The end of a COVID love story | Pittsburgh City Paper

The end of a COVID love story

Early in the morning, I woke up alone in the last bed I will share with my now ex-boyfriend. I was awakened by a trio of dogs at my friend Chelenge’s home in Kenya.

The dogs had smelled a lion, apparently lions smell very bad. I left the cottage and walked up to where they were standing at attention, barking with their fur also standing straight up. After a couple of minutes, nothing was seen, so I returned to the cottage which slopes down near a small river. Then, in the corner of my right eye about 30 feet from me, I saw what looked like a tree stump I hadn’t noticed before. I even said out loud, “Was that tree there?”

At that moment, a beautiful simba, a male lion, cocked his head to the right in unison with my own. I stood as still as the tree stump I had mistaken him for. We locked eyes. He was so beautiful, I couldn’t move. The huge majestic head and face, the coat the color of the Kenyan sun with a crown-like mane matching our sun’s own corona. My heart stopped and sped up at the same time. His eyes, his eyes …

Just then, my stomach growled so loud, and I could see in that instant that the lion was trying to calculate this sound coming from this little brown human. It was enough to startle him and he moved away.

I soon remembered how my ex-boyfriend really wanted to see a lion. But the lion presented himself the day after my ex left. I find that intriguing.

I’m currently in Kenya to begin a renewable energy project but, for now, I am getting rest during an artist’s retreat on the border of Nairobi National Park. I’m staying with my friend Chelenge, who I first met in the mid-2000s when I was in grad school in Nairobi, reunited by chance via her AirBnB. There is no fence between the community and the Park, so Chelenge just tells her guests to stay safe by not walking past the stone wall she has built.

Surrounded by this lush ancient forest and all of the animals: birds, hippos, lions, rhinos, giraffes, pythons, zebras, baboons, leopards, and many more — all of these creatures living in absolute truth. You cannot fake it here. I think that is why the final day of my relationship with a man I fell in love with over the internet during COVID, then again in Turkey, and again during a month together in Kenya was so much fun.

It was filled with laughing and dancing, singing and drinking. It was one of the funnest days of our relationship, which is why it was so shocking when it ended so abruptly. But I cherish that final day, it is evidence that real love and friendship existed.

I won’t get into the end end. That is the past already. Right now, I am sitting on the veranda looking at the spot where I saw that simba. I am wondering how, after only a few days since my now ex-boyfriend flew back to Turkey, that this place is not a place of mourning? But one of love, joy and truth.

Why doesn’t that little cottage feel lonely? Why does it feel full, like home?

That very kitchen which could be a place of sadness is the place where I cooked a huge meal on New Year's Day. Even my version of a Turkish lamb dish that my ex taught me only a few days ago was a central point of the special dinner. I shared what I cooked with everyone and Chelenge said she could taste the joy in the food. I had transformed a space of trauma to one of love.

How can it be so? If I truly loved, should I not be crying, sad, or unable to get out of bed?

I say again it is because this forest, this bush, this jungle is a place that pulls your truth out. If you’re not ready, you may explode. If you’re open, you grow … no, you remember who you are.

My truth is that I fell in love for real, deeply, and I worked hard for the relationship.

But in the end, there was nothing more I could do than let him go.

My heart knows it, and the jungle knows it, too. I loved in such a new, deep, and full way that I look forward to loving again. This time with the wisdom in my mind, heart, gut, and soul to know when a man truly deserves me.