“Breaking Barriers”: A True Love Travelogue Series – Part 2

Have you ever pondered doing something so big and risky that you grit your teeth at the thought of actually doing it? Have you ever imagined yourself breaking free from convention- a total disregard for the so-called rules in the pursuit of pure bliss and happiness?

At one point, I hadn’t yet; but on that night, things were about to change. After all, they say that the ultimate pleasure is reserved for the daring and brave.

 I was about to break barriers and if I died doing so, I would have had to at least been properly groomed and dressed. Hence the time spent in the bathroom and deciding on my accessories. 

 I decided to ditch my nude platform heels and go with the gladiator sandals of the same color instead. In my condition, I knew flats would serve me best. I wasn’t able to imagine how else I could carry my luggage. I had my bags packed because we were supposed to tour Thailand together for two weeks.

I checked the time. 10:45 in the evening. His plane must be taxiing from the runway now. Please Lord, let him be in one piece – I shuddered at the thought. Or maybe it was just the cold air coming out of the taxi’s air-conditioning.

“Kob kun mak na kha”, I thanked the driver as I handed over the bills. We were parked right in front of the airport. He helped me with my luggage and again, I waied* politely. 

I had knocked back two 500mg pain killers earlier and I barely felt the wounds on my feet. “I got this”, I told myself.

How symbolic, I thought: for every struggling step I took, they somehow represented each hardship we both had to hurdle to finally get to where we are now. We had arrived at the moment we had both been dreaming of for more than 100 days. I had rehearsed this moment in my head a thousand times. I was prepared.

I checked myself just in case. That night, I had made an effort to fix my hair. I even put on a bit of cheek blush and swiped cherry balm onto my lips for good measure. I was wearing my yellow dress too, just as we had talked about. I had the knot of little pink flowers in my left hand, as promised. I told him it was my identifier. He thought it was silly, as if he wouldn’t identify me even after all those photos and video calls.

acez

 I  studied the flight board for a good 15 minutes. Air China Flight CA979 had landed. I knew I would soon be seeing him in the very Arrivals section I was standing in. “Any moment”, I thought.

 “God, just stop fussing with your hair! It’s fine!” rebuking myself. I couldn’t have helped it even if I tried.

“Okay, okay, calm down…It will be okay. You’ve talked to him every day for four months. It’s just like seeing an old friend”, my head was spinning and it almost felt like….

Jesus Christ is that him??!!!?? NEW PALTZ NEW YORK shirt, black cap, big dark blue luggage like he told me,  shoulder-length hair, awkward and looking like he’s lost or something…That was definitely him!

I took a deep breath, summoned my courage and walked to his direction.  A meter or two away, he saw me from the corner of his eye and in them, I noticed an immediate flicker of recognition.

“Hi”, I gave him my sweetest, albeit, nervous smile.

“You’re very beautiful…”, his first three words. I could have died right there and then!

I may have blushed, I don’t exactly remember. It was all a flurry of activity around us and a million thoughts were racing in my mind. One moment I was trying to give him a polite handshake and at the same time he was about to reach for a hug. We ended in the most awkward one-arm squeeze.  Whew!

The sparks weren’t exactly flying for the first ten minutes. I thought he was too dorky, for chrissakes!!! But I was intent on being a good host, however things would turn out.

“You must be hungry”, I observed.

“Yeah”, he said. Hearing the sound of exhaustion in his voice, my nursing instincts immediately kicked in and I felt like, at least for that moment, it was my life’s mission to attend to this man who had risked it all to see me, traveling all the way from Hudson Valley, New York.

“Okay, let’s go get you something.  What would you like for now? Water?” I didn’t even really wait for him to respond. I took him by the hand and guided him away from the crowd.

He walked with me without objection. I was gauging him. He was just following me as if he would indeed be lost without me. Aside from obvious unfamiliarity with the place he was in, I wasn’t picking up any more signs from him. He was smiling but he was also quiet.

“What’s going on in his head?”, I wondered repeatedly. Over Skype, we were very sure we had a good connection. Walking side by side in Suvarnabhumi airport, our signal was as weak as the Wifi on the island of Koh Samed. I was scared for a second that we didn’t have the kind of chemistry we’d hoped for.

