At the beginning of last summer, the summer of 2012, I found myself in Barcelona, Spain. I had just finished a study trip around a few European countries with my University, nothing big just some credit hours over a few weeks. Instead of flying back with the other students, I opted to take an extra week in Barcelona. It was a little treat to myself for a lack of holiday for more than a decade.
I traveled with two other students, which is how my destination ended up being Barcelona. My interest in choosing my destination was as simple as having not been there before, and Spain on the Mediterranean coast seemed as good a place as any. We had booked lodging at a little hostel called the Feetup Garden House, relatively far from La Rambla (the major avenue and tourist central). It was a lovely little spot with two floors, a roof top patio, and an awesome courtyard to relax in.
After our flight in we got to the place and settled our gear in. The first day was rather uneventful, we did take in a little sightseeing, but it had already been a tiring day so we didn’t wander too far. We headed back to the hostel in the early afternoon and set about getting to know some of our fellow travelers. The three of us and a few other guests shared idle conversation and many beers until late into the night, just soaking up the night air on the roof.
Naturally the next day I woke up pretty hung over, reeking of beer and just generally looking like hammered dog shit. I was the living dead with only one desire, a cigarette. I pulled on a shirt and some shorts, took a moment on my balcony to clear my head and get my feet about me, then lumbered out of my room and down the stairs. As I stepped out into the courtyard, the air was fresh and warm, and the courtyard looked lovely. To my right I saw an open table to sit at, and out of the corner of my eye to the left I saw other guests. I glanced in their direction to be polite, and see if I recognized anyone. A woman sitting at the table nearest me looked up and smiled. I smiled back, and determined that everything was all good with the other guests. Well at least I was able to convince myself of that for about half a second, before realizing I was in serious trouble.
I had sworn to myself that the one and only thing I could not do while on vacation, was to fall in love. Lust was fine but romance was certainly not. I’m a romantic at heart and falling in love would just complicate the ever living hell out of my life. But it was already too late, it had happened in a glance. She was just sitting there reading and munching on something, and she was gorgeous. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. It´ll sound odd, but there was something in her posture or the way she moved that just radiated confidence and personality. I could just feel her beauty in the air, it was amazing. I had glanced right and all was fine, then I glanced left and I was in love.
All of my mental preparation to keep my heart out of reach came undone with nothing more than a soft smile; I couldn’t even imagine what she could do with a laugh. So, there I was trying my best to play it cool, you know, like my heart hadn´t just skipped a beat and my mind wasn’t numbed to the point where counting to three would have been a problem. I sat down, lit my cigarette and promptly discarded any thoughts about relaxing. My new objective was to find a way to get to know this new mystery woman and spend as much time with her as possible, because I was sure that if I didn’t I would regret it the rest of my life. Even if I only knew her for a few days, it would be more than not knowing her at all.
So, after smoking my cigarette and determining that I had to find a way to talk to her, I quickly took off for my room to get a quick shower and grab a book. I was maybe gone a total of five minutes (it’s amazing how fast you can clean up when motivated), and then back at my seat in the courtyard doing my best to look like nothing was out the ordinary. As far as my planning to find a way chat with her had gotten, was that I needed to be in her vicinity, so that if a chance to talk presented itself, I would be there to take it. After that I had no idea, so I spent the better part of the afternoon pretending to read a book and trying not to get caught glancing at her.
We’ll fast forward a bit till the evening. One of my partners in crime, a girl named Caitlin I know from the university, had joined me at my table for small talk. The woman who had managed to capture my heart with a simple smile gathered her things and left the courtyard. Not even a second later I turned to Caitlin and said, “Holy shit, you gotta help me! I have a big problem here!” She nervously asked me how big, and I believe I said something about how being dead would have presented me with less of a conundrum. So, I filled her in on the mystery woman and we started to brain storm on how I could make an approach without it being awkward.
As it turns out, my worrying was pointless, because no sooner than my mystery lady had returned, before she asked if she could join us at our table. I’m not exactly known for being able to hide how I feel, but I have my moments, and I consider staying calm at this moment to be the greatest poker face I have ever pulled off. Introductions go around and I finally had a name to go with this stunning vision, Vibeke. After that, the conversation just took a life of its own.
For the life of me I can’t remember most of what we talked about, I just remember soaking up every word and being unable to take my eyes off of hers. However, I do remember that we had so much in common, like a love for punk rock. As the night pressed on, more people had gathered around the table, but somehow we could not be swayed from talking more or less exclusively to one another. I didn’t want to stop talking with her, but as it got later I realized that I had to find a way to ask her to join me in my plans for the next day. Only problem was that I didn´t have any plans. Just bluntly asking could be awkward, and that was the last thing I wanted. What I wanted was as much time with this woman in my life as possible, even if it was just conversation and laughs. Then, after waiting for my opportunity, I found a gap to jump for. She had mentioned that she needed to get to bed soon for her plans in the morning, and I eagerly, but smoothly, inquired about said plans.
She was headed to Parc Guell the next day, so I mentioned that, I might go give it a look during my visit, and she suggested that we go together. I didn’t waste a second saying yes, and there it was we had plans. We said our good nights and as I lay down to rest for the next day, I realized that despite my intentions of staying romance free on my trip, I really had no choice in the matter. As spooky as that was, it was also liberating.
