Whenever I think of Alaska, I remember the TV show Northern Exposure in the 1990s. It still is one of the greatest TV shows in my book, a favorite to this day. The ensemble characters gave me my first glimpse of what life is like in rural America.
While everything feels slow, everything is also the same, as long as there are people, stories are waiting to be told. Like the one, I am about to share, this is my love story.
There are places, that one revisits so often in their lifetime — whether by going back to that place or by remembering the memories. One day, I would like to be in Alaska again.
Alaska, while cold outside, is full of warm memories on the inside. Alaska, everything I know about it, I learned from history class. The 49th state, a place once a part of Russia.
When I was young, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day, I would set foot in Alaska. Yet 11 years after I watched the last episode of Northern Exposure, I was walking the streets of Anchorage, Alaska.
I can still feel the cold breeze as I tell you my story, but this isn’t a story of whale watching, the glaciers, and the ice cream store. I loved that ice cream store in Juneau. This is about a bench in Juneau where promises were made.
I am getting ahead of my story. I was a cruise photographer in one of the best-known cruise lines in America. It was a great experience, in part because I was able to visit at least 80 countries — and for that, I will always be grateful.
I met a boy on my first contract, my boy, means he wasn’t younger, he is a year older than me, I was 36 and he was 37. We first met in San Francisco, as he was joining as the cruise ship’s Internet Manager and the ship was en route to Mexico. That is where it all started, my love story.
Like any love story, the beginning was as sweet as candy. One of the best times of my life.
Fast forward to my fourth contract, I was back in Alaska and so was he. To be honest I was wishing for another country or place to be in. There are destinations I wish to see, like Europe, which I was able to see on a future contract. But it was Alaska where this story unfolds.
In this contract, we are not together, the Internet on ships is run by a concessionaire Internet company, as such, my boyfriend can work on the different cruise lines. We both knew that that there will be contracts when we will not be together.
While we are both doing Alaska, both on a 7-day cruise, as fate would have it, we are in Juneau on different days. I can’t remember now, who is a day ahead.
Imagine the feeling, you can almost be together and yet you can’t. That was our love story, it’s complicated.
I won’t say I am the best lover, but I am easygoing. I don’t ask for much. I trust my lover. I trust to a fault, I also nurture the people I love, lovers included.
There are no rules, except, I thought, it is in everyone’s book, be honest, and be faithful. After all, doesn’t love means commitment?
It was my boyfriend’s idea. I didn’t ask why or I can’t remember now. It was over the phone, yes, whenever I am in port, I would call or he would call even if he was at sea.
I still remember his voice, his South African accent. He said, whenever we are in Juneau,
promise me, there is a bench we have to sit on, whoever is in Juneau …
I know I will find that bench when I get to visit Juneau again.
There wasn’t anything special about the bench. It was the first bench in a series of benches near a small park, and it is very close to where ships dock.
But for us, back then, it was our bench, my boyfriend was romantic in that way. For someone like me, who watched countless rom-com movies, and read novels about love. I loved it, sitting on our love bench.
There were special instructions. It is the first bench, near the crew store. I can’t remember it now, but there could be a lamp post on the side of the bench. You have to sit at the far right, your right when you are already sitting on the bench, not your right when you are looking at the bench.
This all happened when mobile phones didn’t have cameras, or mine didn’t have one, anyway. Facebook wasn’t the social media as it now, while I always have a camera with me, I m not fond of taking photos of myself. Even today, taking selfies isn’t my thing.
As men in our 30s, we only have our word, a promise to keep, that whenever we are in Juneau, we have to sit on our bench. I did, and maybe he did.
He said, he will etch something on the bench, talk about vandalism. I can’t remember now, if that bench has our names, someday, I will know for sure.
What happens in Alaska after all the people from cruise ships leave? The Alaska season ends in September. They say it ends in September because winter is coming. I am guessing, like the rural town of Cicely, the fictional Alaskan town on Northern Exposure, the only people left after the tourists leave are the locals.
Juneau will be quiet.
I didn’t know how many times I sat on our bench. But I know I did, and I knew I would feel his presence and my thought was, here on the same bench he was thinking of me, as I was thinking of him.
In Juneau, people working on cruise ships can leave stuff for each other. One day at the crew center, I got a package from my boyfriend, in the box, a red blanket which I still have, and a small rock.
The rock has its own story. He said he found it in the river somewhere in Alaska. He made me promise him that I would keep the rock in my pocket, wherever I go. He also has an identical rock, he said, that he keeps it in his pocket too. And that all we have to do when we miss each other or think about each other is rub the rock, or hold it. It reminds me of Aladdin and the lamp. All that Aladdin needed to do was rub the lamp and the genie will appear and grant his wish.
Maybe, we both wish that our love will be forever. Maybe, he wished I will never find out, or that if I find out, that I will learn to forgive it, the promise he never kept.
On the last two Alaskan cruises of that contract, the Internet manager on my ship left for home. Soon after, I heard from my boyfriend, that he will be joining my ship. It was a surprise, bigger than I thought, as what follows soon broke my heart.
I can still remember the day he joined the ship. It was a busy day, the incoming crew only joins on embarkation day. A day, when the old passengers leave and new ones come in. It is always a busy day for the crew unless it was your day off.
I remember I was the only one left from the photography department. On a day, when the shipment is arriving, because we have to stock as we are en route to Asia after the Alaska season.
I saw him walking towards me, there was no warmth, no sparkle in his eyes, it felt like he was already sorry for deciding to join me.
Everything I would find out soon, that he only decided to join the ship, to be sure that he stopped loving me.
He met someone else, from his previous ship, I never knew the details, was it before or after the promise, the bench, and the rock.
All I know is that he never kept his promise, that every time he was sitting on the bench, he was there not because he was missing me, but because he stopped loving me.
That he didn’t want to break my heart, and yet it still happened in the end, a very broken heart.
I feel like Forrest Gump, sitting on a bench and telling you this story. But this happened years ago when I was younger. When like Forrest, in the movie, he said,
“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Love, like Life, is a box of chocolates, something you enjoy until the last bite. I never quit on love, others came after this boy.
For now, that’s all I have to tell you, the bus is here.
Previously published on medium
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