I had grand daydreams of traveling with Roxanne. Vision of mountains and oceans and skies waltzed through my head as I sat at work each day, confined by cubicle walls inside of even more brick and mortar walls that blocked out more than just daylight and fresh air. We’d been to the beach, we’d been to the big city, but we’d never been overseas. We’d never left our little pile of dirt for a brief visit to another one.
“Hey Roxy, let’s go to Europe this summer,” I’d say.
She’d laugh and nod along with my idea, but we both knew finances were too tight and time off of work was hard to come by. Besides, we were young and had plenty of time to go to Asia and South America and everywhere else that there was to go. I was happy with her, and that was enough.
We had a vacation fund stowed away in an envelope in the closet that had “London” hastily scribbled across the front. It had several hundred dollars in it, mostly from tax refunds and returned birthday gifts. As it got fuller, I got more excited about our trip. I’d been saving up my vacation days, telling everyone at work that I was planning on the trip for years and it would soon be happening.
But Roxanne approached me one day with something to talk about. She was pregnant, which should’ve been joyous news and cause for celebration. Except we always used protection. Always.
“Henry,” she broke down. “I know you know what I’m about to say, but I don’t know the words to say it.”
My mind went blank as I stared at the floor while she admitted everything. My dreams were dashed, my hopes tossed aside. She felt guilty, she was sorry, and I believed her. She wanted forgiveness, and I loved her, so I wanted to give it. But I knew better. I could never trust her again, and without trust, love is but a word with little meaning.
I’d expected more from her, but I’d probably never expect anything from anyone ever again.
What Roxanne did destroyed me, but I was a stronger person than to let her poor choices send me into a prolonged depression. I knew what I had to do as the best thing for me, as I’d sometimes dreamed of doing when work got really rough. I went online, typed the word “state,” and then smashed my fingers into the keyboard, creating a 6 letter string of gibberish. It was a quickly improvised, 21st century version of throwing a dart at a map. The first result contained “Georgia,” so I called a real-estate agent, packed my bags, and traveled halfway across the country to my new home.
I chose to stay in a small suburb right outside Atlanta, mostly so I wouldn’t be too far from a major international airport. For some reason, my dream of traveling hadn’t died along with any other future plans I’d had with Roxanne, but that didn’t mean it was any easier to save toward the trip, especially after moving expenses. I made slightly less money at my new job after moving, but the cost of living was lower, so even though I ended up ahead at the end of the day, it wasn’t by enough to get excited over.
I made a friend at work named Jackie. Her real name was Vietnamese and started with a P, but I won’t pretend like I remember how to spell it. Her gentle eyes and long, black hair reminded me of a friend I had in high school that I’d long since lost touch with.
Jackie brought a considerable amount of joy into my life at a time when I really needed it. We went out together often for lunch, and sometimes she invited me to hang out or for get-togethers with her other friends. I could’ve and would’ve fallen for her if she hadn’t been a lesbian. She’d make some woman really happy some day.
Saying goodbye to Jackie was really the only hard part of moving from Georgia to North Carolina the next year. She said she’d come visit, but I knew how that went. A couple of my friends had told me that when I’d moved to Georgia and I’d seen neither head nor tail of them since my going away dinner.
Since I hadn’t been in a rush to move this time, I drove to North Carolina over a long holiday weekend and scoped it out ahead of time, as well as a few places in South Carolina that happened to be along the way. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Georgia, or that moving there hadn’t served its purpose. Rather, I was ready to move again because it had served its purpose. Thinking about Roxanne hadn’t made me feel sad or angry or anything other pity for her in a long time. This time, moving was an adventure rather than an escape.
I rented a cabin in the mountains about 45 minutes from my job. It cost a little more, but once again, planning ahead of this move had paid off, and I was able to secure a better job in a place with a similar cost of living. There weren’t a lot of employees were I worked; maybe 12 total in the local office and 40 or 50 among all three offices. Most of them had been there a lot longer than me, so I was relatively surprised when my manager offered a newly created managerial position to me that would oversee a new branch of the company.
I was torn, not because I didn’t want the job, but because the job was in Tennessee. I could still live in the mountains, but I’d grown accustomed to my little rental cabin, and even developed a fondness for its quaint charm, despite its lack of modernity and the occasional bear treading through my backyard. I took the job, not without quite a little mental battle, but in the end, the $15,000/year raise would’ve been too hard to turn down.
Moving reminded me of Jackie, but in the 8 months I’d been in North Carolina, I hadn’t really made any friends, so there were no difficult farewells this time around. A sad smile spread across my face when I realized that I’d been right about Jackie never visiting.