The next day we headed to the park. After a little trouble with finding it (and some steep path climbing) we got there. We must have covered every square meter of that place, just squeezing as much time into it as possible, and on more than one occasion I was almost completely overrun with an unbridled passion to kiss her, but I feared crossing the line. I was afraid that the feelings weren´t mutual and that I would cross her boundaries. So, I kept my distance. After a while we found ourselves wandering all over the city and just soaking up everything we had to say to each other.
We got back to the hostel late in the evening, and found a spot in the courtyard just chatting some more. I was still oblivious as to whether she harbored any romantic feelings for me, but over the day mine had kept growing, and I knew I was fast approaching the point of doing something really… stupid.
Realizing we could lose our time alone at any moment, I decided that I had to tell her how I felt. I had stewed all day contemplating how to steal a kiss and show her I had romantic feelings for her. I wanted to tell her that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, that she had a personality so amazing that at any given moment I was sure this was all a dream, but I couldn’t figure out how to do any of that. So, I was at an impasse, and impasses are where I tend to get stupid. You see I have been a soldier for most of my adult life, soldiers learn how to problem solve by adapting, improvising, or overcoming. I had tried adaptation without luck, improvising was getting me nowhere so I was on my last leg with overcoming as my option. The trouble is that for a grunt soldier (like I was) overcoming an obstacle usually involves forcing an outcome whether it is the desired one or not. Essentially you just suck it up and charge head first at your problem with everything you have. So, instead of being smooth and romantic, I just flatly told her that there was a moment at Parc Guell that I really thought I should have kissed her. Not really a tactful approach, but it was my own awkward way of trying to tell her how I felt.
So, there I was way out on a limb and feeling pretty silly about it when she tells me that the moments I was describing she doesn’t remember. Man, my heart hit the bottom of my gut, but then hope kicked in. She said that there were plenty of other moments during the day where she had wondered why I hadn’t kissed her. Simultaneously my heart nearly skipped right out of my chest, and I promptly froze in amazed shock. The little man in my mind was jumping for joy saying ‘now kiss her you fool’, yet I just sat there like a bump on a log with a dumb look on my face. She wanted me to kiss her, I knew this, but I was in shock. Well, thankfully she wasn’t having any of that and broke the spell by kissing me. Sure enough that did the trick; as soon as our lips met, I snapped right out of it and we spent the rest of the night exploring this new way to enjoy each other’s company.
From this point it all becomes one big blur to me; we spent our days together exploring the city, learning more and more about each other. We held hands and kissed as often as we pleased, which was quite often. We lay in the park and held each other, and enjoyed wonderful meals as the cool evening air set on Barcelona. The nights were spent together in her bunk. Bliss is a feeling afforded to very few in the world today, but in Barcelona, bliss is exactly what I found.
But I knew our time in Barcelona was coming to a close. I had been acutely aware of the shelf life this relationship might have from the moment she stole my heart, but I knew that if there was anything in this world worth betting everything on it was her. I would stake it all on this relationship. We had both said that we´d see where things went and take it as it came, but even though I had said the words I knew in my heart I couldn’t let this chance rest at just that.
I wanted to leave her with a gift. I had thought of this very early on and knew this gift had to be something special to show her how much she means to me, but I couldn´t think of anything I had to give that carried that kind of emotional weight. Then I realized I did have something, I had my dog tag. They come in a set of two, and I had worn the same set every single day since I became a soldier on my eighteenth birthday, and I was twenty nine when I met Vibeke. Those dog tags were the most precious possession I had in my whole life. I had given one to fellow soldier out of a bond of brotherhood so I only had one left around my neck. When this crossed my mind, I knew I had to give it to her. It was the only thing I could give that could possibly show her how much she means to me; because it was the only thing I valued most out of all I have.
So, on the second to last night I took her hand and told her I had something serious to share, that I had a gift for her. I took the chain and the tag off my neck and explained what it meant to me. I would have never thought I could part with something that meant so much to me but, but as I reclosed the chain around her neck, it felt right. The look in her eyes told me she knew how much this meant and that I was sure about giving it to her. I will admit that from time to time I do miss that chain around my neck, but I always know where it is and that puts the biggest smile on my face. It’s a year later now and she still wears it every day.
Sooner before later the inevitable came, our holiday was done and we had to part. Vibeke had plans to be in San Francisco in September and we had hashed out a rough idea that I might just join her out there, we had friended one another on facebook, and exchanged emails. We had done what we could to give our blooming romance a chance to flourish and see what happened next. We hugged and kissed so long that my travel companions were already making their way up the street without me. I walked out the first door into the courtyard and turned around to see her for what could have been the last time ever. I blew her a kiss, waved goodbye and turned around and left before I wouldn’t be able to force myself to walk away. As I caught up with the others, they inquired, “So?” to which I replied, “This morning was fine, but today just took a nasty turn into the suck…” Leaving that hostel was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.
P.s. She says her stone was a stupid gift to me, but I still have it. When I feel down, I take it out of the cabinet where it’s displayed with my other cherished things and run my fingers over it. I’ll be damned if that doesn’t make any day better. (If you don’t understand this reference, please refer to our previous post).