Guest Post: Foreign Ex-Changes

By Karlie Massie

“We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love.  It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.”
William Somerset Maugham

I met Steve at a bar in Vegas. His British accent resonated through the multitudes of drunken patrons and shot straight into my ears, engulfing me in blissful, undaunted attraction. I would be leaving at the end of the summer to study in England, so I knew we would have plenty to talk about. And that was all it took. Three hours, two cranberry vodkas and however many beers later, we were stumbling back to my hotel room hand in hand.

I never imagined that I would begin a relationship in Vegas, but it seems that these days, all bets are off. In a fast-paced world where meeting a potential mate online is never a taboo subject, relationships really can sweep you off your feet. Meeting Steve in Vegas was exciting and different, and completely spontaneous. Caught up in a whirlwind of emotions I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to know what it was we had begun. But I never stopped to consider that letting him sweep me off my feet did not guarantee he would catch me as I fell.

I grew up in a strict, conservative Catholic family.  My brother and I attended Catholic school for nine years, and for 20 years of my life I attended Catholic mass every Sunday. I always turned in my homework, I always liked polite boys and I always strived to make my parents happy. Monotony should have been my last name. Karli Monotony, the bane of originality. As I approached my 21st birthday, I felt a strong need to begin living. I wanted so much more for myself than I had previously allowed. I was a child of rules, of muted dreams, of boring weekends…and I was sick of it.

The weekend I met Steve I knew I was on to something different. Because we were long distance, he used to lovingly joke that we didn’t date – we vacationed. And so, in the name of avoiding monotony, I had begun “vacationing” a British man who I met in Vegas, who happened to live a state away from me and would be returning to England around the same time my semester abroad was finishing up. Steve was everything I wasn’t. He was loud and talkative; I was shy and timid. He believed in letting things go when the time had come; I could never let anything go, at least, not completely. Most of all, he lived for himself; I struggled to truly live, afraid that my actions would fail to meet the expectations of others. He was originality; I was monotony.

The first couple times I visited Steve I found a way around telling my parents. As I was living with them during the summer, I told them I would be taking a road trip with my friends and wouldn’t be back for a few days. Visiting him involved driving six-and-a-half hours from San Diego, California, to Phoenix, Arizona, in unbearable heat in a ’96 Volvo with no air conditioning. It turns out escaping monotony is an incredibly sweaty experience. To add to the discomfort, Steve had failed to mention that the Arizona police department decided to install cameras that take pictures of speeding vehicles on the freeway. That was the day I decided technology is also the bane of originality. Two weeks later I received a nice little speeding ticket from the Arizona police department, delivered to my room by a terrifyingly disappointed mother. Steve reacted to this news just as I had suspected he would, with light-hearted laughter. I tried to explain to him that this was the end of life as I knew it, my parents would quarantine me to my room until it was time for me to leave for my semester in England, and I would not be able to see him for another seven months. He softly calmed me down, urging me to begin standing up to my parents, as I was now an adult.

Five weeks later I was on a plane to Arizona. My parents told me the only condition was that I not drive in a car that could have broken down in the middle of the desert. So I listened, and thankfully was able to spend four days with a man I had come to love and admire, feeling as free as ever.

The day he dropped me off at the Phoenix airport to return home to San Diego, I was determined to say something spectacularly memorable. In the passenger seat of his used white Eclipse, I watched his right hand reluctantly turn the keys in the ignition to the resolute off position. I was in love with everything he had offered me that summer, and I needed him to hold on for another four months while I continued to discover myself in Europe. So, in retrospect, I did something embarrassingly cheesy. I carefully unhinged my favorite bracelet, shifted it from one hand to the other, and placed it in his. As I curled his fingers and looked up at him, I simply told him that I wanted him to keep it until next time. As I walked away trailing my suitcase behind me, I hoped that he knew he was keeping something more than just my bracelet.

Towards the end of my semester abroad, without much contact with Steve, I had become a self-diagnosed insomniac. I was struggling between beginning to understand that Steve was pulling away from me, and realizing that in a few short weeks I would be staying at his house in Manchester, England, with him and his family. This was previously agreed upon prior to my departure from the states, but I had never imagined that Steve’s knee-weakening proposal for me to spend Christmas with him and his family would turn into the only time I would have left with him.

