“Of course there has to be a problem. It’s like a movie! It’s never an easy stroll” My friend remarked. In some ways he was telling me to go after her. But I knew him. He didn’t think it would ever work out anyways. I had no comment. I settled into the next city and tried to ignore the thoughts of the past few weeks.
Rewind a bit. Back in Thailand, she told me about a nice rose quartz necklace she saw but regretted not buying. I wanted to find something like that for her. I started my search back in Siem Reap but didn’t find anything I liked. I looked up necklaces online to learn more about the gem and to find styles I liked. I learned that the rose quartz represented love. But one of the special things I learned was that rose quartz was a gem of healing. They say if you wear it over your heart, it has healing properties. How fitting I thought.
My hostel mate (a girl of course) asked me what I was looking for. I told her it was for a friend and she said that was “so cute”. “You must love her” . She remarked. I brushed off the comment. I didn’t bother explaining the long-winded story this had become or why this was important to me.
Why go so far for someone who seemingly didn’t care at times? After being jerked around to both extremes? I didn’t have a real answer to that. Sometimes, we all need someone to go the distance for us. But I did know why I wanted to get this for her. I wanted her to have something to remember me and maybe this rose quartz will help her move on. I think back to when I was on exchange and the people who became the pillar of my support as I learned to move on from my ex. Especially the girl I dated there. We had a casual relationship there but her perspectives and support helped me in a time where I felt lost.
Back to the necklace. Most vendors were clueless about the gem and I had to watch out for fakes everywhere. But I eventually found a vendor that had something I wanted. The truth was nobody had the necklace style I wanted. But this vendor could make something. I gave her the design that I liked and we talked about the details. It was a simple design. Different from the one K had described but I hoped she would like it. It would take a few days and I agreed to come back in a few days to get it. I was heading south soon but would stop by as I headed eastward.
Shortly after settling into the capital city, I actually heard from K. She sent me an email that tried to settle things in a nicer fashion compared to the mess things were left in. It was good to hear from her and we would talk a bit most days for the next while. I headed down south to Kampot for a few days of relaxation. With not much to do, I tried to settle into some quiet time. I didn’t feel much like socializing but enjoyed the time in such a chill place. When I was about to return to the capital, K asked me where I was going. I told her that I was going back to the capital for a night. She was also in the capital . She asked me to have dinner with her. I told her that I would only see her if she actually wanted me around this time. She said she really did. I was hesitant but I agreed. I could give her the necklace as well.
We had dinner the next night and things felt at ease again. A peddler tried to sell us some stuff at our table and told me to “buy something for my girlfriend”. K was quick to correct her and said “I’m not his girlfriend.” In my head I had an equally quick response. “Yeah she isn’t. She doesn’t deserve to be.” I kept my snide thoughts to myself. It was clear I was holding a grudge from before though.
We went for dessert after dinner. I was honestly having a good night. We (or maybe she) decided that it would be a great idea to test my alcohol limits by buying a bottle of Cambodian whisky. I knew she couldn’t keep up with me but we went for it anyways. With the rain coming down and no place to go, we had to go back to her guesthouse. Her room-mate (one of the same girls we traveled with in Thailand) was feeling ill and didn’t join in. The drinking only lasted so long as she couldn’t handle it and I really didn’t want to continue alone.
It was getting late and I really didn’t plan to walk back anyways. I stayed over for what I thought would be the last time. But at least this time it was good. She surprised me when she asked me to stay an extra day. And we could have a full day together. I told her I would sleep on it and decide tomorrow.
I did stay an extra day. You could say we were even. She stayed once for me. I stayed once for her. And we spent a really good day together. A day where we just enjoyed each other’s company. Why couldn’t we have just done that before? I moved over to their guesthouse that day and stayed in their room. The next day I almost overslept my bus. I rushed out running and gave her the hastiest good-bye. Was this the last time I would see her?
