Once back in New York, I simply couldn’t get this guy out of my head. I thought about him every day, so I sent him a message. The next day, I awoke to his reply. We started messaging every few days, which became every day and then several times a day before text messages graduated to phone calls and Skype. While Skyping on New Year’s Eve 2015, I told him I was in love. He said he was too.
I struggled with what to do for the next several months before I decided to quit my new job after only six months to move back to Asia and be with him. When we met at the airport, after nearly a year apart, it felt like something from a movie — only without the romantic airport kiss, because of the taboo there of being gay.
Three months ago, after 10 months in Asia, I learned he’d been keeping a huge secret from me. I was devastated and in shock. A few weeks later, I packed my bags and came back to New York. I’ve been back two months. While it has been good seeing friends, I can’t get him out of my head. With no job, it also gives me plenty of time to think about him and our time together. I miss him. I still love him. I’m just not sure what to do now, but the more I think about him, the more I want to get on a plane and go back.
Ben Lambert, 31, New York
THREE YEARS AGO, I traveled to Mongolia with my father. I was 40; he was 71. After two weeks of touring natural and historic sites, we set off on a fly-fishing expedition to the Onon River. Making a hunting or fishing trip part of the itinerary was how we would “get outside of the tourist bubble,” my father had said. It’s how we’d get a true sense of the people, the place. Ten hours after we left Ulaanbaatar, along with Hongoroo, the driver, and Zorig, our guide and translator, we crested a mountain to look down on the village of Binder and the Onon River valley.
We spent four days fishing, eating, talking, hiking and exploring. We drank vodka and ate marmot. We listened to wolves howl in the midnight hour from a field of wildflowers, atop a mountain, under a star-splattered sky. And amid it all, a spark ignited between Zorig and me. On our final night in the ger (yurt) camp, I watched my father put himself to bed and then stepped outside to watch the half-moon rise over the horizon — and to discover what there was between this Mongol man and myself. He appeared at my side within minutes. He soon invited me into their ger to talk and drink vodka. After a spell, the driver and other men departed. Alone, Zorig and I kissed. Hugged and kissed. Then I bid good night and returned to my ger.
The next morning, we drove back to Ulaanbaatar. That evening, our last in Mongolia, Zorig took us out to a fine restaurant for our last supper. While I tried to communicate my appreciation for a fun and exciting interlude, he invited me out. I felt that if I didn’t go, I’d forever suffer from a terrible case of “what if.” And so I went with him to a live music club a few blocks away. We drank. We talked. We slow-danced, kissing underneath the lights in the middle of the dance floor. A Western woman with a Mongolian man is rare. All eyes were on us. I’m not sure if it was the vodka, the lights and smoke, the foreign music, the smell of his after-shave, or his imperfect yet adorable English, but I was mesmerized.
In the morning, he delivered us to the airport. Refusing our tips, he shook my father’s hand and hugged him. As Zorig hugged me, he whispered, “I love you,” into my ear. I thought he was crazy, or perhaps some sort of Casanova. But I did not sleep on the 12-hour flight to Beijing. His words, his smell, that kiss, his incredible audacity — he was all I could think about.
Months later, he visited the United States. He proposed. That next summer, I sold everything and moved to Mongolia, and we married three months later.
Heather J. Caveney, 43, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
“MAY I SIT HERE?” I had failed to get a reserved seat for the overnight journey from Kolkata to my hometown, Katihar. And so I asked the only person with an empty seat in the packed train coach.
“Of course, you can,” she said, moving her satchel to make room.
“Thanks, just let me know when you wish to doze off,” I said. “I’ll move to another seat.”
“No, I’ll get off the train at 2 a.m.,” she said. “I fear remaining asleep through my stop, and hence will remain awake.”
“So, you don’t trust your phone’s alarm to defeat your slumber? I never do either!”
The giggle that followed led to the beginning of our first informal conversation. She turned out to be an arts and dance student from Kolkata who was traveling to attend a friend’s wedding. We talked about our common interests: “A Tale of Two Cities.” The composer A. R. Rahman. Street food at Barabazaar. A walk across the Howrah Bridge.
It was already past midnight. The train was now crossing the river Ganga on Farakka Barrage, the longest dam in India. The roar of waters gushing through the gates underneath the rail track was palpable. The river seemed to be spread out to infinity.
