I marched to the nearest place to sit, the concrete biting my spine as I collapsed on the back steps of the mall. Clutching my knees as I fought back the tears threatening to spring free I looked up at the dying sunlight feebly reaching over nearby buildings.
“I just, I ju-sometimes I feel trapped!” I sputtered.
“There’s so much I want to see! So much of the world I NEED to see!”
I glanced at J who’d quietly settled down beside me. Behind a curtain of curls she whispered, “so you want to leave me?”
My heart shook as I glimpsed tears slipping down between the spirals of hair. In my fear and frustration I jutted my chin and contemplated a life without J.
In all of 10 seconds that idea was scrapped, burned, pulped and buried. My heart rattled and I dove for J’s waist, clutching at her coat as though at any moment she would be yanked away into the dim sky never to be seen again. I held on like my life was at stake.
“NO! Please, that would be so much worse,” I sobbed, my tears freely unleashed into a torrent.
Had I just ruined everything? Would this be a goodbye? I squeezed every hope into my trembling arms.
For a dreadful moment J just sobbed.
I’d done it. I’d hurt her too much. She’d say it’s over.
I hugged tighter.
“Please don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” she cried out. Her arms whipped around me, clinging to me just as fiercely as I to her.
A couple walked by as we wept in each other’s arms. I didn’t care. We were two survivors in an angry sea of foreign waters. We’d crested this wave. Together.
QUESTIONS ON THE ROAD
Hello fellow travellers on this crazy planet! In case the story above didn’t drop a big enough hint, this post is going to be about how the hell J and I managed to stick together for the last seven years. We survived unemployment, having a planet between us, an identity change, wanderlust and my impatience. I’m still scratching my head over how we did it. Do soulmates exist or are we just the laziest people ever who find break-ups a hassle?
I was inspired to write this a year ago when I began talking to a young woman living in Jordan. As we exchanged our love stories I thought about how this is a question many travellers share when they come across new people. Looking back I think 9:10 of the people I’ve met on the road are searching for love or seeking ways to keep it.
If you are only interested in travel destinations please feel free to explore the rest of The Doorstep Traveller. If you are looking for tips on how to survive a long distance relationship/gender enlightenment this story may help. If you just like reading about people’s strange spark stories haha read on! This story has been tested on many strangers who said they enjoyed it so I hope you do too.
HOW IT BEGAN
It was 2010. I was a young woman glowing with anticipation for my first year in university. I’d decided to study in a province next to mine, about ten-hours-drive from home, and I was nervous as fuck but excited to break out on my own. It was time to drop the old life as swiftly as the decision to crop my hair short and dye bits of it a shining turquoise blue.
The first semester was a whirlwind. There were a lot of firsts. My first roommate. My first attempt to make new friends. My first Pride meeting. My first independent grocery list.
Since I was in student residence I had to use a communal kitchen. Every second floor had one and often I’d run into other students groggily stewing supper or lunch or a midnight whoops-forgot-to-eat-today snack.
That evening I decided to make some chocolate cake. You know. Because I could. Sticking to some convention I also boiled spaghetti noodles and shredded some cheese for that all-important-meal before dessert.
As a quiet, introverted person I liked to cook my food and then retreat with it to my room. Figuring no one would steal an unfinished cake I ate my dinner in my room as the cake baked. When the timer signaled it was ready I set off to rescue it.
My cooking tools lay scattered on the kitchen tables but I couldn’t carry them along with the hot cake tin. Hurrying the cake to my room I quickly dashed back out to snatch up my things.
Jerking the heavy door open I scanned the kitchen. There was someone at the stove. Tiny, tight curls framed a surprised expression. Pert lips caught in concentration pouted under a pair of dazzling green eyes.
I still don’t know what caused me to do what I did next.
“H-hi! Is that spaghetti? I just made some myself for supper!” I blurted, smacking a smile on my face.
Two eyebrows rose in surprise as the ivy-green eyes peered between slits.
I threw a line into the thought-stream again and tried to reel in a better comment.
“Would you like some chocolate cake? I made some just now. It’s super fresh and I’d like sharing it.”
The question hung in the air.
“Ok! Be right back!” the shout stayed behind as I stepped out.
Running up the stairs I cut two pieces from the cake, realized I didn’t have a plate to give away and chose to placed the pieces in my hands (remember I’m a bookworm country girl).
