I will never forget my favorite memory of you. We were camping in Switzerland and as we hiked down from the mountain, it began to pour. We didn’t come prepared with appropriate outdoor gear, and I was soaked to my bones in cold rain. I cursed nearly the whole way down until you told me to stop and look around. There was a tiny clearing of blue sky and wispy clouds. Glacier topped mountains stretched for miles, and the sun peeked out for a split second as I smiled at you. Our best times were when we were alone in nature. Always up for the adventure. Always a team.
I shivered in the gondola on the way down to the car and you held me. When we arrived at our campsite, the rain wouldn’t let up. I dreaded taking down our tent and selfishly took the last beer we bought in Germany and drank it in the car while blasting the heat. I watched while you paced around in the rain searching for a phone signal to book a hotel for us in France-our next destination so I could be comfortable. I felt guilty watching you struggle packing up our gear, and got out of the car to help. You kissed my forehead and insisted I stay warm. For the first hour of our drive you shivered, so we pulled over at a tiny Swiss market for warmth and food. We bought a loaf of dense bread, ham, and a bottle of mustard. I ran back for giant pretzels; my one food that can cure anything; even bitchiness. Crumbs were everywhere as we sat in our parked car and slapped sandwiches together, devouring them like hungry savages.
Once we were dry, the mood lightened. You told a joke that made me laugh so hard while I had a mouthful of pretzels and I began to choke. Bits of sharp pieces slid slowly down my throat and my eyes watered as I grasped for my neck. You tried to pull over to the side of the road once you realized I wasn’t joking. Panicked, I stuck my finger down my throat and turned towards the window. Projectile water and pretzel splattered all over the glass and trickled down my sweatshirt and pants. I simultaneously farted, adding to my horror. You stopped the car and ran over to pull me out, grabbing my head to make sure I was ok. It was the first time I was embarrassed in front of you. I smelled like sour milk and had chunks of lunch on my face. I began to laugh as you gently wiped my face clean and hugged me, not letting me pull away for several minutes despite how disgusting I felt.
We arrived in Beaune, France and my fantasy of leisurely sipping a glass of wine at a cafe was replaced with searching for a laundromat. When we got to the hotel, I cried when I realized I forgot to wash my staple pair of puke stained pants. You washed them for me in the bathroom sink as I took a hot shower. When I climbed into bed, you had poured a glass of wine for us. I fell asleep on your chest feeling so safe.
A few days later we traveled to Bruges, Belgium. If you set out to design a fairy-tale medieval town, it would be hard to beat this place. Picturesque cobbled lanes and dreamy canals link market squares lined with towers, historical churches, and lane after lane of colorful houses. After walking for several hours, we found a brasserie with a table in the sunshine to rest our feet and refuel. You lived in Belgium for two years during your service in the Army and began to reminisce on how good the mussels were, so we ordered them. I wanted the a la creme version loaded with full cream, while you strongly insisted on the stock base with tomatoes and vegetables. I didn’t fight you. When the huge pot of steaming mussels came, I was unimpressed. They tasted like a bland Thanksgiving stuffing and there was nothing to soak the crusty bread in. I said I preferred the mussels back home and called the waiter over to order something else, but you shooed him away, calling me a brat who didn’t know anything. My face flushed and my heart raced.
The day before, we were in Paris and only had an afternoon to explore. I sacrificed my desire for gooey, French cheese and croissant for your passion to find a Middle Eastern deli that made shawarma sandwiches just like back home when you were a child. I don’t know many women that wouldn’t throw an absolute tantrum at that. But I didn’t complain-I loved you.
“I ate falafel in Paris for you!” I yelled while getting up from the table.
“Sure, cause a scene to leave and call your other boyfriend.” you snapped back.
I hated your pathological jealousy that was growing worse by the day. Any reasoning with you, and I risked being sucked into an absolute mind fuck discussion that went round and round until I wanted to search for something tall to jump off. You grabbed my wrist, but I shook you off.
The table next to us now turned to gawk as you continued to yell at me for cheating on you, and other absurdities that weren’t true. I had to get away.
I spent the next several hours wandering the streets of Bruges alone, watching couples holding hands through my blurred vision of tears, wishing things could just be easy for once. You were my first faithful relationship, a personal growth I was proud of. The thought of betraying you never occurred. In fact, it made me sick. Proving my love to you was exhausting, but I never gave up.
My phone died and I can’t read maps, nor speak Dutch, German, or French. It was one of the first times in many to come that I felt completely isolated. Miraculously, I had found my way back to the restaurant we were at. I took a seat inside at the dark wood bar, unsure of what to do besides drink.
An attractive man in his early 40’s with strawberry blonde hair and a matching shortly trimmed beard walked in and took a seat next to me. He was traveling from Amsterdam on business and I was thrilled to hear English, so obliged in conversation half-heartedly. After two strong Belgian ales, I didn’t care what he had to say. I missed you.
Then in you walked, standing next to me with your big brown eyes, saying nothing for once. And I melt all over again. You were silent as we walked to our car. In the parking ramp, I reached over to wrap my arms around you, but instead, you shoved me hard and I fell onto my knees. I knew it was payment for talking to the man in the bar. I got up and wiped my hands, and said nothing as I got into the car. I looked out the window as we drove back to our hotel, biting my lip to hold back tears.
It always amazes me how perfectly suited we are for one another in one moment, and how vicious you can be in another. How you can turn on me out of nowhere. How you can bring out demons in me that I have to push back down. Then there are the times that keep me holding on, even when I knew I shouldn’t. An unstoppable force of beautiful toxicity that has become our normal.
Still, I’m not giving up.