“You have to come home at some point, you know. And don’t fall in love either. I’ll miss you too much if you stay.”
I laughed at my mother’s words as she hid the tears behind her sunglasses. I took it as a joke, but I knew she was at least half serious.
With my luggage in one hand, carry on gripped in the other, I gave my family one last hug goodbye as I headed to security.
You have to come home at some point.
I boarded the airplane and immediately opened my journal. My hand scratched the date on the top right hand corner and started out the page like I always do-
I flipped through the blank pages, envisioning all of the countless stories that were to come. It was the uncertainty that excited me; the “what’s next?” stories and “OMG WTF” moments. Cape Town, South Africa wasn’t the most popular study abroad destination, but it was the adventure I craved. It was the challenge I needed.
You have to come home at some point.
I knew the pages of my journal would be filled with exotic animal sightings, adrenaline pumping actives, and possibly a cute South African boy or two– you know, totally normal and casual sh*t.
It was an unwritten story-every writer’s dream.
I could spend this post talking about all the totally normal and casual sh*t. Like, petting 3 full grown lions on Valentine’s Day, jumping off of the tallest bungee bridge in the world, traveling to Tanzania with no plans set in place, etc. etc. etc.
But, I won’t
When you travel for long periods of time, it does something to you. Now, I won’t go into the ever-so cliche narrative of the ~wanderlust girl~ who finds herself when she travels abroad (K maybe I will). I came home from my trip somewhat different and as much as I wanted to maintain that, I quickly fell back into old habits. But, I guess that’s where this story begins.
We sat on the old couches of our new home. 9 strangers. 6 countries. 1 landlord. It was like Real World in real life except way cooler. Our eyes darted around the room, silently judging each other as the landlord went over ground rules. I quickly labeled myself as the basic bitch, because, well, yeah.
I originally thought he was foreign. Straight up thought he didn’t speak English. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, I couldn’t help but react in shock when he said his name and where he was from in a total American accent.
Ah, starting off your abroad trip wonderfully; passing wrongful judgments. Great. Be more of a cliche American, Beth?
Something about him drew me in. Not exactly sure what it was, but I just wanted to get to know him more. He was quiet, but every time he spoke it made you want to listen.
I, for one, knew that I was totally not his type. He was extremely intellectual, artistic, and mature. And I, was…well, overwhelmingly basic in my stupid Lululemon headband and Norts while asking what the Wifi password was.
And plus I needed to get my head on straight. I was sort of still seeing someone from home who I was going to be with forever. I’d still be the same when I got home after 5 months and Boston boy will still be there waiting. Maybe we were on a “break,” but being several thousand miles away from him wouldn’t affect the undying love we had for each other.
Irrational optimism at its finest, my friends.
I quickly buried this initial attraction deep into the tacky carpet of our new living room.
Weeks went by, our friendship grew. I could tell it was tough for him, but he started to look past my drunken escapades and undying need to take selfies of every cool place we explored and I thought-wait, does this dude ACTUALLY like me?
As I said before, I didn’t choose Cape Town because I wanted to be the chick who could say she’s been to Africa (ok, maybe that was part of the reason). I left Boston with every intention to do cool sh*t and ‘gram about it for the likes, but I never thought it would turn into a sort-of weird and twisted love story.
*cue the “omg another basic abroad love story” eye roll from the audience*
I’ve typed this story several times, always struggling to recreate it. I love words, I love stringing them together and producing entertaining stories for people to read and this one may perhaps fall into my drafts folder like every other one.
It was an unspoken attraction for quite some time. We were roommates and friends, for that matter. Rule number, like, 8 of being a smart human being is to never date your roommate. Read more of my blog and you’ll soon realize that I’m not one to think rationally at all times.
The closer we became, the harder it was to avoid the obvious attraction between us. I’d sit in my room down the hall, waiting for him to drop in to say hello. I never thought I’d like Downton Abbey, but I’d watch it anyways, just so I could spend time with him. I could talk to him about anything and everything, the words came easy, and he listened. I did most of the talking, per usual, but he didn’t mind.
He made me realize that I was much more than what I drew myself out to be- and that’s a feeling I’ll hold onto forever.
It was easy to fall for someone under our circumstances. It was easy to fall into the cliche “study abroad love story.” It was easy to leave behind the person you once were and develop grow into someone totally new alongside someone totally unexpected. But, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the person I was becoming. I enjoyed how he made me feel, the thrill of being someone’s someone without any specific label.
It was the beginning of a story that I already knew the ending to. But one that I wanted to pursue anyways. It was a story with an expiration date, a story with a definitive ending in my journal entries. It had an ending from the first day it started.
And maybe that’s why it’s so hard to recreate.
There were feelings that were unspoken for so long, but so overwhelmingly apparent. Did I fall in love? I’m not sure. It was a story that flourished, sort of, but one that developed in a world that was so far-fetched from reality. One that allowed us to take hikes together and skip class. One that didn’t revolve around work schedules and complications. A story free of tangled knots and misconstrued text messages.
I was going to end up in Boston, he was across the country. He had his life at home, and I had mine. Whatever relationship we had developed in South Africa would soon change the moment we stepped off the airplane in our respective homes. I wanted to believe it could work, but we left on terms that we would stay in touch most definitely, but with the “if we ever end up in the same city again..” type of deal.
It didn’t make goodbyes any easier, but I was at least left with a peace of mind that maybe, someday, it could work. Just maybe.
After our whimsical story had ended, months passed, we talked less and less. We naturally grew apart as we both sort of expected. Fast forward 2 years, my feelings haven’t changed a bit. There is still the “what if” moments, the “maybe someday” ideas that pass through my head. Whenever we Skype, the connection is still there even if it has to be expressed through a laptop screen.
We live two separate, totally different lives than we did in Cape Town. We’ve both dated others and moved on. I was never one to believe in fate, or a singular soulmate. I still scoff at the “I fell in love abroad” stories, although I very well fell into this category. Perhaps I’m bitter, or maybe impatient to find something comparable to what I had with him, if that’s even possible. I’m not sure.
In lieu of the recent attacks that have taken place overseas, it has a left a bad taste in peoples’ mouths about travel in general. Am I safe to travel? What is happening to the world?
Naturally, we are distracted by these vicious terrorist actions and it leaves us with a blind eye to the true beauty of travel. I was told by countless people, “Don’t go to South Africa, it’s dangerous.” “Why the hell are you going to Cape Town?”
The past few days have really got me thinking about travel and my 5 months spent in Cape Town. It wasn’t the overpriced tourist attractions I partook in, or the drunken nights on Long St; it was the people. It was the guy I fell for, the friendly hikers on Table Mountain, the roommates who made every experience unique and one worth filling a journal page up for.
Places don’t change you, people do.
My mom was right, I did need to come home. Even though Cape Town gave me every single goddamn reason to stay forever-my visa did not.
There are several stories in life where we assume the ending to. For better or for worse, we usually act on it anyways. Rewind 2 years, I thought I would be in California at this point. That was my post-grad ending for as long as I can remember. I held onto that dream, which made it easier to let go of the dream world I had developed with him.
Someday we may cross paths again. Someday we may not. I’m not really sure, but if I let my some days dictate my every days, I’d live a pretty depressing life.
Be hopeful, but not too hopeful to be a constant state of vulnerability. Fall for people, but not too hard where it holds you back. Travel for destinations, but don’t let the destination take precedent over the journey.