Crushes on Strangers

In My Back Pocket, With the Maps

In My Back Pocket, With the Maps
Credit: Oxfam Italia

I got a huge, honking crush on this guy right before I moved to South America at age 26, my splashy sayonara to the daily grind. He was funny and peculiar, we laughed while eating dinner at a place called Rock N Roll Pizza, and out of these details I divined destiny: Clearly, we were meant to be together.

I had decided to go to South America in part because I didn't have a boyfriend. That sounds so lame, particularly in the face of the cooing admiration I received for my derring-do—A woman! Alone!—but it was precisely my status as a woman, alone, that inspired me to such adventure. I was tired of waiting for a boyfriend who never materialized, and if my evenings were going to be spent by myself, it only made sense that they should include a view of the Andes.

The crush was a new wrinkle. At the moment I was about to leap into the unknown, I reached back and planted a stake in the ground. Had I done it on purpose? Did I need something to hold on to for the journey, a keepsake from home? Or had it been some message from the universe, a reminder that we are most open to love when we are not grasping for it?

For the next four months, I thought of him: on 12-hour bus trips that wound through the mountains; as I trudged along a spectacular stretch of the Incan Trail on the four-day hike that leads to Macchu Picchu. What would he think of this? What would he say here? I created an entire alternate reality in my mind, one in which he came with me.

Eventually, I would meet other men in South America, and have wonderful romances that were perfect for just how unanticipated they were. Eventually, I would go back to Texas and discover this guy and I were not meant to be together. But for those first few months in South America, when I was scared, unsure of what I was doing and doubting my place, the thought of him was such good company.

He was, in a way, the perfect traveling companion.

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