Down the hall I strode. With cake in both hands the stairs were deemed to risky and they were shunned. I headed for the elevator.
As the doors sprang open the guy within stepped to the side to allow space for me. He eyed the cake.
“Woah! Is that chocolate?! Man that looks delicious!”
A hint of marijuana smell wafted in the air. A marijuana-virgin I gathered my nerve and smiled.
“I made it myself. Want a piece?”
“Woah really?!!! Oh man that would be great! Thanks!”
I passed over a slice and slipped out at my destination floor.
“Thanks! Oh wow!” The guy shouted, waving as the doors slide shut.
Energized by my good deed, and successful ability to interact with a high-person, I swung open the kitchen door.
“Here you go!” I said, grinning wildly.
That’s when my courage ran dry. With my duty fulfilled and my charity all used up for the day I spun around and fled the kitchen.
And the door clicked shut.
WHAT ARE THE ODDS
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) had a population of about 24,000 students when I studied there. A mid-sized campus. My residence building had about 500 students in it if I remembered correctly. I was a book-nerd who liked to pretend outside was inhospitable Mars. I hadn’t seen that person before and nor did I bump into them again after the cake exchange.
I didn’t think much of it. I went to my classes as usual. One such class was my history course. I was enjoying it thoroughly, despite the overly word-saturated powerpoint slides —the ones that
blur into Rosetta Stones as time passes.
After class drew to a close I stayed behind to ask my professor some questions about an upcoming essay (ever the dutiful student).
When I was satisfied I dropped my notes in my bag and stepped into the hallway.
“Hey turquoise-hair girl!”
I startled. Who? ME?
The stranger from the kitchen towered over me as she pushed away from the wall by the classroom door.
“Hey,” she said. “Did you know we share this class?”
“Hi, and no?”
She grinned. “Can I call you something besides turquoise-hair girl?”
“Allison. And you?”
And that is how we met.
For our first day out we waited for a bus that never came. Sunday timetables suck lol. And J is still embarrassed about that though I’m non-fussed haha.
Speaking of embarrassed. At first J kept getting drunk after finishing whole bottles of wine she’d brought to our first hang-outs. (Hey! Bringing wine to a hang-out is the proper thing to do in Spanish culture! She adds).
I was a bit terrified of alcohol at the time (dry until I was 18 only a few months before!!!) so I refused to drink any and the poor girl drank it all alone out of nervousness. Oh, and apparently I didn’t give the impression of not liking drinking. J swears to high heaven that she got a new kind of wine every time because she thought I just hadn’t liked the last one.
Our official relationship as a couple started in a rather odd way too. When I was being introduced to her friends at the university the conversation went like this…
J: “Hi guys! This is my girlfriend Allison!”
Me: “Wait. I’m your girlfriend?”
*Everyone stares awkwardly*
J: “Uh well. Yes?”
Me: “Since when?”
J: “Well since… we do all those things that couples do!”
Me: “In Canadian culture you ask! All that stuff doesn’t make us an automatic couple! You can do that without being officially together!”
J: “But that-the-what? Really?! You can do that stuff outside of a relationship? In Spain it would seal the deal!
Me: “Not here!”
J: “Ok. Will you be my girlfriend?”
Me: “….. ok.”
J (and everyone else): “:) yay!”
From there we hid in my room chatting and cuddling deep into the morning hours, well eventually cuddling deep into the morning hours. At first I was hell-bent on kicking her out of my bed before going to sleep.
We explored art exhibits, events and restaurants together. For Christmas I brought her to my family home in Alberta and we nearly mentally strangled each other after two weeks of being stuck together 24-7 (I lived out in the country so there was no way for J to escape for a bit).
A FATED MEETING?
One fine evening, as we contemplated the universe, humanity and life after death J snuggled closer and told me what compelled her to wait outside our history class after she noticed my presence.
“You’ll laugh,” she said.
“No I won’t,” I replied eyes widening at her hesitation.
“C’mon tell me!” I continued as I nudged her to tell me more.
“A few months ago I had this dream about a girl with turquoise-coloured-hair,” she admitted.
“She had more blue in her hair, but when I saw you, you reminded me of her… so I thought I’d take a chance and talk to you.”
“Whoa. WHOA,” I gasped, “hah, maybe there is something to these fated meetings then?”
“Who knows. But I’m glad the coincidence made me work up the nerve to wait for you.”
