The last time I saw you, you were walking away from me, your hair shining blue-black in the streetlights. I had turned back to wave again, but you didn’t, and so all I saw was the back of you, receding into the night.
We met at a beach party on another continent, a place where the water turned smooth as glass when the sun set. The night we met the moon shone low, turning the sand a pale grey.
“You don’t need salt,” I said to you, reaching for the salt shaker in your hand. Those were my first words to you, leaning up against the bamboo bar.
“Oh, I don’t?” you replied, the shot of tequila in your hand full to the brim. You smiled a wicked smile, your teeth flashing like the Cheshire Cat.
“No, you don’t. It will taste better without salt, trust me.” I was flirting with you, my hand still lingering on top of yours, both of us holding on to the salt shaker, neither of us breaking eye contact. I was wearing a long turquoise dress; it brought out my tan and my blue eyes. I felt good that night. I felt like flirting with you, the most handsome man at the bar.
“OK,” you laughed. “You win. No salt. But if I’m doing one, then you’re doing one.” Your voice revealed an accent.
“Deal,” I smiled back, finally letting go of your hand.
For the rest of that night, you didn’t leave my side, your hand always finding the small of my back, or the inside of my arm, the softest, most vulnerable spots. We talked and talked, our conversation fuelled by tequila and lust, your pupils dilating in the glow of the beach bonfires. You lived in London too, it turned out, but you were originally from France, and you had travelled the world: Brazil, Tunisia, Micronesia. You smelled like coconut and sweat, a heady mixture that seemed to fit right into our tropical paradise.
When the night was winding down, the dance music’s heavy bass turning to a softer, calmer acoustic guitar, you grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the ocean. We kicked off our flip flops and ran into the water fully-clothed, creating ripples in the moonbeams, our chaos interrupting the quiet. And just before the moment could pass, just when all was beautiful and right, you pulled me to you and kissed me, your lips tasting ever so faintly of lime.
I change when I travel. I used to think that I was always the same – that the person I was on the beach was the same person I am right now, the person who works in an office and who pays bills on time. The older I get the more I realise maybe I’m not the same when I travel. I’m lighter somehow, as if the newness of it all, the excitement and the spontaneity of being on the road, of being free and unbridled – it’s as if it conspires to shape me into a more relaxed version of myself, a happier version. It’s why I’m addicted to travelling, or perhaps why I’m addicted to the feeling of becoming the person I am when I travel. Of becoming who I really am, perhaps, or who I really want to be.
And you – who were you that night we met? I didn’t know anything about you except the superficial: that you were French, that you were handsome, that you made me laugh, and that we both happened to be on this secluded little beach on that idle Tuesday night, ready for and open to anything. Maybe you could have been anyone. Maybe I could have been anyone, too. We were soulmates, albeit fleeting ones.
The next day you messaged me on Facebook and asked to take me to dinner. You showed up at my guesthouse on a motorbike, your shoulders tinged red from the day’s sun, your hair curly with salt and wind. I held on to you as you drove down dirt roads, using each pothole and bump as an excuse to hold you closer, tighter.
“I’m glad I met you,” you told me that night over spicy noodles and plump chicken, your eyes fixed on mine.
“I’m glad I met you, too,” I said back, clutching a sweating bottle of beer, trying to alleviate some of the heat: of the food, of the night, of you.
That night we walked hand in hand down the beach, silent save the lapping of the water and the faint, tinny echo of another party somewhere in the distance. The silhouettes of palm trees reached into the inky sky, their trunks thin and straight, watching over us like giants. We walked and walked, lit only by the moon, sometimes stopping to kiss or collect shells or to put our feet in the water. I could hear our laughter reverberate across the water, as if there were more of us, many of us, all of us enjoying the moment that could never last.
That night I let my dress drop from my bare shoulders and left it in the sand. I walked into the water, waiting until I was waist-deep before turning around. You were watching me, still standing on the shore, your hands full of shells, your smile glowing in the dark.
You got back to London a few days before I did.
“You promise you’ll write to me when you’re back?” you asked me on our last night together.
“I promise,” I said back. You didn’t feel like just another ship passing in the night. But then again, none of you ever do, not when we’re sailing the proverbial sea together.
