By Chummy Boholst
It is quarter past two in the morning and I never thought I will be writing something I rarely talk about — the matters of the heart. I’ve been often asked by the people I met in my travels why I am not in a relationship or why am I single? My response would always be — I enjoy and love my freedom. Being in a relationship while being in a nomadic lifestyle is a luxury I cannot afford right now. Unless there is someone who can travel with me, hop from one city to another, it’s just not going to happen.
When I was asked to share and write an untold love story, I literally laughed. I don’t know what to write. I don’t even know if I have a love story to tell. Then I realized I did have something to tell. It wasn’t really a love story like any other romantic Netflix films that you can binge on but it is a story that I believe is worth sharing. This is a story only a few people know and I’ve shared to my close friends over a glass of wine or a bottle of vodka. A story of friendship, betrayal, and pursuit of love.
My decision to leave the Philippines and pursue a life of travel was not easy. It was even made more difficult by the fact that I was in a relationship without a ‘label’ and I had to leave him to pursue my dream. I don’t know what we were. You can say it’s friendship or an intimate friendship or whatever you call it. Friends? Yes. Lovers? Not sure. Exclusively dating? Definitely not. Friends with benefits? Maybe. I’ve navigated those muddy waters. It was tough. It was a relationship.
Love at first dance
Life may not give you a free pass. But sometimes it gives you free beers. And that little talk at the bar could somehow change the direction of your life.
During a week’s holiday in Boracay back in July 2010, my good friend Bhing and I braved the midnight rain to dance and party at Club Summerplace. It was our favorite place to hang out back then. Our other friends decided to sleep the night off after a full day of Flyfish and Twister games. But I don’t want to waste a night in Boracay and sleep. Hence, we partied.
We danced all our hearts out to the tunes of Flo Rida and Rihanna. Drank tequila sunrise. And danced again. While we were dancing, I saw this tall, blonde guy at the bar looking at our direction. I wasn’t sure if he was looking at me or my friend until he approached me. It’s confirmed. He was looking at me.
“So you like dancing?” he asked.
“Yes I definitely do,” I replied.
“Would you like to grab a drink at the bar?” he asked again.
My friend and I then headed to the bar together with this quite interesting guy. It was also a good excuse for us to rest for a while after staying on the dance floor for too long. He then asked if I wanted to have a beer.
“Redhorse,” I said.
I found myself in a conversation with this stranger. He was admiring how I danced, how I moved on the dance floor. He even complimented my smile. Yes, I know he was flirting. We exchanged small talks while we sipped our bottle of beer and another beer. After few minutes of conversation, I introduced myself and my friend to him and then I asked for his name.
“My name is Tor. I’m from Norway,” he answered.
A friendship is born and another ended
Tor and I instantly became friends. We went out together and had pre-dinner drinks at Sand Bar to watch the fire dancing performances, dinner at Nigi Nigi Nu Noos then partied the night away at Club Paraw. He met my friends, drank piña coladas and island fruit shakes, played games on the beach and went on ATV rides around the island. He spent a time to hang out with us during the rest of our stay in Boracay. And just like any holidays, it has to end. The week in paradise flew so fast that I didn’t even realize it was time for me to fly back to Manila.
We parted ways. Bade our simple goodbyes and see-you-later lines like any other holiday affairs.
“I’ll message you when I get to Manila,” he said in an assuring tone.
“Yeah sure. Let me know,” I replied.
Right there and then, I set an expectation for myself that he will not message me; that I will never see him again. What happens in Boracay, stays in Boracay, as the cliché would say.
A couple weeks passed, one Saturday afternoon, I surprisingly received a message from Tor saying he’s in Manila and asking me to swing by his place. I happily said yes. I actually didn’t know what to expect as I entered the lift of his condominium building. I was excited to see him again and felt happy that he actually messaged. Then I pressed 25.
The door of his unit was half opened. I knocked.
“Come in,” a voice inside the apartment said.
I went in and as I entered the nice one-bedroom apartment in a mid-century modern interior, framed pictures of Tor with another guy welcomed me. There were few photos of them on a zip line and few other travel photos together enough for me to assume that they are “together” as a couple.
I passed the framed photos. Confused. Then I saw Tor sitting on the living room sofa. I immediately switched from being confused to the default Chummy. We exchanged hellos and the usual friendly meeting conversations.
It was apparent that Tor was deeply troubled at that time. He looked worried and was trying to contact someone on the phone.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Tor just found out that his so-called friend, the one in the photos, who he’s been living with for more than a year, ran away with the two month’s apartment rent money and he can no longer contact him. The admin office confirmed that the last two months were not paid. Tor was devastated with the situation. He felt betrayed by someone he trusted. He was about to leave for Norway in the next three days and he has to settle a couple thousands of dollars of rental dues plus the remaining three months of his contract.