Soon though we began to hurdle toward the end of the school year. J was in her final year and studying abroad in Canada for only one year. Once the school year was over she had to leave the country.
We slowed the relationship and vowed to stop it. She was heading for London to start a masters and I had three more years of journalism studies to complete here in Kamloops, Canada. We’d never see each other again. We had careers to build.
I remember pieces of the two last days vividly. J, a friend and I hanging out while we waited for my family to arrive to carry my things and I home for the summer. J and the friend greeting my parents and moving in for a final hug before waving and walking away.
The cold, silent door to J’s room early in the morning the next day as I failed to rouse her for one more moment together.
The tears as I waved at her window and wished her luck as the resident building receded through the rear window of my dad’s pickup truck.
One Step Closer: A LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP
Thailand: THREE YEARS LATER
“I miss you a lot,” I admitted one sweltering, restless evening.
“I miss you too,” J replied from her pillow in London.
“Do you think I can… visit you in the UK?”
“I’d like that,” she responded through the haze of my laptop screen.
I’d made the decision to study abroad. I tried for England with thoughts of J on my mind, but every place failed to choose me. Destiny wasn’t on my side this time.
I was chosen by Thailand instead. That year was one of the most exciting and defining experiences of my life. I’ll never regret it. It also inspired me to take a leap.
Sometimes I was filled with a terrible homesickness and craved English speakers. Before I became great friends with my fellow international and local students I relied on endless discussions with J over the internet. We Skyped and we chatted through Line (Asia’s first choice instant messaging service). We shared our days, our triumphs and our fears.
Then as our bond continued to deepen I took a chance and uttered the words that solidified us as a couple once more.
“I miss you.”
And that’s how we struck up a long-distance relationship.
Things were tough at times. How do you maintain a relationship with someone you can’t hug or cuddle or er—more?
We did a few things.
– We played Heroes Academy on Steam and any other multiplayer game we could get our hands on.
– We exchanged some fun photos every now and then.
– We shared our deepest sexy secrets over Skype (good dream-time material!).
– When I wrote on my blog I wrote to share my adventures with J. She read the posts to explore Thailand with me in spirit.
There was still the issue of physical intimacy.
It only struck me though after a certain discussion in the ocean.
I had convinced a friend—and her guy friend—to seek out a beach with pure white sand in the west of Thailand. We never did find said beach, but discovered a brown beach and the ocean so we stripped to our swimsuits and went for a swim anyway. While one of us guarded the clothes the other two went for a dip. At one point I was floating along with my friend.
“So tell me about your relationship?” she said as she dipped and rose in the waves.
I reiterated how J and I had met, left and been reunited.
“Oo, I have experience with long distance relationships,” she began and shared her story.
“How did you overcome the need for sex?” I blurted, the waves washing away my concerns for image.
“Have you not worked that out yet? Didn’t you have a discussion about boundaries?”
Her shocked expression bobbed. I sunk deeper into the water.
“Have it now. Right when you get back.”
“Er. Ok,” was all I could reply as my friend’s friend swam out to greet us.
“No one’s going to steal our stuff,” he muttered.
A day later I brought up the conversation with J.
“Would you be ok with an open relationship? ForNowOnlyBecauseWeAreApart,” I rambled.
“…sure? Although I’m monogamous so I won’t do anything with it, but if you want it then I can be ok with it.”
“Should we tell each other or keep it to ourselves?”
“Tell each other. Definitely tell each other, otherwise it might pop up at awkward moments.”
“Yeah and then we can keep tabs, just in case, for STDs.”
“Uh yeah, but again I won’t use it.”
“I don’t think I will either, but I think it’s good that we’re laying down the law now,” I said as my friend’s words echoed in my mind.
“Sure,” J laughed from London.
With that discussion completed I felt much better. I wasn’t afraid to band together with a group of guys on my solo journey through Cambodia because I didn’t have to worry about what was a step too far for hanging around with guys and gals.
I casually shared a few rooms to lower costs and no guilt bit at my soul.
My heart twanged for a beautiful woman in my course, but I never could reveal my feelings.
When I travelled to Chang Mai to witness the floating lanterns of the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festival I struck up conversation with a fellow on the bus heading there. When we arrived in the dead of night we wandered through the town together until morning and then shacked together in the “last rooms available” because neither of us had thought to book ahead.
