Halfway to Anywhere
On Valentine's Day last year Don gave me a guide book to Australia. He inscribed on the inside cover "Remember to fly. With love, Don." It might be the sweetest gift I've ever received.
Don did everything he could do to encourage me to chase my dreams around the world. Before we were involved, he encouraged me to go to China, going so far as to give me the money I needed to take the course work to get my TESOL Certificate. When I was afraid to go, he told me I'd be fine. When I was afraid to leave Edmonton, he reminded me it would there when I got back. He did all these things, despite the fact that his heart was breaking at losing me. He didn't know until I was about to leave how much he cared for me. I left, and I can still remember him, Tom, and Kris at the airport, a lonely group of men waving good bye as I went off on an adventure. I'd told everyone else I was going for six months. I told the three of them I might not come back.
I did come back, though, and part of the reason for that was because I wanted, needed, to see Don again. We'd spent a lot of time on the internet talking, and while I pretending that it was all platonic, I spent time fantasising about him coming to China like he'd talked about, about being able to show him everything around me. I'd take him out to Suzhou, to see the beautiful gardens and go dancing at the packed night clubs. I'd take him out to Xi'an to see the Mosque and the Muslin Quarter, to see the Terracotta Warriors. I'd take him to Shanghai and we'd have tea for hours. I believed he'd make it, and when he didn't, I was more devastated than I was that my father never came to see me. I'd missed Kris a great deal, but Don was the one who talked to me, who spent hours letting me write to him about being an expat, who let me talk about my dreams of seeing the world, my fears of returning to Edmonton, and my plans for the future. He told me how he wanted to change the world, told me about his loneliness in Edmonton, and that he missed me very much.
I showed up three days earlier than I'd told him I would, kissed him in front of all of his friends, and demanded he take me out for cheesecake immediately.
He spent almost the entire time we were at the cheesecake place staring at me like you would an angel, reaching out to touch my hand, trying to make sure I was real. I couldn't stop smiling, and wanted nothing more than to spend the whole night talking, telling him all the things I'd done since last I had last spoken to him. We went back to his place and I was there until dawn. He told me afterwards that he thought the whole thing was a dream that he never wanted to wake up from.
I wish I could write that everything was perfect from that point on, but it would be ridiculous to say so. I wanted to pretend I wasn't falling in love with him, that I was giving my relationship with Kris (already so badly battered and broken) a fair chance. I wanted to pretend that I could breeze back into Edmonton and everything would be just as I needed it to be, and I teased Don that in the future he'd write his memoires (after changing the world) and he could speak of me as a "young lady of his acquaintance". I joked about being Hurricane Anna, that I'd breeze into his life, throw everything out of kilter (in a good way!), and breeze back out again.
I suppose you could say that it happened exactly like that.
When I told him I needed to leave Edmonton again, his response was simple: "Where are we going?" There was never a question for him - he'd follow me anywhere I wanted to go. I've always felt guilty that I couldn't say the same thing to him. He spent four months going to school in Halifax, and had begged me to go with him, and I'd refused. I'd just gotten a new job, I wanted the time to build up money, to get a good reference, before leaving. "I want to see the world," I told him. "I don't want to see more of Canada."
I have regretted no decision in my life as much as that one. I visited him for a week when he was there and fell deeply in love with the city. Halifax is nothing like Edmonton. The city is on the Atlantic, and the winters there are full of wet and heavy snow. The streets are all uphill, the buildings are all made of stone, and the city feels heavy around you. I walked the streets and spent most of my week there hating that I'd refused to follow him, that I'd decided my comfort was more important than going anywhere with him could be.
While I was there, he bought me a guide book to the UK, and we started talking about where we would live, what we would do, how we'd get there.
I like to run in where angels fear to tread, and Don's given me the stability my life needs to do that. I would have made it to Scotland without him, but I don't think I would have enjoyed it nearly so much. We saw so many things, hand in hand - Tintagel, Inverness, Skye, Rome, Paris. I remember the first time we went to Lindisfarne, the way the ruins of the old Abbey felt, the way the wind rushed through our hair, and knowing in that moment that this was where I wanted to be - standing in the ruins holding on to his hand, knowing I was safe and loved.
Australia at first seemed like just a silly little dream to me, but it captured my imagination. I wanted to come here, and on some level I knew that I would have to come here alone. My fears - of Don's illness, of being in a relationship, of being dependant on anyone ever again - made it easier for me to argue against him coming here. I knew he wouldn't like he, he didn't really want to come, and I knew that he'd be miserable here. I still believe all of that is true, but I regret that I didn't insist that we find a way for it to work out for him here. I think about the warm sun on my face while the coldness is sinking into his bones in Halifax. I think about him being alone too much. I wish often that he had stayed in Edinburgh, but he's more practical than I, and Edinburgh is expensive. So, he lives in a small flat in Halifax, and I live in a small flat in Australia, and he tells me to go on adventures.
He's the only person who knows how afraid I am.
"Do you think I'm running away from something?" I asked him once.
"No," he said. "I think you're running towards something. You just haven't figured out what yet."
I fell in love with a man who loved me enough to take the risk I wouldn't come back.
I'm counting the minutes till July, and I'm going to have as many adventures as I can between now and then.
Don thinks I can fly.
Maybe I will.