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  • I didn't know what it was when the earth shook. I live in DC; we don't have earthquakes here. I assumed, as so many others did, that there'd been an explosion at the Capitol or the White House so near or maybe in the station underneath the shop where I stood, looking for a jacket for my business trip the next day.

    As it turned out, it was an earthquake and I didn't find anything to wear. The rest of the city closed shortly thereafter. With so many federal buildings and monuments, all required a seal of approval before letting people in. It felt like a snow day, a free day, in the middle of a glorious August afternoon.

    I had my camera with me. I always have my camera with me, but that late lunch hour, I had a plan: Buy a suit jacket for my trip to Boston and go to the King Memorial so recently opened to meet our mayor and some of our councilmen. It was DC Residents' Day at the new memorial. Instead, in the aftermath of the shake, I decided to walk toward the White House and see what I could see.

    People poured out of the buildings around me, crossing streets to go to their fire evacuation zones and crossing back again because there was nowhere to go. Nowhere to stand.

    On a street corner, I met a man who seemed somewhat confused - we all were - and asked how he was, more concerned with a stranger than myself. We talked for a second, and then I stopped to take a picture.

    He moved on. We met again at a street corner, waiting for a light even though there wasn't any reason to wait. People filled the streets.

    We started talking again and 12 hours later, we were still talking. By that point, we'd walked 15 miles, give or take a little, and eaten two meals together plus popsicles on the Memorial Bridge. We'd seen the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown and the last of the sunset parades at Iwo Jima. We'd seen Washington and Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson as well as the Korean, Vietnam and World War II memorials, and we saw the exorcist stairs.

    I fell in love when he worried that I'd lured him toward the Potomac to take his spleen. I think he fell when I told him that I recited the Gettysburg address to help me fall asleep.

    The metro had stopped running; he walked me home. He meant to leave. I meant to take him. Instead, he sat on the floor of my room and talked to me as I packed for the trip. That night, he slept in my guest room and I worried about my own spleen, that maybe he'd take it or my car or my heart. The next morning, while I worked, he sat on my couch and kept me company.

    We walked to a farmers' market for fruit, a bistro for pastry, and he came with me to the airport. He would have walked with me to the gate if they'd let him, but instead, he gave me a peck on the cheek and walked away after we made plans to meet when I returned, to go back to the museum he'd evacuated because of the quake.

    Boston was great. And short. And productive. While storms raged up and down the eastern seaboard.

    "You don't know how friggin' pissed I am," my boss said as we sat on the tarmac and she flipped through her magazine, forward and back and forward again.

    "I have a pretty good idea," I replied, clenching my teeth.

    We were cleared for liftoff but had to return to the airport to let out the passengers who were fed up with waiting. Then, we rejoined the queue, getting back to DC hours late.

    I went home and dropped off my car, my computer and bag. I raced out again and hopped on a bus toward the museum, hoping and praying and struggling not to do either. We got to my stop and I pulled the cord. The bus kept going.

    "Stop requested!" I shouted. "Stop requested!"

    The bus pulled over and I ran in my dress toward the museum.

    I walked through it once and I didn't see him. I ran down the steps to a different floor and circled again, my blood pressure rising. I had no way to reach him. No idea of his last name or where he was staying. It was the museum or nothing and I didn't even realize until that very moment how much I cared. I climbed the stairs again, for my third loop of the museum, and walked toward the presidents' gallery.

    There he was.

    "You look so nervous," he said.


    I didn't know what to say.

    He'd set an alarm on his watch, planning to go down to the door to wait for me if I didn't find him.

    We spent the next 20-some hours together, mostly talking, somewhat sleeping, talking again. We went to another farmers' market and bought food together, tomatoes, peppers and okra, so he could make dinner. I mixed the spices and made a sorbet.

    I'd thought about suggesting a free Shakespeare event but realized I didn't want to sit next to him in the dark without talking. Instead we had dinner and conversation and breakfast and conversation and lunch and conversation.

    I worked a little, mooned a lot, and went to his hostel to pack him up. After a brief, awkward, highly amusing interlude shopping for his (married) friend at Victoria's Secret, I took him to the airport so he could fly home. Back to Australia.

    "Why didn't I meet you at the beginning or the trip?" he asked with a sigh.

    He'd been traveling for more than six months and this was his last stop after a year of not working. He would go back to the office a week from Monday.

    "There wasn't an earthquake then."

    I dropped him off, parked, went into the airport to wish him farewell with a proper goodbye, and then I drove home wishing I'd had the guts to buy a ticket to Los Angeles. To Sydney. To Melboure. To continue the conversation, if only for a few more hours, if not the rest of my life.

    He lives in tomorrow while I languish in yesterday. We write but it doesn't feel like nearly enough. It's never enough. If I could pick one thing to do for the rest of my life, it would be talking to him.

    I've loved before and I am sure I'll love again, but never like that. I fear that I want nothing more and nothing less. Forever. It took me almost 36 years to find it and he lives half a world apart.
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