The plan was to take a train from Oxford to Manchester once I had finished my final papers and packed up my life there. I watched a few of my friends leave for the airport with all the uncertainty that comes with transitions, and I felt terrified. Questions were what had kept me up at night for the past five weeks, and these same questions flooded my mind as I watched them go. Did he still care for me in the same way? What if he didn’t? Had he found someone else? Why hadn’t he talked to me in five weeks? At that moment, I envied Steve, because I knew he would have never allowed himself to be so affected by something that was out of his control. He would have let it go. But I was not like Steve; I still had hope.

We texted for a few days once he had arrived in England. My train had been canceled and I was staying in a hotel with some friends who had missed their flights due to the storm that nearly incapacitated all of Heathrow Airport in West London. As they watched and hoped for a break in the storm so they could return home, I silently cried in the bathroom. My fingertips grazed the eggshell colored walls as I sank to the depths of the bathroom floor. Everything was colliding together. The weeks of interrupted sleep and exhausting questions had become suddenly re-awakened by the storm. And the temporary peace I felt from the dwindling hope I had clung to before seemed extinguished now.

I had never felt more alone, lying there on the cheap linoleum floor of a bathroom that wasn’t mine, waiting to visit a man who wasn’t mine either. In the midst of trying to convert my monotony into originality, I had completely lost control of my own life. If it was up to me, and I mean the old me, I would have straightened everything out weeks before this. I would have confronted Steve with full force, calling him out on his bullshit, and I would have gotten angry. But as it was, and I mean as I had let it become, anger towards Steve was not even on my radar.

Once the storm passed I took a train to northern England where Steve picked me up from the Manchester station. The last time he had picked me up from the airport, in Phoenix, he hugged me until I was short of breath and then, for the first time, told me that he had fallen in love with me. This time, things could not have been more different. We exchanged a stiff hug and then he politely told me that it was good to see me. Just good to see me? My vision blurred so I refocused my eyes on the various cars filing out of the parking lot. Blue, silver, blue again. Suddenly I couldn’t stand the way the wind nipped at my cheeks, so I politely asked if we could get in the car.

I like to think that the storm characterized the demise of our love. That it was a big production, passionate and painful all at once. I could have stomached the thought of something like that, I could have labeled that an original love affair. But the truth is, our love resided within the dwindling patches of slowly melting snow. Rimmed with unforgiving ice, I still catch myself slipping on them every now and then. Because in the end, there was no originality in the way I let him string me along. None in the way, just one week after I had left his house, he changed his facebook status to “in a relationship.” And none in the way I let him calculatingly phase me out. I found that silence in the name of preserving originality is just self-destructive. The last week and a half I spent with Steve, he and I were polite and restrained. I mirrored his hesitant actions, not sure what else to do. A kiss on the lips became a kiss on the forehead, and he no longer looked me straight in the eyes. It was awful, and yet having admitted this, do I regret anything from the experience? Absolutely not.

During that last week-and-a-half I too had developed different feelings for Steve. He had failed me as far as supportive boyfriends go. While he assured me before I left for England that technology would hold us together, he was able to easily shut me out by restricting this same mode of communication. I began to resent him for becoming so isolated, but refused to truly acknowledge the growing list of reasons why he was not the amazing guy I had once loved. For this I can only blame myself. But I can also take away from this experience an understanding that only seems to reveal itself in the most distressful of times. Trust your gut. As far as relationships go, this is the only thing that reverberates through the darkness. Had I listened to mine, I would have found the answer to every question, and the courage to admit to Steve and to myself that both of us had changed.

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2 Comments

Filed under THE ROMANTIC

2 responses to “Guest Post: Foreign Ex-Changes

  1. I was really touched and sad after reading this. I hope your heart will heal and in time you will find somebody special who treats you the way you deserve it. Best wishes, Julia

  2. Ara

    I’m saddened to read about this as well. It felt as if I was reading a part of my life’s story, because I also come from a very religious background and I also felt trapped to an extent. It worries me, too, because I may go through a long distance relationship as well.
    I hope things look up for you. :)

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