So Claudia came walking up with this guy, talking and laughing, and my heart just fell through the floor. I suddenly wanted nothing but to run far, far away. I was the world’s biggest idiot.
Then she looked up and saw me.
She made this little sound, dropped the bag she was carrying, and ran to me, throwing her arms around me.
(In Claudia’s words: I couldn’t believe that Eric was there. I just never expected to see him yet. I’d been missing him so badly and there he was. I wanted to cry, giggle, and babble all at the same time. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.)
In that moment, suddenly everything was all right again. I’d made the right choice. I wasn’t imagining things. She actually did feel about me the way I felt about her. It was the most intense, unbelievable feeling.
(I did feel a small pang for the poor guy who was left standing there awkwardly, suddenly the biggest third wheel in Cairns. But Claudia told me later he was trying to score points with her, even though she’d told him about me, so I didn’t feel too bad for him.)
Then, in the middle of the night, Claudia woke me up, thrashing around. I touched her and she was burning up, moaning, practically delirious. She was complaining of pain in her ear but other than that she didn’t make much sense. Alarmed, I made her an ice bath and got her into it, knowing I needed to bring her temperature down. It worked, but it was still pretty much a sleepless night from then on. I sat by her and held her hand, wondering what else I could do, telling myself over and over that she was going to be all right.
She wasn’t much better in the morning. She had trouble standing and was very dizzy. Standing also made her head hurt a lot more. I asked around and found a health clinic and got us a cab. Just getting her into the cab was difficult. It turned out she had a serious ear infection, picked up while diving, which explained the pain and dizziness.
She was supposed to fly out of Cairns later that day, down to Melbourne, but with the ear infection flying was clearly out. After picking up her prescription at a pharmacy, I got on the phone and got her plane ticket canceled. Then I had to get a hold of the friend she was going to see and tell him not to expect her.
All in all it was a pretty trying 24 hours. To go from the absolute euphoria of once again being back together to dealing with a fairly serious illness was definitely an emotional ride. But it also made me extra glad that I’d followed her, since otherwise she would’ve had to navigate that all by herself—which can be pretty hard to do when you’re in a foreign country and there’s no friends or family to help out.
By Tuesday Claudia was well enough to catch a bus and start moving south. Before we left she had to make her promised weekly phone call to her ex. After the call, she was pretty broken up. She basically stumbled to me and fell into my arms, her eyes closed. It was pretty heartbreaking. I wanted to help her. I wanted to protect her. But she had made it very clear that this was something she had to handle on her own and I knew I had to respect that.
Earlier Claudia had told me that after she left Australia she was going to Spain for a week before going back to work. I, of course, tried to talk her out of Spain to spend another week in Australia. After her phone call that afternoon she admitted to me that she’d refused to cancel the Spain trip because she and her ex had planned to go together and if she canceled the trip he would cry and she couldn’t bear to hurt him that way. She wanted to tell him about us in person and not over the phone.
That hit me pretty hard. I’d just taken a huge leap to follow her and now she was telling me that she’d been hiding this from me. In my fear, I was looking for a way to pull back from her and this gave it to me.
From my journal: “When I heard this something inside me pulled away. Claudia saw this and she sees in my eyes today that I am still different. And I am. I am more cautious now. When tears build up inside me they don’t come out. I feel reluctant to give any more.”
Then, from the next day’s entry: “She has easily reached places inside me that no one else has ever seen. She has tapped into that well of aloneness that I keep dammed inside me and the pain I find there is enough to tear my chest apart. I have spent a strange day, where I felt distant from her, where I felt trapped and doubtful. I felt no love inside me for her and stared at every woman hungrily. I took a nap and when I awakened I told her and burst into tears. That loneliness inside me was tapped for a few minutes and I writhed on the bed. The pain in my chest was real, physical.
“Is it any wonder I’m terrified?
“My defenses have kept me alive and sane my whole life. I have never fully trusted anyone, never let anyone into that area that not even I know how to get into. How could I? It’s locked even to me. So here comes Claudia and without trying, she just rips me open. My brain is reeling, pulling every trick it knows to drag me back from the precipice. I have no control. The steering wheel is broken and the gas pedal is jammed. My brain keeps stomping the brakes but my momentum is too great. The car threatens to roll, the engine explode. My brain sees a precipice and crushing death. My heart sees the ramp for the leap into a promised, longed-for unknown. Which will win?
“She holds the promise of my dearest dream, but to reach for it means risking brutal pain. Today I thought that I just needed some alone time to recharge. I was just tired. That’s all. Now I think maybe that “alone time” is only a trick of my brain to give me time to repair my defenses. To keep my carefully constructed façade intact.”
Fortunately, I didn’t let my fears destroy what was growing between us. I had my chances to run away but somehow I managed to hang in there. We still had about a week together before she was due to leave the country and we essentially spent every minute together in a world that only held the two of us. There was so much we needed to learn about each other and such a short time to do it in. We had to compress as much as we could in those days. A big leap was coming and we both needed lots of reassuring that we were doing the right thing.
Final part