We would continue to chat frequently as I made my way through the next countries. But it was different. Our last encounter had changed the mood of our conversations. It was more genuine and sometimes it felt like I was talking to my girlfriend. I met one of my friends in Vietnam and she usually had something insightful to say. After all she was one friend that has listened to all my girl stories.
She didn’t actually offer much perspective this time but listened attentively as always. She sorta laughed. “Yep this sounds like your type of girl: flaky and problematic.” But she also had other thoughts. “Why do you want to go so far for someone who doesn’t deserve you? She has no idea what she could have.”
Flattering words. But how do we know what we deserve? It echoed what my ex (1st girlfriend) said to me long ago. When we were ending our relationship, she told me that I deserved someone better than her. I didn’t know what that meant at the time. Apparently she did then. And here years later, I still don’t.
By the middle of Vietnam I had to start figuring out my next destinations. I felt like we had made some progress. She even admitted to missing me at one point. Was something changing? We talked about meeting in the Philippines. She was going there after Bangkok to look for work because she was deciding to stay longer in Asia. We also talked about doing some dives together again but she had to figure out her schedule first. I was flying to Singapore before heading to Laos via a convoluted route. I picked the Bangkok route as it would give me a chance to see her again.
When she got back to me, she said she wasn’t able to commit to a schedule for the Philippines. I understood that she couldn’t prioritize me. She had a lot of “life” stuff to figure out. The same type of stuff this trip was helping me figure out. For the first time, I felt I saw the end of the road. I knew what was coming. We would say goodbye in Thailand. I guess things always come full circle; back to the start. I honestly just wanted her to be happy and what was best for her. And I knew that if she found some footing from this trip, it was a step in the right direction. It’s true I actually wanted something to happen between us, but sometimes we have to look past what we want, right?
We talked about Bangkok and I asked if she wanted to stay with me while I was there. She didn’t think it was a good idea for her to have to “readjust” after spending a night with someone when they are leaving right away. Of course that made no sense to me. I pretty much knew she wasn’t ready to date me. But if we were going our separate ways, we might as well enjoy our time together (like we did last time). Afterall, it was her that said that all travel romances have an expiry date. She asked me why this night was important to me. And I told her that I actually didn’t care much about going diving in the Philippines, I was really going to see her. That was as bold of a statement as I had made up to this point. Well go me! I had broken so many of the “rules” of the dating game at this point. It didn’t really matter. I was never one for those types of rules anyways. But I would also never normally tolerate some of the stuff she had pulled already. I did make the suggestion that we were going to be saying goodbye at this point. She didn’t refute it but I knew in person, she could have the final say.
I moved onto Singapore and spent time with another friend (he is currently working in Hong Kong and took some days off). He wanted to hear how things were going now.
“So how did that make you feel?” He said. Translation: you hate her for it don’t you?
It wasn’t true. I think. People say the line between love and hate is fine. Or in this case, liking and hating. I suppose it was something of that sort. I told him I was neck deep already and seeing this through the rest of the way. Go big or go home right? I was definitely going home after all. But my rational cautious friend heeded a warning about going to see her again.
We hung out with a group of our hostel mates the night before he left. Two Americans and a fellow Canadian. My friend remarked. “So the American girl is pretty cute…and she even lives closer.”
Don’t even go there. I glared at him. The last thing I need. Really.
I arrived in Bangkok in the late afternoon. I settled into my hotel room and checked my messages. She never replied so I assumed she would be coming by before we headed to dinner. As the time got close, she messaged me. She had overslept a bit from her nap. She said she would shower and then come by. After 15 minutes, I waited outside my alleyway so she wouldn’t accidentally walk by. As she came close, I thought it would be funny if I wolf whistled at her. She ignored me. She thought I was some random guy whistling at her. Oh the things I do to have fun…
Maybe it was because I hadn’t seen her in over a month, but I thought she looked even prettier than the last time I saw her. We exchanged hugs. We went back to my room to get my camera. Now in some privacy, I wanted to give her a kiss. She pulled away.
