30 Day Travel Series: Julian Had to Shed

Sometimes I dress up everyday questions as questions that ask him to reveal himself. But we've been together for too long for me to do that. He knows when I am doing it and says nicely, "Heather, I don't really want to talk about that."

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[Group photo after the closing of our final workshop in Uganda]

It is funny that you can be living in one reality, but there's a completely different reality that people see you in. My relationship with Julian is sometimes like that. People say to me, “It must be so refreshing to be in a relationship with such a talker, with someone that can really express his feelings.” It doesn’t just happen once a month, or every two months, somebody says something like that to me almost everyday.

But the talker boyfriend who expresses himself is not my day-to-day experience. I actually feel like I spend a lot of time in a very different reality. A reality where I am tortured by the mystery of him. A reality where I lay in bed trying, with all my might, not to fish for his feelings. A reality where I dress up everyday questions as questions that ask him to reveal himself. But we’ve been together for too long for me to do that. He knows when I am doing it and says nicely, “Heather, I don’t really want to talk about that.”

I roll over. I try not to let loneliness fill in the unanswered questions. I tell myself I need to accept him, just for him - for the person he is. Someone who often prefers not to talk about it in the way I like to. I try to just be in my moment. I try not to let his moment write out the meaning of my moment. But being in my moment is not easy for me. Sometimes I consider that this might be my big lesson to learn in life and that is why Julian and I got smushed together at some party in college and are still traveling together heart in heart.

I pep talk myself almost daily, “Let him be, Heather, let him be.” The last week that he was in Uganda it was like I was in “Let him be” boot camp. I was so sad that he was leaving; I couldn’t believe this chapter of our lives we’d worked so hard to lift off the ground was ending. I was excited to travel on my own and to be one-woman-in-the-world. I wondered how Julian felt. He said he was sad. He answered my questions about going back to work. But I knew there was so much more buried in that big cozy body that he wasn’t letting out and I wanted to know it all so bad. It is not my business to force him to express his deeper feelings, the only business that was mine was to stay in my moment, no matter how well I could have justified that his moment was affecting my moment.

As we circled up with the 40 workshop participants to close our final workshop together, I did feel sad. But I’d spent so much time wondering how he felt that I had fallen out of touch for what him leaving meant to me. I told the crowd that it was Julian’s last workshop, I told them about how special of a journey it was to launch this project together and I told them that this project was about love, and our love for each other is a big part of it.

Julian took over. He thanked the crowd, told him how our first workshop was in a living room in Vietnam exactly three months ago and he said the journey had expanded his reality so much. He began to cry, but just kept talking through his tears. His words faded away and I could only see the sniffles. The sweet sniffles poured out of one of the buried boxes. I tried not to analyze; and just let the sniffles run over me, and collect there with my feet on the well manicured grass in a park in Uganda.

A month later I went to do a project visit with one of the workshop participants, Davis, in his dry, dusty, drought ridden community outside of Kampala. We walked over 15 miles that day. He gave me and my friend Muhammad a tour of broken water wells that had been set up over the years by different NGO’s. He explained to us that the average community member walks five miles a day to fetch water. After the tour I was exhausted. We were sitting at a wood table in a hut eating a starchy potato-like food called cassava. I don’t love cassava, it’s too dry, but I learned to like it after eating it for almost every meal since I had arrived in Uganda. Davis looked over at me and asked me if he could tell me something he had been thinking about.

“Of course Davis,” I said. “That is what I live for.” I smiled.

“Well, when we were closing up the workshop in a circle, Julian had to shed. He shed many tears.” Davis looked so serious when he was telling me. “I am so sorry for that. He didn’t want to leave his people. I was so touched; I will never forget that.”

My heart melted as I sat there trying to swallow the starchy cassava. “I know Davis, he really didn’t want to leave his people. He really is just the sweetest man in the whole world.”

Davis nodded in agreement.

That night when I lay in my hostel bed alone, looking up through my mosquito net, I tried to let both realities exist side by side. I loved sleeping diagonally, I loved spending hours in uninterrupted silence going as deep into my thoughts as I wanted. I missed my soft, cozy Julian. I missed all of his expressed feelings and all of his unexpressed ones. I missed his silence by my side. I wanted him by my side so much and I was happy to be alone.

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This is one of 30 untold stories of launching a global project (with my boyfriend, Julian) about love, story telling and connecting change makers.

Read all 30 days here: http://www.smithmag.net/community/people.php/HBOX

Throughout Vietnam, South Africa, and Uganda, we engaged with 650 everyday people working to make the world a better place to share their stories. Inevitably, there were parts of our adventures we couldn’t tell while on the road, because we were a start up trying to prove our merits as a serious social change project or because of nervous families monitoring our journey. But the truth is while we worked passionately to bring our dream project to life we also had an adventure of a lifetime. Here are the stories behind the stories of the Million Person Project: http://www.millionpersonproject.org.

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