32: My Marathon Man

32: My Marathon Man

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game

My Marathon Man

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.

~Zora Neale Hurston

I stood in a darkened Irish pub in Buenos Aires feeling infinitely out of place. As a non-drinker, non-socializer, bars didn’t offer much. But a former reality star had invited me, which made me feel as though the popular girl in school knew my name.

We were both on a trip to Antarctica to run a marathon—an unusual life adventure. We would be leaving the next day for a flight to the bottom of Argentina where we would hop on a boat to travel to the South Pole. So a number of marathoners congregated that night to load up on liquid calories, which they would no doubt burn off during the race.

As I was speaking to this television starlet, in walked a tall, attractive man. He had large chest muscles and a dark blue tattoo showing underneath his tight white T-shirt. He wore a black belt with a large Harley Davidson buckle and had that dirty/styled hair that is so popular these days.

The reality star squealed, grabbed my hand and led me directly over to him. “Meet Paul,” she said with an abundance of enthusiasm and pushed me directly in front of him.

I blushed and said hi while twisting my hair and avoiding eye contact. Paul stood several inches taller than I, which was saying a lot because I was six feet tall in bare feet. He had a big grin, piercing blue eyes, and when he spoke, my heart melted. He was from Sydney, Australia and his accent made me feel a little more outgoing because I didn’t want him to stop talking. So I peppered him with questions.

I learned he was a world traveler with an insatiable appetite for adventure (like me), loved Oz (me too), and lived in France (I wished I could say that). Paul asked a few questions and cocked his head to the side whenever I spoke and laughed at all the appropriate times, clearly paying attention to my words. A few times he even brushed my hair out of my face and tucked it behind my ears. His touch was electrifying.

He walked me back to my hotel room that night and, like a perfect gentleman, said goodbye at the door.

We spent the next day together, walking hand in hand along the streets of Buenos Aires, taking in a tango show, sipping hot chocolate at an open-air café and dancing together at the hotel bar while a stranger played piano.

I’d never met anyone like him: sweet with a kind smile, yet dark, brooding and mysterious all at once. I found myself attracted to him as he seemed like an everyman—articulate, self-aware, athletic and boy-next door meets the Marlboro Man.

In just twenty-four hours, I fell in love with this Australian wonder, and he felt the same, whispering those three little words in my ear.

We were forced to say goodbye before we left for Antarctica, as two small Russian boats would be traveling down the globe to the marathon and he, sadly, was not on the same ship as I. It would be three long days before I saw Paul again.

As we sailed down to the marathon site, we e-mailed each other love letters to pass the time and he wrote such caring words:

“I love your smile. I love the way you laugh. I love your enigmatic persona. I loved that you could have the courage to see possibilities, even though sometimes you expect the worst. If this isn’t all just me, then for every step you take, I will take one with you. Yes we live for now in separate countries, but we have both lived abroad. There is nothing in this world that isn’t possible if you have the courage and determination to pursue it.”

But after a couple of days, he e-mailed a bombshell. He said he loved children; he had three—along with an ex-wife.

My eyes grew wide reading it. I asked him why, in all of our conversations, he failed to mention this colossal fact. He shot me back a three-word response: “You didn’t ask.”

I felt confused and wondered if this were just merely a vacation fling.

I saw Paul again at the marathon right before the race started. He stepped off his boat and speedily walked straight to me. He was freshly shaved and smelled of soap, looking like someone who put time into his appearance, not someone about to run a marathon. Just seeing him made my heart beat faster and nerves dance in my stomach, even with the information about his ready-made family.

We started the race and Paul took off running at a pace far faster than I could maintain. Obviously his muscles weren’t just for show. So I figured I wouldn’t see him again until the finish line.

Throughout the marathon, I climbed a glacier, fell into a mud pit, battled attacking birds and sideways rain, and carried all my own water for hours. Eventually, I slowed my pace to a painful walk, unable to run anymore. The treacherous, unstable terrain and bitterly cold conditions left my muscles aching and crying uncle. At mile twenty-three, clouds formed low over the racecourse and I let out a cry of defeat, too tired to form tears. But astonishingly, through the fog, Paul’s figure materialized, carrying a jacket and smiling ear to ear.

He had finished the marathon, then turned and trudged in the opposite direction back onto the course to locate me and bring me warmth. He totaled 29.2 miles on one of the hardest marathon courses in the world, with three of those miles completely for unselfish reasons.

It was the nicest thing any man had done for me. Forget flowers and fancy jewelry—Paul hiked through freezing cold mud for me.

After I crossed the finish line, I reasoned with myself. “So he has kids? So what? You’ll never meet another man like him.” I literally traveled to the bottom of the world to meet the man of my dreams.

Paul and I met again back in Buenos Aires and strolled the streets holding hands. I loved the feel of his muscular arms. I loved the way he smelled of cologne mixed with leather from his Harley Davidson jacket.

After meandering aimlessly through the city, we seated ourselves at another outdoor café and I rested my head on his shoulder. Paul then began to bare his soul, telling me tales of his difficult divorce, the resiliency of his children, and how he survived brain cancer.

He was wearing dark sunglasses and I could see my stoic reflection in them, as I felt unsure of what to make of such dark life circumstances. So I just carefully lifted his sunglasses off his face, looked straight into his eyes and said, “I hope I can help you create better memories.” Paul slipped his hand into mine underneath the table and whispered, “You already have.”

~Jennifer Purdie

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