I’m not sure which feeling hit me hardest first. The feeling of disbelief or the feeling of anger. Perhaps everyone that reads this saw it coming. My friend was right. After all the flip-flopping, should I have not seen this one coming? I don’t really remember what I said. Something along the lines of “Really?!?” What did she think I was gonna do after coming all the way here? Casually keep my distance? The next thing she said was really a slap in the face. “I’ll give you a kiss on the cheek?”
We briefly talked about what this was supposed to be. She seemed to turn it more on me, as if it was my fault for having expectations. That seeing her would mean nothing if we weren’t being physical. I told her that I shouldn’t have come. I was feeling regret. This was Siem Reap all over again. And I said I wouldn’t let that happen again. It’s the reason why I always asked several times to make sure she really wanted to see me. Like I did in Phnom Penh.
I was about to lose my cool though. I wanted to tell her off for more things than I could even count at that point. I could’ve done that. I definitely have a temper and it’s usually exposed in moments like this. I could’ve ended the night right there. Tell her that if this is how she wanted to end things, then she can just leave now. We didn’t have to play this game anymore. But I did what the old me used to do well: I defused the situation. I probably shot her a look of disgust before I told her that we should just go eat first. So I buried my emotions and just tried to enjoy dinner and the time with her first.
We found a small restaurant nearby, ate dinner and filled in our lives from the past month. We went for dessert after. Ice cream of course. We went back to my hotel after ice cream. We turned on the television to some movie which I can barely remember. We talked intermittently but I was obviously distracted. I had things to say to her but I almost felt like they didn’t matter anymore. I told her a few of them but the feeling felt hollow. What was she thinking when she thought I was coming by? Have a dinner, give her a pat on the back and hit the road? Why can’t she stay consistent with her actions for once?
“Well..we’re still friends, aren’t we?” Her reasoning for my visit.
Well yeah we are. But we crossed that line months ago. I said in my head. I can’t just go back.
She said it would have been easier if I didn’t like her so much. If I had just wanted something casual, it would be easier for her to just enjoy herself. I was never one to separate myself into having casual feelings.
It was getting late and she debated on staying or going. I had wanted her to stay in the first place. And even after all that. There had been a recent assault in the area and she didn’t feel safe about going home late. I said I could walk her home if that’s what she wanted. As she sat there thinking, I gave her the briefest of a kiss before she turned away.
And then she played her final card.
“At the end of the day, there’s someone else I love.”
My reply was fairly automatic. “You still love him?”
She gave a half nod and an unhappy meek “yeah”.
Of course she did. I probably always knew. My instincts did anyways. The signs were there. I just never listened to them. I finally understood everything. I pulled her in and hugged her. As someone from the outside, one can always say they understand. But I really did understand. I had been fighting the wrong battle the whole time. It never matter if I was better than the ex. Even if I knew I was better than any other guy she had ever dated, it didn’t matter. I was never fighting a battle of mistrust as much as I was fighting a battle of someone still in love. A battle you can’t really win. I knew because I had been there.
If I wasn’t sold on fate before. I was sold on it now. Everything that lead up to our meeting certainly had its place. All the hurdles that had to be jumped before we finally met up: her decision to travel to Asia, my decision to come to Asia, us exchanging contacts, me almost missing the boat, her deciding to stay on Ko Phi Phi…
You think you know what it is but it wasn’t until everyone played their final hand that I understood why we met. I was in her place just over 6 years ago. Of all people here, it was me she ended up meeting and liking. Maybe one of the few people traveling that really understood how she felt. And you think I came all this way to find out where we stood. But maybe the reason we met at this time was that I could help her move forward. Maybe I wanted her to say it. So she can admit where she was at. It was my exchange girlfriend that helped me determine where I stood at that time.