That’s it! I have got to do something, I decided.

“Hold on”, I led him to a halt right before the walkalator. “Come here”, and with that I gave him a big, tight hug. I melted in his arms as he readily reciprocated. Hmmmm…That’s better.

I smiled at him and told him we should keep walking. He looked at me in wonder. I was pretty sure he asked what the hug was for, but I didn’t respond. I just knew in my heart that I needed to do it. I had to assure him that I was there for him and that he was safe, even thousands of miles away from home. I owed it to him. Whatever the outcome of this two-week visit from a “stranger”, I decided to be good to him, as he had been a good “buddy” to me for the past four months.

Things improved after we picked up water and yogurt from 7-11. I was still thinking he was dorky but at least we were becoming chatty. I would tell him about my first impression of him a week later and he would react incredulously- both aghast and (playfully) annoyed at, to use his words, my “unfair and cruel” judgment.

The water break gave me a renewed vigor and adrenaline rushed through me for quite a few minutes. I almost forgot about my hurting feet until we started walking through the concourse to get a cab outside of the airport. We decided to take the public transport since the chauffeur service didn’t work out.  While falling in line beside the taxi stop, I inquired about how his flight went, what he thought about embarking on this adventure, etc. Our conversation was interrupted when the valet lady inquired about our destination. It was our turn. I felt a twinge of embarrassment when I saw that somehow, we managed to get what was possibly the ugliest-looking cab in the whole of Bangkok (hehe).It was a pink Mitsubishi sedan that was also driven by a loud-mouth driver who kept asking for our personal information and our travel itinerary.

 I normally chat with cab drivers, but at that moment, it was the last thing we both needed; there were enough things boggling my mind. I was anxious to finally break the ice between me and the man beside me. The distance that separated us for months was enough of a barrier to our affairs. I thought then: now that he was beside me, I wouldn’t let anything get in the way.

 If there’s anything Mr. Cab Driver did, it was to at least loosen up the tension inside the cramped space of the car. We shared some small laughs and chuckles here and there as he entertained us with his chauffeuring adventures.

 In the backseat, I slowly started feeling the exhaustion of the day. The cabbie’s sonorous voice and the fading whirring sounds of the city almost lulled me to sleep. It was past midnight.  All I really wanted to do was to lay down somewhere and resign the stresses of the previous adventurous 12 hours. To follow-up on the contact I established through our earlier hug, I asked Ian to sit closer to me. Hmmm… his name rolled cozily off of my tongue, as if calling his name was the most normal thing in the world. I leaned in and laid my head on his shoulder. I felt the warmth of his chest against my back, caught a whiff of his mild manly musk in my nose, and listened to his intermittent calm and ragged breathing as the skin of his right arm very lightly rubbed against mine. He hesitated before tightening the embrace until I showed encouragement.  He was responding to what was for us then a new means of communication. I realized this had been the only thing missing¬-the 4D reality experience.

I thought to myself that I may have felt awkward during the first few minutes with him but that this was probably just part of the adjustment phase. He was no stranger to me – I already knew his mind and his heart. Through the advances of technology, from thousands of miles away, I had the privilege to know his thoughts on life, love, social concerns, politics, etc. I knew the matters that he cared about and why he did. It may sound naïve to others who haven’t had this seemingly strange encounter but I knew in my own heart that I knew his heart even before he took that flight to see me.

And just like that, all thoughts of “dorky foreigner” went away. He was just himself again, only that now he was beside me and not projecting through a screen.

I allowed myself to relax in his arms. My phone wasn’t ringing crazily so my family probably hadn’t reported me missing yet.  😉

I remember how worried about me my mother was before I left for the airport that night. She was anxious about me meeting someone for the first time all by myself.  Weeks before the meeting, she had repeatedly given me an unsolicited lecture on propriety as if I was a teenager; to which I always responded “Gosh, Mother, I am a 25-year old adult!” I guess mothers will always be mothers no matter how young or old their children are.  I appreciated her advice but since I was already enveloped in this man’s embrace, it was quite clear to me that all resolve would fly out the window. Well, especially since my brain was a cocktail of dopamine, serotonin and quite possibly oxytocin.  My resolve was weak to begin with, anyway. Needless to say, I was helpless against the cuddle chemical.  Besides, snuggling in the cab is quite conservative if you’ve practically been “dating” for four months already 😉 Ha!