The first time you cancelled I understood your excuse. London is the kind of city that doesn’t encourage spur-of-the-moment meet-ups; it’s a city where everyone is always busy and nobody wants to make the hour commute. It’s not like a quick motorbike ride down the beach path.
The second time you cancelled, I couldn’t decide if I was angry or sad, or maybe both.
And then, after days of no communication at all, you called me.
“Hi you,” I heard your voice on the other end, and I couldn’t help the rush of feelings that came back. We arranged to meet in a little dive bar in the East End.
You looked different – your hair wasn’t as curly, your beard was trimmed, you were wearing a jumper. I looked different, too – my skin paler, my hair straighter, my shoulders covered. You greeted me with a kiss and a big hug.
We spent that whole night talking again, just like we had on the beach. You felt both strange and familiar, like a taste you’ve had before but can’t quite name. Our conversations this time were different, though; there it had been all adventures and wanderlust, our words overlapping each other’s, filling in the blanks. Here it was work, our favourite London bars, how much we hated the tube. It wasn’t a bad conversation, but it lacked a spark. I could feel us both slipping away, our alternate identities – those wild ones, those ones whose eyes shined so bright – becoming a half-remembered dream.
“This is not who I really am!”, I wanted to tell you. “I’m that girl on the beach!” I wanted to prove. But of course this is who I am. I’m the girl who works in the office and who pays her bills on time, but I’m also the girl who wades waist-deep into water and kisses a man she just met, the moon as her witness. Maybe I can’t have one without the other. Maybe the best part of me – the part I like most – only exists because there’s the other side to balance me out. Maybe you’re the same way.
We kissed goodbye, a short kiss. I knew as I watched you walk away that we’d never see each other again, and I was right. You faded into the city landscape, became just another stranger, just another cheshire cat disappearing into the woods.
The Last Time I Saw You is a series of love letters to people I meet on the road (or sometimes right at home). To read more of these stories, click here. Please note that some of the details in this story have been changed to protect the identity of this person.
Wow, Brenna. You never disappoint. This is by far my favorite series to read, WHEN WILL YOUR BOOK BE PUBLISHED? It’s crazy how so many of us can truly identify with this, but you word it so perfectly that I truly got tears in my eyes. You’re a wonderful writer AND from what I can tell, an extraordinary person. Can’t wait for many more of the series!!
Wow, thank you so much, Aleksis! What an amazing comment to receive, you just made my day. 🙂 I have some major work to do on my book, but in the meantime I’m thinking of releasing a small e-book of this series (with lots of untold stories thrown in as well). Thanks again!
Somehow I can never get work done when you post something new because I have to stop and read it! Utterly captivating writing.
Aw, thank you so much, Tova – that means so much to me! I’m so glad that you liked the story.
I love this! This is why I’m so afraid to meet travel romances in my settled life… I want them to remember, the spontaneous, carefree version of myself. Hopefully someday, someone will want to be with both. 🙂
Also, your series encouraged me to publish my first on-the-rod romance (and, in the future, many more!). I just love the way you capture transient moments, and somehow turn them into something bigger.
They don’t always work out this way… sometimes it still clicks, even when you’re not on the road. I’m glad that you found some inspiration in these stories! Thank you for your comment. 😀
I love these stories, they’re so cool and romantic!!! Keep it uo
Thank you very much, Cate!
I love that last line, so apt. Thanks for publishing another one of these beautiful vignettes.
Thank you so much!!
So beautiful and relatable, especially this part:
“The older I get the more I realise maybe I’m not the same when I travel. I’m lighter somehow, as if the newness of it all, the excitement and the spontaneity of being on the road, of being free and unbridled – it’s as if it conspires to shape me into a more relaxed version of myself, a happier version.”
Keep ’em coming!
Thank you so much, Danny – so glad that you could relate. 🙂
It’s uncanny to me how there’s always a new one of these whenever I’m feeling (thankfully not devastating this time) romantic disappointment, haha! I can really relate to this feeling of separate parts of ourselves, and like to believe that one part cannot exist without the other–such a beautiful (although confusing and anxiety inducing at times) complexity to that. Oh, and reading the comments above, an ebook of these would be like, the best thing ever. : )
Aw, thank you Paige… and I’m glad that the posts can help… maybe?? Thank you as always for your lovely words. 🙂
Ah, Brenna!! This piece is amazing!! Your writing is achingly beautiful and took me right back to a beach in Brazil where I met a gorgeous man I fell hard for.
