“Just promise me you’ll come home in seven weeks.”
I laughed when my mom asked me that for the second time in about a week and shut the car door. I had a flight to catch for the Philippines, my second trip there in a year, and it was a few days before Thanksgiving 2005.
Seven weeks later I was holding Yvonne as we both cried our hearts out. 7:15am was coming much too soon and the thought of another year apart was more than our fragile hearts could seemingly take. Heartbroken. I had never understood the meaning of the word until that painful night in January 2006 as the clock rapidly ticked down toward my departure. One more year, I could do it. I could go home, save, and come back next Thanksgiving. It would get easier in time, right? After all, my home was America. It’s where I belonged. I had a good job expecting me to return to work in a few days. I had a car in my driveway. My family was waiting for me.
I left Yvonne to cry some more, retreated to the living room, and slowly packed my last bag. It was pitch black outside and I remembered you could hear planes fly above the house a few times a day. I knew in a few hours she would be able to see and hear my plane as I looked down from the sky in search of her family’s house. It would be like that scene in An American Tail – you know, the part where the mice sing “Somewhere Out There.” It made me cry as a kid and I couldn’t help but weep as an adult.
I finished packing and held the ticket home in my hands as I silently cried. I raised it to eye-level and imagined the rectangular paper was a fence. I was walking across the top, balancing between the green grass of the known and the darkness of the unknown. On the one side were fields and pastures I was familiar with. Home. Safety. On the other, a dense forest full of God knows what. If I jumped and made it through the trees, would I be attacked by a pack of wolves? If I tripped and broke my ankle, who would come to my rescue? Come on, you fool, I thought to myself, I’m a foreign man in a foreign land. I dropped the ticket into my lap and sat in the dark, serenaded by silence and sadness. I wiped my face, sure I’d be leaving half my body weight in tears behind by morning.
For half an hour I stood perched on the fence. Life and fate themselves are balanced on such a razor-sharp edge, a truth I feel most people never recognize until it’s too late. A choice, after all, is never just a choice but a potential turning point for all future events from that moment forward. The fence to my rear, I pulled myself to my feet, walked into the room where Yvonne still cried her heart out, and sat down next to her. I asked her to lift her eyes.
When in doubt, safety first.
As she lifted her red, swollen eyes in the darkness, I tore the plane ticket in half and threw it in the trash.
A little more than a year later, on March 24, 2007 in Bacolod, Philippines, we said I do. How could we not? There are those who debate whether true love really exists or if it’s just a fairy tale. I can say for a fact that it is a very real and powerful thing. True love can cross an ocean, stand in the face of reason, and slay any dragon of doubt that dares to lift its head.
True love takes risks that change the world forever.
And eventually comes back home three years later.