My mother’s greatest consolation was that he was actually a decent man and not a serial killer like her friends had warned her about. We did go to a hotel and not a mad house. But I guess to my traditional Filipina mom, both spelled trouble. 

We arrived at the hotel, which was to be our home for the next three days. It’s a cozy little boutique hotel that was very accessible to transportation and was located right in the heart of the city. We were greeted by very gracious staff who attended to our needs right away.  After registering at the reception desk, we were told we could go ahead and see our room. A member of the staff would follow suit with our luggage.

I was glad to be relieved of my baggage and was excited to retire for the night. I had a hunch though that we still had a long night ahead of us, no matter how tired we both were. Just like old friends who haven’t seen each other for a long time, there was an extreme need to catch up.

Ever the gentleman, he swung the door open for me. A spacious room with two single beds beckoned us. My instinct was to sit on the bed…My feet were killing me.

Ian just stood there, a few meters opposite me. There was deafening silence for I don’t remember how long.

“Pinch me”, I finally found my voice.

“What?”

“You’re here! You really came here!” from me, a mixture of awe and disbelief.

“Yes, I did. I’m here”, he calmly said. It was almost annoying how he could stand so serenely a few feet in front of me while there was literally a circus inside of me. What he was thinking, I had no idea at all.

“Come here”, I said, gesturing for him to sit on the bed beside me. He was just a finger-breadth away from me now.

“Pinch me, so I’ll know I’m not dreaming”, I almost begged through a whisper. He refused. He said he didn’t want to hurt me. I insisted and finally I felt the skin on my arm in a gentle taut.

“Harder”, I challenged. Before he could protest, we both heard three consecutive knocks on the door. We both jumped up from being startled.

He opened the door. It was our luggage. I waited as he ushered the man to place the luggage in one corner. I thanked and tipped the bellhop before he left. Behind him, the door closed. As the bellhop walked away, he probably heard the door lock clicking. He was probably thinking about what lay ahead of the remaining 5 hours of his shift or other mundane details of his daily life. Perhaps he was even imagining breaking personal barriers in his own life.

We will never know. Because behind our locked door, Ian and I were lost in our own little world and bathing in- what would be-the beginning of the realization of our dreams.

 

*The Thai Wai: is a Thai gesture to greet or pay respect with palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion accompanied by a slight bow.

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“Decisions, Decisions”: A True Love Travelogue Series – Part 1

24 November 2012

I woke up a few minutes after 5 o’clock in the morning, as usual; save that there was nothing usual at all about that day. It was the day that would change my life forever.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

I felt really tired, and my back muscles ached from staying up late the previous night. I got up from my bed feeling dreamy, as if what transpired the night before was indeed just a dream.

It was his call over Skype that had awoken me, and while I knew he was telling me something important, I found it difficult to shake my sleepiness off. Less than five minutes into the video-call, my eyes had begun to droop again and his words were only a mumble-jumble to me.

“So I cut my hair”, I very faintly heard him say.

“You what??” I jolted.

“I asked my mom to cut my hair, see?”

“Why?!”, I exclaimed in panic.

“Because you wanted me to.”

“No!!!!”

“Cecille”, I could hear desperation in his voice. “I thought you said I will attract unwanted attention over there and you don’t want that”.

Now I do remember telling him that. “I don’t know…I don’t know…I liked your long hair. I’m not used to seeing you like that!”…I seemed almost a child, unreasonable. I honestly didn’t know what I wanted anymore. Confused, tears started rolling down my cheeks.

“Oh, Cecille, please don’t cry.” He was almost pleading. “I have to go now, okay? My parents are taking me to the airport. It will grow back soon, anyway”.

It felt really weird for him to be consoling me then. He was the one who had one foot of his hair cut off and yet he was the one who was trying to make me feel better. I know he was kind of “attached” to his hair. He’s had it long since he was 11 years old. Looking back to it now, I thought it was frivolous for me to even mention the haircut. Of course, I tell him I never forced him, I was  just…sayin’.