Like you I also feel like I change when I travel, that I become lighter and the version of myself I want to be. I wonder if this somehow influences the people I met when travelling.
Now I’ve discovered this series I’ll be reading all of them, and eagerly look forward to the next installment 🙂
Aw, thank you very much, Carly! I’m really glad that you enjoyed the post, and that you could relate. 🙂
Beautiful writing, as always, Brenna! I was completely engrossed by your words, and momentarily transported from my morning commute to that unnamed beach! So much of this post resonated with me as well – eapecially the part about feeling like two different people at times.
Thank you so much, Ashley… I’m so glad that you could relate to the post. 🙂
I followed your site recently and love what you post. I’m a massive Kerouac fan myself, and I can tell you are from the name of your site! You have a similar style of writing, dream-like and poetic. I think it’s great how you write this in second person, too. Makes the reader feel really involved.
As for the story itself – I couldn’t agree more. You’ve put into words something I’ve been feeling for ages but haven’t been able to express. That feeling I get when travelling can only be described as being more awake. The people you meet are all in the same state, too – it feels like being your most basic self, joyous and simple 🙂
Looking forward to reading more of your stuff!
Thank you very much Dan – really glad that you liked the post and could find a lot to relate to! I like that idea… of feeling awake when travelling.
I love this series! These stories are so amazing – I hope you’ll write more!
Thank you, Kate!
These stories are powerfull! Love to read them!!! Please keep writting 🙂
Thank you, Paula!
I feel like a broken record by this point, but your writing is so beautiful and your story truly captivated me. Again haha. I definitely felt like I was transported and Incould imagine these events so clearly.
It’s really interesting that there is a ‘travel you’ and a ‘home you’ and I can definitely relate to that. When I’m at home, I’m afraid I’m quite boring haha, but when I travel I feel like I’m a more interesting version of me and have more to share. I don’t mean from\because of the experience but actually while I’m having the experience and about other things. If that makes sense haha. I’m more ready to share and be vulnerable while I travel than in my regular life.
Anyways.. great post as always! 🙂
Well I always appreciate your comments, Ella! Thank you so much for all of your kind words, and I’m really glad that you can relate. 🙂
This is awesome..I mean the way you have expressed it..loved every word.. but this is kind of a co-incident thing..cz there’s this Hindi movie “Tamasha”. The story line is almost all similar to your story.. same person-different identities & I am a fan of your “The Last time I saw you series” Keep going. 🙂 🙂
Oh, very cool! I’m glad that you enjoyed the post 🙂
This post popped into my email today, and although I was tempted to read it at the time, I thought no, I’ll save this one for later.. and turns out it was worth my full attention. The reality and romance of travelling, carved into a beautiful story – absolutely loved it!
Aw, thank you so much, Monika! I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. 🙂
Hi Brenna, I’m a long time reader but its my first time commenting – I always look forward to your posts especially this series! I too feel like I’m a bit of a different person when travelling. A lot more carefree and laid back and I feel as if it radiates and I attract romantic interests much more than I do during day-to-day life. I too, have caught up with some travel romances afterwards but it’s never the same. Its almost better not to see them again (especially when you live in different places and most likely won’t work out long term) that’s what I tell myself now.
I’ve told quite friends about your blog. You’re an amazing writer.Your flow and the words you use captivate me every time I read your posts. You’re truly an inspiration and make me want to pack up my bags and go on my next adventure every time I read them 🙂
Well I’m very glad that you commented, Nicole! Thank you so much for all of your amazing words, and I really appreciate that you’ve told your friends about the blog. 🙂 Thank you for being a long-time reader… I’m so thankful for your support and all of your encouragement here.
As always, I love these series from you. Maybe I am also secretly into romanticism, and I know I am publicly into travelling, but these short stories resemble to my thoughts in many ways. The way we ourselves changes between places, particularly in this one, it was both you and him.
Thank you very much – I’m so glad that you can relate!
That was absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing – your writing is so fluid!
Thank you so much, Kassandra!
