When I first thought about writing this story, I envisioned it’d be the kind with the happy ending. You know the one I’m talking about: where the guy and girl end up together happily ever after. But, life happens.
Picture it: Austin, 2013.
I was six months out of a four-year relationship and heartbroken that he’d moved on so quickly and I was floundering. I’d moved into my friends’ house; then moved out of their house into another friends’ house. I spent most of my days at work or going to grad school; trying to build my blog; and planning my escape from work.
My first relationship after the “big one” was with a guy I’d known for several years and I was feeling happy again; excited about a future with him. Until one day, he texted me (yes, texted) that he ran into a girl he used to hook up with and decided he wanted to be with her instead. That whole, “sorry, I didn’t mean for this to happen; you’re a great person and I still want to be friends” bullshit that you know is never going to work.
I carried around anger and resentment for a while. Pissed that now, not one, but two of my exes were carrying on in their lives and I was a transient. I was upset that I had done everything right in my life and somehow relationships just kept failing for me. And that I’d put so much effort into my relationships and I was such a good girlfriend and person, but that the guys I dated had fucked up and yet somehow moved on and met other people to be happy with while I was alone. Ad nauseam.
And then it happened: I met the person I felt I was always destined to meet. Something about him was so calming and radiating with love that things inside me shifted. He felt like coming home.
I fell in love with him so quickly that I surprised myself. I didn’t know it was possible to love so much and so deeply in a few short months, but I did.
It’s now four years later and I’m sitting alone in my apartment in Atlanta, surrounded by boxes. Moving again. I’ve been here for 2.5 years, and it’s been that long since I’ve seen him. Like I said, when I first thought about writing this story, I imagined he’d be a greater part of it.
The first inkling I ever had to go to Pakistan was sparked by him. He was the most beautiful man I’d met inside and out and was from Karachi, and I thought, if he thinks Pakistan is so amazing, and I think he’s so amazing, it truly must be an incredible country.
That was one of the first things I fell in love with about him: his own capacity for love. Love for the country he was from; for the people of his country; and for his desire to promote it in a better light than it had been in recent years.
Together, we traveled to several places, always with the notion in the back of my head that we’d also go to Pakistan together and that I’d get to see it through his eyes and be as enamored with it as he was. That we’d go to Quetta, his hometown. And Karachi, where he’d later moved with his family. Then maybe to Fairy Meadows and K2, the subject of so much of his photography. Or the small villages that his writings always centered around.
About a year and a half into our relationship, we’d planned a rough itinerary for visiting, but like so many things in life, it fell through. And slowly, our relationship crumbled and deteriorated into almost nothingness. It was difficult to be apart so much–both of us travelers, writers, and photographers, focusing on different places and different things. It also became increasingly difficult to envision a future together–where would we live? The US? Pakistan? Somewhere new for both of us? How would things work between us and our families–him from a conservative, old-school Muslim Pakistani family and me from a progressive, non-religious American family?
I tried so hard to hold on to it. To assuage our fears and to assure both of us that we could do it. That somehow we could cross all these barriers and meld our lives together to make them exactly what we wanted them to be because I wanted love to conquer all. I wanted and hoped that my love for him would be enough to make it work. But sometimes love just isn’t enough.
When we parted ways, I felt relieved on one hand, that my heart could stop aching all the time, wondering how we could be together. And on the other hand, I was broken. How could I say goodbye to a man I’d loved more deeply than any other? How could I give up so easily on the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with?
I didn’t give up though. For another year or more, I tried. I maintained a friendship with him that occasionally crossed the line into something more, hoping once again to rekindle what we had and to give it our all to make it work.
He messaged me once, “Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and reach for you in bed; my eyes search the room for you. Then I realize that you’re not there and I grow sad.”
I cried countless tears and wrote so many emails, sent so many texts, and had so many FaceTime sessions that I thought maybe it was going to work out. Maybe we were finally going to be together again and I’d just suck it all up and we’d move to Pakistan (sight unseen for me) because that’s what his family would want. That’s what I’d do for love–I’d move heaven and earth to be with the one I loved.
But again, it didn’t work.
As I was planning for my trip to Pakistan, we talked a little bit. He was back in Karachi and was hoping maybe we could see each other. We talked for a while about me flying from Lahore to see him, where he’d show me around the complex city in which he lived and about what that’d mean. I wanted to know if feelings were still there from his side and we both agreed that we needed to see each other again, once and for all to see what was left, if anything, between us so we could both move on with life (whether that was together or apart).
Just before I left, we had another quick conversation. One in which he told me he was in a relationship with someone he loved. Once again, my heart broke and I knew I couldn’t see him.
I took that 14-hour flight to Pakistan knowing that I wouldn’t get to see him and that my time there would do nothing but remind me of him. It was hard not to think about him for the two weeks I traveled around the country; wondering how many of the same places we’d seen; how many of the same things we’d touched and tasted. What would my travels had been like if he’d been by my side instead? If I’d gotten to see Pakistan through the eyes of a man I loved?
I wept for the love we could no longer have. I wept for the life we could not have. And for the many differences in our cultures, religions, and countries that pulled us apart.
While this story doesn’t have the happy ending of love stories, it does have a happy ending. I may not have gotten to travel with the man I thought I’d spend my life with. I may not have gotten to see his country through his eyes. But I did have an amazing trip with friends, and all the while, I was grateful to have met and to have loved my Aziz, for he gave me the gift of Pakistan.