He was one of those characters that throw themselves into your life sometimes, people who come and then go and leave only a fascinating story to be told at parties when you get a few drinks in. He burst into my house with his pack of friends and his flask of Austrian apricot liquor and his tweed jacket with the leather elbows making him look like a candidate for the next Doctor, and he looked at me and grinned like he owned the place. He was cute and he was charismatic and he told me stories about his world travels and, oh, god, he could dance (ladies, you understand), and I knew I had to have him. And we danced and made out and he was as good of a kisser as he was a dancer and I was hooked, and then we hooked up in the bathroom of a campus library because my apartment had guests and it was the only place that was open at midnight on a weekend, and then he presumably departed from my life forever.
But two things interfered with the usual course of events:
- I collect interesting people.
- I have Facebook.
Fast-forward two years. I was on my way to being an accomplished world traveler in my own right, or at least trying my damndest. I was studying abroad on the other side of the Atlantic and he was at a posh job only a few thousand miles away. We’d stayed friends of a sort, pen pals like you had in elementary school but with more flirting and Facebook-post-liking and discussions about sex and exes and porn. With no connections to each other’s life, we could talk about anything, so I told him all about my boyfriend of 10 months – how I loved him but felt restless and how the sex was good but not intense enough. He told me about his attempts and failures at courting women internationally, and I, supposedly head-over-heels in love with a man who loved me, started feeling the love-taps of jealousy when he described the gorgeous Scottish girl he was going on dates with. (It’s always the redheads.) Now that we were both on the same side of the world, it was time-wise easier to talk to each other than the folks back home, and soon we were in near-constant contact.
Then one day he told me that he might be taking a business trip to company HQ, bringing him within a 5-hour flight of me.
I’d always wanted to see the city his company was headquartered in, and he knew it. But I was taking classes and the combined time of getting to the international airport on top of the actual flight was a lot, so just for fun we looked at alternatives. Italy happened to be between us.
“I’ve never been to Italy” I typed him.
“It’s gorgeous. I’ve been to Naples, Milan, and Rome,” he responded, playfully prodding my traveler’s jealousy.
“What about Venice?”
I held my breath.
“Well, you should probably get on that before it sinks, right?”
“Haha, good point.”
And so we made plans. He told me the weekend and I researched all my flight options, going through my budget with a fine-toothed comb to ensure that I had the money for it. (Ryanair, oh Ryanair!) All the while, my relationship was pushed to the back of my mind as I told myself that it was just a reunion with an old friend.
But friendship? In Venice? I couldn’t even fool myself. A sinking city of classical romance, one that made Aphrodite so jealous that she now endeavors to pull it back beneath the waves. Canals by moonlight. Singing gondoliers. Palaces and churches and bridges and the closest spoken remnant of Latin that exists today. I wanted this. I wanted all of it, and I wanted it with him – not my boyfriend. I wanted the illicit affair, the unspoken subtext, the feeling of something stolen and secret. I wanted to have this weekend to tuck away, another jewel in my box of secrets, and then I wanted to fly back home and resume my happy committed monogamous life, with my pen pal on the other side of the world where he belonged.
But at the last minute his trip was canceled. I never bought that flight. We never booked those hotels, and I watched my plans for the experience of a lifetime drift away like paper ash. I was incredibly let down, but I was good, I was faithful, and all that mattered was that I didn’t have to lie when I said I had never cheated on my boyfriend. I thought I could forget it. I thought I could be happy.
(Four weeks later, my boyfriend cheated on me instead.)