Long Distance

It was raining when I first saw him in a letter he wrote me, if that makes sense.

I pictured myself stuck between a bus stop and a lighted restaurant. He was reading a book of some sort, relaxing inside a cafe as he wrote me. I didn’t know exactly what it looked like inside, but that wasn’t important.

I found out he was reading history. That didn’t matter at first though, because the present was the only moment I was interested in. It’s where I had met him. I sat in my bedroom while imagining him sitting there, wishing I could look across the room and fall for him so naturally. I wanted to be that mysterious girl that was trying to take a break from the endless downpour outside, who had walked underneath the awning and was putting her lipstick on in the window. I wanted to see his face when he noticed me through such a small divide, but I was much farther away.

Still, in my mind I hugged the door handle, and made my way inside. The atmosphere of his words was hanging onto something, but I couldn’t figure out what. I realized he was in the type of place where you could casually sit down and order some tea or coffee. I imagined slipping my jacket off and reading over a menu I couldn’t see, trying to settle into an environment I was wanting to grasp. It was actually quite tense for a place so quiet. And then I paused mid-sentence, my eyes looked up, and I realized why. I fell for him right in front of me, even if he wasn’t standing there yet.

I looked at a picture I had of him again. He was young, a few years older than me at age 21. He had jet black hair, tan skin, and I could already see how brown his eyes were from across an imaginary room. They were friendly though, not harsh like the average. He was wearing dark rimmed glasses and had on a black coat similar to mine, except a lot more masculine. He had a half smile on his face that reached up to his eyes in a way that gave them light. When I dove back into the letter, it was as if I was drinking my favorite cup of tea.

I sat back and sipped on it. I burned my tongue from rushing a bit, but I couldn’t help it. I had to read it a second time. His words were strongly brewed, but sweet. I drank in every sentence, and yet I still smiled when I reached the end of the letter. It was signed “Tony”.

A few nights before this letter even reached my screen, I was asked to accompany my best friend on an outing. She visited town every so often, even though she lived in another state now. I was still staying in Kentucky for college. As far as I was concerned, my current town was made up entirely of restaurants. I followed her into the mall to escape this, and we both ended up wandering through my favorite beauty store.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

Chelsea was glancing at me with a look of worry, asking yet again if she should get a haircut. I looked down at the counter and avoided making eye contact with the exasperated stylist.

“It’s up to you, but if it’s what feels right, go for it,” I said.

My phone went off, interrupting my role as a life choice therapist.The little chat window was highlighted, and it had the number “1” floating above it, begging me to click it. Notifications always demanded attention, so I paused to read what was there.

Suddenly the lights, the mirrors, the perfume bottles around me faded a bit. I saw someone was calling me beautiful in a way I hadn’t heard yet. I didn’t know who it was and I paused to consider what to do. I was standing frozen in my favorite place, and that was not something that happened very often. Usually I was busy looking at all of the sparkling potions, the soft powders, lipsticks, false eyelashes longer than my attention span…mine blinked in surprise when I realized what I was reading. This is where my story started with him.

He lived in Germany. He had dark hair, soft brown eyes, and glasses. He had to be around a few years older than me. What he said sounded innocent, considering common exchanges on social media. He called me adorable, said he wished I lived in Germany, and promised he wasn’t creepy. I laughed a little because of the honesty. I decided to find out if that was true. I tried to pocket my phone and save it for later.

I looked back up to find my best friend looking at me still, but with a completely different face. This one was about to interrogate me.

I realized I was smiling and glanced to the side.

“What is it?” she asked, still staring me down.

I finally made eye contact and gave up trying to hide that this made my day. I was obviously losing this game.

“A guy from Germany messaged me,” I said. “Look.”

I handed her the phone and she glanced over it, eventually approving. She thought his foreignness made him especially attractive, and I couldn’t argue. She encouraged me to message him back, and this reinforced that I wasn’t completely insane for considering it.

