $60 in my pocket, The Alchemist and no idea how I’d return. My only certainty being it was better to be a fool following my heart than left uttering ‘I should have’ for the rest of my days. First lesson I learned from this adventure, Don’t worry about the return, just go. Everything will work itself out in the end. It might not be how you anticipated, but oh the story you’ll have to tell! After all, the worst that could happen is you die…
Upon my arrival in Antigua, Guatemala I was certain of two things, one, I wouldn’t have enough money to return to Costa Rica, and two, I was in love for the second time in my life. Antigua today still retains its position as my Central American lover. To call her picturesque is an insult. Magical is more fitting. Three volcanoes acting as ancient sentries to a precious jewel full of amazing architecture and a vibrant culture. Bathed in the soft lights of romance at nightfall it is the perfect setting for a love story. But even the noblest of quests are sidetracked by reality. She said she had plans and even if I came she wouldn’t make time for me. Endpoint. Damn you heart for sending me on this Fool’s Errand!
Then I learned my second lesson, “The outcome is far less important than having the courage to go.” I’d leaped out of my comfort zone to attempt something I never fathomed for an emotion I’d always been too afraid to express. No matter the end result, I was on the right path.
Life, the unpredictable force it is, altered her course. I’d emailed her the moment I arrived in Antigua. No expectation attached as I pressed send, only that I had come. Returning to my hostel that evening with fellow travelers, a note pinned to my room door. She had stopped by to take me out for dinner. She left her number asking that I call so we could meet before I returned to Costa Rica. I believe I touched the moon after reading that note. I achieved maximum velocity and escaped earth’s atmosphere and firmly planted my hand on the surface of the moon. Pure unfiltered exhilarating joy.
My fingertips aflame on the buttons as I dialed her number. I forgot to breathe while the phone rang. “Hola?” My heart ignited. It was her.. My voice caught in the small of my throat. Finally I blurted out, “Sí. Puedo hablar con Michaela por favor? Esto es Carl.” Her surprise and delight at me being able to speak Spanish played like my favorite song on repeat. She was convinced I wouldn’t visit and felt no need to change her plans when I emailed to say I was coming. I found that heartachingly sad. This woman, I loved enough to take untold risks for, just on the HOPE of seeing her, didn’t have any faith in my word. It made sense. I was guilty of breaking an essential promise to her in the past. Why should she believe me? But she did have faith I would meet her in 30 minutes at a bar close to my hostel. It is very difficult to groom and prepare for an evening out with someone you’re in love with when the water goes out in the city. I “showered” by buying two 1L water bottles from the hostel office, punching a hole in them with a travel knife and hanging them upside down in the shower. Macgyver had nothing on me!
Then we met. After more than a year she was standing directly in front of me. Peace; what I felt the moment I saw her. Completely at peace. I forgot fears, concerns, uncertainty, and guilt. A stillness of my spirit so complete my demons slept soundly and did not stir.
Then she spoke. Words so heavy with emotion they broke and shattered upon the concrete. Anger and pain intertwined with bitterness and sorrow. Heartbreak so tightly woven into her voice lines glistened with tears in the light as it left her lips. Her words bursting with resentment and disgust, convinced my transgressions etched deep in my DNA with no hope of a cure. To her I was diseased. I listened attentively without interrupting. She needed to tell, I needed to hear.
Then I spoke. I laid my soul bare. I preached gospel of such magnitude I altered my universal trajectory.
“Fear is a powerful element and can cause one to doubt even the most basic of truths. The truth is I loved you before we met. What I feel for you is not of this lifetime. It took years stacked upon decades atop of centuries for every cell of my body to love you so completely. If names were assigned rhythms, yours would be the beat of my heart. I’m certain I will be in love with you tomorrow and every tomorrow after that until I am no longer on this earth. I’m also certain when we meet again, in whatever form, I will already love you then. My love for you is infinite as I love you infinitely. All of the places I will see and splendor I’ll behold, nothing will ever compare to the ecstasy of hearing you say you feel safe in my arms.”
“I am guilty of so much, the gravest of which caused you to doubt the purity of love and your ability to be loved. My fear ate until I was hollow and empty and convinced me I was unworthy of love. I am guilty of making you doubt you, all the while I was hating me. I came here hoping to win you back, but it’s clear our time is finished and my soul weeps. So, let me just say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for making you feel like you weren’t good enough. I’m sorry for making you feel like everything you did for me was for not. I’m sorry I made you doubt your intuition and feel like you were overreacting. I’m sorry I put you in a situation that caused you misery. I’m sorry for not being man enough to reveal my fears and insecurities to you and not do the work to heel. I’m sorry for not expressing in a more meaningful way how important your love was to me. And lastly, I’m most sorry that my direct actions caused the magnificent story we had to end. I love you.”
Then she cried. Great gasping sobs that bent her shoulders in a trembling staccato of anguish. What do you do when the person you want to console you is the person making you cry? Played across my mind. I reached out, but she flinched and refused my comfort. My heart burst into a million tiny fiery pieces that scorched my insides . She took some moments to compose herself, wiped her tears, and cleared her throat. She told me she never in a million lifetimes thought she’d hear that from me. She also revealed that when told I might come, her best friend stated even now we would make the perfect couple. That the universe was off-kilter because we weren’t together. She also called me an SOB and threatened my life if she ever saw me. Understandable. Lastly, she explained that my love was her crutch. When feeling low or discouraged, she reflected on how much I loved her and it gave her the strength to continue. She told me a great many things, and I told her a great many things. We spoke as friends without egos. It was, peaceful.
The evening came to a close as last call sounded in our ears. I gathered myself for the awkward final goodbye that would commence. Then the most unexpected thing happened, she invited me back to her place. She laughed at the look on my face. Dumbfounded. Utterly and completely dumbfounded. I believe in a US love story we would have and cried while we made love at her place. However, as I said, this is a true story, not a love story. I slept in the guest bedroom. Could her invitation have extended to her own bed? I don’t know. I don’t regret my decision at all. But there is another moment I wonder about even to this day..
The next morning, she fed me, and sent me on my way. Her plans were altered, not canceled and her travel partners arrived early to collect her. A convenient blessing as our goodbye was swift and cordial with spectators present. I set out to find my hostel through the maze of streets. Then, ever so softly, like the slightest of breeze, I heard her murmur my name. Not Carl. Carl is the name on my passport. Carl is for my clients. Carl is for contracts. Carl is the name she spoke all night to emphasize our disconnection. I heard my familiar name. My name for those I allow in close, family and best friends. The name she used in our most intimate of circumstances. I must have misheard, but I still turned. She was amongst her friends, looking at me. She said it again, with more certainty, as if the taste was strange and she needed to grow accustomed. I turned to face her completely. With my full attention, looking deeply into me, she said, “I love you. I’m still in love with you.” Time rewound and sped-up, looped and pause all at once. I gazed across eons and my love still burned intensely. We were binary stars in a far away galaxy locked in an eternal orbit, an old couple reminiscing over treasured memories, it was the first day I ever saw her, It was the last time I ever saw her, everything all at once in the span of seconds, or hours I couldn’t say. And that moment, that’s the moment I contemplate. Should I have walked to her and kissed her? Something delicate maybe? On her forehead perhaps? Or a light tender kiss on her lips with my fingertips on the curve of her cheekbones? Then she turned and was gone… I remained rooted until I trusted my legs to carry me to my final destination. And that’s the third lesson I learned on that trip, “Sometimes you have to lose what you want, to show you what you need”.
I didn’t grasp the significance of that time with her until much later. Remember, I still had to get back to Costa Rica and by that point I had $17 remaining….