I was there stunned with what he told me. I was so confused. I was not sure what to react or how to feel. Should I feel upset by the fact that he didn’t tell me that he’s currently in a relationship when I met him in Boracay? Or should I feel sorry for him because of what happened to him? It was too much for our first-day meeting in Manila after our Boracay shenanigans. But then, I chose what I felt was the right thing to do. I consoled and hugged him when he broke down and cried.
Missed flights and birthday presents
Our friendship blossomed from a simple hello to a quite nice relationship. It wasn’t the labeled “boyfriend” relationship type. I honestly don’t know what it was but it was something. Tor would spend three months in the Philippines and three months at work and a week in Norway. Then repeat. He’d usually come to the Philippines every three months on average depending on his work schedule. When he’s around, we would always take dinners at Via Mare in Greenbelt and smoke Cuban cigars matched with his gin & tonic and my tequila sunrise at the nearby Café Havana until we get drunk.
Boracay has always been our favorite island. Not to mention we first met there. We spent two Christmases and two New Years together in Boracay. Yes, I had a New Year’s Eve kiss on a beach with fireworks in the background back then. It was romantic, wasn’t it?
It was during our first Christmas together when he introduced me to his mum. She’s a lovely lady and a good conversationalist. She told me stories of her life in a city of Sandefjord in Norway, her love for books and stories about Tor and his childhood years. Bless her. Tor even told me that his mum fancies me a lot. It was such a nice thing to hear.
Tor never missed special occasions such as my birthday or Christmas. He would always make an effort to surprise me with his fancy and expensive gifts and little greeting cards. Every time he won’t be in the Philippines for my birthday, he would give his gift in advance and instruct me not to open it until the day of my birthday. In return, I am always pressured as to what present to give him for his birthday or Christmas. It is always quite a challenge what present to give to someone who can basically afford anything he wants. He once said that if I wanted to give him a gift, a bottle of good wine is fine. But I knew he wanted to buy a Breitling watch for himself. We went to the Breitling watch store in Greenbelt a couple of times to take a look at the watches. Looking at the prices, I had to work more than a year to afford one of the cheapest watches they have. I can barely afford a Timex watch let alone a Breitling one.
Tor’s birthday came but he was not in the Philippines to celebrate it. So I told him I’d give his present when he returns to the Philippines. I had more than three months to prepare. At that time, I literally didn’t know what to give him. Tor came back few weeks before my birthday but he went straight to Boracay and we both decided that I’ll meet him in Boracay for my birthday week. A week before my flight to Boracay, I still didn’t have a birthday present for Tor and it immediately came to me to make a painting for him. That how inspired I was. I painted. I spent five days to complete the painting.
My flight was on the day of my birthday in 2011. I stayed all day at home procrastinating and waiting for my 5 pm flight to Boracay. I didn’t anticipate the Friday Manila traffic and as expected I was stuck in traffic on my way to the airport. I was already rushing to the airport and worried that I will miss my flight. And so I did. I had no choice but to book the 5 AM flight the next day. To add to the stress, I almost lost the painting because I was rushing and left it at the airport security scanner. Good thing I was able to get it back.
I spent my birthday at the airport while most of my friends are already in Boracay celebrating my birthday. I opted to wait for my flight at the airport instead. The universe always has its way of making things a little better in the midst of stress. I thought I’ll be spending my birthday at the airport alone. But I didn’t. It just happened that at that evening, my lovely friends Tina and Wlad were at the airport waiting for their flight to Jakarta. So they took me to have a small birthday dinner and blew a cupcake from 7-Eleven and a lighter as my candle. It wasn’t the best birthday but one of the most memorable ones I had.
I arrived in Boracay quite early in the morning and met up with my friend Bhing to have breakfast. The weather was rather gloomy as expected for a monsoon season in the Philippines. But I was excited to see Tor.
The day went by and I basically spent it on the beach with my friends. I was meeting Tor for dinner and surprise him with my little present. It was pouring that evening and I braved the rain with a rolled piece of paper in my hand. I was very careful that the painting will not get wet otherwise all the colors will dissolve.
I arrived at Nigi Nigi Nu Noos. This is one of our favorite restaurants. The place was quite packed with other tourists chatting and laughing with their drinks at the bar and others having dinner on a rainy evening. I saw Tor sitting at the table and I immediately approached him.
“Hi, how are you? Nice to see you again,” I said. Then we hugged.
“I’m great. Thanks,” he replied.