Hi Brenna, this is such a great piece and really beautifully written.
I travel with my longterm bf so can’t really relate to the romantic encounter abroad, but having two versions of yourself definitely resonates. The way you told this was really captivating and I can’t wait to read your future stories.
Thank you so much, Vic – I really appreciate your kind words. 🙂
I love this so so much! You need to write a book. I feel your every word in these stories.
Thank you so much, Jessica! Don’t worry, a book is on its way 🙂
Hi there free-spirited soul,
I always connect with posts from this series of yours! Continue having adventures in your travels and keep opening up your heart. I found my husband while living abroad in France and 10 years and two kids later we still reminisce over our chance encounter! I highly recommend dating the french 😉
Thank you very much! I’ll have to give it a go sometime 😉
This is my favorite series of yours. I get so excited every time “The Last Time I Saw You” pops into my email inbox. I believe people on the internet dole out more negative comments than positive; so I make a conscience effort to reach out to the people who inspire me. I love your storytelling capabilities and have been experimenting more and more with it in my own writing. When I read this post the day it came out, it inspired me to try my hand at spinning a story without the aid of photographs. I pressed publish on it today so wanted to say thank you. Whenever I’m writing and get stuck on the transition or when the words just won’t make sense no matter how I arrange them, I take a break and read through your posts I haven’t yet read. It always does the trick. 🙂 I look forward to reading your future stories.
Thank you very much, Kristen… I agree that it’s always nice to try to keep the internet a positive place! That’s so great that you are writing more, and I’m so happy that this blog has possibly inspired you in some way. That makes me really happy. 🙂 All the best and thanks again for your lovely comment!
You perfectly captured that unsettling feeling of trying to reconcile your “travel” side with your “real life” side… and how that can also affect memories and connections, even brief ones! Thank you for sharing, as always.
Thank you so much, Kim! I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. 😀
GOD. WORD. I never realized until recently that I’m not the real me when I travel, either. At the beginning, when I was younger, I was pretty sure that the girl on the beach was the real me but we are all different when we travel, aren’t we? I always blamed the guy like, ‘well this is my life so of course I’m the same no matter what’ but it’s both of us. When there aren’t any real pressures and everything is just fun and relaxed I am just the version of myself I wish I could always be. Nobody’s really that carefree, though, right?
Also, oooohhh the Frenchies. They always get me and I’m just toast.
OH and also I’m ready for your book now 🙂
Aw, thank you so much, Kristin! I’m so glad that you can relate. And yes, it often is both people (although sometimes they’re just assholes, as we’re well aware of… hah).
Thanks again for your comment xx
Brenna, I love this series more than I can say! So honest and raw, I enjoy every installment. The personal stories really make your blog stand out from others! xx
Thank you so much, Bea! I really appreciate that, it means so much to me.
I always love these. Arms filled with goosebumps. 🙂
Aw, thank you Katie. 🙂
your photographs and post are lovely, as always
Thank you so much, Anna!
I am absolutely loving this series and this instalment was no exception. You are such a talented writer sister. xoxo
Thank you so much, sister xoxo
Hi Brianna, I know this is highly inappropriate and possibly very unlikely that you would do this.. but is there a chance you could write (here or in an email) the initials of the guy? – Just the initials please that’s all I ask.
Hi, I’m not comfortable providing that information. If you’re worried it is someone you know, I can assure you that, as mentioned, I change many defining details so that people can remain anonymous, though the story remains the same.
-Brenna (not Brianna)
This is SO RELATABLE. I never understood why it can feel so different when you meet a person while you’re travelling or later on, on your daily environment. I had the same with this Italian guy I met in Rome. What a connection we had back then! When he visited me in Amsterdam it felt so empty. And I felt so strange because I noticed how different I was behaving. So much more self-conscious, way less spontaneous. In Rome I had nothing to loose. Here it was like I had to somehow “protect myself”, if this makes sense. That’s when I have figured out that the only way of having an idea if things could work out with someone is going through the reality-test, back home.
Your writing is trully captivating. Thank you!
Oh wow, what a read. So beautifully written. I’m in a long-term relationship, but I still feel that I am someone different when I travel. Freer, readier to make wilder decisions or step out of the routines I’ve created for myself. I love that travel me 🙂