"Pause it," he said to me, motioning toward the remote control next to my body. Something about his voice told me whatever he had to say was important, that he didn't want his words to compete with Beauty and the Geek. My laptop was on his lap, and he looked down at the screen, taking a deep breath.
I clamored for the remote, wondering what sort of statement he was about to make. Our evening had been so benign up to this moment: A short visit to a friend's Christmas party preceded our standard house chores - me, finishing up the last of four loads of laundry, him walking around the house, watering can in hand, feeding all of his beloved plants - and led right to bed, where we buried ourselves in the freshly washed sheets and thick blankets to watch recorded episodes of our new favorite reality show. He checked his email while I caught up on an episode he'd already seen, giving his commentary on what was happening between short bursts of hunting-and-pecking on the keyboard. Until he told me to pause it.
The Geek's face froze on screen, his mouth contorted in the middle of a word, stuck there until Billy was finished telling me what he had to tell me. "Okay," I said, turning my body to face him, bracing myself for the enormity of what he wanted to say. I always suspect the worst.
"What do you think," he said slowly, looking at the computer screen, and then at me, "about..." he took a deep breath, he took his time.
Tell me, I thought, whatever it is, just tell me. I was nervous. My gut told me it was nothing bad, but I wasn't prepared for what came out of his mouth:
"What do you think about maybe going to Nicaragua for five days with me, and then I'll continue to South Africa from there?"
My heart almost burst. The smile that spread across my face was instantaneous. The darkness of our room hid my reaction, so that he couldn't bear witness to my smile, the blush that took over my cheeks, the unadulterated thrill in my eyes.
"Really?" I asked, like a kid who's just been presented with a gift she never thought she'd be lucky enough to receive. "Seriously?"
"Yes," he said, his voice soft. But not soft like giving in to the demands of your girlfriend, but soft like yes, you can believe in it.
"But will you have enough time in South Africa, then?" My question was serious. We had been talking about his trip earlier, a lighthearted conversation in which I told him I was happy with the decision I'd made to not go, despite being told by almost everyone I know (besides my mom) that I should go, just to experience it.
"I don't want to drag you down," I told him. "I'm not sure I could handle it. I mean, there's a chance that I could - I don't know, since I've never done it...And I guess the only way to know is to try - but I don't want to go on the chance that I'd be good at it or enjoy it, and run the risk of dragging you down with ailments and whining. It's better if you just go by yourself and enjoy it. I'm scared of the bugs, the heat, the danger. You're not. If we could stay in a nice hotel, or go on a safari in a nice RV or something, with air conditioning, then I'd be in. But I just don't think I could do it the way you want to do it."
He seemed genuinely baffled by my view of the trip. "If you want to see these things from the window of an RV, then why not just watch it on TV?" he'd said.
"I'm perfectly happy with that," I replied.
"You just have no desire, do you?"
"No, babe, I don't. That's not my idea of a vacation. It just isn't. But I know it's yours. So you should go, and enjoy it."
He nodded, and I nodded, both of us content with our choices. I would love to go with him, I just can't. And I have to accept that wanting to be with him wherever he goes is not reason enough to let him take me to a place where I'm 99.9% sure I'll be miserable. I was comfortable with my decision, and happy that he'd get what he wants.
"I'm sure I'll have plenty of time in South Africa," he smiled, looking at me. He pointed to the screen in front of him. "I figure we'll spend maybe five days in Nicaragua, then maybe head to Costa Rica for a day or two. You'll love it there. It's beautiful. And I've lived there, so I know my way around. You'll be comfortable there," he said, his voice reassuring.
"Babe, I'd love to. But I don't want you to change your plans for me." My words were genuine. You always get what you want is one of Billy's most oft-repeated sentences to me. I didn't want this to be another one of those instances. As long as he wanted to do it, I'd be pleased. But if he didn't, that was another story.
"My friend just emailed me," he said, "and they're selling the bar I worked in while I lived there. And I really want you to see it. It's a huge part of my life. You have to see it."
I was overwhelmed. I was touched that, somewhere within him, he wanted me to go with him badly enough to go somewhere I'd be comfortable. And that feeling was compounded by him wanting me to see a huge part of his life before me.
I'd spent days grappling with how I felt about his trip. Deep down, I felt like he just didn't want me to go at all. That this was his time to get away from me, and this year he wanted to "get away" for the duration of his trip, to not share even a bit with me. And that's what hurt, that's what bothered me. Selfish as it was, I thought that him not choosing someplace where I could go meant he just didn't want me with him. I knew it was wrong, but feelings don't understand that. They just went ahead and let me take it as a personal affront. I listened to him say, over and over, that he wanted me to go along, I just didn't believe it. And, finally, I'd come to understand that it's not always about me. That him wanting to go had everything to do with him, who he is, and that I have to let that person live, not make him bend to my demands all the time.
And on the heels of my acceptance, he found a way to make me part of it. It's still tentative, but the fact that he asked me, the fact that he wants me to part of his present and his past, makes me melt. It's not about me getting my way, it's about him doing exactly what I would do for him, and, for that, I love him a little bit more each day.