OR “A string of coincidences + a pinch of stubbornness = magic”
OR “In which, cynical girl, eats her words”
OR “How I met your father”
Must like cats
Must not be a picky eater
Must be good with computers
Must not be terrified by my gigantic super loud family
His family must not hate that he’s dating an Filipina girl (been there, done that)
Must have chemistry, but I can’t think he’s cute when I meet him or I’ll be too shy to talk to him
One day after a bad breakup, I made a list of all the things it might take to find someone I’d actually have a lasting relationship with. The longer the list got, the more impossible the circumstances looked, and by the time I was done, I was 100% convinced I’d never get married, or if I did, I’d just finish school and settle for some nice guy, follow the path that my parents expected.
I’d never believed in love at first sight, because it felt too easy, a dumb convention that only happened in romance novels and movies. Being a scientifically rational being (I told myself), I hated romantic movies on principle. The truth was, those movies made me cry because I was lonely, and I hated crying.
My heart and my head were at war as I jumped through the calculations and probabilities, and mapping them out against with my dismal (practically non-existent) dating history.
But sometimes, just sometimes, we can be lucky enough to see the universe at work, or how the dominoes align right one after another, and they lead you somewhere, maybe, that we were meant to go. Or maybe, out of all the infinite multiverses, we end up briefly in the right one. Or one of the right ones.
So here’s my story.
Once upon the time, there was a lonely cynical girl, who used to be a dreamer.
One day while trudging around her university campus, she spies a sign. It has a beautiful photo white houses with domed blue roofs against a sapphire blue sea. “Apply to attend field school in Greece” it says. She looks at the courses: literature, language, and archaeology. When she was a girl, she wanted to be Indiana Jones, and she starts wondering if she could be, just for a little while. Several years pass, and the sign goes up every year. She saves up everything she can, working in the campus book store. Electives, she tells her parents. Adventure, she tells herself, just like all the books she used to read.
So, after finding her first love, and then letting him go. Somewhat heartbroken, she hops on that plane, with two dozen people she doesn’t know, and happily ends up with a roommate she gets along well with. She goes to a school beside the sea, learns a little language, learns a lot of food, goes and touches the things she only saw in books, walks on the ground of myths she’s heard of. She wonders how many people have touched the same ground she’s walked on, how far back the echoes go.
One day before dinner, a bougainvillea blossom falls straight into her plate. “You’re going to meet someone on this trip!” Her roommate declares. She’s embarrassed at the teasing, but she secretly hangs onto the flower, pressing it carefully into her diary.
The girl enjoys her time in school, but she doesn’t meet anyone. She is still happy though, enjoying her adventure, the sun on her skin, the salty sea, the history. Anything can happen, she tells herself. Not even cynicism can stand up to the sea and the sun, and youth. When school is over, she travels a little more, first with other friends, and then on her own.
In the airport, she runs into her roommate entirely by chance. “I’m thinking about extending my trip,” I tell her. “Do it!” She says, shaking her. “You have to!”
And she so does, leaving half her things in a storage locker. She goes and watches a play in the theater under the shadow of the acropolis. She gets chased by street dogs (that miraculously) lead her right to her hotel in the middle of the night. The adventure is as grand and sometimes terrifying, as she expected.
But one day she gets a little lost. She’s gets off an overnight ferry, where she didn’t sleep at all. For the life of her, she can’t find the bus to Delphi, so she goes to the train station and buys a ticket north. But the ticket doesn’t have any English on it. She gets on the train, not sure which car or which seat is hers, and gets shouted at, car to car, asking in broken Greek, pantomiming at the ticket, until she finally finds the right place. Now, in Greece trains are packed until people have to stand in the hallways, and by the time she gets to the seat she paid for, there’s someone sitting in it. But she doesn’t want to argue in Greek. She’s too tired, and stands in the hall beside the windows. She’s still drunk on adventure, still full of hope.
There are people going home from holidays. In the next train box seat, there are a bunch of college aged young men and women. She spies one with an electronics text book. They’re all talking in Greek (of course). She doesn’t even pay them any mind, but the boy with the book comes up to talk to her. Weird, she thinks, because he starts speaking Greek, when most would have assumed she’s a tourist., and before he spoke, she thought he might be a tourist too, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and loose khakis, instead of jeans like the the locals. She’s tired and asks him if he speaks English.
