Somewhere in Norway the sound of a ringing telephone pierces a street corner telephone booth. The incessant ringing must surely bring someone running, curious as to why this one specific telephone booth would be vibrating with urgency.
The call went answered.
Somewhere in Boston I hung onto the phone pleading silently for him to pick it up. It was our date, the appointed time and place when the call could be placed to this magic telephone booth that everyone knew was a lifeline between friends and lovers in different parts of the world.
I met him when I was young and naïve. I was 23 years old and already a world traveler but not world savvy. I worked as an international tour guide taking American groups to countries around the globe, a liaison between languages and cultures that provided a peek into lives unknown in places you read about in travel magazines.
We arrived in Oslo only to find that we were short on rooms. Now the local tour guides had nowhere to sleep.
I was working with Paul, an older man, seasoned in world travel and truly a gentleman, able to navigate cultural differences and befriend strangers instantly. I could learn much from him, I thought.
One Norwegian tour guide was a young girl, I can’t remember her name, with golden, curly hair that blew everywhere in the wind matched by a glowing smile full of warmth and welcome. I liked her immediately.
And then there was Erik, a young and cocky Norwegian, half man half boy, with a mischievous smile and a sense of humor to go with it. I had a history of being attracted to bad boys.
I never had a chance.
We approached the hotel desk as we worked through the sleeping arrangements of the local tour guides. Standing at the desk with Paul I wasn’t aware of Erik sneaking up behind me and giving me a friendly poke in the ribs. Erik jumped into the conversation, spreading his charisma to anyone within view, convincing the front desk clerk that there were rooms available if only he looked harder. They magically appeared but still they were short one room, his.
“Not to worry,” he said. “I’ll just sleep in Alicia’s room.”
“You wish!” I retorted with my best feminist tone. I had no idea how prescient that comment would be.
We spent two weeks traveling through Norway and Denmark by bus with a group of rather elderly couples, making sure they were healthy and well taken care of. So many interesting conversations! They were always ready to impart their life stories and words of wisdom.
And they were encouraging, fascinated and entertained by the obviously growing relationship between this American guide and the Norwegian Don Juan. I suppose everyone enjoys a love story especially when it unfolds before your eyes.
And yes, we shared a room eventually.
Once I left Norway we stayed in touch until one day there was a surprise knock on my door. I still lived at home and my mother answered the door. There he was, grinning from ear to ear, ready to lay his charisma on my mother.
He underestimated her.
She closed the door on him. She saw what I could not see.
He came back. This time I answered the door and found him a bit more humbled on the doorstep.
He stayed in Boston with friends until he convinced me to move to Colorado with him. He was an expert skier and could find work on the ski slopes there. My mother pleaded with me not to go. Yet I broke her heart and went, such was the strength of his spell over me.
We lived in Denver in an apartment complex full of transient young people always ready for a party. Marijuana, alcohol and sex fueled us during the weekends when the parties would turn into bacchanals.
Although I quickly found work at a local hotel, Erik spent his days playing and skiing whenever he could talk someone into a ride to the slopes. I would return home after work only to find a group of people in the apartment playing cards or drinking beer. This was not how I envisioned my life.
I could feel myself slipping, losing myself and emotionally trapped. One night I had a powerful dream where I transformed into a flame. In the dream a cold wind blew almost snuffing out the flame yet it stubbornly kept relighting itself in defiance. I found solace in my journal, the only way I could keep that flame alive and remember who I was.
I knew that if I stayed I would essentially die.
Our relationship was passionate but violent, like a bonfire out of control. I was addicted to the highs and lows, unwilling to be controlled but still too obsessed to leave. He was like a powerful drug. The highs were incredible. The lows were deadly.
After six months he said we should marry. I knew that was a bad idea. His visa was expiring. The only way for him to stay would be to marry. I finally said, “no”.
He left and returned to Norway but we stayed in touch via this one unusual phone booth on a side street in Oslo that only the students and young people knew about. Like a time travel machine, you could enter it and be transported to someone in another country and perhaps even in another life.
After a week of daily calls it happened. There was no one on the other end.
Clutching the phone I couldn’t hold back the tears. Six months of grief exploded into sobs and a cathartic release. I mourned not for the loss of the relationship. I mourned for the loss of my innocence.
I mourned for the young woman standing on an ordinary street corner in Norway, in a strange phone booth, clinging onto someone that had no need or desire for her.
I listened for an eternity to the buzz of the inactive line until the line went silent and I placed the phone into its cradle sealing that chapter in my life. For years I had flashbacks haunting me, leaking into future relationships until I matured enough to understand why I had allowed this to happen and how I could transform the pain into wisdom.
There are no more phone booths now let alone the magic red booth that held the unanswered hopes of a lovelorn young woman. That young woman has grown into a mature woman capable of loving deeply. I thank Erik for teaching me about my power and strength and recognizing my capacity to love.
I’m wiser now, moving into my elder years with a man who knows how to love. Through this relationship late in life I learned that the only way to love another, deeply, authentically and spiritually, is to first love myself.
And never again will I allow the flame of my soul to be extinguished or compromised.
We are here to learn the most valuable lesson of all. We are all here to learn how to love. It’s a lesson that comes with pain and scars that must be transformed into wisdom and a deeper connection to our own soul. As I embrace my partner that connection flows between us and I give thanks for all those who taught me, even Erik, the true meaning of love.