Tennessee was pretty, but I didn’t like it. Two months in, and I regretted the move immensely. The scenery was almost the same, the job was almost the same, but I think something inside me snapped after so many moves. I wanted to have a place to call home. I knew there was logically no reason for me to dislike my new location, especially in comparison to my extremely similar previous location, but I hated it. I didn’t want to stay there, but I would have to stay somewhere if I wanted a place to call home.
I still had the envelope Roxanne and I used for our vacation fund. The ink in which “London” was written had smudged a little during one of my many moves, but I’d kept it all this time and continued adding to it. It was maybe enough for a short trip in an economy hotel, if those even existed in London, but the allure had been fading for over a year now. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to London anymore. I felt like I’d been traveling for years now, moving from place to place and never truly settling down. I didn’t want to get away. I didn’t want an adventure. I just wanted a home.
I thought about moving back to Georgia briefly after some nostalgic thoughts about Jackie, but we barely even texted anymore. It was a nice thought, but really the closest thing that felt like home was North Carolina, despite having only lived there for less than a year. I finally decided to ask my boss if I could transfer back to my old job. I’d accept the pay cut, the demotion, and any ridicule from my old coworkers.
“Sorry Henry, we need you at the Tennessee branch,” he said. It made sense, and he had to say that, but I’m sure he knew very well that he’d probably lose me anyway if I was that interested in moving back to North Carolina.
My old cabin had been rented, but I found a similar one in the area and moved back as soon as I’d secured a new job. The money was okay, but that’s not really what mattered. It felt slightly like home, or at least it did more so than Tennessee, and that was acceptable, even though I was alone.
One weekend I went to the corner store and bought some rum from a local distillery. I tasted it by itself out of curiosity, and then added some Coke to it after I was satisfied in confirming that straight rum was not for me. It wasn’t often that I was drunk, mostly out of fear that I would like it, but I got drunk that night and texted Jackie.
“You should come visit,” I said.
“Okay. How about next month?” she replied.
I was shocked. Even through my lack of sobriety I remember the feeling as I read her text multiple times to make sure my state hadn’t altered my understanding of the words on my phone’s screen. Despite our declining communication, she’d agreed to visit, and I was excited to rekindle a friendship that was frankly cut too short by my move.
The distance was driveable, but Jackie flew since it wasn’t that expensive and would be much faster. I was kind of nervous picking her up from the airport. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year, but I recognized her instantly when she exited the terminal. She smiled and hustled over to my car. Hugs were exchanged, as were happy pleasantries.
“I’m surprised you recognized me,” she said.
“Because you cut your hair a little? It doesn’t make you look that much different.”
“I didn’t even realize my hair was shorter since you’ve last seen me,” she said. “I meant because I’ve put on a little weight. My most recent ex-girlfriend was a really good cook.” We both laughed at that, and it was as if I’d never left.
She’d planned on spending a week with me, but it only took a day of being with her to realize that something was a little different about the way she was acting. She was desperately trying not to be obvious about it, but I too perceptive to not notice that she was flirting with me. I’d always thought she was gorgeous, so if there was a chance – even a small one – of something happening between us, at this point, I was willing to put myself out there to find out.
“What’s up, Jackie? You’re acting a little weird.”
Her expression didn’t change. “You’re more observant than I remember.”
“So what’s going on?”
She shifted in the armchair, though not uncomfortably. Jackie looked at me straight with a confidence in her eyes. “I knew what you were going through back then when you first moved to Georgia. I didn’t want to say anything, so I didn’t.” Her eyes bore through me.
“About what?” I asked.
“I haven’t been with a guy in over 8 years. Never wanted to until I met you.”
“Until you met me?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “I don’t want this to mean anything, and it won’t. I just want to fuck you. Not because you’re a guy, not any guy, just you. I want to fuck you, just because you’re you. Then I want to go back to being friends, and back to looking for a woman to share my life with.”
I stared at her for a second before I busted out laughing.
“Well geez, if you didn’t want to…”
“No, no,” I interrupted. “I’m just laughing at how serious you are.”
She looked a little relieved.
“You’re hot as hell, what do you think I’m going to answer?”
My week with Jackie ended up being a very interesting one because of that, but it is still the only time in my life I’ve ever been in that kind of situation. I look back on those years of my life with a smile, because even though I never went to London, I did find myself and enjoy my life because of everything I already had.
I haven’t seen Jackie in decades, and I have no idea what she’s up to, but every day is still a beautiful day here in North Carolina.