I was running. Sort of. I was planning to travel anyway, but I booked that trip in the days that followed the break-up if I can even call it that. And in those same days that I had an intense desire to jump out of an airplane. To really feel something that wasn’t heartache.
At first, I didn’t think I would find it. I couldn’t ever imagine what would actually happen on my travels that could change me. You never can.
Three weeks later, as the rain pounded down onto the only paved roads I’d walked in all of Central America, I wrapped my arms a little bit tighter around him and I smiled because I knew that I’d found it.
His face wasn’t particularly friendly, but I’d struck up the conversation anyway. He looked like someone who could tell me where to surf. As we rode together, just the two of us, in the bed of that white truck along the bumpy dirt and gravel road that would take us to Playa Maderas, we talked about kids. He wasn’t sure he wanted them, I was afraid mine would turn out all wrong. He admitted he was only twenty; a kid himself. But I already knew it wouldn’t matter to me.
From him, I took what I needed. I felt more than he did, but that fact didn’t hurt the way it did all the times before. He put his arm around me as he walked me home from the party only two short nights later and he told me all of the best things about myself. He marvelled at the way that I let everyone in, the way that I found commonality and built friendships around it. The way that I smiled, all the time. Without knowing what he was doing, he continued to describe the heart that was inside of me. The thing I was trying so hard to protect.
The best moments we spent together were sitting in the kitchen of that hostel. That hostel that would become the catalyst to my story, the kind of special that can’t be put into words, forever engrained in my memory. I watched him stick out his tongue and bite down on his lower lip as he chopped onions at 10 o’clock at night, and I fell completely in love with him. I smiled for the entire time we were in that kitchen, it felt like hours, but they were hours of contentment. And as we ventured out to make conversation with other travellers, he pulled me into his lap and put his arms around me. In that moment, I was his. A girl he’d known for only three days, a face he’d soon forget. But in that moment, he broadcast to the world that he was with me.
There was an innocence to that short-lived glint of romance. I felt a desire to take care of him and felt him mould to take care of me in a different way. As I taught him about life and acceptance, he taught me what it feels like to be nurtured, what it felt like to have your heart played back to you. Like we fitted our needs around each other’s best qualities, and we took from each other only what we needed.
That night, the rain was so loud that it woke us up. Some people say that the rain cleanses the soul, washes away bad energy. And the timing of that downpour, the only one I experienced in Nicaragua, was serendipitous as his grasp only got tighter with each half-woken stir. When the sun finally did rise, we stirred against the prospect that the new day would take me away, down the coast to Costa Rica. My cheek nestled just where his arm met his chest, I looked up at him and he opened his eyes into mine. A smile broke his lips. He kissed me to say good morning and turned his body closer to mine. When we finally did get out of bed, we sat together planning our next moves, moves that would take us away from each other, inevitably forever.
Maybe there won’t be a seat on the bus.
He said it off-handedly. And my heart was still so locked, that I didn’t take the full effect of the words onboard until days later when I was already gone.
The truth was, there was a seat on the bus. But I didn’t buy it. I stayed. I needed one more day. I couldn’t run away from the thing that healed me. There was him, and there were all of the others that had made that place what it was. So I stayed, for one more day.
That night, for one last time, I crawled onto the thin foam mattress on his bottom bunk in the hostel’s staff dormitory. We watched the middle of a movie on his rickety old laptop. As I felt him drift to sleep, I knew that this was the end. I didn’t feel sad like I thought I would. I just wanted to run before the feeling changed. So, I turned the laptop off and crawled over him and out of his bed. He caught my arm as I went. I kissed his thick hair, bleached from the surf, one of the first things I loved about him.
I’ll see you in the morning, he said. But I knew he wouldn’t. He put his hands on my cheeks one more time and rather than ruin the moment, I didn’t say a word. I put my lips to his, I felt his hands in my own sun-bleached hair and I turned and walked out of the staff dorm, without looking back.
I was right in the beginning, now I’m back home and nothing here has changed. But for me, everything has changed. I’ve barely spoken to him since, and I’ll probably never see him again. But, whenever I see his face in my mind’s eye, I remember the way he pursed his lips and stuck his bottom lip out when he was mad about the surf, the way he smiled when he woke up and remembered I was next to him, the way he scrunched his nose back at me when he knew I was annoyed at something. And I’ll always smile because he’s out there somewhere, making someone else happy.
It wasn’t actually him that healed me. I did that. But he helped, and I’ll never stop telling the story.