Travel Stories: Some struggle to separate love and lust. Elisabeth Eaves has had a harder time distinguishing love from wanderlust.
I flew from Charles de Gaulle via Toronto to Vancouver, where my parents met me at the luggage carousel. My four suitcases represented, give or take, the household I had acquired thus far in life. The most overstuffed among them split open between Toronto and Vancouver. The handlers strung it up in red and white tape, but when it arrived on the carousel the rip still gapped ominously, contents poised to escape, the whole bundle looking dangerously close to explosion. We took the suitcase to the Air Canada counter, where they provided us with an enormous clear plastic sack, into which I dumped the remaining physical artifacts of my existence: clothing, bags, boots, books. We gave the airline the broken suitcase, and four days later a new one, larger and sturdier than its predecessor, turned up on my parents’ porch.
My life wouldn’t be so easy to fix. I had woken up at the age of 34 and realized that I wanted to go home, only to discover that I had no idea where home was.
I felt numb that winter after arriving in Vancouver. I pinged around the world some more, to an assignment in New Zealand and then back to Paris for more work, all the while knowing I had to settle down for my own sanity. Finally, of the three great variables in life—work, home, love—I made decisions about the two that were in my power. I moved to New York, and left freelance writing behind in favor of a staff job, the kind with such novelties as a fixed location and health insurance. I signed a lease, with myself as the sole renter, for the first time in my life. Nervously at first, mindful of all the places and people I had run away from, I began to buy large things, such as a desk and a bed. They represented my growing confidence in my ability to stay put.
Months went by. Then a year, a year and a half. I didn’t re-experience the soaring thrills of my earlier long-distance loves, but nor, thankfully, did I plunge back into the sense of loss and disorientation I had felt on achieving a perfectly rootless life.
One weekend I began to go through a box of old journals excavated from my parents’ home, and a letter fell out. It was from Stu, and was dated Sept. 24, 1995—four months after I had left, and about two after I had made that full-moon call from the phone booth in Yeppoon. In the wake of my departure he, too, had abandoned Seattle, and was on a sailboat bound for points south.
Written on five small sheets of yellow notepaper, the letter read in part: “By leaving our safety net, we have thrown our souls upon the wind, exposing ourselves to all of the fears and dangers that we sought to protect each other from, and in doing so, we have made ourselves available to experience things that ... border on the magical.”
The letter stunned me, both for its forgiveness, but even more so for its understanding of the force that drove me away, and dominated my life for the next decade. I wanted to call him, but was too nervous. Would he even want to talk to me? What would we say? We had been in touch on and off, but not in the last couple of years.
I found his phone number listed in an online directory, and, after hesitating for 24 hours, began to dial. As I was doing so I realized that it was my old number in Seattle. He answered.
A few weeks later he was on an airplane, headed for a work project on the East Coast. He took a break to come to New York. He walked into my apartment, and we talked for the next 15 hours.
And so it began again, with a letter and an airplane, and continues now with emails and cell phones and jetBlue, scans and photographs, old-fashioned handwritten notes, and promises that don’t scare me this time around. And, whatever comes next, he’s given me back at least one thing: that feeling that if I open myself up to the world, anything can happen.