“I have an idea for a blog post, finally,” I tell Isi, sitting up on her bed, the morning grey and disinterested outside her apartment windows.
She looks at me from the office chair at the foot of the bed, smiles wryly. “How to break up with your girlfriend while travelling?” she teasingly suggests.
“No, not that,” I say, and promptly burst into tears.
But actually, I’ve been thinking about it for the last five minutes or so, which I suppose is about as much time as most people give to putting something deeply personal on the internet…. but maybe it’s not such a bad idea to write about it. Writing is therapeutic, and the situation itself is fairly unusual and does affect the way I travel, after all.
So, here goes, perhaps with a tiny backstory for context.
I met her online, as seems to be the way of the world these days, a couple of months after I told my husband to get out of the house, having found out about his “emotional affair”. I wanted something fun, someone to flirt with, nothing serious, to just feel liked again. I saw her picture on an app – her, with mountains in the background, crouched amongst three dogs. Talk about a way to my heart.She was travelling Australia, backpacking around, working on farms. That had been her plan, anyway. I guess I sort of disrupted that when our “no expectations, no strings, no serious stuff” got serious way more quickly than we’d anticipated and she ended up staying at my place indefinitely. Sorry Isi. When we started talking she told me she was German and I told her that I was sorry but I wasn’t going to learn German, I didn’t have any interest in Germany and had no plans to go there (then again, I remember saying, as a side note, the best agility team in the world is from Germany…). I say this because it shows the effect she had on me. I legitimately never had any interest in Germany, and now, I’ve been here months and can carry conversations in German when I need to. When I told her my crazy plan (at that stage, to move to Sweden and live there), she said: “do it!” and told me her idea to live in a van. Sorry Isi, I guess I stole that one.
Fast forward through the months of planning, of preparing, of getting the house ready for sale, of packing everything, and she was there for all of it. Going through this insanely huge transition in my life with her at my side, the most amazing support I could have asked for. And then I landed in Europe, and everything was awful getting the van and I leant on her again.
And then I went to Sweden. Oh, Sweden. How a place could both break me down and simultaneously build me up, I don’t know, but that’s what happened. Like the beginning of a Charles Dickens novel, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and somewhere in the cold and snowy north, a part of that needing fell away. I began to find my rhythm in the van, going from place to place, surviving the cold, living our daily lives, exploring, doing our thing. And the more I was away, the less I needed her. She tells me later, reading this before I post it, that it sounds like I was only with her because I needed her. It wasn’t that. It feels more like a growing, up, apart, away. Something uncontrollable that happened because of time, because of circumstance, because of this journey.
Fast forward to now, to last week, actually, explaining this. Cue ugly crying, hugging, wondering if we should be hugging, laughing, crying again, her kissing my head, apologising for kissing my head, hurting, aching, apologising for snotting on her shirt, her laughing, saying she doesn’t mind if I snot on her shirt, me crying some more because why the hell am I breaking up with someone who doesn’t mind me snotting on their shirt???…
And I drove off, knowing I’d be back in a week or so, but knowing also that it had all changed. And yet, it hadn’t… except that in my heart, I knew I shouldn’t message her just to tell her what a crappy day I’d had, or to tell her of the stupid decision I’d made in amongst all my angst and ugly crying to buy knitting needles and take up knitting. When your whole world is falling apart (or… should I say, unravelling!?) because of your stupid feelings, trying to learn a new hobby that requires patience and concentration is… not really smart. Especially when you have laughably slow internet so can only stare at tragically pixelated “how to” diagrams of a slip-knot, hurl abuse at a happy-go-lucky tutorial that instructs you to simply “cast on” and then “start knitting” (I DON’T KNOW HOW TO KNIT YOU FOOL THAT’S WHY I’M ON YOUR WEBSITE), and then finally, finally, you get to the second row of your scarf and it somehow already manages to look like something a cat ate and barfed up a few hours later. Because that’s totally how to cheer yourself up.
(hint: it’s not. Don’t do it.)
On the Road, On my Own
How do I explain this?
I am a solo traveller. I drive around quite happily by myself and sometimes meet people from the internet who have nice instagrams and do agility. Often I would come back to Isi’s. But even when I wasn’t coming back, her place was always there. A safe place, a home, I guess. A beacon in the dark. And while she assures me I am still welcome any time, asks me what she can do to make me know I am welcome any time, there is a mental shift. I have no right to that place any more. I am a friend asking for a place to crash, to do laundry, to stay for a couple of days before I move on. I know there is still a safe place for me, where I can keep my random things till later, and drop by when I need to… but it’s no longer a home. I know I am welcome, welcome to stay as long as I want even, but it’s not a home any more. For someone with perhaps more than a touch of anxiety and a love of control, this is a big deal, a scary thought. While I was here “by myself” before, I am now more alone, must be more self reliant. Today marks six months since I landed. In my heart I know I can do this “by myself”, that I am capable, that we will be fine, it still feels like a letting go of the support I had, a stepping out into the world, free-falling.
Have you ever made a decision then spent hours wondering if it was the right one? Whether the fallout from that decision influenced your emotions and what you’re feeling afterwards is only because of the fallout? What a muddy pool to be swimming in. And yet here we are, paddling around, while I contemplate the million wonderful ways she is and wondering what a colossal idiot I am and whether I just made a huge mistake.
And yet, my future is so entirely uncertain, and for someone who becomes a bit consumed by their independence, where is the space in that for a relationship? In March, I’m going to Croatia, and then? I don’t know. How long will I be away? I don’t know. If I remember right now how I felt before I left for Sweden, what if it fades again while I’m gone? What if I can’t travel and love? And even without all that, my visa expires in August, and I’m not sure I want to stay in Germany, in fact I’m highly considering looking into teaching jobs in Sweden (yes, Sweden, go figure. The place has a weird hold on me) and the picture I have in my head of the future finds it hard to include Isi. So maybe it’s better this way for now… and if in the future, things change and we come together again, organically, under different circumstances, then I’ll be open to that, too.
But for now, it is how it is, and I’m eternally grateful that she is the amazing person that she is and is letting me sit on her bed while I type this, Loki’s fur everywhere, my stuff strewn around her room, her offering to take photos of me crying for the post, to draw tears on my face. Possibly she just wants an excuse to draw on my face.
Maybe one day I’ll knit her a scarf in her perfect favourite colour, to say thank you for everything.