Perhaps the Skype credit is running low, or time is running out.
“Anyway, my love… I have to run.”
I never understand why we have to run. Once this call is over, we will likely sit exactly where we were, holding a quiet phone.
“Ok…”, says one of us. “Well…I love you,” says the other and this cliche, cheesy and predictable cycle of not wanting to be the first to hang up goes on for a little longer until Skype reminds one that credit is indeed running low or “your connection is too slow for this call” and does us all the favor of hanging up on our behalf.
My life has been in the kind of constant motion that renders me a woman on auto-pilot. I have gotten very good at predicting when the coffee cart will reach aisle 9 of whichever plane I am in. I am the person you want to stand behind at airport security because I am fast.
Nomadism, be it mandated by work or inspired by personal choice, can contain an inherent deception. Nomads appear to move seamlessly, gracefully, almost elegantly. They glide through spaces and time. What they do not tell you is that they, too, need the ties. They may not need one zip code at which to receive catalogues and they may not need to buy coffee at the same corner shop every morning. But they need something that reminds them that amidst the disorientation and overstimulation of constant motion, they are home.
We all need anchors. My anchor is love.
I met the person who lights up my days on a sailboat on the Nile river — appropriately in motion. Since then, my most reliably recurring behavior takes place curb-side. At Chicago O’Hare that area is called the Kiss-n-Fly; in other airports, it is simply labeled the “move over, guy, if you do not want a ticket for excessive kissing in the loading and unloading zone.” I have hugged and cried at O’Hare, at Ben-Gurion airport, at Logan, at CVG, at SKG, at BOG, at JFK. The list goes on, and has gone on for years.
Many digital tears have been shed over how to make a long-distance relationship work. Being a woman in a long-distance relationship, particularly in a conflict or post-conflict zone, invites a lot of advice from people sitting next to you on planes or in bars (or bomb shelters). “Maybe you should, you know, settle down. Pick a place. This is no way to start a family.” Never mind if you are thinking about a family right this second. “Do you worry that he may meet a nice, quiet girl who stays in one place and fall in love with her?” or… more compassionately… “It must be lonely.”
It is lonely.
That is the thing about anchors. Once your anchor is a human, the compass is always a little off without him or her. My latest work-related gallivanting has been followed by a series of visits with beloved friends, in a Little-Red-Riding-Hood-like attempt to piece together crumbs of an old, more stable, less frenetic life. I have dived into hugs and I have been driven to the airport with a reminder to “send an email when you land.” I have asked and answered questions and even let some questions swim in uncertainty. The last time I was truly awake and alone was on May 18th of this year. And here I am, surrounded by people, at my loneliest.
When your anchor is a love far away, it is hard to be fully present, fully mindful, fully focused on anything. In the beginning, you scan the room, hoping to see him and retell the anecdote that made you laugh. Later on, you realize you behave as though you are missing a limb, feeling out the space your loved one once occupied. There is a lot of trailing “sooo… how was your day?” on Skype calls with too slow internet and a lot of love poured into Gmails and Gchats. I am amazed they have not come up with Google Love yet.
You feel lucky that one person can bring you that much joy, that much tenderness, that much fulfillment. You feel naive for ever delegating all that to one person. You become a believer; an ocean between two loves is not the place for cynics. You feel pathetic for tearing up at the mention of his name and you blush when someone points out you light up when talking about her. But, mostly, if you – and your love – are to survive, you embrace the lonely.
When I was living in Guatemala and he was visiting family in Kentucky, I used to joke that moving in together somewhere where we could unpack our bags would be the end of “us.” “Imagine if we could put the suitcases away!” I would joke. “We could fight about chores and cleaning the house. We could watch Top Chef together on the couch.” After Guatemala was Cuba, after Cuba came Greece, after Greece the rest of the Balkans, after them a dusty town in southern Israel. And, what do you know, we did unpack and we watched Top Chef and we pretended to fight about sweeping and the toilet seat. And, for this nomad, it was heaven.
Mary Oliver wrote one of my favorite lines in poetry: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” There is a lot of advice for international development workers and conflict specialists and nomads and travelers and ‘women on the road.’ I have been told not to get attached. To live fully and to experience everything and to not linger or get caught up in people, in stories, in places or in circumstances. I have been told this is no way for a love to grow and thrive; I have been told to settle down and I have been told to choose.
Mary Oliver still wins in my heart. There is a love somewhere across the ocean, in our former dusty home whose living room is probably unswept right now, and that love fuels me. It grounds me, it energizes me, it slows me down. It helps me process. It makes me look forward and it makes me reminisce. When I was a more emotionally stunted college student with 643 too many inhibitions, I never dreamed I would live like this. Writing about love on the internet — about my love no less! — violated every New England sensibility that had seeped into my Greek blood. Since then, I have lived in a dozen conflict and post-conflict zones, I have been terrified and drunk off life, I have unlearned a lot of ingrained habit, and I have let Mary Oliver teach me.
I was recently sharing my still-relevant inhibitions about writing with a dear friend and mentor. “Why would I want to write about my own story? Why would anyone want to read it? The personal essay feels self-indulged,” I whined. He countered that this is not just my story; it holds a grain of someone else’s and it can intersect with yet another story and suddenly there are many stories of love and loss and conflict and grief that swim in the same pool of companionship.
I am away from my anchor, and here I am: half-present, a quarter mindful, wholly loving, writing my way out of my loneliness.
Roxanne Krystalli is a regular contributor to Gypsy Girls Guide.