I was a bright-eyed twenty-year-old, fresh out of my sophomore year of college. I was off to spend three months in Kenya -- not my first abroad trip, but certainly my first (and longest) solo trip. I was overwhelmed, excited, apprehensive, sad, anxious, and nervous.
In the airport, all of these feelings culminated in certain scatter-brained behavior, like continually losing my passport. While I was waiting to board my plane, I dropped my passport somewhere and had to get out of line to look for it. I was carrying too many bags, scrambling about the airport, on the edge of an anxiety attack. Then a nice young man found my passport, handed it to me, and let me cut him in line.
“Hi, I’m Amir.” He introduced himself.
I smiled, adjusted my enormous backpack, and reached out my hand to shake his.
“Thanks for rescuing my passport.” He smirked, and that was all it took to start a conversation between us.
The sparks were flying instantly. Our conversation only lasted for a few minutes in line, during which I discovered that we had the same extended layover between our two destinations.
That first plane ride was 12 hours. We exchanged some knowing glances, but otherwise didn’t talk again until Abu Dhabi, where I was stuck for 14 hours and he was stuck for three.
I waited for him outside the plane and he seemed pleasantly surprised to see me leaning against the wall in anticipation for his arrival.
“Yeah, hey, I’m happy you waited.” He said. “Let me show you around.”
“Show me around an airport?” I was incredulous. “It’s an airport. I’ve been to them before.”
“Sure, but you’ve never been here.” He insisted and led me through the, I’ll admit, amazing airport.
The Abu Dhabi airport was a hotel and a shopping mall all at once. It definitely did not feel like an airport once you moved away from the boarding areas. During the walk around the airport while we waited for his boarding time, we talked about anything and everything. Amir is from the Middle East, and I had a million and one questions for him.
He had moved to America when he was younger: What was that like for you? How often do you visit your family? What is life like back home? He patiently answered my questions and retaliated with a few of his own: What made you decide to go to Kenya? Have you ever been abroad before? What will you be doing there?
Later, I would find out that he was purposely trying to distract me from my travels because I seemed anxious to him. This was one of the most amazing parts of our relationship. He intuitively understood what I was feeling and where I was coming from, especially because he had been through it before.
I’m outgoing and meet people in random places all the time, so even though there was a spark between us, I never expected to talk to him again. He took my Facebook information after the three hours went by, which felt like three minutes. I hugged him goodbye at the terminal, and figured that was that.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the wonderful stranger in the airport – and incidentally, neither could he, because I had a Facebook message waiting for me when I arrived in Kenya a day later.
We kept in touch all summer. I appreciated his friendship and his wisdom about how to handle being a minority where I was living. We would Skype whenever we could, though the time difference and unreliable Internet on both ends made it difficult. Skyping with him for 30 minutes sometimes could make my whole week better. Messaging him late at night when I had a particularly rough day always cheered me up.
Our connection was real, and this is coming from the most independent, perpetually single person you’ll ever meet. I’ve only ever had one “real” boyfriend, in high school. Even though I date a lot, I always run as soon as the idea of commitment becomes real. I’m good at being single – I like being single – so this very real connection we had scared me, especially when he started suggesting I come visit him once I return to the States.
I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t.
When I returned in August, I had 13 precious days in Chicago with my family before I was going overseas again to study abroad for four months. I spent three of these days with him.
He lives eight hours away from me, so I drove the distance and stayed with him at his house. It felt like a Dateline TV special waiting to happen – girl goes and spends three nights with a stranger she’s only met once.
Thankfully, the risk paid off. He was a perfect gentleman. It was the most romantic and spontaneous three days of my short life, and the craziest thing I’ve ever done for a guy. I doubt I’ll beat it, and I don’t think I want to.
A full sky of stars lit up our first kiss in a forbidden swimming pool. He pulled me in and gave me a tender kiss. Then he pulled back and screamed, “I’ve been waiting to do that for three months!”
It was bliss. Saying goodbye to him at the end of the three days was one of the harder goodbyes I’ve ever had. I was surprised but happy when he suggested we wait for each other.
Contrary the very core of my personality – I always said, “never would I ever do long-distance” – I said yes. The connection was too real to deny. We agreed he would come visit me in Chicago in December when I returned.
The first month and a half was great. We randomly sent each other pictures, FaceTimed spontaneously, and we Skyped once a week. For the first time ever, I was genuinely not interested in anyone else. I would talk about Amir to anyone who would listen.
You see where this is going, right?
At some point, it stopped working. The time difference became too straining. Long distance is really hard for anyone, but especially if you don’t have a really solid foundation, which we didn’t, having only met twice. I never admitted it out loud, but I was falling in love with him. Because of that, I held on longer than I should have.
Around Thanksgiving, we called it quits for good. It was messy and dramatic and I cried for two days on my roommate’s shoulder. I found solace in another boy’s arms, only to wake up and think of Amir. I had never gotten my heart broken before – it is as horrible as the love songs say.
To add insult to injury, I felt stupid. I took an enormous risk with Amir, knowing full well that this was an objectively dumb decision and I was giving my heart over to be squashed, so it felt like my fault.
When I returned to America, he contacted me again, telling me he missed me and he wanted to come see me. I jumped at the possibility, telling him the dates that worked and planned our entire itinerary. He bailed the night before he was supposed to come, and I told him never to contact me again.
We did not end on good terms, and that’s a shame, because I am so grateful for our relationship. We may not have worked out romantically, but he tore down my invisible walls, some of which I didn’t even know I had up.
I’m not even sure where these walls came from. I was so afraid to love anyone, because I was so afraid of hurting my heart. I convinced myself it was easier to stay single – which, if it’s a decision between single and an unhealthy relationship, I still believe. I’ll never be in a relationship for the sake of being in one, but I was pushing away potentially great guys for no good reason.
Being with Amir was a seven-month-long roller coaster. It was exhilarating and fun. But I’ve learned that not all loves are supposed to last forever. I am eternally thankful he came into my life when I needed him the most, when I needed his understanding words to get through my summer abroad.
The exhilaration was worth the heartbreak. To fully feel the good feelings, you have to open yourself up to the bad feelings too. I wish I had gotten the chance to tell him that the bad times were worth the good times, and I’m so appreciative to have known and taken a chance on him. He opened me up in more ways than one. If you read this, thank you, Amir.
*Note: Names, places, and some small details have been changed to protect the innocent.