I sat for another hour while Chelsea got her hair styled by a blonde woman with the complexion of a Georgia peach. I was occasionally tuning out of the talk about different types of men to imagine how someone so far away had appeared out of nowhere in my life. I spaced out into the lighted mirror in front of me, all the while trying to figure out how or when he had noticed me. I was already trying not to fall for the idea of this guy, but it was hard not to think about him. I wondered what he was like, and prayed that he was the opposite of the men being described by the two women beside me.

I got home that night and, after being surrounded by so much makeup, couldn’t wait to wash mine off. I sat at the sink and looked into the mirror. I was so incredibly pale it was almost comical. Usually my eyes were a mix of green and blue, but tonight they were bluer than they had been in a long time. I shrugged and went off to finally ease into my bed. I turned onto my side and stared at my phone. I really wanted to answer him, but I was afraid. I didn’t know how he would react, and I hadn’t known before that he had sent the message five days prior. Despite answering so late, I hoped for the best.

It didn’t take too long for him to answer me, and I was kind of shocked how soon I got a reply. Apparently he was shocked that I even answered, and didn’t expect to get this far. It was actually pretty funny how it all fell together. It was a typical modern-day way to fall in love with someone. Or at least I guess it was. I had commented on something through Facebook and he had seen my picture. We started talking, and I realized he was someone I wanted to stay in touch with. I went to bed later that night because I was exhausted, and I woke up praying that it was all real. It was, and as a result I was completely lovesick. I couldn’t eat meals for 3 or 4 days, and I only got worse the more I talked to him. It was mildly concerning how well I was living off of so few hours of sleep, but the time was seven hours ahead there and it was worth it to me.

We exchanged over 11,000 messages, including a lot of music, some pictures, and eventually voice messages. I had never had someone make me laugh as much as he did, and I didn’t know someone could treat me so well. I was in love with everything about him and it only grew with every passing day. I had been sitting under a gazebo when I first heard his voice through a message. I forgot how to breathe and just sat there, listening to it first to realize what he sounded like, then to catch what he actually said. I sent one back and hoped I didn’t sound as strange as I imagined. I began walking back to my apartment feeling a little dazed, enjoying the sunlight hitting my face.

As I made my way into my building, I looked down at my door handle. It looked unusually gold, but maybe I was just imagining it. I tried my house key, but the door wouldn’t budge. That’s when I realized out of being lovestruck, I had walked up to the wrong door and accidentally tried to break and enter into my neighbor’s place. Thankfully no one was home, and I was perfectly capable of running. When I got back outside, I was glad to find out my voice wasn’t as bad as I imagined. In fact, he said he liked it.

Soon after that I was able to see him on Skype. At this point some people questioned the stability of what I had gotten into, but when I saw him smiling back at me, he didn’t feel so far away. I knew by this point I could trust him, and we were dating now. Two weeks after we started talking, he proved how serious he was when he made a proposition. He said he wanted to fly over so we could meet face to face.

It was January 7th when he arrived. I had been counting down the last few days and they had felt as long as my entire life before I met him. I stood inside the airport and waited nervously by the gate. I had planned every detail for meeting him: my dress, wearing my red scarf so he could find me, my makeup. I had gotten there early, so I went into the ladies’ room and looked in the mirror to powder my nose and make sure I looked like myself. But I didn’t recognize who was looking back at me. I had an entire new light to my eyes and they were brighter than I ever remembered them being. I put my lipstick on the reflection as if I was standing in front of that cafe window I imagined in the letter. The distance between us was about to be the very same as I had imagined back then. It was about to be closed with open arms.

I’ll never forget when I finally saw him. I had been looking at everyone passing by, but I knew right away they weren’t the one I was looking for. They passed by as regular strangers, just like walking down the street. And then I saw a guy with jeans and a beanie on. He had the dark glasses and the same face I had been looking at in photos for the past weeks. He had a carry on bag and was striding up the walkway. My heart stopped and I knew immediately, I didn’t have to look anymore. Every bit of nerve within me vanished, and I stood just looking at him. He walked up smiling and put his arms around me. I was still trying to accept that he was really standing if front of me, and I struggled to break from being shy. I felt my features soften when I heard his voice say “hi”. After that, I couldn’t stop smiling, even on the ride home.

