Sometimes I forget that the time I spent in Malawi was real. It’s been 2 years since I quit my job and headed to Africa to be with Russ during his last month in the Peace Corps. Our life now seems so far removed from that village in Malawi and I often can’t comprehend that the two exist in the same lifetime.
As I prepared myself for the big trip – the unemployment, the lack of indoor plumbing, and the idea of being farther away from my family than I’d ever been – I had hiccups of panic. It had been months since I’d seen Russ. After a whirlwind group adventure to Malawi that resulted in our first kiss since we were 16, I left him misty eyed (don’t tell him I told you) at the tiny airport and immediately realized that I couldn’t wait another 6 months for him to come home.
During the planning process, we had weekly skype dates, daily emails, occasional (and very expensive) texts, and lots of, “I miss you” meltdowns. I would cry because our Skype date was over, because I didn’t get to watch his face while he was telling me stories about his week, because he was so far away, and because I was terrified to leave my life behind to follow-up on a kiss that was 10 years overdue.
During one such Skype sob, I told Russ that once I arrived in Malawi, he was never allowed to be more than 10 feet away from me…ever. For one, because I’m not about to pretend like I can fend for myself in Africa. But it was also because being away from him (during that time period and any other distance we’ve experienced since then) was suffocating. Even though we had been friends for a decade and we rarely saw each other more than twice a year, it suddenly became very clear to me that a daily life without Russ was not one I wanted. And that overwhelming realization alone was enough to bring on a panic cry.
As I hyperventilated and furiously wiped the tears off my face, I listened for his response to my lack-of-space demand. Without skipping a beat (which is impressive with an international skype delay), he said, “Kelly, if you’re ever more than 10 feet away from me, I’ll be running toward you.”
Not only did he keep that promise during our time in Malawi, but Russ has run toward me every day since then. Whether it was a physical distance, an emotional wedge (created by the previously commitment-phobic Yours Truly), or a seemingly insurmountable mental space, Russ has bridged every single gap that has ever been between us and done it without breaking a perceptible sweat.
He’s been out of town running a 200 mile relay race in Southern California with some of his amazing friends this weekend and it’s made me very aware of how much more I enjoy my life when he’s around. I’ve driven some pretty large wedges in my day, and Russ is the only person that has ever been able to break through them. I’m still learning about this “true love” thing, but I think that’s my equivalent of the kiss that wakes Sleeping Beauty. Anytime I stop breathing (metaphorically), Russ never allows space to accumulate. 10 feet. That’s all I get. That’s all I want.