“I never knew Ganga was this majestic! I have never been to this part of India before.” Her startled eyes gleamed even in the darkness of the coach. “Is it a full-moon night?”
Indeed it was. The giant orb of the moon had emerged from concealing clouds into a clean, rain-bathed sky. The river glowed under its sheen, studded with a million tiny moons scattered throughout its surface, confined only by the horizon.
Her gaze remained stuck to the moon, as mine remained to her.
She lay down on the seat, and I deposited myself, cross-legged, into a corner. The train drifted southward, and now the moonlight, filtered through the window glass fell incessantly on her face. She silently crept her head into my lap. She knew I was looking at her, and smiled, her eyes still closed.
I prayed for the train to be delayed, perhaps infinitely. That was not to be. The train chugged into her destination station precisely on time. I accompanied her with the luggage to the gate. I thought of requesting her phone number, but at that very moment, she got a call from the friend who was at the station to take her home.
She disembarked as soon as the train stopped. Her friend, waiting half-sleepily, hugged her, grabbed her luggage and walked off.
She briefly turned back to smilingly wave a goodbye, and moved on into nothingness.
Rohit Saraf, 28, Katihar, India
I REACHED UP to put my coat in the overhead compartment. Thanks to the generosity of my in-laws, I would be staying in one of the best hotels in Paris, on the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré. They had insisted that I join them on this trip even though my husband had opted out, at the last minute, to take a small part in a regional theater production. So, my first trip to Europe would be in the role of daughter-in-law and not that of amorous young wife. I was excited and disappointed simultaneously.
This was not the first time that my husband had chosen his career over us — something that had become a source of conflict. I was feeling less like a partner and more like a possession. His wealthy family sent him money every month while I struggled to pay my half of our expenses. I had become resentful, and this cancellation, of what I had hoped would be a chance to revive our increasingly distant relationship, was something of a last straw.
The plane was nearly empty. I was alone in coach class except for a girl who looked like a model. As I stretched to put my new, light blue raincoat away, I turned my head. Leaning against the seats a few rows away was a guy, smiling mischievously and observing me appreciatively. “Je peux vous aider?” — Can I help you? — he asked. And with that glance, the course of my life changed.
Susan Hamlin, 56, Paris
WE WERE BARRELING along in our chartered, 36-foot sailboat on a passage from Carriacou to Mayreau, two islands in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines chain. I was at the helm, Michael checking the charts, as we approached the Grand de Coi Reef — nasty and sprawling. The sailing conditions were rugged that day with the seas cresting to 10 feet, the winds blowing 20 to 25 knots.
While I was concentrating on the course and the depth meter, an even stronger gust snatched my hat and spun it out of reach over the churning waves before dropping it into the sea far from the boat. With the jagged reef so close at hand, there was nothing to do but carry on as my beloved hat and I parted company.
The hat was nothing special, a little white baseball cap I used to keep the sun off my face. But it was a sentimental favorite, a souvenir from a 60th birthday trip two years before that Michael, my head-in-the-clouds professor of a husband, had planned for me with astonishingly uncharacteristic attention to detail. I cherished the hat both for the lovely occasion and his efforts to make it so.
“Don’t worry about the hat,” Michael said. “We’ll go back for it as soon as we’ve cleared the reef and are in a good spot to drop the sails.”
It was a harebrained idea, though I appreciated his offer. We were streaking north at almost 8 knots while the hat was disappearing to the west, carried not just by strong winds but by a heavy current as well. How could we possibly calculate a course that would pinpoint its location long after we had sailed away from it? Not to mention picking out a tiny white hat embedded in a mass of foaming white breakers.
But even as I continued steering our course past the reef, I saw Michael pouring over the instruments and the chart. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Calculating our course back to your hat.”
Twenty minutes later, I was still laughing at the lunacy of our fool’s errand. Yet: We miraculously spied the errant hat, slipping and sliding in the waves. Putting our long-practiced “man-over-board” drill to excellent use, we rescued it with the boat hook.
We were in high spirits at sunset that evening, celebrating our triumph with a good bottle of wine and a lobster in the boat’s cockpit. Unspoken but underlying our celebration was the relief that, just eight weeks before, Michael had finished a course of radiation. We had three more years of fine and funny sails in our much-loved Grenadines before Michael’s cancer came back to claim him.
Hilary Cohen, 70, Ann Arbor, Mich.
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