For the next few weeks we’ll be celebrating the arrival of peak travel season with a series of personal essays from contributing writers. Each post will tell the tale of its writer’s most unforgettable trip. Kicking off this theme is Lisa Rubisch, who followed her 25-year-old heart to England (spoiler: it did not work out as planned)…
I thought I was in love.
A guy I had dated very casually told me he was in love with me at his going away party. He was moving home to Manchester, England, after a stint in New York. He kissed me on a rooftop in June: moonlight, Manhattan skyline, my black dress billowing around my legs. He said if I felt the same, he would stay.
With a thudding heart, I called him the next day and said I did.
Except, he moved anyway and kind of disappeared.
But then he would occasionally reappear, say all these witty, magical, romantic things in that accent, then go away again.
It was enough to spark and feed a foolish obsession, that, at 25 years old, felt like love. Admittedly, I was a hardcore Anglophile in that moment’s zeitgeist of Oasis, Trainspotting and the movie incarnation of Mr. Darcy.
So, when I overheard two people from work lamenting how they wanted to take a vacation but had no one to go with (their friends were either broke or unable to get the same window of time off work), I suggested we go together. One was a lanky, seven-foot-tall dude named Ed. The other was Barbara, a droll woman from another department I had maybe had lunch with once or twice.
We decided to go for it. None of us had much money at the time so we chose a destination with the most couch-surfing potential. We had dubious acquaintances in London, Wales, Dublin and Galway. I slyly asked if they minded making a pit-stop in Manchester, a place that spawned my favorite bands.
I didn’t let him know I was coming.
I called from a pay phone and said I happened to be passing through Manchester with some friends. Did he happen to be around that weekend?
My butterflies had butterflies.
Unfortunately, the friend of Barbara’s sister whose apartment we were crashing in had no shower, but instead a tub that looked as though it had been a prop in the aforementioned film Trainspotting, after having first been dipped in the diseased bowels of hell.
I remember crouching in it and pouring cold water over my head from an empty wine bottle, half laughing-half crying. Barbara and I had been sharing a single, deflated air mattress throughout the trip. Not only did I have bad hair but also circles under my eyes from lack of sleep.
I told Barbara and Ed that they were not to let me make out with him, under any circumstances. Then, when I did make out with him, they were not to let me go home with him no matter what I said. Three sips into my pint, I was giddily waving my goodbyes.
On the 45-minute cab ride to his apartment, he told me I was the last thing he thought of before he went to sleep and the first thing he thought of when he woke up. He said it was the maddest night of his life. I imagined telling my friends and family of my impending relocation and fantasized about the children I’d have with accents and rosy cheeks. The chorus of Pulp’s Common People swelled in my head.
The next morning, he told me he had a girlfriend. He offered me cheesy toast and a cup of tea as a condolence.
I sobbed the entire ferry ride to Ireland. Ed and Barbara awkwardly tried to cheer me up. We reached Galway by night.
We were staying at someone’s elderly mother’s house on the cliffs of Burren, which miraculously turned out to be the stunning mansion Lady Gregory had given her son, Robert, for a wedding present. Since it was late, our host lit some candles and kindly put out what she had in her fridge. We sat and ate a feast of cold roast chicken and delicious Irish bread, butter and cheese. There was cold white wine. After crying myself to depletion, eating this food in this place made me feel like I was going to be okay.
The next morning, we woke up to vivid green fields, fragrant rose gardens, and — I swear I’m not making this up — dolphins somersaulting in the sea below. Barbara snapped incriminating photos of me doing ballet leaps with a goofy grin on my face. I was brokenhearted but still, mostly, joyful.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to get over him. More than I will admit. Over time, I realized that I had fallen more in love with a time and a place than a person. He was about as much my boyfriend as Mr. Darcy was.
Ed documenting my running leap on the grounds of Lady Gregory’s house.
Barbara and Ed on the train to the ferry. I’m pretty sure I was crying when I took the picture.
Lady Gregory’s house.
Three amigos: Ed, me in middle and Barbara.
Thank you, Lisa. More travel essays to come!
(Illustration by Elizabeth Graeber for Cup of Jo.)