My mom had insisted on driving me to the airport to pick him up, so we both sat in the backseat. We exited the airport parking structure and made our way past the toll booth. I looked at him and smiled. I had been playing with a hair elastic on my wrist, and when I saw his hand settled next to me, I laced my fingers through his. He smiled back and put the elastic around his own wrist.

“I’m keeping this,” he said, still smiling at me.

I was happy to know that within the first ten minutes he was already wearing something of mine. He could have all of my hair elastics as far as I was concerned. I was just glad that he was finally next to me, and he was real. I looked out the car window on his side and saw the city pass by. It was dark out on the ride back, because he arrived around 10 pm. I held onto his hand and felt him lay his head on my shoulder. I could tell he was tired, but he was also still awake as I laid against him. A playlist of the music he had sent me ran through my head, and the longer I was next to him, the more my heart filled with warmth. It was one of those moments where you close your eyes and the lights pass by going down the highway, almost like one of those tunnels. Except it was passing in slow motion, because someone I had been imagining was next to me, and they really loved me.

When we arrived home, he perked up and seemed to remember where I lived based on what I had described. The orange lights on the apartments glowed as if to welcome him. It was dark, but calm outside, and I felt dizzy from such a long ride coupled with reality still setting in. We stood at my apartment door and I remembered the time I had forgotten where that was. He walked in and set his bags down, and my mom went off to go to sleep for the night. I ran to my room to grab his gift and sat on the couch. Since we hadn’t been able to spend Christmas together, we had agreed to make packages for each other, and I had spent weeks putting it together. He loved to write, so I put two journals inside. There was also a red beanie, a band T-shirt, some sweets, my favorite print of a rose I made in high school, and a few other things. I made sure it all meant something and handed it to him nervously. I sat down to unwrap the package he had gotten me with growing curiosity. It was wrapped in dark blue paper with little silver stars on it, topped with a red bow. I opened it carefully and unsealed the box. Inside, on top of everything, was an envelope. There was also paper with a cute drawing on it, as well as an illustration of a cherry blossom tree he had done for me. He had sent me pictures of it before, but now I was able to hold it in front of me. He also had tucked in some German chocolate and a beanie that had a big fluffy ball on top. But the part that caught me the most was when he pulled out a small sample bottle of Chanel perfume, as well as a beautiful little bottle that his mother gave me from her collection. I had never been given anything this nice before, and it wasn’t just the fact that they were good quality. It was the fact that he thought I was worth it.

He had me spray some on my neck and I realized why it was so expensive. It smelled like walking into a high end boutique, or wearing a designer dress, or walking through the city at night. But it was all within this little bottle. I put the things he gave me safely in the box so they wouldn’t fall.

Kissing him tasted like home. I had lived in so many places and that was the moment I realized none of them mattered. This person, this guy that had shown he cared more than anyone, was a part of this world that I didn’t know existed. Once he found me, I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere else except by his side. I fell asleep next to him that night and felt safer than I had in my entire life, and when I woke up and saw him next to me, my heart was content. I was still forgetting that food existed at this point, but I got up regardless to at least grab some iced tea from the kitchen. I took forever that morning to get ready, because even though he accepted the mess I was when I woke up, I still wanted to look like I did when he noticed me. I made sure that my face was blended to an even white, and I applied my red lipstick. Five minutes after walking out of the bathroom, half of it was gone because I was kissing him again. At least I tried.

Every morning I still got ready in this way, and a routine started to form. We would wake up late in the afternoon, grab tea in the morning from the kitchen, and I would accept that my lipstick was gone and gradually learned not to care so much about trying to be perfect. Eventually we spent a lazy day at home watching movies and I lounged around the apartment the entire day without makeup on; and for the first time in my life, I still felt beautiful. Regardless of what I did, he still looked at me in a way that I had never seen before. And that’s when I knew I could be safe with him, even if I couldn’t be perfect in my own eyes. He didn’t expect perfection, and he accepted the flaws I had. I was happier than I had been in a long time, and I was told later by my mom that she had never seen me look this way. I was 18 years old and still I was learning things about love, but I knew for certain that this one mattered. This one was going to last, not just because of the amazing circumstances, but because we truly cared about one another, and he was already dedicating a lot. I decided I would eventually do the same and planned to someday soon fly to Germany, perhaps in the summer.