He then offered a seat for me and asked me what I’d like to drink and called the waiter’s attention.
“Chummy, I’d like you to meet Joene. Joene, this is Chummy,” Tor said as he introduced me to the other person on the table.
“Hi, pleased to meet you,” I said and shook his hand.
I was not aware that there will be three of us having dinner for my birthday. I was expecting it will be just me and Tor. Apparently, I was surprised to see a new acquaintance. So we ordered food and had drinks and few lovely conversations.
“What is it that you wanted to give me?” Tor asked.
“Oh, that one? I’ll probably give it later,” I answered.
“No, I want to see it now. What is it?” he insisted.
I handed him over the rolled piece of paper wrapped in a wet transparent plastic that I was carefully holding. He opened it and smiled.
“Wow! It’s a beautiful painting. Did you paint this?” he asked.
“Of course. I told you I can paint,” I proudly replied. “Do you like it?” I continued.
“Yes. I like it a lot. It’s my ship,” he said.
Tor was a captain of a Norwegian cargo ship and I painted his current ship at that time. It was the first painting I have ever given to someone as a present and I was glad he liked it.
Though the night started pretty good, it didn’t end well for me and Tor. I was shocked with his revelation about Joene. When Joene left for the restroom, I asked Tor who Joene is and why he is here. Tor told me that he’s a friend he met a few years back prior to meeting me who happens to be currently staying at Tor’s apartment in Boracay. What a lovely surprise! And he suddenly mentioned that Joene is his number 19.
I got confused. Number 19? What was that? He then explained to me that he keeps an Excel file of all the people he got in a relationship with or slept with and tag them with their corresponding numbers.
I was sitting there appalled with what he just said. I was thinking that everyone for him is just a number. I didn’t know how to react or what to feel. I was offended. I was sickened. I was angry. It broke my heart and then I looked at him.
“What’s my number?” I asked.
The last flight
Tor and I remained good friends throughout the years despite all our differences and dramas. I endured all the heartaches and emotional pains every time he introduces someone on the dinner table. Some additional number on the list perhaps? I endured all of those until it didn’t matter to me anymore. Simply because I liked Tor and I cared for him. Period.
We continued communicating through emails. We continued seeing each other and hang out at our usual places in Makati. He still visited me every three months but most of the time he’s in Boracay and I would often visit him there.
I met different people and travelers during my frequent visits to Boracay and I started to speak of the far-off notion to Tor of traveling the world. I told him I wanted to leave the Philippines, travel and live in a backpack. Tor was not a huge fan of the idea of me going away. He can’t live in a backpack. He’s posh. You see, dreams are personal. You really can’t force your dreams on other people, can you?
Fast forward to early 2014, I finally decided to quit my job in the Philippines and embraced a life of travel. A month before I left the Philippines, Tor and I traveled to Siem Reap because he wanted to see the Angkor Wat and spend time together for the last time. It was my second time in Siem Reap so I showed him around and spent five great days together in Cambodia. Just like good old Boracay days, Tor and I danced, partied on Pub Street and got drunk on his gin & tonic and my tequila sunrise.
When I left the Philippines, we continued to email each other. However, the email conversations became less and less as time passed by. From weekly emails and updates to once a month to very occasional emails. However, he never missed to greet me during Christmas, New Year and my birthday until he missed my birthday last year when I was in Israel. Since then, I never heard anything from him or received any messages from him anymore. It just suddenly stopped without any explanations.
I can’t lie and say it was ok. I’ve asked myself so many questions about it. Why he didn’t greet me on my birthday? Why did he stop emailing? Is he ok? Is he dead? I found myself staring at a blank space and drifted back to my old life in the Philippines during a layover in Moscow. Would I have been happier if I didn’t leave? Those were questions I longed to be answered. But I never regret my decision to pursue my dream to travel.
Jeff Hood was right. Distance doesn’t separate people. Silence does. It happened to me.
Hopefully, my questions will be answered in time. Perhaps the reason I am currently not in any relationship because I am still hoping that he’ll come around. Or perhaps the emptiness left by this nomadic lifestyle will be filled in time. Until then, my life, for now, is all about living wild and running free, even just for a little longer.
Because when I drift back to that rainy night when I asked Tor, “What is my number?”
“You are number 26,” he answered.
About the author
Chummy Boholst is a Filipino freelance Graphic Designer in the midst of never-ending love affair with world travel. He’s a virtuoso of architecture by degree and a wanderlust by nature. With a great passion for architecture, travel and inspiring others to go and see the world, he quit his job in the Philippines, bought a one-way ticket to explore and experience life. He shares his stories, experiences, travel photos and tips for everyone who wants to travel through all his social media platforms.