A Love Story

The end of summer 2009. The Camp for Climate Action has been a stressful one – not police this time, but local kids trying to get in and thieve stuff. This is one problem never encountered with a circle of police around camp. Pete has been doing back-to-back Comms shifts – communicating between gates and security with radios; Jo has been doing a lot of Tranquility – making complicated phone trees and attempting conflict resolution. They are both very tired and both in need of fun. Jo invites Pete to the Ceilidh. They dance and laugh all night. He kisses her by the fire and she spends the night in his van.

Jo’s going travelling in four days time. Camp has ended and she suggests they spend those days together. “Sounds good,” says Pete, “I could drive you somewhere.”

They drive to a lake, some woods, High Rocks. They throw dice to decide where to go. The van has a mattress and a small gas cooker: all they need. The days pass. Pete offers a lift to Dover, then to Calais. She’s been active there supporting migrants and he’s affected by stories about what she has seen. They drive to London and pick up his passport, spend a night by the beach on the way to the ferry. Summer has ended, but the sun is shining and on the golden sands of Camber, they say “I love you” for the first time.

Calais is more stressful than Climate Camp, but they find reward in solidarity with those in struggle, the hospitality and generosity of those with nothing. The police are violent and stress is high, but they are together and with others they do what they can.

Pete hears word his grandfather in Poland is very ill and decides he must go to see him. He was thinking to go to Poland anyway, but now he must leave soon. Some guys arrive from a tree-protest camp in Belgium. The two decide to drive there together before they part ways. They spend one night 300m up a tree under attack from ravenous mosquitoes. The next night they stay in the van, both sick. Then Pete leaves for Poland. They make no plan to meet again. They kiss for the last time, he gives her his necklace and she cries in the tree-house after he has gone.

Pete drives East and Jo hitches back to Calais, then down to Spain – prolonging the summer. They keep in touch, send text messages and emails often and speak on the phone when they can. Jo is driving from Spain to Denmark with friends in December, a big protest for the Cop 15 summit. Pete decides to meet her there and they agree to “travel together for a while”.

Jo is nervous about seeing him again. She’s worried their feelings will have faded, or that she has remembered him differently than the person who will meet her at the service station in Germany on her birthday in December. But he isn’t different and they haven’t faded. They go to Denmark, then drive together to Sweden. They walk across a frozen lake to a primitivist gathering deep in the forest. Pete is in his element, but Jo struggles to keep warm and escapes to the city. Leaving, they skid off a snow covered road and into a fence. They decide to go South, drive back into Denmark and stay at an activist project for a month, learning to weld and angle grind and making the van into a home with a proper bed, a woodburner, bookshelves, a table.

Again they drive South in deep snow and get a boat to Germany. They drive to Hamburg, Goettingen and Berlin. They stay with communities, visit squats and traveller sites. They dumpster dive and steal food and help cook People’s Kitchens.

The van is small and cramped, it’s cold outside. They are arguing a lot. Jo’s friend emails about a bike tour she’s planning and Jo decides to do some of it with her. She and Pete kiss goodbye, again no plans to meet again, but certain they will. The ice is thawing, the sun returning.

She gets a train to Budapest, cycles to Novi Sad, Belgrade, and up into Croatia. The sun is shining in Eastern Europe. She meets people and makes new friends, but she always misses Pete.

He comes to meet her in Osijek, Croatia and picks her up from the house she’s staying in. They drive to the country, spend three days with woodlands and waterfalls, then drive over to Zagreb and up into Hungary.

In Hungary they go to a Buddhist retreat, which Pete takes to and Jo doesn’t. Something is bothering her. She decides to go back to England and visit her mother – some old wounds that need healing. First they drive through Romania and visit a Mexican man with a smallholding in a tiny village, a Rainbow Gathering up a mountain, an anarchist library in Bucharest.

In Bulgaria they visit a Permaculture community, Jo’s last stop. It’s not what they imagined, but it’s nice and the sun is blazing in the village of Shipka.

It’s time for Jo to go ‘home’ – though the van feels more home than a flat. Pete spends one day hitch-hiking with her: a taste of a new style of travel. They get to the outskirts of Sofia, spend a night behind a petrol station in Jo’s tiny tent. Then Pete hitches back to Shipka while Jo goes on to England. She gets a ride all the way in two Turkish trucks.

She misses him of course. It’s strange to return after ten and a half months travelling – like the time in-between is imagined, erased. Things she thought would be important fall aside, friends and social engagements take over. Two months go by. She meets another boy, ‘Y’, and they begin a romantic relationship. She tells Pete of course – long hours on Skype expressing feelings openly, without blame. This is an enactment of something long felt philosophically would be the right way to live. There are complications and difficulties, but they embrace them.

Pete drives slowly home, through Albania and Croatia and up through Austria and France. He stops a couple of weeks at a big protest site in Nantes. Here he meets ‘H’ and begins a new relationship himself. More hours on Skype – everything in the open, emotions heard with compassion. It’s as though their own relationship is rekindled by these new ones. Jo has never been more in love with Pete.

They meet in Calais – almost full circle – but it’s no place for romantic reunions. They drive to a beach nearby, laze in the sun and spend three days talking and becoming physically reacquainted. They take magic mushrooms on the deserted beach under the full moon on the last night.

Then they drive to Brussels, a big protest camp for freedom of movement, against borders. It’s a hard time, stressful, a lot of police violence. H is there. This adds uncertainty to a tense situation, but she and Jo and get on ok and they all muddle through, find ways to communicate. After camp they agree for Pete to spend a few days with this new relationship before meeting up with Jo again and travelling to England.

He drives back to Nantes while Jo goes to Amsterdam with two friends. Six days later they meet back in Calais. Too much stress in too a short a time means little energy to get involved like before, one year ago. They catch the ferry to England the very next day.

It’s strange for Pete having been away so long, he drives on the wrong side by accident. They spend some days in Brighton, Jo’s old life. Then Pete goes to London in search of his, while Jo spends time with Y. She gets the train to London a few days later.

Pete’s parents are in America, so they stay in their house: Pete’s childhood house. The weather is changing, leaves are falling. An argument over dinner – stupid, meaningless. Jo realises he needs space and goes to the pub, swallowing tears with her beer. As she shuts the door behind her a light turns on inside him – one grain of sand that tilts a scale. Something has been changing and he needs it to end. When she comes back, he tells her: it’s over.

They talk a long time and her tears wet his bedspread. She spends a last night in his parent’s house, cuddling in bed. But she knows it’s over. She cries all the next day. He drives her to Brighton in the evening, then stays the night there when it gets late.

He leaves the next morning. They talk on the phone every few days, long chats that last hours like before. He loves her, but it’s different. They talk until she understands. It hurts, but she accepts it. He is her best friend and she loves him, she wants him to be happy, even without her.

Before leaving the country again she spends some nights in London, in a seperate bed this time, but they still cuddle in the morning; sit with arms around each other on the tube. All the world must think they’re a couple – how strange they would think them if they knew. It’s not normal to stay friends in this world, but you don’t just fall out of love.

Now she leaves him behind on another adventure, she and her thumb getting further away. Every kilometre she feels the distance grow. They’ve parted many times, never knowing when they’ll meet again. This feels different, but who knows. Leaves are falling in England, but in Greece there will be sun.

One thought on “A Love Story

  1. Pingback: Whirling « A Girl and Her Thumb

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