We spent days around town trying different restaurants, sharing gourmet pizza, walking downtown on the square at night, all while trying not to freeze in the January cold. I watched with a smile as he reacted to being in a Walmart the first time. The portion sizes of the groceries shocked him, as well as certain people. But that was Walmart. One woman standing outside of the entrance had been wearing pajama bottoms and had tin foil in her hair. I guess she was multitasking while getting highlights, but I honestly didn’t want to know.

We walked around the mall and checked out different stores together. Near the end we entered the beauty store where I first saw his message. I was proud that he wasn’t too much of a man to walk into a makeup shop with his girlfriend. Not a lot of guys can seem to handle that, but he walked right through all while taking my hand. I led him directly to the spot where I first saw what he wrote, and he stood in that exact place and kissed me. It was incredible to stand there a few weeks later with him in my arms, when not long before I had been wondering whether I should even answer him. I stood there for a second and looked at him, feeling overwhelmingly thankful that I took a chance.

During that week we spent a lot of time at home together cooking as well. He made a common German dish for me to try, and it was the most delicious thing i had ever eaten. We got up a few mornings and even made breakfast – eggs with bacon, toast, and banana pancakes. One evening we decided to bake chocolate chip cookies in the oven, and after laying on the couch together, realized that we burned them. I thought back to a list he had sent me of things that someone wanted to do with the one they loved. Staying up at night and burning cookies had been on there, and when I pointed this out he laughed. They somehow still tasted better than anything I had baked before, so we decided to keep them. They stayed on the kitchen table for the rest of the week and I practically lived off of our accidental success. It all sounded like something that most people would take for granted, but every single thing I tasted during those two weeks reminded me of him after that.

A final and major trip we made was to Louisville. He was really passionate about enduro biking, and we were told that there was an underground biking facility there. During the almost 2- hour drive, we talked about our future plans. He said he was passionate about writing, so he was looking into publications at the time. I had been an art student when we met, but I began realizing that the job was limited and I was more inclined to enjoy studying English and literature. I realized that I saw a future with him, and no matter what I wanted to make sure my career would be stable. After talking about it for a while, I ended up deciding that I would teach English in Germany someday so that we could be together. Teaching abroad had been my original dream before college, and now everything was pointing for me to work toward it again.

When we arrived at the biking place, we found out that it wasn’t what we had expected. It was cold, the bikes were cheaply made, and the fees were sky high. Instead, we stopped to get chocolate ice cream and fries at Wendy’s. It was something him and I had joked about, how people should always dip their fries in ice cream. It sounded weird, but  it ended up being the most charming thing I had done with someone. We sat and ate something incredibly simple that we had talked about online prior to his arrival. Pop music started playing in the background, and every so often he would sing along to it. I loved everything about that moment, but we still had plenty of time that evening. We decided to spend the rest of the night wandering around downtown Louisville. I had never been there, so it was something new for both of us. I had always lived in more small towns, so I was awed by the tall buildings and city lights, and I loved experiencing night life with him. Everything was new to me, and I realized this was just the beginning. After walking around a couple of blocks, we found a really beautiful looking restaurant. The entrance had a large window next to it, so you could see inside. It was extremely classy and a lot more sophisticated than anywhere I had eaten before. We decided to go in to escape the frigid air. It was dark but lighted with bright lights here and there, with a bar in the center. A jazz band played in the corner as women in dressed passed by. I felt a little underdressed, but I was happy to be wearing his hoodie with a black trench coat over it. I sat down across from him and tried not to look too excited as chandeliers sparkled behind him. I ordered a coke and he had gin and tonic. The food knocked my senses apart with how easily it melted in my mouth. But what I couldn’t get over was how happy he looked. He looked at me every so often with a sparkle to his eyes. He was so content looking, and he wouldn’t stop smiling. I decided that was the look that I would always try to put on his face, even if it was 60 years from that moment.

