As I exited the plane and saw her for the first time, I became a little boy again, as if I stood in front of the entire elementary school about to give my crush a valentine as everyone watched. She saw me, and I probably appeared silly at my attempt at confidence, but I was nervous and my hands trembled. I know she noticed my awkward boyishness, for I could feel the fire in my cheeks. I couldn’t help but stare.
Her hair of long golden wheat danced in the wind, and I took a deep breath and smiled at her. She smiled back and came over to me. She weaved her fingers between mine and somehow there was no crack or crevice or imperfection. Like slowly dipping your open palm into still water and watching it fill around your fingers, tickling the skin. Not even room for air left after submerged together.
It felt normal, even though we were strangers, as if she had waited for me for the 23 years of my life that had passed. She took me north with her, in a rusted Honda minivan that growled up the steep mountain hills and whistled its way down them.
In a bay of islands as far as the eye could see, with seashells under our feet at low-tide outmatching the stars in the night by numbers, we danced to the crackle of our little van that tried to sing us broken radio tunes. We cooked boxed spaghetti on a propane grill and threw in cheap sauce that tasted like ketchup. Dessert was Nutella on white bread that we licked from our fingers as the sun descended beyond the horizon and the sky bruised in its absence.
The feeling of all of this can only be described by a brief stop we took before reaching our destination. There was a waterfall surging white and cold down a canyon off the road we followed, which snaked through hillside and mountain like the curves of her now bare body as she leapt in. Dangerous and captivating.
She caught me staring, but she wasn’t mad, she told me to jump in with her just by splashing that dark blue water at me. And when I did, I plunged in under my head. My stomach receded into my ribcage, my heart pounded like the waterfall above me, and there was an odd silence in all the madness as I floated in the cold. When I came up for air, it was as if I was breathing for the first time, and I couldn’t stop smiling. We stood under the waterfall and let it rush over us and take our breath from our body. That is what she felt like to me.
When we finally arrived at the place we had searched for, it was never a place on our map or in our heads. It was a place we felt, something we knew was the right place. We discovered it as we walked down a soft beach that, when the wind blew across it, sand danced like ghosts down its length. We followed the ghosts to jagged grey rocks now bare in low tide, and crossed them as crabs gurgled warnings up at us from their holes in the volcanic rock. We climbed a steep crag topped with a head of soft grass glowing in sun hidden behind it. There we had found paradise. There we had found life in its purest form.
For two weeks we stayed here, in a secret bay beyond doubts. Beyond worries. In the mornings I would wake to find her surrounding my body like the hammock we slept in. Her fingers like the wind as she ran them through my hair. She would whisper to me like the sound of the low waves on the beach just beyond our tree, rising and receding with certain words.
At night we would sit and watch the sea turn molten silver, her warmth against my body under the blanket better than the fire that crackled nearby. We ate s’mores and laughed and talked loud into the twilight, and in the blackness that surrounded us it seemed like our light was the only one in the entire universe. She would watch me write in my journal, content with just seeing the looping swirls of the pen imprint the paper with the story we made together.
Our reflections from the flickering firelight played out like a show in the empty wine glass on its side, and she tasted of grapefruit and flower and passionfruit. We would lay in the hammock staring up at the night sky that was the brightest blackness you could ever imagine, and we would fall asleep counting the shooting stars above, usually drifting into slumber after 7 of them.
In the morning, we would wake again, our hair smelling of the fire and our lips tasting of chocolate and it was the sweetest record that would play on repeat for those two weeks.
Sometimes, when a gentle breeze kisses my cheek, I have a secret urge to reach up and place my hand upon hers, knowing it won’t be there, but I still glance over with only my eyes so nobody will know I am looking for nostalgia with a sudden and secret fragility. A sudden yearning. My stomach tightens like the day under the waterfall, and my heart pounds when I think of her.
She was a sunflower, in a field of sunflowers, but for some reason that one caught my eye out of all the rest, the one that looked different and smelled different and I wanted to pluck it and take it with me forever. Knowing that if I did, it would die, but all things die, and at least I could have time to hold onto something so beautiful and fleeting.
She taught me that — the meaning of life, that everyday is fleeting and you don’t just walk on through life letting things wither away without stopping to admire them. The day I left, the only words she spoke to me were brief. She said to me that it wasn’t goodbye, and that she would wait for me to return someday. Return to her ocean eyes and wind-swept wheat hair and her smell of mountain air and the taste of her wine-drenched lips. After 1,183 days, I know that the feeling would instantly arise again if I saw her, just like the summer swaying in the hammock. She was my first love. She wasn’t the last, but she will always be there when the eastern wind blows, calling me.
I had fallen in love in the wild northern reaches of her. Her name is New Zealand.
AUTHOR’S NOTE //This article was about the northern region of New Zealand, in Bay of Islands and Doubtless Bay. That had been the beginnings of my travel lifestyle, where I had traveled to New Zealand after leaving the United States for the first time. I was nervous and vulnerable for the first time in years, I was suddenly feeling again, and it began the moment I laid eyes on the beauty of New Zealand. This was a love letter to her, the first country I traveled to, one that opened my eyes to the possibilities of the world and brought meaning to the meaningless life I had taken on before. Even if moving to New Zealand was the scariest moment of my life, but it changed me nonetheless.
I don’t write often like this, but recently some short stories inspired me and the way they described attributes of people in places and feelings, and I wanted to give it a shot.
Let me know your thoughts as this was a first attempt at this writing style, but everything about New Zealand and my love for her is still true to this day.