I have received a job offer in New York City.
I have been Googling.
- “Which is more important, career or love?”
- “Job versus woman”
- “Security or freedom?”
- “New York versus Lisbon”
The job is in my field; a startup. A British company, opening a New York branch. I’d have the opportunity to shape the culture, manage the rest of the hires. I have always wanted to live in New York. I know I can do the job. There is lots of potential upside.
There’s just the one downside: if I take the job in New York, I can’t move to Europe, and I can’t continue my whirlwind Italian romance.
In my heart, I know I don’t want the job.
I have always advocated following your heart.
I have always acted in pursuit of this; often to my own detriment.
A life lived honestly in pursuit of beauty and connection… I won’t ever apologize for such a thing. I will take my mess, a million times, over the simmering resentment and speculative nostalgia of someone who has acted conservatively.
But I’m not suicidal.
I talk to C about it.
I want her to tell me, no, don’t take the job, let’s you and I strike off on an adventure together!
I need just the smallest sign. Any inkling in her behavior. Any tiny hint that I shouldn’t take the job.
I fish for it; I ask the leading questions. I extend the silences as far as they will go.
I never get that sign.
I take the job.
It should be a triumphant moment for me. Instead, it’s muddy and full of sadness.
I sell my car. I box up my climbing gear.
I am just checking boxes though.
There’s no satisfaction in it.
It’s just a job.
The company buys me tickets to London, for two weeks of training with the team out there.
I negotiate for five days of sightseeing before I start work.
C agrees to come meet me.
Our fourth country together.
Half a sign.
“Well, you’re always telling me to take big risks in love,” my friend Jason says. “So I’m not that surprised to hear your story.”
We are catching up over beers in Colorado, the night before I leave for the new job in London. From London, I will go straight to New York. This is the last I’ll see of Jason for a while. I’d been home for months, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to tell him the story of C and I: the meeting in Morocco, the weekend in Budapest, and the month of romance up and down Italy. He knew where I had gone; the why was a mystery.
“But you’re going to break up with her in London,” he says, emphatically, at the conclusion of my story. “You have to.”
I smile at him. Shrug. “You better do it,” he says. “It’ll only be trouble otherwise. You know how many women there must be in New York?”
“But not this one,” I say, mischievous.
He rolls his eyes. “She can’t be that special.”
Jason’s always been a lot more sensible than I.
I meet C in Victoria Station. I am wearing a button-down shirt, dressed up to fly, as I always do. For the first time in years, I am traveling with a roller suitcase, instead of a backpack. I am a business traveler. I blend right into London.
She comes into view as she rides the escalator to me: wearing a too-large Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt, carrying a backpack and a purse made out of old jeans. She’s shorter than I remember. She looks like a child back from summer camp, in every aspect.
She jumps, envelops me, and we hold our bodies together, there in front of the McDonalds. We kiss and kiss and can’t keep our hands off each other. For thirty minutes, maybe more, we can’t move from that spot. We don’t want to let go of each other. That spot is pure, unadulterated happiness. That pillar, second-floor of Victoria station, outside the McDonalds.
There is no place more beautiful in all of London.
I have booked a hotel; a small place in Canary Wharf.
Canary Wharf, for those of you that don’t know London, is the financial district. There you will find Credit-Suisse, Barclays, HSBC. You will find endless luxury high-rises. People taking their clients out to 300-pound lunches, on the corporate card. Every man in the street wears a suit. I did not know London, either, when I booked the hotel.
I would have been hard-pressed to pick a neighborhood more anathema to either of us; to our story.
But the bed is large. It’s comfy, and we have each other.
In that room, we forget the world around us.
Compared with Budapest, when we didn’t know what to do with each other’s bodies, this is an entirely different world. After months of messaging back and forth each day, we understand each other better than ever. And with a big bed all to ourselves, and no parents below, as in Italy, we stay busy.
Day after day, night after night, spent in a blissful haze.
“This is so nice…” she says, lying, naked and satisfied, next to me. Her hands in my curls, our eyes locked. “I don’t want you to go to New York…”
“Why did you tell me to take the job then?” I ask, quietly. “I didn’t want to take it.”
“I don’t have anything to offer you,” she says, after a long pause. “I don’t have a job, I don’t have a plan…I don’t have anything. How can I ask you to come with me, when I don’t even know where I’m going?”
“Who gives a shit about a job?” I say. “All that stuff will work itself out. Jobs come and go. Money comes and goes. People are all that matter.”
“Yeah,” she says, unconvinced. “Maybe…”
“And I want to be with you,” I say. “Why don’t you come join me in New York, if you can’t find anything here?”
“I don’t like New York,” she says. “It’s too big.”
“You said ‘feed me culture’,” I say, referencing one of our first text exchanges, after she’d left Chefchaouen, and found herself trapped in the Italian suburbs. “There’s no place better for culture than New York City. It’s one of the biggest cultural centers in the world. There’s always something going on. Music, art, dance… anything!”
“I’d spend all my time on the High Line,” she says. “It’s beautiful there.”
It’s almost as if my words haven’t registered at all. She can get like this, when I get serious. She goes some place else: far-off, and unreachable.