He does. And in that instant, she experiences a moment of déjà vu. She’s dreamed this moment before, somehow. She recalls being on a train and thinking it would be strange to be riding a train (because there are none at home). She knows the questions he’s going to ask, before he asks them. She knows her answers before she says them.
He offers her a seat, but she declines, and instead they talk, on and off the seven hour ride to the city in the North. Just talk. About school, about computers. Not once does he flirt like most of the other Greek boys who catcall on the street. He seems nice. Not her type (if she even has a type) with his bushy beard. But comfortable. He makes sure she gets on the right bus to get to her hostel, and makes sure she finds the right stop. He’s so honestly worried that he gives her his phone number in case she gets lost.
The next day, the girl wanders around the city, thinking. The boy was nice, and she’d been alone for more than a week. It might be nice to have a friend to talk to. She fishes out his number and tries to call, but the calling card she has doesn’t work on local numbers. She finds a kiosk, spends 5 euros on another card, she knows she’ll probably only use just once, (she figures) and calls. He answers. She asks him where a she can find a good place to eat. Instead, he just says “I’ll pick you up.”
She waits on a corner, looking out for khaki pants, not really remembering what he looked like at all, when a motorcycle comes by, and off comes this freshly shaven young man, in jeans that fit ridiculously well. He walks straight up to her. Oh shit, she thinks. Is this the same guy? Because this guy is kind of cute.
Just like the day before, he’s perfectly polite, and offers to take me on a tour of his city. It’s every romance movie cliche, only it’s not a movie. He drives her around, showing her the ruins, and up to the top of a castle where they watch the sunset. Then its dinner, and a little dancing. He dances?! And he asks to see her again the next day.
She only has three more days and they pass too quickly. They spend every free moment together, wandering around the city, watching movies, having coffee. No it wasn’t love at first sight, but perhaps love at second sight? She’s not sure anymore. She’s never met a anyone so genuinely happy, and angst free.
On the fourth day, sitting on a marble step, waiting for the train to come and take her home, he asks if he can kiss her. She says yes, and he plants the most chase little kiss on her cheek. She’s a bit disappointed, but she’s going home so she doesn’t wish for more. She doesn’t think she’ll ever see him again really, despite exchanged emails, and that video chats are now a thing. Still, she can’t stop this weird nagging feeling in her gut, after just 4 days, that she will marry this boy. It’s hopeless. They’ll be across an ocean. But this small seed of hope remains. Somehow everything’s changed.
She goes home, no longer a cynic, retracing all the little things that had to go right or wrong, to send her that way, on that train, just late enough not to have a seat, to meet a boy, who is also an engineer, who has a cat. There’s still a flower in her diary.
They keep in touch. Time passes, but she’s determined to see if her hunch is right. To know if such a thing as love at second sight can exist. But she doesn’t wait to find out if fate will bring them together again. She saves more money to go on a school exchange in Greece. The boy helps helps her find an apartment. That nagging feeling from the beginning of it all, never goes away, and every single thing on her improbable list comes to pass.
And spoiler, they do get married (twice for good measure), younger than she ever expected. She’s totally off the planned path, to her parents dismay.
But there is no one happy ending, because life just goes on. There are only good days and bad days, sometimes bad years. There are parents that refuse to come to the wedding, parents that can’t come to the wedding, the masses of paperwork involved, there is proving this is not marriage fraud. There is graduation delayed, and all the time apart. There are visas lost, and almost lost, so many people that believe she’s being conned, even friends think she’s out of her mind before they meet him. There’s the stress of adjusting to a new country, and not understanding each other completely. But she doesn’t give up on that feeling in her gut, the one that’s never left her.
Living through a story worth writing about isn’t fun. There are parts that you just wish would pass more quickly, but you can’t skip those pages. But there are also the beautiful good parts. The parts you would never ever wish to take back.
Now, I’d have liked to have told that lonely cynical young woman that sometimes you just have to be open to possibilities to allow for them to happen (but stubbornness goes a long way too).
Nearly a decade and a half after that train ride, I ask E, “What if I’d never changed my flight, gotten lost, and gotten on the wrong train car?”
“I’d have met you somewhere else.” he says, without a hint of a doubt.