Ten years ago, when I was 20, I traveled overseas for the first time to study abroad in London. I chose London because I love the Rolling Stones and I’m too dumb to learn another language, so it seemed like as good a place as any.
One night in early November, two girls I didn’t particularly want to be hanging out with dragged me to a bar with them and I was basically having the opposite of fun. Bored and probably annoyed with hearing SexyBack for the 387,000th time, I went into the corner to stand alone and question my life choices. Suddenly, I hear someone behind me say ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ I turn to see a tall, extremely skinny boy wearing a hideous green sweatshirt sitting on a bar stool and smiling at me. Awkward chipmunk I was, boys weren’t necessarily clamoring to buy me drinks and between the skinniness and the bad sweatshirt (I guessed this skeleton child was either on heroin or roughly 17 years old and I wasn’t into either), I smiled and began to say ‘Oh, that’s ok…’
And then, for some reason, we started talking. Screaming, really, over the loud music. I learned his name was Adam, he was from Australia, was living in London and despite his baby face, was 26 years old. As we continued to chat, I was struck by how easy it was. Usually when talking to random boys, I always felt anxious, trying to make myself seem funny or cool or aloof so they’d feel like talking to me wasn’t a waste of their time. With Adam it just…was. It was like catching up with someone I’d known for years.
From there we started seeing each other as often as possible. I would stay with Adam in the house he shared with two roommates as often as possible to escape the cramped flat I shared with three other girls. We mainly just ate food, watched movies and napped (which, besides raising children, is pretty all we still do), but we had more fun than I’d ever had with almost anybody. On Thanksgiving — the first time on my trip I felt truly homesick — he bought me a feast of KFC and ice cream. I almost cried, overwhelmed with this weirdly thoughtful gesture and knowing with certainty that I was in love with this person who lived a world away from my real life.
Then the day came when we had to say goodbye. We both cried, one of us more embarrassingly loudly than the other. (Which one of us was it? You can be the judge.) As I watched him walk away, I wondered if I would ever see him again or if this whole thing — this thing that felt so special and real — would just become a cute story to tell at parties: the time I loved a skinny Australian guy.
Then we began the wacky and horrible period known as our long distance phase, when the fun and ease of our relationship seemed to vanish, and I spent my life in front of a computer, sharing my days with the idea of the person I had fallen in love with. We visited each other twice, almost swearing to end things both times, fought on a daily basis about ridiculous misunderstandings and miscommunications. My parents hated him, my friends were tired of me and I often wondered why we were even trying. There were days when I wished I could just talk to a real, live boy in my real, live life rather than this shadow of a person. But, despite how hard it was, he had become the best friend I had ever had, and losing him felt like it would be losing one of my limbs. I just couldn’t let him go.
A few months before I was set to graduate college, he asked me to move to Europe with him, back to London, to try to see if we were idiots or if this could actually work. I said yes, much to my mother’s horror and my father’s extreme anger. I got an internship at CNN, praying it would somehow morph into a job. My career, my life, our future seemed more uncertain than ever.
Long story short, it didn’t last. But not for the reasons you’re thinking. Basically, Adam went to Switzerland for a couple weeks — where he had been living in a converted barn for reasons too dumb to talk about here — to tie up loose ends. The day he flew back, the customs agent at Heathrow Airport wouldn’t let him into the country because they thought he was going to work illegally and overstay the conditions of his visa. So they sent him away. Back to Switzerland? No. Back to the country on his passport — back to Australia.
So there I was, 21 years old and alone in freezing London, with nothing but an unpaid internship and my whole reason for being there on a plane, being guarded like a terrorist on his way to the other side of the world. When he landed, like 390 hours later, he told me he would buy me a ticket to Sydney and I could come as soon as my internship was finished. And then I was faced with the biggest choice of my life: do I go home with my tail between my legs or do I get on a plane to a country I’d never stepped foot in and gamble my life on a person I loved desperately, but had never been on the same continent with for more than six weeks?
Well, I went, obviously. I honestly didn’t know how not to. My parents were livid, my brother was incredibly concerned and all my friends thought I was a sad moron. If I had listened to any of them, I would have hightailed it back to Tennessee and never spoken to him again. But I didn’t. I took a big risk with bad odds. Eight and a half years and two and two-thirds kids later, I guess it’s paid off.
I like to think the moral of our story is this: sometimes in life you want to do something with every fiber of your being and everyone who remotely cares about you is telling you no, absolutely not. 99.3% percent of the time, you should listen to those people because they love you and what you want is probably stupid. But sometimes, you shouldn’t listen. Sometimes you have to do the thing you want to do rather than the thing you should do, because the thing you want could be the difference between a good life and a great life. Everything I am and everything I have is owed to the ridiculous decision I made to get on that plane to Australia.