We loved our time together—or at least I did. We snuggled, we shared our dreams and we laughed. That man, we’ll call him R for smooth-reading’s sake, happily showed me the highlights of the town—including a monastery he’d lived within on his previous visit and the finesses and thrills of navigating a busy road on a scooter.
I don’t think I would have enjoyed the festival so thoroughly without his wonderful insights and good-natured humour.
On the last night of the festival, as I tucked myself into a songthaew while floating lights twinkled across the town, a piece of my heart slipped away to stay behind with the man who stood waving in the darkness as I sped away to the bus station and back to my degree.
For the longest time my camera carried a little charm R gave me. I only removed it when it broke off. It still travels with me three years later.
And I told all this to J. She accepted it, asked if I still loved her and I whole-heartedly said yes—she is still the love of my life.
In time she also shared some experiences with a crush in London. I teased her and cheered her on. We had way too much fun describing these intimate feelings with each other.
After entering an open relationship things were quiet until another great change slipped over the horizon. Facebook announced that it had further diversified its gender categories to include queer, non-binary and more.
I wandered through my friends noting changes and surprises. One such surprise was J’s new status. Queer and non-binary.
I immediately called her up and asked for an explanation. I knew her as Joseph.
The long complicated discussion that followed can be read here. And even then the story continues to evolve. Now I use the pronoun they, them, their for J. Why? Simply because they asked. That’s all you need.
The important thing is that after shedding tears over the idea of potentially losing my Joseph I scratched my way through to the realization that “J” would still be the person I love. And they still are today.
What’s a few words in exchange for support, cuddles, yummy food and an amazing person at my side?
After missing my flight in Sweden and having to break out more money for a new ticket to London I was exhausted. I stumbled into Gatwick Airport hours after I’d intended.
I defer to J’s memory for this because I was dead on my feet at the time.
“I remember your frantic call where you said you were stuck in Sweden or Norway or something… you didn’t know.”
“Since you were late I waited with a friend in London and the next thing I remember was you trundling out of the Arrivals gate with your suitcases. It wasn’t as romantic as it sounds. We tiredly grinned at each other, hugged and waited for the next bus at three in the morning. You were half asleep. We talked about your flight and the coup in Thailand. We napped on each other’s shoulders on the way to Cambridge and went to bed,” she recalls over my head as I type this out.
“For weeks after you’d arrived we were really sort of tentative and careful because the last time we saw each other in person it was kind of awkward and painful.”
From there we slowly stitched together a physical bond again. I think the thing that most contributed to our success was the fact that we were living in a shared house. As we grew used to living in each other’s presence we had plenty of chances to walk away for a bit—to take in the city or chat with a housemate. There was no hurry.
We explored the city. I taught J how to ride a bicycle and our shared joy in the exercise took us to places all across the region.
I met J’s parents for the first time in Tenerife over Christmas last year. J had already met my parents back in Canada. Everyone was getting along beautifully. J’s parents took to me, my parents adore J and are trying to adapting to our queer language. It helped that my relatives in Canada and Germany were quickly enthralled by J’s amazing cooking hahaha.
A few years ago I worked briefly for a newspaper in Cambridge, but I was never hired as a proper staff reporter. My attempts to enter the media were failing and I was struggling. I finally took up work in a little cafe with staff I’d almost call family.
Suddenly the landlord declared a wish to sell the house and we had three months to vacate. So we talked. Cambridge was fun, but expensive. We wanted to save and travel.
After some debate and various lists we moved into a small flat in Dundee, Scotland. J wanted to seek their mother’s roots and I was itching for a new adventure. Our new home bragged about its prospering game and tech industry which was growing alongside its rich history of journalism. The town appeared bountiful and we hoped to tie in and begin climbing.
At times the stress was great and we—well I, mostly—broke into a wretched battle of blame. But J remained patient and we kept throwing our CVs into the wind.
though we struggle to find paid work, things are looking up. J and I both have work we love. We frequently travel to sate my wanderlust—in fact it’s gotten to the point where J is now equally itching to see new places. Their support and insight has been paramount for many of my advances as a person and professional. I can never thank them enough for all their help and patience. I’m not a patient person and sometimes that wears me thin, but J is always there to anchor me or nudge me when necessary. I can only hope I’m doing the same.
Though I feared commitment would narrow my world, J has exponentially expanded my horizons.
I love you infinity J. Thanks for everything. I look forward to continuing to explore the world with you.