Johanna and Kyle
by Johanna Calloway
After college and before landing a job as an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Los Angeles, I decided to take a year off to travel abroad. It was the summer of 1996, and I had just finished my Juris Doctor degree at Pepperdine University in California. My family was eager for me to return to the Midwest to find work. Because of their religious preferences, they despised my interest in the ACLU and wanted my career path to take a different direction.
On July 1st, I took flight, literally, and made my first stop in Ireland. Upon arrival, I stayed with the family of a classmate from Pepperdine. It was beautiful. The castle-style home that they owned in Wicklow, south of Dublin, overlooked beautiful hills with lots of flowers. It was picturesque. For the next two months, I enjoyed the company of the family, including their two daughters, and traveled to neighboring cities on the weekends to take in additional sites.
Next on my travel itinerary was Greece. I stayed in Athens at the Hostel Aphrodite. The city was everything that I’d expected: big, occupied and overflowing with cultural activities. Nearly every night I attended a play, outdoor music performance, movie or reading at the local community center. I was mesmerized by the relaxed atmosphere and took little time to adapt to the slow paced manner of the locals. Had it not been for a non-refundable reservation that I’d made for another hostel in France, I would have gladly stayed for the remainder of my vacation.
After a delayed flight, with an unplanned layover in Milan, and a short train ride, I finally arrived in Paris, France ten hours behind schedule. Disheveled and exhausted, I immediately went to my hostel room and slept for at least twelve hours. When I awoke the next afternoon, I felt surprisingly good. Armed with my day bag, a Canon camera and a new pair of walking shoes, I hit the streets in search of beautiful new sites to photograph. Even though I tried to avoid the common sites, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, I was unable to resist. After several hours of sitting within the courtyards and taking in the beautiful views, I finally decided that I had better get directions back to my hostel, for the next morning I was to begin French lessons at 8 a.m.
The following morning, to be sure that I didn’t arrive late, I took a taxi to the Ecole de Langues on Boulevard Poissonnière. Our Professor, Paol Keineg, began by handing out our materials and pairing us with another student in the class with whom we would be practicing our new vocabulary regularly. Kyle, a thirty-something architect from Manchester, England, was on an extended holiday in Paris and also eager to learn some French, as he was attempting to expand his business beyond England.
After class that afternoon Kyle and I met for a café near the one place that I had now defined as my axis point for navigation, The Louvre. Kyle spoke more than just about his love of language as he rambled on about his family in Liverpool, his business associates back in Manchester and his dog Duke. I listened attentively to his stories and learned of his passion for architecture. Staring blankly into his eyes with my head resting on my hands, Kyle eventually stopped talking. When he asked me a question and I didn’t respond for several seconds, he passed his hand in front of my face as if to wake me from a trance. I reached across the table, taking his hand, and while resting it between mine I smiled. I was speechless. I had never encountered anyone who could take the minutia of our day-to-day existence and describe it with such passion while making it seem so fascinating and inspiring.
In the days that followed, Kyle and I met regularly after class. Professor Keineg only recommended that we meet with our partners every other day in order to give our minds a break, though Kyle and I had much more to talk about than just French. He too had never traveled to Paris before, so our explorations of the city were new to the both of us.
After about three weeks of class, Kyle insisted that he and I go on a formal date. He wanted to take me to the Opera, another favorite of his. Given that my usual faculties of reason and logic, which I had perfected after three years of law school, were no longer with me, I gladly accepted his invitation. It was into about the second week that Kyle and I met that I decided to let go of any rationale and allow myself to feel something that I had never before experienced on such a magnified level: romantic passion.
That evening at the Opera with Kyle was fantastic, as were the many evenings like it that followed. I only intended to stay in France for four months before going on to Norway for the final three months of my vacation. When I mentioned this to Kyle, he refused to hear of it. Upon his insistence, I cancelled my travel plans to Norway and journeyed instead to Manchester to stay with him.
Living together didn’t change a thing. Kyle and I continued to pretend as if we were dating, talked constantly – even when he was supposed to be working, and took three and four day weekend trips to visit his family’s estate in Liverpool. I was in love and so was he. Our time together felt so natural to the both of us. It wasn’t as though we were dating at all, but as if we’d been best friends for years and recently discovered that there was more to our interest for one another.
Finally, at the end of May, I had to return to the United States. My position with the ACLU was slated to begin the first week of July, and I still had to find a new apartment in Los Angeles and then move everything that I had packed into storage. It was one of the most difficult decisions that I had ever made. I knew, deep in my heart, that I had to go back. If the relationship that Kyle and I had developed over the previous seven months was truly what we both wanted, it had to be something that could be tested and still prevail. And so I did.
It was as if nothing had changed between Kyle and I. Our communication continued daily, including hours on the telephone and long e-mail messages back and forth. I was confident that I had found someone that there was no way I was going to let go. The only obstacle now was how to convince my family, and myself, that moving to England to be with that person was the right step. After only eight months of being back in the United States, I sold everything, packed my suitcase and returned to Manchester. Now, twelve years later, it is a decision that I have never regretted nor reconsidered.
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