When we first started talking online, I didn’t really care about his hair. I thought it was hot and I was attracted to that mysterious side of him. As the day to our meeting drew closer, I became concerned. I think it must have been my conservative influence. Men with long hair are sometimes stereotyped as bad boys: wild and probably addicted to dangerous drugs! How ignorant does that sound?

Not all long-haired men are like that of course, but it was all about the image of it. I knew my family was going to meet him and I just wanted him to make a good first impression. I was like, “Who knows? We could end up getting married!” 😉 Little did I know, he was going to impress them anyway with his charms, his very polite demeanor and, as my father said, his outstanding table manners. But more on that later.

After sleeping a while longer, I got up to check my messages. I wondered if he’d left me anything before he boarded the plane. Boy, did he!

airchinanotification

“Great! That’s all we need”, I muttered.  A glitch right in the beginning of the two-week itinerary that we’ve been planning for months is a downer, I thought. My nerves were already wracked at the thought of seeing him, finally in the flesh, after four months of relentless correspondence. I was on the cusp of being stressed.

I waited until 8am for business hours to begin so I that I could speak with the hotel personnel regarding his reservation. He was supposed to arrive at 11 o’clock that night so I called the hotel to let them know that he would be arriving the next day instead. The unexpected detour in Alaska was going to delay his flight for 3 hours. This also meant that he was going to miss his Beijing to Bangkok flight, the last flight for the day. He was going to sleep in a hotel in China, alone, and catch another flight to Thailand on the following day. I could imagine how anxious he must be, travelling halfway across the globe for the first time, to places where he doesn’t speak the language, while encountering these mishaps at the same time. The horror!

I smile at the thought of him making that gesture to see me. I’ve got to admire him for being so determined. I was actually sad that I had to cancel the chauffeur service I had previously booked  to pick him up. I wanted him to at least be comfortable when he arrived, after all the stress of intercontinental flight. I asked the lady if they could move the booking for the following day but she said they were fully-booked. Oh well! I tried.

I decided to let the stress of the rescheduled arrival go. There was really nothing we could have done about it. I thought: it’s only one night. I was going to see him tomorrow. At 1pm, I went about with my other scheduled appointments: Last minute girly preps that, without getting into much detail, included a nail spa. I would later reap the fruits of my tortured labor when he says the very first words that came out of his mouth upon seeing me. 😉

It took me several hours to finish and when I was finally settled in the couch, checked my messages again. Lo and behold! He was online and was typing to me, possibly as fast as he could!

“I’m in China. We did not stop in Anchorage”

“What?!?”

“Will you be able to pick me up?”

“Uhhh…I changed my plans for the day. I’m here at my mother’s place”. Yeah, I forgot to mention that!

“……….” Nothing from him. It said he was typing.

“Oh!” He finally replied. Goodness! What was I doing?!? I must be freaking him out!

“Of course, I’ll pick you up!” I typed in haste. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to do it in my condition.

“Okay. Boarding now. I’ll turn this off”, he said.

I sent a quick goodbye then his little green circle was gone. I exhaled in desperation.

Now what? Decisions, decisions.

I jumped up from the couch, picked up my backpack from the floor, and began packing haphazardly.

“Where are you going?”, my mom wondered.

Silence. You can almost hear the wheels turning.

“I have to go, Mom”, almost a whisper.

“Go where?”

“Back to my place”,

“But your foot!” Right! I forgot to mention that too. I had stepped on something earlier. I needed minor surgical intervention and my two feet were bandaged. Did I mention it was painful?  I’d been downing pain killers the whole day.

“I’m okay Mom, I’ll be fine”. She was observing me as I was cross-checking my stuff with my list in  hand.

“I thought you’re staying here tonight.” I didn’t respond.

“Just tell me what is it, okay? So I’d know.”, she prodded…I was worrying her.

“It’s Ian.  He’s arriving tonight.”

What ensued was an exchange between a worried mother and a stubborn daughter who will do what she wants, even against advice.

“Will you at least let your brother take you to the airport?”

……

……

……

For all of my life, my family and friends were always there to support me. I’ve always had people to consult with for all of the major decisions I’ve made. But as I said, it was not an ordinary day.

“No. I’m doing this on my own”.

I’d made up my mind.

TO BE CONCLUDED