Tribute

"I agree with the suggestion that the best way to witness your partner’s true character is to travel together. I’d add a couple twists. Travel with nothing more than a small backpack. Go somewhere remote, challenging.... Live with locals. Stay as long as you can. Then watch hidden personality traits appear, the good and the not-so-good. By the end of the journey, you’ll know. Bon voyage."
-- Franz Wisner  [How The World Makes Love]

Before this trip, my [now ex-]boyfriend and I typically spent no more than 3 days together at a time since we lived in different states. Each weekend we were together we were always together. When Sunday night arrived we reverted back to our single selves for the week – hanging out with local friends, work, errands, and doing whatever we wanted.

As mentioned previously, my boyfriend never owned a passport before the trip to Belize. Honestly, I would have been fine staying in a Belizean hostel or camping in our hire car, but for his first trip I did not want to shellshock him. So, I compromised and booked more expensive rooms with air-conditioning & private bathroom facilities.

Yet, before we even left the U.S.A. he started coming around. One night, he told me he was fine with taking the bus to our numerous Belizean destinations. That was a bit shocking coming from the man who insisted on driving his souped up Dodge Charger RT+ everywhere. The biggest surprise was when my boyfriend – who sleeps with the thermostat at 60ยบ F year-round – admitted he did not require a room with air-conditioning!

He did have one major hang-up though: the cuisine. At home, my boyfriend rarely tried new foods and don’t even think about adding fruit or vegetables to a meal! Deep down, I knew he would love the fresh seafood on Caye Caulker and the authentic Belizean fare on the mainland. I was flabberghasted when he shoved a banana in his mouth at our first breakfast, saying “I haven’t eaten a banana in years.” He raised the bar again by trying papaya for the first time in his life. Throughout the trip he continued to venture out of his comfort zone by ordering barracuda, stone crab, curried rice and ceviche (he usually freaks out over raw meat). He sampled some of my meals too: coconut rice, conch, plantains and snapper with spicy/sweet orange sauce.
Since day one, we converted my boyfriend's backpack into a portable pharmacy. Everywhere we went, I had to tote emergency supplies: an extra insulin pump, vial of medicine, extra diabetic necessities, hypoglycemic glucagon shot & nausea medication. My boyfriend quietly and dutifully hauled all my crap across the country: to the middle of the Caribbean Sea, to mayan ruins, into a cave, and out of a sinkhole. I offered to share the load but he persistently refused which spawned his nickname for the trip. I frequently referred to him as “my little burrrrrrrrro a.k.a. donkey.”

Still, the most unexpected & best change I noticed in my boyfriend related to me. Whenever we conversed with locals, the question “where are you staying?” usually was asked. I was habitually cautious & gave an evasive answer or flat out lied. However, he was far more jovial than I expected for someone who had never left his homeland. I did not care to single myself out as an American, but he owned it proudly. To me, it looked like he thoroughly enjoyed sharing he was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

My boyfriend was boisterous about other personal information too. I loathe telling anyone that I am diabetic because it tends to emote the pity look, an obvious but insensitive comment (i.e. “that sucks”), or the mommy effect (i.e. “should you be eating that?”). Yet for some reason, I didn’t mind when my boyfriend blabbed to our tour guides about my disease. I thought he should just shut up and let me handle the situation when it actually came to pass, but I quelled my irritability. After the third instance when he divulged my diabetes, I had to lasso in my pride because #1 this was simply his talkative nature; #2 it came from a place of love and concern; #3 I should get over my hang-ups. My fear of announcing my chronic illness (& the subsequent reactions) was only my fear. On the contrary, a few Belizeans found this to be a talking point with me.  The rest of the world -- at least Belize -- did not give me a second glance.
Since becoming a type one diabetic at age 14, I have always wanted -- so badly -- to fit in that I kept my disease hushed. I hated the looks/comments/mindsets so I endeavored to prove I was equally capable, but only now -- at 30 years old -- have I stopped pretending. I am not as well as others; traveling takes a massive toll on my body; I am kept alive by a battery-operated machine; I cannot booze all day with my friends; I am a slave to synthetic medicine.

Ironically, in my life-long efforts to exude independence & perseverance, I realize now they were overkill. As Ghandi declared, "my life is my message."  The essence of being strong is only begotten from struggle -- physical, emotional, psychological, it is irrelevant.  I have not stared death in the face & remained unfazed. My greatest physiological weakness has strengthened me the most.

Ultimately, my boyfriend was the catalyst who helped me open up to the world by embracing myself.

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