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Crushes on Strangers

In My Back Pocket, With the Maps

In My Back Pocket, With the Maps
Credit: Oxfam Italia

I got a huge, honking crush on this guy right before I moved to South America at age 26, my splashy sayonara to the daily grind. He was funny and peculiar, we laughed while eating dinner at a place called Rock N Roll Pizza, and out of these details I divined destiny: Clearly, we were meant to be together.

I had decided to go to South America in part because I didn't have a boyfriend. That sounds so lame, particularly in the face of the cooing admiration I received for my derring-do—A woman! Alone!—but it was precisely my status as a woman, alone, that inspired me to such adventure. I was tired of waiting for a boyfriend who never materialized, and if my evenings were going to be spent by myself, it only made sense that they should include a view of the Andes.

The crush was a new wrinkle. At the moment I was about to leap into the unknown, I reached back and planted a stake in the ground. Had I done it on purpose? Did I need something to hold on to for the journey, a keepsake from home? Or had it been some message from the universe, a reminder that we are most open to love when we are not grasping for it?

For the next four months, I thought of him: on 12-hour bus trips that wound through the mountains; as I trudged along a spectacular stretch of the Incan Trail on the four-day hike that leads to Macchu Picchu. What would he think of this? What would he say here? I created an entire alternate reality in my mind, one in which he came with me.

Eventually, I would meet other men in South America, and have wonderful romances that were perfect for just how unanticipated they were. Eventually, I would go back to Texas and discover this guy and I were not meant to be together. But for those first few months in South America, when I was scared, unsure of what I was doing and doubting my place, the thought of him was such good company.

He was, in a way, the perfect traveling companion.

biopic

TMN Contributing Writer Sarah Hepola is the Life editor at Salon. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Nerve, and on NPR. She lives in Texas with a sweet orange cat who is not fat, he’s just big-boned. If you just read her story about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, she’d like to point that it is fiction. More by Sarah Hepola

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