At the beginning of he and I, I was hesitant. A new relationship was not something I wanted or needed. I had been planning world explorations and did not want these plans to be compromised by the thoughts and feelings of someone who came after they were laid. Who would he turn out to be, this man who had so captured my thoughts?
I feared that, like most of the men I had met in recent years, he would be arrogant and pigheaded, too accustomed to getting his own way to be of any use to me. I view this particular brand of male arrogance as a plague on this world. Small boys walking around in their man suits relying on the women around them to coddle and fluff their delicate egos. It does not take long for a woman on her own to learn that most men seek to possess you, capture you, and put you in a cage for their own enjoyment regardless of your thoughts on the matter—something that I would never again tolerate. Not so with Jorge, he sought no ownership, merely the right to be at my side. He is someone of rare mettle, outwardly so calm and reserved with a fire burning always within. He is a gentleman and a goof with a solid sense of self, unusual for a person having been born and raised in the County of Dade.
A hunter is he, yet so am I, and we reveled in that mutual discovery.
He and I began our courtship, as most do, with slow forays into a world of shared conversations and moments. His mind held more allure than the rest. He encouraged deep thought and waxed eloquent as a rule. An educator both humble and confident, accustomed to holding a room. Turn the subject to the written word and his eyes come to life with a glow to rival the stars in the midnight skies of my youth. In him I saw the reflection of my own passion fueled by a lifetime of long nights with authors and their creations. The manipulation of words and phrases has always been my favorite art form — the writer, slowly, painstakingly pulling thoughts and feelings from within to be bled onto the page. For me a novel’s power lies in how one is affected during and after it’s reading, the colors and scents it brings to mind. As a socially awkward human, I was educated more by novels than by the people around me. I found lessons learned by characters could be applied to daily life and the people there encountered. Words were my saving grace. Always there, never judging, waiting to be used to fight my demons. In my youth I likely relied too much on the worlds held between musty pages, a coping mechanism for an environment that felt hostile. The teen years are a private hell we must all find our own way to survive and I found my tools spread across the pages of a thousand different books.
There are novels I have read a dozen times or more, yet if you ask me to recall specific details I am incapable. Now Jorge, he sees it all. The small details, the big ones, the thoughts and feelings of the author, the reason for visual structure— all the things that I could never have imagined held meaning. I felt envious of his students. Not one of my teachers had shown even an ounce of the passion that he brought to his subject, had they done so I might have been more attentive. Get him on the subject of poetry and prepare to be enchanted. So spellbound was I by his profundity that on two separate occasions I actually forgot his name, an embarrassment that he has never let me forget. I believe it is our mutual love of stories that bonded us, a shared desire to learn and grow. A penchant for delving into other realities. The respect for the minds that can create such depth. The ability and desire to be open to new experiences. That aching desire to one day come across a portal leading to a new and distant realm and to leap, no questions asked, into the truly unknown. So much we had already discovered, yet always more waiting to be mined from the stacks.
We were two startlingly independent individuals alike of mind and spirit openly orbiting one another. I grew more enchanted with him at every turn. We bowled, hiked, attended secret concerts requiring Masquerade style dress, and explored the growing world of craft beer. I grew calm when he was near, my chaotic mind narrowing it’s focus to allow me to take him all in. When in his presence I felt entirely myself and proud to be thus. Clearly the man was trouble and I reveled in him. I was unabashedly happy in our evolution and was beginning to feel an unusual certainty.
Even as our relationship solidified, however, I had a growing concern.
He already knew of the Camino and the three months of backpacking that would follow. He would be traveling through Europe that summer as well, a solo venture that would allow him to contemplate the world without distraction. He too craved a life where one would, as he says, gather no moss. The timing was perfect, neither of us would feel too heavily the absence of the other as we would both be far too distracted by the chaos of exploration. There was, however, something on the horizon of which he did not know, something frighteningly grandiose.
This was a journey so close to my heart that only one person outside of myself knew of it. Two years after my return from the Camino de Santiago I intended to embark on a voyage to Australia where I would roam the continent for one full year, at minimum. My intention was to save enough money that I would have the rarest of gifts in this mechanical world of ours — freedom. The ability to have every moment belong to you and you alone, it’s something we don’t even think about anymore. How much of my time, of yours, do we give to people and things that aren’t worthy of it? It is our most finite resource and we squander it like so many pennies on the ground. Even if it’s only for that one year - Even if everything falls apart around me - Even if I come home with my tail betwixt my legs. It’s worth it. How do you explain that to someone, anyone, without sounding like an absolute nutter? I struggled for a time with whether or not to even confess my plan to him as it was entirely possible that, despite all the wonderful feelings of unity, he and I would no longer be an entity by that point. Beyond that was a deeper fear that stayed my words, to speak my dream aloud to someone other than my most trusted confidant would make it real. It would mean answering questions I wasn’t prepared for, acknowledging the possibility of failure, and opening myself to the opinions of others be they positive or negative.
As we came closer to the six month mark and I prepared to meet his family, I knew that I had run out of time. Waiting any longer would mean I was concealing something, an untruth buried beneath the foundation waiting to be unearthed. I am not one for deception, I’m not bred for it, so I struggled with when and where to impart the news. After weeks of indecision, my nerves betrayed me and I blurted the news out in the car. A nonchalant, “I feel you should know, in about two years I will be moving to Australia.” He grew silent for a moment and then in an equally casual manner responded with, “I’ve always wanted to see the sunburnt country. If we are still together by that time, I would be honored to make the journey with you.” I was awash with emotion. Swirls of relief, defiance, disbelief, gratitude, and shock. A year of vagabondage on one’s own is difficult to contemplate, throw in another set of human emotions and needs to be balanced and the idea becomes a colossal weight. Yet having someone there to share in joys and sorrows, to help shoulder physical and metaphorical burdens, to very simply be a companion…would be a blessed relief. It was a far distant event that we did not want to affect our present so we didn’t speak much about it for a time. Occasionally the idea would pop up and we would put it back in it’s box to be examined later. In the meantime, we had beautiful moments upon which to focus our energy and, as always, work to be done. The Camino was right around the corner.
I had originally conceived the Camino as a pilgrimage to be done on my own. A time to meditate on my own thoughts and feelings — my independent streak runs quite deep. It did not stay that way for long. My mother of course wanted to be a part of this, after all, it was a dream of hers as well. As many women with their mothers, she and I bump heads to an almost violent degree at times, so we had to invite a mediator. I extended an invitation both to my cousin, Mallory, and to my great friend and roommate, Haylee. Both women were eager to be a part of the expedition but only Haylee would be able to join us. She and I would be on a full four-month European circuit and my mother would return home after Finisterre leaving us to wander. Jorge would be leaving a week ahead of us and would begin his month long journey in Amsterdam via Paris; the rest of his travels remained a mystery. Excitement was reaching an almost unbearable level in those final weeks with each of us daydreaming about what was to come.
The magic of the pilgrimage had, apparently, woven it’s way into Jorge’s soul as well. I had felt an odd energy coming from him for a while and in my kitchen one evening the source of this nervousness revealed itself. He very shyly proposed the idea of rerouting his journey to join us for the first few weeks of the Camino. His presence was not only welcome but, as we would all come to learn, exceedingly essential. He would calm me during the high pressure moments that come from balancing emotions and personalities during travel, especially the kind of travel that involved walking anywhere from 18-30km a day with a full pack weighing you down and three sources of estrogen battling for dominance. He would only be with us for a few weeks and they would quietly serve as a trial run for the Australian expedition.
Each of us had an idea of what to expect, but none of us had the right of it.