Decisions is a series dedicated to the choices we make in our lives and the factors that led us to our given resolutions. We welcome guest posts to this series to hear about how you’ve tackled a life decision. Email your story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In today’s post, Hannah Nersasian discusses how she ended up in America after a long-term, long-distance relationship that started in Italy more than a decade ago.
Committing to long-term, long-distance love
By Hannah Nersasian
In February 2010, I left my parent’s house in Devon, England, and moved to America to get married. I’d only been back in Devon for a few months after leaving my job in London, but the return to the countryside (and daily dog-walks, morning coffee and evening wine with my mother) served only to emphasize all I was leaving behind. I was moving towards love and a whole new life but the transition involved a couple of weeks where I woke up crying and proceeded to leak tears the rest of the day. Even as I embraced marriage and celebrated finally inhabiting the same continent as my husband, I grieved the loss of country and the separation from my family. I grieved for familiarity and sense of belonging.
It’s been six years. A house, a cat, and a son have materialized in those years. They’ve been good, solid, primarily happy, life-defining years. And yet, I still sometimes struggle to parse the decision that led me to them. At times, I wonder if I should have dug in my heels, silenced the clamoring worry of my heart and waited instead to see his next move.
But then I know that, really, the decision to move wasn’t made six years ago. It was made almost 13 years ago, when I first loosened my heels and went to him.
We met in line for pizza near a hostel in Sorrento. He doesn’t remember this. We met when my friends started talking to him and his friend and made plans for us all to visit Capri the next day. I returned from emailing my mother, sat at the table and greeted the American boys. He had the bluest eyes, a quick smile, and a careful way of listening. He later told me his heart sank when he saw me. A strange choice of words, or maybe he misplaced the saying. Or maybe he knew we were fated from the start.
Five days and a night or two of kissing later, we said goodbye in Cinque Terre. I assumed he would be sensible and I’d never see him again. When instead he wrote that he ‘never says never in matters of the heart,’ my own heart sank because I knew I’d see this through, that I’d be compelled to not give in or give up if Love was at stake.
The rest of the summer, I stalked him on MSN messenger. If he came online and I wasn’t online, a friend would text me and I would get online. I operated in two time-zones, meaning I lost five hours sleep every night. We made plans to see each other again. He said he would visit me in December, but would he? Shouldn’t I just go there first? Would that make me weak?
That summer I temped for the UK’s Ministry of Defense in Helicopter Engine Allotments. It was a strange world with guarded gates where we operated on ‘Zulu time’ (shared time used by ships all across all the oceans). There were acronyms for everything and reams of paper fed through fax machines which then spat out coded instructions for which engines to what helicopters needed to be sent where. I joked that it was like 1984 and then got a little freaked when I realized our office was in room 101.
Helicopter Engine Allotments is precisely as boring as it sounds, and when coupled with self-imposed sleep deprivation, this resulted in me being rather inept. When I was not dispatching engines to incorrect locations or mis-filing information according to an abstruse and near-indecipherable filing system, I was composing emails to send him later that day. And I was deciding to visit him and then deciding not to. Texting my friends with my decisions and retractions, debating whether I should wait and see if he made good on his promise and then deciding that I didn’t want to play games so I should just go.
In the meantime, while I was tormenting myself with indecision, we started to build on those five days of Italy. We had tentative phone calls and long, involved emails. There were confessions and hints of falling in love. I sent him my favorite books, and he read them. I learned about his deep curiosity, his love of data, spicy food, and the Grateful Dead. He was somewhat horrified by my lack of musical knowledge and compiled playlists on Kazaa (RIP, old file-sharing app) to educate me. And all the time my heart debated with my head, which has never really been a fair contest.
It turned out I was entitled to paid vacation from my summer job where I mostly made mistakes and wrote love letters. That seemed like the sign I needed.
Not to mention the fact that I was just nineteen and he was from a town north of Boston that I’d never heard of, a full 3,000 miles away from everything and everyone I knew. Not to mention the fact that my parents refused me permission to go and were stunned when I did not obey. Not to mention the fact that I could not and would not wait to see if he would visit me first. That I booked a flight to JFK and flew alone for the first time in my life to visit a boy I had only spent five days with.
And that’s where the decision got made.
I still don’t really understand quite what propelled me towards him. I am not a risk taker. I am a follower of rules and have always tried to ease any worries my mum had for me. And while I felt the beginnings of love for him, I hadn’t fallen anywhere just yet. Instead, I think I was compelled forward by a pledged commitment to Romance, to the Story. The very nineteen-ness of me was perhaps what pushed us together.
Slowly, our story gained weight. We became real, just as the phone bills and flights that sapped my bank account were real. Just like the bitter tears I cried on the tube after leaving him at Heathrow again. Just like the master’s degree I got from Boston University as a way to be in the United States for a year. Thousands of small and huge decisions that echoed that first one, reverberating around us, each decision insisting on the next. We tried to break up: The distance felt too much, the sacrifices too great. The breakup lasted about a month and we spoke every day. He came to London for the weekend and we realized this was it. To stay together one of us would have to move countries. He returned to Boston without us deciding who, perhaps because it was obvious. He worked in software development and could support us both during long visa applications. I worked for a non profit and could barely support myself. And who was I kidding? Of course I was going to go to him. I was always going to go to him. My heels had never dug in to begin with.
When we tell people our story and they say, ‘How romantic,’ I have to stop myself from grimacing. Because I think I’m still recovering from the trauma that defines long-distance relationships. And our relationship began when we were still so young and still figuring out our form. It shouldn’t have worked. We should have broken up. We very nearly did succeed in breaking up. But somehow, for some reason, we both held on. Even when everyone around us was thinking (and occasionally voicing) that we needed to give up already, we didn’t walk away.
I like to think that somewhere within us existed our future selves. The ones who live in Framingham, Mass., who share a bed with a cat and a toddler, brew beer and drink wine, and for whom mealtimes are sacred. And those future selves recognized each other and knew that we only needed to endure our younger, stupider selves for a little longer and then it’d all be OK. The future versions of us knew how we’d ultimately relax into our relationship and how trust, laughter and respect would define our marriage. They knew that we’d figure out how to communicate (it does not involve long distance phone conversations) and that we would build a community out of a hodgepodge of friends, neighbors and family. They saw how he would teach me to drive with patience and kindness and how I would live resolutely outside my comfort zone for my first year in America while I pushed myself to make friends, find work, build a life. They had met our son and knew that we were destined to create the most perfect human (with the least inclination to sleep). I like to think that my future self whispered to my younger self, there in room 101 of the Ministry of Defense, “Go to him. It’ll be OK.”
And so I went.
Hannah Nersasian is a first-time ‘mum’ from rural, southwest England, currently living in Framingham, Mass., with her American husband, son, and cat. You can read more from Hannah on Boston Moms Blog and on her personal blog. Find her on Facebook, or follow her on twitter @Alien_Hans.