It seems as though many, not all or most, but many of my memories of Chile are intertwined with memories of a person. It’s nearly impossible to think of the place and not think of the person.
He was someone I met while there, during my first few days in Santiago and I would have never met him if it wasn’t for Chile. He was gregarious and easy going, a bit goofy, but no more than me. He was charming, but not too much as to raise any red flags or come off as predatory. I never felt anything more than friendly kindness towards him, keeping a healthy distance as I tried to meet other people, as many other people as possible, and it was in these moments of meeting other folks that I realized that I liked him more than I let on, more than I had told my friends, more than I told myself.
And when that realization hits you after midnight, when the alcohol is flowing and people are being their most reckless, it puts a damper on the night’s festivities and your emotional well being.
I began to like him just as we were leaving and allowed my feelings to grow over months of limited contact. Texts here and there, emails, occasionally, and other forms of text based digital communication more frequently. No, I didn’t hear his voice for months, but I could remember what it sounded like. No, I didn’t see his face, but I could remember what it looked like in person, since photos never capture the depths of his face, any face. I could imagine the best version of him because I thought I had seen it during that first week. And the mind, when it has limited contact with the object of your affection, can make them flawless in your eyes. Things that may exist in a bubble become the only reality.
I talked to him when I was feeling uncertain and he gave me certainty. I talked to him when I was afraid of teaching and he gave me empathy because he felt the same. He never let on that there was anything more than friendship, but I decided to read between the lines, and in a deluded state, decided that maybe, just maybe, he felt the same way.
He asked me to travel and I was more than happy to take him up on his offer. My own plans were limited, I wanted to see him, and why the hell would I not want to travel a bit? It seemed like the perfect opportunity to turn the feelings I had been harboring for months into something more concrete, something tangible.
Imagination has the power to overindulge and in this case it did. My feelings were left unreciprocated. I was angry with him, but my words to him were understanding and respectful. I was overwhelmed with romantic feelings that I hadn’t had in years prior and was left with a sense of emptiness, uncertainty, self-doubt, when they were not requited.
But a sense of clarity came over me as time went on. His honesty and apologies lessened my fear of rejection. This experience has made me aware of the things I want from certain people in my life: honesty and a clear sense of what they want, even if it’s not me. You can’t fault someone for being true to themselves. You can’t fault someone for not settling, when the object of their affection is close and has actual potential for something real. It was a lesson that needed to be learned and I was afraid to approach it until now.
Falling for someone in a foreign country can be an anchor, especially when that person shares your experiences and your language in a place where you are different. It tethers you to a person who can empathize, someone who you’ve grown to know intimately in a short amount of time, getting to understand their vulnerabilities and fears, as the normal things that keep us occupied are thousands of miles away in a place called home. But it is home where many of us are our most comfortable and calm; a place where we are the versions of ourself with strong barriers and oddities in abundance. Things can be blown out of proportion, emotions heightened, your core self exposed to the world more acutely while abroad. Trying to reconcile these versions of ourselves is a course in compartmentalization whose lessons I’ve yet to unpack.
I’ve come to the realization that while I had expectations of what I wanted from this man, I was in no position to fully accept what I desired. I am not at a place in my life where I am ready to be with anyone in more than a platonic sense. I have goals that I’d like to achieve before I take that leap. I’d like to be a better version of myself and quite frankly, I’m too selfish right now. I prefer time with my family and I’ve been grateful to reconnect with them over the years, but I know that there may come a time when I meet another person who I feel a strong connection with and wish for something to come of it and then, maybe then, I’ll be honest with that individual and myself about what I want and not let my imagination run away, creating something out of nothing.