“Maybe you should just go to Lisbon then,” I say.
Suddenly, somehow, she’s back.
I hate this. I hate her.
I love her.
In London, we forge some golden memories.
We play mini-golf for free, sponsored by Credit-Suisse, in the shadow of the towers. We feed the ducks along the canal. We drink at rooftop bars. We eat Indian food so spicy she cannot talk; in lieu of talking, we laugh until our sides hurt. We visit hip rooftop bars and find counterculture even in the world’s most expensive city. We pass a sunny afternoon, drinking a bottle of wine in the Nomad Community Gardens, in Shoreditch.
I ask her on a date, a “first date.” She puts on lipstick, the first time I have ever seen her wear it, and we go to a pub, where we get to know each other late into the night, laughing at our unexpected familiarity. We connect so well, we say. This is the best first date I’ve ever been on! I say in drunken, broken Spanish. She replies affirmatively in Portuguese, and the people around us shy away from such an odd, animated pair. We smile at each other, entwine our arms, and hold each other’s hand. The night is warm; and full of promise.
What will our second date bring? We wonder.
Our playful side is solid: a warm, witty repartee. We value many of the same things: spontaneity, frugality, beauty amidst the ordinary. Irrationality. Good food and mid-day beers. Smiles and youth and joy.
We walk amongst the skyscrapers of the multinational corporations and laugh about what life would be like, working in Canary Wharf. We are enormously ill-suited for such things, we know. “That’s about to be you,” she teases.
“If that’s what this job turns out to be,” I say, “I’m on the next plane to Lisbon.”
“I know what I’m rooting for then,” she says, giving me a bump of with her hips as we walk along the canals.
My stomach drops at the comment.
In our playful moments, she is happy to say she wants to be together. She expresses a want, a need for me. But always with a smile and a wink. When the conversation turns serious, she acts as if I have no ground to stand on, asking to hear that she cares. She acts as if I am being ridiculous. She gets angry. She refuses to acknowledge the things she has said.
“If you wanted me in Lisbon,” I say, “you could have told me that before I took this job.”
“I can’t ask you to make that sacrifice,” she says, even though I have been offering it up since Naples.
C leaves London, and moves to Lisbon.
I wake up one morning to find nothing left of her but a shirt, thrown in the corner in a moment of passion, and forgotten. It smells of her. I fall asleep holding it, for a day or two more.
She gets a job working in an office, something she hates, earning a few hundred Euros a month.
The sacrifice is more than worth it, she tells me, to live in Lisbon.
The irony seems to escape her entirely.
A woman from my past contacts me.
Jason and I had been in Amsterdam, January 2017, where we met this woman. We’d spent a night or two out on the town, exploring the red-light district, smoking shitty cigarettes, drinking some overpriced beers in the city’s tourist district. A casual encounter; the sort that happens often while you are traveling.
But much the same way C had captivated me at first sight, I must have captivated this woman.
She had contacted me the second she saw I was in London, insisting we see each other.
I had no real reason to say no, so I joined her for a drink.
Let me know how your ‘encounter’ goes, C had written. Not that I’m jealous or anything… Just let me know how it goes, ok?
We go to a hidden cocktail bar in Chinatown, a hip, dim place. We drink overpriced cocktails and feel that they’re worth it. We talk of my situation, with C; and this woman’s, with a similarly-distant foreign boy. We walk around London, and as the ‘date’ draws to a close, she says: “Do you remember that night, in Amsterdam? When it was just us two, outside, and you leaned in close?”
“Why didn’t you kiss me?” she asks.
“The truth is,” she continues, as I think hard how to answer, “I’ve been thinking about this question for a year and a half now.”
Truthfully, I’d kind of forgotten that moment.
So I give her my best guess: I was really sick that trip, I was depressed… maybe under other circumstances, things might have gone different.
It doesn’t seem to satisfy her. She angles for an invitation to my place.
But again, I have to say, the circumstances just aren’t right. I don’t want to lead her on.
I bid her goodbye with a hug.
When I get back to my room, alone, I find a message from C. It’s a photo: her, in a sexy dress, showing some leg in the mirror.
Look what you missed, the caption reads.
The day I leave Europe to move to New York, I am seized by terror.
I was supposed to talk to C the night before; she’d been out late in Lisbon, gotten drunk, and forgotten me.
I am afraid of being forgotten.
We spend ten minutes talking on the phone, and she cannot comfort me. She might be trying; but she can’t find the words to say. Not the right ones, anyways. I catch the coach to the airport, where she begins bombarding me with messages. They feel like a goodbye. They feel like a breakup.
They are a goodbye. They are a breakup.
My heart pounding, a bulge in my throat, I ask my colleague for a Xanax.
I am visibly upset, a shaky mess, talking urgently to C on my phone.
He gives me a pill from his prescription. I calm down.
I get on the plane, and accept I am leaving her.
New York will be a new chapter.
But the moment I land in New York, she will pick up where we left off: messaging back and forth all day.
Sending goodnight kisses and asking me to come live with her in Lisbon.
And I, lovestricken, will be unable to resist.
Pretending as if words have no weight.
To be continued…