Having finally escaped Kathmandu (and escaped is the right word), I was able to turn my attention to the only question that really mattered:
What was I doing in Nepal?
To even begin probing that question, I needed to go back to the start of this trip. I needed to go back to Holly and myself.
Holly and I fell in love over ice cream, LSD, and clinical depression.
Deep, honest conversation about difficult emotional topics was the rock on which our relationship had been built. Triggering topics, introspective substances, and quality conversation were what kept drawing me back to her bedroom, to lay side by side and stare at her ceiling.
A very attractive woman, I doubt Holly had ever been talked to in the way I talked to her. Because for the longest time, I saw Holly as the type of person who’d say whatever she thought you wanted to hear. And I don’t much like people like that, no matter how good they look.
I shoot straight, even in situations when I probably shouldn’t.
This is one of my great flaws as a character. This honest but stubborn refusal to bend is part of why Holly was attracted to me in the first place. And ultimately, it was this honest streak that led me to utter the words that initiated the chain reaction which brought me here, to Nepal, all alone.
Live by the sword, die by the sword, I suppose.
After we graduated college, we moved to a ski town in the Rocky Mountains. I took a job working for a journalism startup, she took work as a server, and we both started to retreat into ourselves.
A long, lonely winter took hold.
The butterflies faded, and the fights started to creep in. She thought I didn’t respect her job. I thought she respected her job more than she respected our relationship. This conflict came to define the space between us.
As things got worse and worse in the mountains, with daylight in short supply and honest conversations even rarer, escapism took hold of our hearts.
“I want to travel,” was the only response Holly could muster when I asked her what was next, for her, for us.
This was fine with me— I’d wanted to travel the month after graduation. I’d stayed because of her. In the throes of love, this woman was the only adventure I wanted. I couldn’t even dream of spending my time anywhere else, with anyone else.
We started squirreling away money.
On our one-year anniversary, a nervous, tipsy Holly surprised me with a proposal: let’s move to Amsterdam!
Drunk on possibility (and more than a little red wine), I said yes.
A week later, after suffering a concussion while snowboarding alone, I exploded in anger at her. She didn’t have a fucking clue how to do this, the visa would be almost impossible— she had no marketable skills and I had few. Why would they want us in Amsterdam?
She had cried. I had held her, but secretly, I thought it had needed to be said.
Only later would I learn that anger, irrational outbursts, and emotional lability are all post-concussive symptoms.
Communication broke down further between us. We drank, often. The winter lifted and summer returned to the Rockies. I took an office job for the first time in my life, working 9-5 for half the week to save some extra cash for traveling. I hated it. Then, I was promoted at my journalism job: a pay raise and more hours. I invited Holly to join me at our favorite French restaurant to celebrate. A fancy place; a place for occasions.
She showed up late, having already ate. What seemed to me like it should have been a simple celebration turned into a multi-hour fight, as we drank and bar-hopped and bemoaned our inability to communicate.
The next morning was hungover, and sad.
A few days later, we bought one-way tickets to Thailand.
The last time I’d tried that hard to escape obvious relationship issues, it’d been New Year’s Eve 2011. On that occasion, it hadn’t been a foreign country I escaped to: it was a bottle of 101-proof liquor. Peppermint Schnapps, straight. I’d almost died, trying to distract myself from the fact that my girlfriend wanted to die.
But that’s a different story, of a different me, lost in a different love.
Still, the washed-up feeling of waking up on a couch, covered in vomit, with only a loose understanding of how I got there was pretty comparable to my experience of staggering into Nepal.
I felt gross, grimy, and chronically under-rested. My money was depleting quicker than I’d hoped, and my mother had sent me a text message that morning asking if I “planned on freezing to death” at Everest Base Camp. I couldn’t muster the energy to work, and every day I delayed was a day I could use to patch things up in person with Holly.
Only one thing was keeping me abroad: that job with Runtastic, in Austria.
It wasn’t Amsterdam, but it was close.