There were certainly similarities. My relationship ended with the ex just before I went on exchange. She was the only girl I can say I loved (I did start having loving feelings towards my last girlfriend though). The one I would stay loyal to despite who she became. It’s not that you want them back, it’s simply what it means to love someone. I always felt like I fell short as a boyfriend after her. A bittersweet split that we both understood. In some ways it was like life had all the timing down. Exchange was a chance to get away and a chance to forget. But I was also sick of Vancouver. I was tired of everything. If I needed to run away somewhere at the time, that was it.
At the end of the day, I wanted K to know that something good is waiting for her when she is ready to move on. It didn’t have to be me (there is an asterisk on this one of course). Good job C, the writing was on the wall and you couldn’t even do the right thing.
I don’t really remember what happened next but she decided to stay. Emotionally tired no doubt, but I didn’t feel like sleeping. After laying there for a bit, I put my arm around her and she lay on my chest; the way we always seem to fall asleep. And in those moments I wondered why she did that. After all she said. Was it for me? In my mind I knew she probably just wanted comfort. I didn’t ask. Why ruin the peace? These moments with her were one of the few times I’ve found real serenity while traveling.
I didn’t sleep well that night. Drifting in and out. I knew my mind questioned everything that had happened in the last few months. Everything more or less a blur. What was real or of meaning and what wasn’t. What was genuine and what wasn’t. I was probably the rebound. You had to laugh at the parallels. Before my ex and I started dating, I made a move at probably the worst possible time in her life. While I was hoping she would say yes, I knew that I just wanted to be there for her. Some people, that’s just the way it is and I’ve never known why. There is something more than what we see with our eyes. She didn’t want to date me yet but I supported her and when the time was right, we ended up together for many years after. If I was religious, I would be turning to god and say, “Really? Do you really have to align everything so closely?”
I woke up early and felt like staying awake for the final hours of our time together. She came close to me and I gave her a kiss. She didn’t pull away this time. “So much for not staying” I remember her saying. I asked if she regretted staying and she said no. Of course not. I knew she wouldn’t. When we are uncertain, we rarely regret what we do. More often it is what we don’t do.
She stayed till the very end before she had to leave for work. We said our goodbyes at the door and I gave her a last kiss. I’ve always felt like I know how someone feels, by the way they kiss. And that seemed like a kiss from someone who had an uncertain heart. Did I give her anything worthwhile? Was I going to be just a memory?
I guess only she knows that.
The story ends here.
I didn’t come here looking for this. There is no doubt that she left her mark on me. My friend told me that how she hadn’t been fair to me at all. But she reminded me of things I had forgotten. And things that I never knew existed. When I let it all digest, the good moments are certainly remembered, but the bad emotions also weighed heavily.
I’m sure people that read this story will wonder things like…
Will I see her again?
Will she find me later on? As something more than a friend?
Where do I stand now?
What did I mean to her?
And so on and so on…
And my answer to all the above is.. I don’t know.
Even if I do, I will choose to leave some things off the table this time around. Maybe another time.
She asked me before she saw me the second time in Phnom Penh if I even wanted to see her. She knew that there was a chance I didn’t actually want to see her anymore. That time I already knew I did. The next time. I don’t know. Things will be different. There will always be a feeling from my end that there was unrealized potential with her. She said that she would always want to see me. And it would be up to me next time. But the truth is, it is in her hands far more than mine. I was far more clear where I stood. But it has never been clear where she stands. Even how she acts after this chapter ended has me filled with doubt.
It is somewhat ironic that I came on this trip to be alone and figure out my life. Now I had to go home to be alone and I wanted to forget a bunch of “life” stuff. When all the dust has settled, this trip became a very emotionally tolling trip. Combine that with all the stuff from the second half of 2012 and I was probably more exhausted coming back than when I left. And I am paying the price now for becoming emotionally invested. Nonetheless, I am always hopeful. For what you say? Well it doesn’t matter. One must always be hopeful. And one day she will be too.
Because you know what they say… everything happens for a reason.