The funny thing about meeting people ‘on the road’ is how different they seem back in their own, true worlds. When I was backpacking in India as a twenty-year-old, I made a group of friends on a Goan beach, all flimsy, off-the-shoulder cotton tops to best show off bronzed skin and baggy harem pants picked up through barter at the market. When we took a group trip into the tea plantations in the hills one weekend, the temperature dropped and, unplanned, we all emerged from our rooms dressed in the warmer, more practical clothes we’d worn on the plane ride over: jeans and jumpers and long-sleeved T-shirts and trainers. That is to say, we all dressed conventionally, and suddenly what I knew about each individual personality no longer matched their aesthetic. People are just people, but meeting a fish out of water, and then back in the pond, revealed two sides of the same coin. That is to further say: Hal was not the man I remembered.
He was as demonstrably flustered as I secretly felt, and announced how much he hated ‘the tourist bullshit’ after hugging me briefly, and how we needed to head somewhere ‘authentic’ before ‘he got really fucking mad’. He practically led by a sprint as we steered past people and potholes, making vague attempts at conversation – ‘How was your flight?’, ‘Did you find your way okay?’, ‘Wow, you’ve hardly packed anything at all!’ – but mostly focused on the destination ahead. By the time we sat down in a Mexican restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen I was breathless from the light-jog-of-a walk and could feel my shirt sticking to the upper part of my back.
‘So . . .’ I said, after I let him order for us, because Mexican food I know not.
‘So . . .’ he repeated.
He looked tired. The Hal in my mind was golden and stubbled, bright-eyed as he took in every last sight, sound, taste, smell. My Hal was an adventurer. He loved life, and living, and thought everything was the coolest thing he’d seen or tasted or thought or heard since the last coolest thing he’d seen or tasted or thought or heard. My Hal didn’t have circles under his eyes, short hair off the back of his collar, an attitude.
‘Is it weird?’ I said, finally.
He sipped at his Diet Coke. ‘This?’
‘This,’ I said.
‘Why would it be weird?’
I could’ve answered a million different ways. It was weird because the last time I saw him he’d told me he loved me. The last time we’d spoken I’d said I loved him. It could be weird because I’d flown across the Atlantic to say words I should’ve said in the summer, months ago, when the English girl met the American boy in Italy and vacationed with him in Switzerland. It could be weird because it was too much, or not enough, or because I was playing the movie version of my life in my head, and struggling to understand why the reality wasn’t quite matching up.
Instead, I said, ‘No reason.’
We ate, and made plans for the next day. He walked me back to Times Square not two hours after we’d first met, and I waited for Megan to come pick me up because it was with her I’d be staying, not him. An ominous heavy lump sat deep in my stomach.
Laura Jane Williams is Marie Claire magazine's #BREAKFREE from fear ambassador, and the writer behind 'messily human' blog Superlatively Rude. Her ebook, The Book of Brave, was described as '...a lesson on self-love'.
Her work has been featured everywhere from the Guardian to Grazia to RED magazine. She is the co-founder of IRL Panel, London's discussion and networking event for people with a lot to say, and the host of The Becoming Podcast, a talk radio show designed to share the rites-of-passage stories of daringly flawed women. She is currently writing a TV series.
You can follow Laura on Twitter and Instagram on @superlativelyLJ, and tell her about your own becoming on the hashtag #ThisIsMyBecoming