The entire ride home was an adventure in itself as my GPS recalculated. We decided to call her Tiffany since her voice suited the name. After a lot of jokes aimed in Tiffany’s direction, I eventually made it onto the correct route home. As I drove past lights and cities, he plugged some music into the radio. It was a mix of things I knew but didn’t realize he liked, along with some stuff he had sent me when we first started talking. We sang together on the ride home and I was glad I had fallen in love with someone that was also my best friend. I wanted desperately to slow down time before he had to leave soon, so I looked over at him every so often and enjoyed hearing his voice sing next to me.

I was able to sleep next to him another night before he left. My heart ached knowing he had to go soon, but I treasured what I had left until I would see him again. I knew it wouldn’t last forever, but it hurt. He had to go back for classes, and mine were starting a while after that as well. But he promised he would come see me again in the spring, so I held onto that and was able to fall asleep. We spent the next day getting ready for his departure, all while staying inseparable. I kept remembering that I would see him again soon, in just over 60 days. The car ride to the airport was far too fast, and I wanted it to slow down. It was warm that day, and as we were driven up the highway, I leaned into him just like I had the night we drove home. I was both incredibly happy and incredibly sad, and I held onto that as I closed my eyes and felt the sun on my face. I let it wash away some of what I was feeling and I focused on how much I loved him. That didn’t make it any easier, but I was comforted just hearing his heartbeat next to me. I opened my eyes every so often to make sure no tears would fall. I smiled at him reassuringly, just to let him know I was handling it alright. I lazily looked up and saw a bottle of peach tea he had brought with. He handed it to me and when I tasted it, I knew that would be one of the most bittersweet flavors to ever stay in my memory. It would always taste like knowing I would be saying goodbye to him, all while being safe in his arms that I knew I would feel again one day. It was like summer love, but one that would last that had grown the most in January.

The airport was the far more unwelcoming than the first time I had entered it. I wanted to turn back and take him home with me again, but I knew that wasn’t possible. We sat in the lobby outside where we had first seen each other at the gate. The seats were soft, and I began to rest my head on his shoulder as he hugged me closer. A guy across the room sat at a microphone and played acoustic guitar while singing. I was trying not to cry and this wasn’t helping. It was like being cast in a movie scene with a really sad soundtrack to fit what was happening, and before I knew it, I had tears streaming down my face. I guess he felt me crying against him, and we both sat there with tears in our eyes, wishing this guy playing guitar would stop making things worse. He eventually went silent and he pulled me up to look at me.

“I’ll see you in March again, 64 days from now,” he said, trying to calm me. He showed me the countdown setting on his phone, and I relaxed a little seeing a number I could handle in front of my eyes.

He kept me close while we waited until he had to board his plane. I sat up and took my hair down.

“Do you have your wallet?” I asked.

He nodded and looked at me with a question in his eyes. I untied the red ribbon I had worn in my hair since high school and handed it to him. He had first seen it in a picture I sent him online before we met, and ever since then he had said how much he liked me wearing it. But I wanted him to have it, because I didn’t have anyone else I wanted to wear it for.

Before I knew it, he had to go. I told him I loved him again, but it never seemed like enough times. I kissed him goodbye as much as possible, and waved to him as he walked off through security. I was left alone for a moment and paced around, not wanting to leave yet. I went into the bathroom to get the tear streaks off my face. I walked back out and went to watch the planes from the lobby, just in case. I didn’t think I would be able to see his plane, but it was worth a shot. But before I had the chance to catch a glimpse, I froze and looked on the other side of the glass. He was standing there looking at me, smiling. It turned out he had to pass back through to get on his plane. I touched my hand up to the clear divide and waved to him again, and he matched me. I watched him walk down the hallway until I couldn’t see him any longer. It was just like that scene I had imagined with the cafe from his letter, with me being there in person, seeing him just on the other side of a pane of glass. But now I realized I hadn’t wanted that at all, I wanted to be next to him. And as I sat there with my heart sinking, it jumped back up again. I had a notification on my phone, and you would never guess who it was from.