Can Love Trump Adventure for a Nomad? by Liesbet Collaert
San Francisco. A fascinating city I only know from movies and guidebooks. So close now! I can almost see the Golden Gate Bridge, smell the salty air of the bay, and feel the breeze in my light brown hair. The promise of a new adventure causes my ear-to-ear grin as I hop into our small camper to grab a CD of dEUS, my favorite Belgian band.
After crisscrossing the United States, Western Canada, and Alaska in our truck camper for the last year and a half, my boyfriend Karl, his dog Caesar, and I landed in California. Karl’s friend Nik, a DJ, had invited us to share his studio-apartment in Oakland, as a base to explore SF. Nik also rents out two apartments in his house.
CD in hand, I enter the yard again and stop dead in my tracks. Two gorgeous dogs with fluffy tails had run up to me. I smother them with cuddles and praise.
“Hi, I’m Mark. And these two are Kali, the white one, and Darwin, the grey one.”
I look up from admiring the wagging furballs.
My eyes meet those of a tall, skinny, short-haired, and attractive man in the doorway of apartment #1.
“Hello. I’m Liesbet. My boyfriend and I are staying with Nik for a week to visit San Francisco. Our home on wheels is parked in front of the house.”
“Home on wheels? Why are you living in a camper?”
“It lets us travel around with our own bathroom and kitchen and plenty of storage and provides much more comfort and security than dingy hostels and a backpack,” I tell him with an unfaltering smile and raised voice; telltales of the excitement I always feel when elaborating on my pursuit of freedom.
“I detect an accent. Where are you from?” he asks, after I had described a handful of places I visited while backpacking for almost two years on the other side of the world.
“I’m from Belgium, but I haven’t been back in a while.”
Mark seems entranced, which encourages me to ramble on about my passion. After some time of telling stories and trading questions and answers, he exclaims, “That’s incredible! I need to travel and find myself a Belgian girlfriend!”
I blush. It dawns on me that we’d been chatting for a while.
“Do you know what time it is?” I ask. An hour has passed. I rush to Nik’s place next door.
“Where have you been?” Karl asks.
“Talking to a neighbor, the one with the big dogs. He seems like a nice guy.” I hand my CD to Nik, who is always eager to discover new music.
Our planned week in the Rockridge area of Oakland turns into four, as all of us become friends and Mark unintentionally draws me closer and closer. Karl encourages my contact with the neighbor. “Soon we’ll be out of here and it’s just you and me again,” he says. “Enjoy the company!”
I embrace Mark’s presence until I crave it.
One night, the Hollywood-moment arrives… our first kiss. An arm around my shoulders. A fluttering body. Touching of lips. Mutual desire. He loves me back!
We never allow anything more to happen. Mark is a realist. He knows I am leaving Nik’s place shortly and that I am in a serious relationship.
Our dreadful last evening together eventually arrives. We hug strongly and kiss tenderly.
“I’ll come pick you up wherever you are, whenever you’re ready to leave Karl.” Mark’s parting words sound sweet. Is he serious?
That night, I lie awake, heart racing. By morning, it’s time to pack up the camper and leave.
I exchange glances with Karl. His eyes beam with excitement about continuing our adventures; mine reflect trouble and sadness.
I take the plunge.
“I can’t be with you anymore. My attraction to Mark has grown too strong.” I sound more determined than I feel.
Karl stares at me with intent. “We’re driving to Mexico. We both looked forward to this.”
Did he not notice my enthusiasm to continue our overland journey had diminished these last weeks?
I swallow hard.
Can I really give all this up? Our past explorations on the road? The year and a half before that, where he tried so hard to fit into my Belgian life? How about my American visa that will run out if I don’t leave the country soon?
The consequences of my impulsiveness finally trigger some brain activity.
Karl continues, “I love you. Caesar and I will miss you so much.”
We both cry. Three years together is not nothing. I think about the good times we shared. Karl and his dog – and me, too – had been ecstatic when I showed up at his Maryland apartment, ready to roam North America. That was the summer of 2003. I had thrown a goodbye party at my parents’ house in Belgium and hopped on a plane. Little did I know I was never to return.
I remain quiet. My heart bleeds for him. Karl is a sensitive man who understands me and cares about me. We have the same passion: traveling the world on a budget. Yet, I crave more romance in a relationship...
Am I seriously giving up my travels for a man?
That would be a first. It’s usually the other way around. My gut knows how this predicament will end. My mind has nothing to add.
I face Karl and finally utter, “If I leave with you, I will want to come back here at some point.” It is the only conclusion I can muster.
I have fallen in love with another guy, the “guy next door.”
“If that’s what you want,” Karl replies with a sigh, “then you should just stay.”
In the hours that follow we split the money from our communal account; I gather my belongings; and we discuss a contingency plan for the truck camper. I pet Caesar goodbye and give Karl one last, heartfelt embrace. Then, misty-eyed, I watch them drive away.
I close the door of Mark’s apartment behind me. Unlike other times when Karl and I returned his dogs after walking them with Caesar – today, I don’t leave.
My pile of clothes and gear clutters the corner of the bedroom. I settle on the bed with Kali and Darwin. My tears soak their fur within minutes. Mark has found his Belgian girl without having to travel; she appeared right on his doorstep. He probably thought he’d never see her again. Surprise!
What will he say when he comes home from work?
What if he doesn’t want me here?
As usual, I don’t have a back-up plan. The rest of the afternoon, I cry. I feel bad for Karl.
I’m such a selfish bitch.
The front door opens. The dogs jump up and run towards their human. I stay behind in the bedroom.
“Hi, guys,” Mark greets Kali and Darwin with a sad voice. “I guess they’re gone, huh? You two don’t seem too excited to see me. What’s up?”
I walk into the hallway. My eyes sting.
Mark looks up.
“What the hell are you doing here?” His words crush me. I shuffle towards him. We hug. I don’t want to let go.
“I’m staying with you,” I whisper, as if he doesn’t have any say in this. Mark’s face relaxes into a smile. His grip tightens. I guess that means it’s okay.
Arriving in California with one black dog (Caesar)
Staying with Kali and Darwin in Oakland, CA
Leaving California with two dogs, a white one (Kali) and a grey one (Darwin)