Photo: Piyoros C/Shutterstock

It's Messy Falling for Someone on the Road

by Tyler Protano-Goodwin Mar 6, 2015

I MET DEVON while traveling through Peru; both of us had signed up for the same four-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. A 5 am breakfast left us sitting opposite each other at a table, sharing a basket of stale bread and noticeably artificial butter. The news that he was on his way back to the United States acted merely as a means to conversation; I didn’t know right away that we would end up emotionally engaged further into the trip.

I told him of my plan to move to Santiago, he told me he had just finished up a year in the same city, and that I would love it there. Our plans spilled out before us, an ending seemingly solidified before a beginning had even transpired.

He was the only American on the hike, and so we became even closer within minutes — we chatted about our backgrounds as education majors, our ridiculous love of Boy Meets World, and the places both predictable and poetic that our travels had taken us to.

We sat next to each other, in what barely constituted as a tent, while dinner was prepared, our knees accidentally brushing against each other underneath the table as we played cards. Our bodies moved closer together as the rain outside threatened to come in, the cold merely acting as a catalyst for our growing connection.

We found each other while we hiked, intentionally setting our paces to match one another’s. As the sun dipped below the mountain peaks we took advantage of the dying light, subtly exploring the campsite, our pursuit a mere rouse to steal time away from the group. And as we reached the top of the mountain, we congratulated each other on the climb and perhaps for being open to the possibility of what could be.

The trip was over almost as soon as it had begun, and we were back where we had started. Hugging goodbye as we parted, I was unsure of when we would see each other again. I sat in my hostel bed contemplating my longing for Devon, a man I still hardly knew. Unaware of how my feelings for him had developed, unsure of what I really missed about him, and how much I simply missed the idea of him, yet aware that I wanted more time, time to let answers replace projections.

I knew that I missed his morning hugs. Emerging from the tent into the bitter cold of 4 am wake up calls he would be there, arms outstretched, waiting to pull me into a warm embrace. I missed his deep laugh and ability to transition so effortlessly in and out of humor. I missed the way he listened when I talked, the way he looked at me and told me that I made him laugh, the way he complimented me as if I was the only one he noticed.

I wasn’t yet sure of exactly who I was falling for, but these moments had taken up permanent residence in my thoughts without an option to press pause. The idea of him having already developed into a person that I could see myself with, a person that I may have already lost myself in.

He was staying in Cusco for one more night after the hike, and I quickly realized that even one more night mattered. I wasn’t ready for the long goodbye.

And it seemed that neither was he. A message sat in my inbox, waiting for me as soon as I got back to my hostel after our group had dispersed.

“Lets get dinner.”

Over mediocre hamburgers, we found ourselves drinking too much, chatting too loudly, grinning too widely, the excitement uncontrollable.

Devon decided not to leave, missed his bus back to Lima, and stayed around so that we could spend more time together. One more week we decided, one more week to continue our growing flirtation, and as we both prolonged the idea of goodbye, I couldn’t help but picture the future as limitless. I was getting ahead of myself, and lost in the idea of what we could be.

It had only been five days, and yet he kissed me like he cared about me, held my hand like we had known each other forever, looked at me like he already feared what goodbye would mean.

I felt the same, like he was somebody that I already trusted, that I already knew, somebody that I wanted to be with — not just for the next few days but forever.

It sounds crazy, yet so are most relationships on the road. Connection happens fast, intimacy comes even quicker, forever is an easy word to latch onto when an expiration date lies so close in the future.

A week quickly spilled into two, the end approaching even as we refused to acknowledge it. We sang karaoke, fast-paced beats in Spanish that we could barely keep up with, in a dark dive bar in town, the fake leather seats artfully decorated with duct tape. We quickly discovered how perfectly our past experiences and future plans aligned, a life of teaching and travel our reality, a desire to pursue writing our motivation. We went hiking and biking through city streets that we discovered together, a honeymoon before dating had even begun. We chatted late into the nights, laughing at what was present, living so fully in the moment that we forgot it wouldn’t last.

And it didn’t last, it couldn’t last.
Then came the goodbye, the tears springing forward before I even had time to contextualize them, surprising myself at how attached I had grown so quickly to the idea of Devon. For what is two weeks in the context of a lifetime? Was it even real? How would I explain this blip of a connection to someone back home? A relationship that in so many ways felt more honest, more genuine, more grounded in respect than other relationships lasting much longer in duration?

Time is not a luxury that many travelers have when it comes to relationships. We are unable to control the duration or speed at which our forays will unravel. Does this lack of control prove lack of validity? Are we fooling ourselves to believe that these trysts hold meaning?

The answer is, of course not. For significance comes from connection. Life is all about meeting people. Racing around the world, working your way through the song and dance of initial connection. Sometimes the dance goes well, you step with the right foot and them with the left, an effortless coordination. Sometimes it’s messy and sloppy, frequent pauses, rehearsed utterances, an effort much more than a pleasure. However, as connection is life, you keep at it, throwing yourself into the vulnerable position of exposing what lies beyond personal fact and instead flirts with emotion. Connection, friendship, physical touch — we exist on this earth to share ourselves with others, and regardless of our path it is the most salient way that meaning is pumped into the whole big picture.

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